A Chinese-owned lithium mining company, XinFeng, based in Omaruru, has found itself trapped between the Mine Workers Union of Namibia and the Affirmative Repositioning over poor labour relations allegations.
However, the two outfits are not working together even as they fight for a common goal, with the AR accusing the MUN of being “weak” and “useless”.
“As AR, we do not operate with sell-out unions. We are operating on our own, and the workers themselves know that they are sometimes being exploited at the hands of those unions,” activist Andemale Shikongo told The Villager.
In response to this, MUN’s George Ampweya said they are confused as to whether the AR was acting as an activist outfit or as the not-yet recognised Revolutionary Union (RU).
“We are aware that they have sort of taken it upon themselves to go to the mine and confront the owners. While we do sympathise and welcome all other interventions of any Namibian citizen in the interest of sort of trying to retain the dignity of these workers, we caution that any such intervention should be done in terms of the existing law,” he said.
A band of AR activists engaged in a heated exchange with the mine’s management Thursday morning to the point that one of the Chinese officials brought out a fire-arm accusing them of trespassing on private property.
Later, the AR lamented that they got detained on the premises for more than an hour until the police came in to break the impasse.
Before the AR arrived on the scene, the MUN had this week Monday expressed that it was fighting with the mine to have the union recognised as the sole bargaining unit for the workers.
It also accused the management of confining its workforce to poorly constructed houses which created conditions of squalor.
However, after a visit by the AR Thursday morning, women employees complained that they were made to live and sleep in close proximity to their male colleagues.
Videos taken by the AR also showed how several miners were made to sleep under one roof in bunk beds, with some saying they were sleeping on the floor.
Tempers flew when a Chinese official, identifying himself only as Lee, declared that the AR were not welcome.
“Let’s go to the office. What are you doing here? You are illegal here. That’s why this is private. You are touching my ground! This is Namibia, but we are in charge of this (company),” he retorted.
The official can be seen refusing to be drawn inside where the workers stay, insisting that they handle the matter at the office instead.
AR activist Tuhafeni Petrus can also be heard saying, “Don’t touch me. I don’t like to be touched. Is this China? Is this China this one?”
In the meantime, the MUN issued a statement decrying the status quo at the company.
“The Mineworkers Union of Namibia’s Erongo regional office wishes to categorically condemn the deplorable working conditions at the mining operations at XinFeng Investments as we have done on several occasions now,” said the MUN regional coordinator, Ampweya.