December 13, 2005

Factory rejects residents' petition

RAMATEX's management has refused to receive a petition from Otjomuise residents and from civil society groups appealing for a pleasant solution to the issue of a noxious stench from the textile factories. Residents of Otjomuise and certain parts of Khomasdal have expressed their dissatisfaction, saying noxious fumes produced from Ramatex are becoming unbearable and even impacting on property prices in the area. According to Namibia Non Governmental Organisations Forum (NANGOF) consultant Sandi Tjaronda, the march they held was conducted as a sign of solidarity in jointly raising peoples' voices against unacceptable conditions residents and workers are being subjected to. Concerns raised in the petition relate to the current rate of pollution that presents potential health hazards to residents of Otjomuise, Oponganda, and Khomasdal. "Ramatex management refused to take the petition but we left it by the security gate. We hope it gets to them because the same petition would be forwarded to the Ministry of health, Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Labour, and the City of Windhoek. We want our Government to protect our workers," stated Tjaronda.
Strong odours permeate houses in the vicinity of the textile factory, resulting in asthmatic patients experiencing difficulties in breathing, especially at night and in the early hours of the morning. One resident Jacob Gowachab lamented, "It smells in the evenings and mornings. It stinks like a drain. It can make us sick especially the children. Many people are complaining. Ramatex has to be changed to become more environment friendly." Residents say they are cognisant of the need for jobs and development but they believe this should not be done at the expense of their health. Bertchen Kohrs from Earthlife during the event stated that instead of bringing pride to the country, Ramatex from both the social and labour point of view is a great shame for the Government and the city.
At its inception, the factory together with the City of Windhoek agreed that Ramatex would recycle 60 percent of the wastewater into the Goreangab Dam. This has proved to be merely lip service, resulting in the new reclamation plant at the dam failing to cope with the salt content being produced from the factory. Kohrs further indicated that water pollution is not the only negative effect that Ramatex has brought to the environment. Residents are experiencing respiratory diseases and allergies. "People in the neighbourhood cannot open their windows. Instead of letting in fresh air they have to endure the rotten stink. Development must not be at the cost of the citizens' well being and cause environmental destruction. There are cleaner and safer ways of production," she stressed.
On employment, workers have complained over what they say are starvation wages ranging between N$280 and N$300 per month despite the lengthy hours they have to work. Recently, the labour unions and the factory's management were involved in negotiations to increase salaries but the end result was a mere five-cent increment. This according to what the petition indicates, is an insult to the nation and goes a long way to show the kind of respect accorded to the Namibian workers by management. Further, there are positions that have been designated strictly for Asians and the local people only constitute 20 percent of the workforce. Consultant Tjaronda says indeed, "Ramatex is a nice plant from outside, but inside it's a raw deal. If nothing is done about the situation, by the time Ramatex closes its doors in Namibia, it will have left a polluted environment.” (New Era, Windhoek)

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