Jobs for the Jobless — The Big Issue

Part 2 — Key issues in Namibia’s 2020 municipal elections

No person who is willing and able to work should be jobless at this time. By that same measure, no person should be landless in their motherland. Tackling these two inter-related problems must be at the core of our political program heading into the 2020 elections.

The Right to Work should be key theme and main topic of our community campaign in the run-up to the 2020 municipal election, for how can we have the majority of people sitting around unemployed while we are running short on all basic supplies, including essential food supplies?

If we are serious about social justice, defending the Right to Work must be at the foreground of our political priorities and it must be done by pursuing an ambitious strategy geared towards full employment. Nothing less will do.

Support for Jobseekers

A new council led by worker leaders should set up a one-stop Job Shop to gather in one place all current information about job vacancies in the town and country and make this widely available.

The Job Shop should register all jobseekers, including their qualifications, skills, experience, address and contact details, thus creating a database of all jobseekers and the skills available among the unemployed within the local community.

Such a ‘skills and needs audit’ will help city planners identify areas of deprivation and high unemployment, as well as potential skills shortages.

People should be able to use the Job Shop services to search for vacancies and apply for work. In the current context, where social distancing is essential, the data on vacancies should also be made available online, enabling jobseekers to access all relevant info remotely and to apply directly.

The jobs bureau should also serve as a recruitment resource for major start-up projects, such as the mass public works programs (discussed below). This would simplify the job search process, and ease the recruitment and planning process by centralising all the necessary data.

Going Green: The New Economy

To combat joblessness and the shortages in our community, we must aim to create several thousand new and sustainable jobs within the local economy per year over the four-year period through the expansion of municipal and social services.

I envisage that the bulk of these jobs would be created in four main work-streams: 1) care work, 2) urban gardening schemes, 3) land servicing and house building, and 4) household solar and thermal power retrofitting.

Care work

My plan for Swakopmund involves setting up around 20 new pre-school childcare centres (kindergartens) with around 10 care workers each for starters, as well as youth after-school support workers (for study, sport, arts); and a network of care workers to attend to the elderly and disabled, as well as community health and hygiene extension workers.

Urban green schemes

Encourage household gardening schemes, set up a municipal seed bank and technical gardening support services; set aside inner-urban areas for gardening allotments for work groups or households, and prioritise green belts for food production; support for schools and retirement homes to establish food gardens, as well as prioritising land for large-scale green schemes (indoor and outdoor) within and around the town’s boundaries.

Going solar

Set a target of covering at least 80% of all households over four years within the town’s jurisdiction with effective thermal heating systems (for the geysers) and roof solar panels for household power production by retrofitting existing buildings and encouraging solar energy use on new buildings;

Mass Public Works Programs

Mass land-servicing involving large scale earth moving and the installation of basic water services — sanitation and household service infrastructure, as well as municipal housing construction programs — could provide the bulk of new menial but essential jobs.

Ancillary and Support Services

Office-work, technical, maintenance, renovation, cleaning, inspections, accounting, catering, etc to support the above.)

Mass public works programs

Council need not outsource the servicing of residential land to private developers because they tend to push up the price of land and housing for profit.

Council should rather initiate a mass public works program and contract individual workers and teams of workers directly to achieve the necessary scale to service sufficiently large areas over the four-year period of the new municipal administration to ensure that the housing crisis is brought to heel.

To address the twin problem of mass unemployment and housing shortages, we should undertake a comprehensive land servicing and municipal house-building program, as well as provide support to local building associations and community cooperatives to speed up the process of housing construction in the local area.

In general, we should reject the notion of “low-cost” housing for the poor. We must demand and ensure decent, affordable and quality housing for all. This must be done firstly by ensuring land justice and access to land for all households. No Namibian should be landless in their motherland.

Going solar

Hundreds of technical students and graduates can be taken up into a mass solar electrification program.

For existing homes, council should make an ambitious commitment to retrofit all homes with solar power and thermal heating within the next decade and to become a carbon-neutral city.

New house owners should from the outset be encouraged to opt for solar power and thermal heating systems rather than grid-based electricity supply. This will give such households greater energy independence, as well as boost jobs in the renewable energy sector, which council should back through incentives and contracts to businesses that specialise in affordable renewable energy technology and installation.

Funding the green energy plan

The financing for the transition to the solar household model can be done by ring-fencing a portion of income from current electricity sales, and offering subsidised (low-interest) loans to ratepayers to have their homes retrofitted with thermal heating and/or solar power systems.

The benefit for the household is that this would reduce and even eliminate their electricity costs. The cost of repaying the loan would be significantly less than their monthly electricity bill, which means a monthly saving for every household and long term energy independence.

In cases where the house produces surplus energy, which is transmitted onto the grid, that household could generate a passive income from the ‘feed-in tariffs’ for the excess energy from their home that is sent to the grid.

This approach would help protect the natural and social environment while paving the way for the green environmentally friendly jobs of the future.

Writer, reporter, activist