(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 4 June 2014)
Recently a family member of mine woke up to the reality of how cold it really is this winter in the capital. At the end of April the City of Windhoek came to cut his power supply because of arrears in the family water and electricity account. The amount of arrears had accumulated over a period of twelve months as the family did not every time pay the full amount due. After around a year, the family was faced with just under N$3,000 they had to pay before electricity could be re-connected.
A friend in Windhoek recently came to the end of their rental contract of a year and presumed that the contract would automatically be renewed with a possible slight increase from her present N$ 5,000 per month. Imagine her surprise when the landlady sent her the new contract with the rental agreement now being N$ 6,200 per month. This is a month on month increase of N$ 1,200 or 25%. The friend and her family earns around N$ 12,000 in total and there is no way that they will be able to afford this sudden increase. The worst part is that the landlady is aware of this, but she already has a future renter that is willing to pay the proposed N$ 6,200 per month.
The price of chicken and milk has gone up since the government started protecting these industries as infant industries. This means that imports from outside the country are made more expensive by charging administrative levies on these products from outside and in this way allowing the local producer to increase their prices as the competitions prices are now higher for the end consumer.
Looking at these issues one has to come to the realisation that the Namibian form of capitalism has lost its course.
Now what is capitalism? Capitalism is the economic system in which trade, industry and the means of production are controlled by private individuals with the specific goal of making profits. Capitalism is also reliant on a political system that agrees with the principle of capitalism and actively encourages the economic aim of individual profit making.
In a perfect capitalist world, both parties to a transaction determine the prices at which assets, goods or services are exchanged. Namibia is not such a place!
In Namibia, most of the poor consumers have very little choice, if any, on what is available to buy and at what price. The location of consumer to the service outlets, and the lack of political action still leaves the consumer as a victim in a situation where they have no bargaining power, and no protection by the legislature (parliament), the executive (GRN) or the judiciary.
It is up to the consumer activists and the media to bring an end to this never ending road to poverty for the majority of Namibians. The economic situation of this country and its citizens was ruled by the apartheid policies before independence and this was one of the main factors for the people of the country wanting change. Now, twenty years after our Independence, the economic systems that are in place still do not reflect the needs of the poor. It is high time that the parliamentarians and the state takes cognisance of the need to protect consumers through the enactment of a Consumer Charter and relevant consumer protection measures.
Milton Louw is the IT Project Coordinator at the Electoral Commission of Namibia. This column is written in his personal capacity as a consumer activist and the views expressed in this column are his own.