One leg, two hands

As the country staggers under a youth unemployment rate of 46%, not even losing his leg has stopped Max Gouws from earning a living for his family.

27 February 2020 | Local News

You win some and you lose some.

This is the mantra 45-year-old Groot Aub resident Max Gouws, who lost his leg in August 2019, lives by.

He says there's nothing wrong with his hands, with which he does his building work.

Gouws has been a building contractor since the age of 12. At his father's side he learnt to lay bricks, install roofs and even fix plumbing.

For 33 years he has built houses to support his family, and not even losing his leg as a result of a terrible gangrene infection, diminished his appetite for work.

“I took a nap after I pushed my friend, who landed in a wheelchair as a result of a stroke, to the police… and woke up with my leg completely dead,” he said. He went to the hospital in Windhoek and after a few days, his leg was amputated.

Two days later when his bricklayer and labourer left him for another job, he found himself back behind the cement mixer.

“It was never on my mind that my life should change because of my disability. After a few days, I tried to climb onto the scaffold and when I saw I could still do that, there was no stopping me,” he said.

Gouws has taken in youth to empower them, but said their attitude is a stumbling block.

“Instead of feeding off their parents, these unemployed youth can take up jobs as artisans. It is easy money, and you can buy your own toiletries. But they have a serious attitude problem. I have incidents where they come here for a few hours and the minute you give them orders, they take offence and leave,” said Gouws.

Because of this, he mainly works with relatives who understand when the contractor can't pay them for work, and who realise he only wants to help.

Commenting on the bleeding construction industry, Gouws said it is important to have an open mind and not get caught up with the things that are not working.

Unemployment nightmare

The most recent figures from the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) indicate that the country's overall unemployment rate dropped slightly from 34% in 2016 to 33.4% in 2018.

The statistics also showed that youth aged 15 to 34 are still the biggest unemployed group in the country, with 46% of young people without jobs. A new Labour Force Survey (LFS) is expected to be released later this year, with commentators expecting unemployment to show an increase.

The 2018 survey results also indicate that regional youth unemployment was higher than the national unemployment rate of 33.4% in all 14 regions, with Kavango East having the highest youth unemployment rate. Only 37% of young people in that region are employed.

The Kunene, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions all have more than 50% of youth unable to find employment. Rural employment increased from 261 705 in 2016 to 310 155 in 2018. About 50 000 jobs were created in rural areas from 2016 to 2018, while in urban areas only 3 300 jobs were created. Around 58% of the people who were employed in 2018 worked in the informal sector.

Construction industry in the doldrums

The construction industry has been crippled by massive job losses.

According to the 2018 Labour Force Survey, the construction sector was one the biggest retrenchers, with more than 17 000 workers sent home between 2016 and 2018.

A whopping 172 employees were retrenched in the first three months of 2019, according to a labour ministry quarterly report last year.

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has repeatedly called on government to protect local construction companies from foreign companies that continue to rake in huge contracts.

Last February, the CIF asked that Parliament should examine the plight of companies in the construction industry, and to consider having a national construction council.

The CIF is also of the opinion that public procurement policies need to be scrutinised to avoid the disqualification of local contractors based on financial requirements such as turnover or cash flow.

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