People are going through the most and things can get worse’

Wendy Shikukwete

Wendy Shikukwete’s (34) dream was to become a teacher. She thought she would be able to achieve that dream when she started working on ArcticNam Fishing’s Heinaste fishing trawler as a kitchen steward.

“When I initially started this work, since the pay was so good, my plan was to at least work for three years or so and then take myself to university,” she says.

Unfortunately, Shikukwete was not able to realise her dream, as a mere seven months after starting work on the vessel, she was let go.

She was part of the first group of the Namibian crew of the Heinaste to be retrenched in November 2018, followed by the rest a year later.

Born at Omuthiya in the northern Oshikoto region, Shikukwete came to Walvis Bay at the age of 11 in 2002 to live with her father and attend school.

Since leaving school in 2010, she has struggled to find permanent employment at the coast, doing various casual jobs over the years and even starting her own small business selling vetkoek and soup from the shack she lived in at Kuisebmond at the time.

For the mother of three, the Heinaste job presented an opportunity to build a better life, since she was earning more money than she ever had, and she enjoyed the work, she says.

She earned a basic salary of N$6 800, but in the seven-month period she was on the vessel, she regularly earned between N$21 000 and N$30 000 per month in basic salary and catch and transshipment commissions. The largest paycheck she ever received was her last one at the end of November 2018, of N$40 000.

With the money she was making while at the Heinaste, she could afford to support her two older, unemployed sisters and their children in northern Namibia.

Aside from her salary, Shikukwete – one of only two Namibian female crew members on the Heinaste, also got to take home chicken and meat cut-offs, as well as used cooking oil, from the ship’s kitchen once they reached port. And, like other crew members, she also received fish to take home, she says.

“I was sending a lot of that back home.”

Since that brief period of good earnings, Shikukwete, who also cares for two nieces who live with her in her grandmother’s house at Kuisebmond, has struggled to find permanent employment with a steady income.

Luckily, she says her two younger brothers are employed, so they help her.

Her only regular source of income is the N$4 000 monthly stipend she receives under a scheme arranged in 2020 between the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and fishing companies that are awarded quotas to pay unemployed former fishermen and vessel crews.

She has been receiving the money since December 2020, which is just enough to buy food for the month for the household she manages, she says.

Besides this, she earns around N$1 500 for a casual, fish packing job at one of the fish factories at Walvis Bay.

Since starting the part-time job as a general worker in early 2020, Shikukwete says she has managed to become a team leader when she gets a chance to work – which can be anywhere from one to five days per month.

“I supervise the line. I tell people what sizes to pack, how to pack them, the kilogrammes to pack and all that. And just make sure that things run smoothly,” she says.

From the little money she earns and the stipend she receives, she still tries to send money to her sisters when she can, she adds.

Shikukwete, who speaks English very well and assisted with translating during some of the interviews of former Heinaste fishermen, says many of her former colleagues “are really struggling” since losing their jobs.

“Things are really really hard. People are going through the most and things can get worse.

“I’m grateful my family did not abandon me, like most of them.”

Shikukwete is under no illusions abut the possibility of securing another lucrative fishing sector job.

“I don’t think there will be any good fishing jobs in the next five to 10 years. So I would rather be compensated than get my job back because I can do much more with those funds. Maybe start a business, maybe go to university,” she says of the dream that still remains of one day becoming a teacher.

This is a personal story of how the Fishrot scandal impacted fishing worker Wendy Shikukwete, as published in the Institute for Public Policy Research report, titled: ‘Human Rights Impacts of the Fishrot Scandal: We Are The Ones Who Suffered The Most’.

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