28 Mar 2013 – Story by Magreth Nunuhe
WINDHOEK – A number of current and former employees of Zambia’s High Commissioner to Namibia, Wendy Sinkala, have accused her of verbally abusing her Namibian domestic workers and of treating them as if they were modern-day slaves, according to the New Era newspaper of Namibia.
Chief among the accusations are physical and dehumanising treatment; working for long hours without pay; working non-stop without being given days off; being insulted for no apparent reason; unfair deductions, as well as abrupt dismissals. Workers at the High Commission also accuse the diplomat of making belittling and degrading remarks about Namibians in general.
The workers, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said that when they signed contracts with the High Commission, they were promised benefits such as medical aid, social security and housing, but when they made enquiries, they were told that these were already included within their contracts.
According to one worker, who was sobbing when approached for comment, Sinkala is so abusive that workers have to wash her hands when she takes her meals, they must clean her shoes, wait for her at the door when she enters her residence and she expects them to run up and down a staircase of 25 steps to serve her.
The High Commissioner allegedly manhandled one of the employees when things were not done according to her wishes. Some of the domestic workers complained that they were forced to work from 07h00 to 17h00 without a lunch break. Those who dare to eat food at the High Commissioner’s residence face summary dismissal.
“She treated us like we are dogs,” lamented one of the former workers who said she left her job because of the continued ill treatment by the diplomat who usually brags that she is untouchable, possibly in reference to her diplomatic status.
She said when there are functions, Sinkala never hires a professional catering service or a chef, but lets the employees do the cooking and cleaning even though it is not part of their job descriptions.
Apparently the High Commissioner insists on being served in bed and having her shoes carried to the bedroom by domestic workers. “She fired G4S security guards like nothing. Every time you would hear her saying: ‘Send me another one’,” said the former employee.
Sinkala apparently changes her domestic workers at will and when the employees try to talk to her, her customary reply is a curt: ‘I don’t talk to low class people, don’t bring me to your standards.’
Another former domestic worker claimed that N$300 was deducted from her salary for “closing the curtains late” while N$495 was also deducted from her salary for not changing the decoder to Zambian television on time.
Sinkala who became the new High Commissioner to Namibia in January 2012, changed the working hours of 08h00-16h00 for one of her domestics to 08h00-17h00 without a salary raise. When the High Commissioner has guests the live-in employees apparently have to work from 06h00 to 24h00 without being paid overtime. “She called us foolish and she insults us. It was so awful to work for her,” recalled another one of the many disgruntled former employees.
John Puriza, who worked as a driver for the High Commission for three years and was fired on Tuesday, alleges that he was fired for not picking up the High Commissioner at the airport last Friday, even though he had made it clear that he was not working on that day since he had worked on Zambian Day. On a separate occasion Sinkala apparently hit him with the car door for not opening her door on time and said: ‘You see your boss, but you are still sitting.’
The former driver, who has now filed a complaint with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoted Sinkala as having said: ‘You are stupid, if I fire you, you will suffer.’
Puriza said that they raised several complaints with the High Commission’s First Secretary one Mr Lombe, but nothing came of it.
Sinkala could not be reached for comment, but the Deputy High Commissioner Samson Mujuda said the accusations were “total lies” when New Era reached him. He claims that all the allegations are false since the High Commission complies with all the labour laws of Namibia. “I never got any report of that nature. If they had problems, they could have communicated with me,” he said, adding that they were free to speak to him, because he is the administrator at the Zambian High Commission in Windhoek.
He said the complaints are coming from people who were disciplined for wrongdoing. On the issue of overtime, Mujuda said that in some contracts overtime was already embedded within the workers’ salaries. “Workers are in different classifications,” he said, dismissing allegations that some workers were performing duties outside what is stipulated in their contracts. He further dismissed claims that the High Commissioner had physically or verbally abused any employee, adding that as an immediate supervisor he frequently goes to the residence and has never seen anything like that.
“I sit with them like brother and sister and give them opportunity to talk,” he claimed.
Approached for comment, Foreign Affairs Chief of Protocol, Mbapeua Muvangua, said that he has not received any complaints about the situation at the Zambian High Commission. He said the High Commissioner cannot be taken to court because she enjoys diplomatic immunity. However, he said diplomats are under obligation to respect the labour law and all other laws of Namibia