Support Striking Namibian Workers at Lev Leviev Diamonds!

The Congress of South African Trade Unions pledges its support for the 153 diamond polishers employed by the Lev Leviev Diamond (LLD) Polishing Company in Windhoek, Namibia, who have been on strike since June 19th to protest abusive managers as well as job appraisals and promotions, wages and outstanding overtime.

Adalah-NY, the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, report that the company, owned by Lev Leviev, whose companies are already a target of global condemnation for building Israeli settlements in the West Bank in violation of international law, has suspended the 153 strikers and is threatening to begin disciplinary hearings leading to firings, claiming the strike is illegal, according to the Namibian newspaper the New Era.

“The relevant employees will be issued with notices to appear before a disciplinary hearing committee, upon which if found guilty they may face severe penalties and possible dismissal,” LLD Managing Director K. Kapwanga threatened in the newspaper The Namibian.

The workers have been camped outside night and day a few hundred yards from the factory gates, after a court injunction forced them to move there from their original picket line.

Lev Leviev’s companies have been building of settlements in the West Bank in violation of international law, as well as his abuses of workers and communities from Angola to New York City. One fruit of Adalah-NY’s campaign has been UNICEF’s announcement on June 20th that it would no longer take donations from Leviev, which followed a similar decision by Oxfam International.

COSATU urges unions, supporters of human rights for Palestinians, and all other social justice groups to send messages of protest to LLD management, demanding that the strikers not be fired and that their demands be met (addresses and phone numbers to send messages to are below).

The company’s threats take on added weight because of support the government gave to its claim: Labour Commissioner Mathew Shinguadja has also claimed that the strike is illegal according to the New Era.

Among the workers’ demands, as reported in the New Era, are the removal of LLD Namibia’s general manager Mike Nesongano, who they claim has created a hostile working environment. Workers have documented a range of hostile actions by Nesongano, including use of foul and abusive language, disregard of labour law, threatening workers if they do not agree with management decisions (saying “if you do not agree with the decision made by management, then you don’t belong to the company”), unfair dismissals, unequal treatment and having a demoralizing attitude towards his workforce. The employees also accuse Nesongano of poor administration and favouring foreigners (e.g. European administrators brought in by Leviev). The workers have also objected to the intimidation shown by the company’s lawyer at meetings between workers and management.

Secretary General Joseph Hengari of the strikers’ union, the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN), told the press: “We propose that before discussing the appraisals, promotions and basic salary issues, the company respond to all allegations levelled against Nesongano.”

Mathew Mtembi, Chairman of the NUM local at the plant, told the New Era: “’We are here because these people did not solve our problems. We want feedback on our demands,’ referring to the 16-point agenda they gave to management a day before the commencement of the strike.” Mtembi added that if the suspensions are withdrawn they will return to work, “but will not go anywhere near their duty stations if the company does not solve their problems, amongst others better labour conditions, allowances and better salaries.”

“When asked why the workers refused the company offer to return to work, Mtembi cautioned that the company is well known for playing tricks with them. ‘These people seem to know every tactic. If we went back to work, they will fire us all, that is why we are not even going to collect those notice letters.’ Angry employees told New Era that they will boycott the disciplinary hearings too, and have threatened to disrupt the operations of the company, should the company fail to heed their demands.”

Tricks and abuse from LLD management are nothing new. A 2006 press release by the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions described the strike which first brought the union in. In July of that year, LLD workers struck after they were given an ultimatum by managers to sign new 12-month-long individual contracts. These contracts would have forced workers – who at that time were also relegated to temporary status – to reach certain production quotas before getting one penny in basic salary. During negotiations after the MUN was brought in, the company agreed to make the workers permanent.

LLD management has also had to counter media claims that the company pays starvation wages.

Coverage of the strike has included mention of Leviev’s shady practices elsewhere, which have made him a target of protests by Adalah-NY and other groups: “The operations of the Lev Leviev Diamond Empire have been put under a disapproving microscope for alleged labour discontent in three continents. Questions are being raised about the labour practices of this diamond entity with operations in Africa, the United States and the Middle East.

“Leviev, owner of LLD Namibia and one of Israel’s wealthiest businessmen, has come under considerable pressure from lobbying groups over his activities in the occupied West Bank, including the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), which has cut ties with the Israeli businessman.

The article also mentions Adalah-NY’s exposure of Leviev’s use of his vast wealth to finance construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

In Angola, New York Magazine reported in 2007 that “A security company contracted by Leviev was accused this year by a local human-rights monitor of participating in practices of ‘humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.’ Leviev’s formal response to the report did not directly address the abuses but touted his charitable activities in Angola.” At the Apthorp building in Manhattan, which is 50% owned by Leviev’s company Africa-Israel, 88 tenants protected by rent-regulation laws are threatened with losing their apartments as the owners convert the building into a condo, according to the New York Times.

Send messages of support for the strikers at LLD Polishing Company in Namibia to:

K. Kapwanga, Managing Director, LLD
Tel.: +26461 225 433, Fax: +26461 249 253, Cell: +264811 247 249

Send copies of your messages to:

Mineworkers Union of Namibia at mun@mweb.com.na

For more information, contact Adalah-NY at: info@adalahny.org