For the ruling party to reclaim its glory days, its next secretary general must be energetic, upright, intimately understand Swapo and be able to transcend beyond petty party politics in the interest of the country.
This view was put forth by several Swapo veterans and local pundits when asked about the coveted positions at the upcoming intra-party congress as contenders are sifted.
Next Monday, candidates for the position of party vice president, secretary general and deputy SG will be nominated at a politburo meeting.
Five days later, nomination opportunities will also be opened at a central committee meeting.
In most other political formations, the SG is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful politician.
In Swapo’s corridors, it is informally referred to as the “engine room”.
Apart from lucrative perks and a seat at the high table, the position comes with immense political power.
The SG presides over a multi-billion-dollar business empire, has a seat in Cabinet [as the direct link between Swapo and government], a spot in the National Assembly, and commands a huge support base.
This week, New Era spoke to commentators and senior figures of the party to gauge perspectives on the ideal candidates for the post in the face of Swapo’s waning support during successive polls.
Veteran journalist Tileni Mongudhi said Swapo’s first step towards redemption and identifying a suitable SG is to accept that its popularity among the electorate has dropped.
He attributed this to the breakaway parties [Independent Patriots for Change and Landless People’s Movement], the Fishrot scandal, internal factions and Panduleni Itula’s bid for presidency in 2019 while still a Swapo card-carrying member.
“There is a perception that the ruling party is corrupt and incapable of bringing about change or reinvent itself,” Mongudhi said, while noting that blame cannot be squarely placed on incumbent SG Sophia Shaningwa.
“The new SG must be able to command legitimacy among the electorate. He or she must be able to sit with Cabinet colleagues and demand service delivery. You need an SG who can read and understand policies, and bring the link between the ruling party’s manifesto – which the ruling party promised the masses – to what government is delivering.”
Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah concurred.
He, however, went a step further, calling for the next Swapo top administrator to be inclusive and reflective of the core values of the party.
“The SG must manage diversity, and make sure governance or government mirrors that,” he said.
Appointments to key government positions such as the police, ambassadorial postings and ministerial roles should reflect the country’s diverse ethnic composition, he added.
Also, the SG must be a mixture of a shrewd politician, who can pull the masses back to Swapo, while simultaneously a firm administrator or technocrat.
“The SG must be a listener. Someone who is not arrogant, and who stretches imagination beyond party lines. He or she must accommodate opposition parties and discerning voices with an understanding that their voices matter in nation-building,” Kamwanyah reasoned.
Swapo’s chief administrator between 2012 and 2017 and current national Vice President Nangolo Mbumba said there is no blueprint for an ideal SG.
The onus rests on the over 700 delegates to decide.
“Those who want to jump into the ring, let them jump, and then we will see which one is supported by the majority of the delegates. What you are trying to fish, there is no magic about it in terms of the practical work to be done,” he stated.
Mbumba then declined to pass judgement on his successor’s performance.
Ahead of the congress, the politician is impressed by the manner in which proceedings were executed. Credit in this regard goes to Shaningwa.
The former SG hastened to say whoever emerges as the successful candidate beyond 27 November, must have an intimate understanding of Swapo, the ability to bridge the generational gap, and advance women’s issues.
“They must know the history of this party. They must have experience of working with people. We want people who can recognise gender issues, and deal with them. We want people who can recognise the youth element, which is the larger number of people.”
While Mbumba’s tenure is wrapped in an enigma, he declined to delve into it, rather promising to write a book about it to avoid influencing the delegates.
“I want people to come with open minds, energy and willingness to serve all Namibians,” he noted.
Several names have been paraded around as potential candidates for the SG gong.
As incumbent, Shaningwa does not need a nomination to contest. Whether or not she contests is up to her.
Meanwhile, Swapo’s Oshikoto coordinator Armas Amukwiyu, who competed and lost against Shaningwa, is reported to have shown interest in trying again.
“I’m not sure about those discussions. If they do exist, they are happening beyond my knowledge,” he said on Tuesday.
Former SG Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and ex-Cabinet minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa have all shown interest to return to the national political stage.
Meanwhile, former deputy secretary general Laura McLeod Katjirua, parliamentarian Tobie Aupindi, works deputy minister Veikko Nekundi and former Swapo Party Youth League secretary Elijah Ngurare are seen as dark horses in the race for power.
Both Aupindi and Ngurare did not respond to questions this week.
Nekundi is believed to be a shrewd operator, who has always kept his opponents and even allies in the dark about his strategy.
Attempts to get a comment from him proved futile.
Hanse-Himarwa has openly declared interest in the position of deputy SG.
In Swapo circles, she does not mince her words and is a known staunch supporter of Swapo’s current leadership under President Hage Geingob.
Until her fall from grace in 2019 when she was convicted of corruption, Hanse-Himarwa was one of Geingob’s ‘blue-eyed’ comrades.
In Swapo, it appears, that she still commands respect among her comrades.
Quizzed about the type of administrator the party yearns for, she replied: “I don’t know. Let other people who are not in the contest speak.”
Khomas governor McLeod-Katjirua was also tight-lipped.
Swapo stalwart Helmut Angula also lauded Shaningwa for doing an incredible job at steering the ship under “dire circumstances”.
In 2017, Angula unsuccessfully contested for the party’s vice presidency.
“The party is confronted by so many divisions and an inability to have a common convincing agenda to the population. It is not an ideal position that the person [Shaningwa] is in now,” he added.
Like Mbumba, he too agrees that a daunting task lies ahead for whoever ascends to the position.
The new SG must “have popular support. A person who is not committed to factionalism, and have the clout to unite the young, old and middle-aged. The SG must be energetic, and not a novice who is just coming to try. We need somebody who is known by the structures.”
It will, however, take a miracle for either Ngurare or Aupindi to come anywhere close to the contest in the face of the ‘Helmut Amendments’, alterations to the Swapo constitution dictating that those aspiring for top four positions must have consistently and persistently served in the central committee for 10 years.
These rules are likely to be in force until congress.
Angula is believed to be the amendment’s godfather. “When the amendments were made, nobody predicted that the most trusted and experienced cadres would be marginalised and cast aside,” he stated.
Now, four years later, the chickens have come home to roost.
“If the party leadership is guilty of culling its trusted cadres, then the leadership has itself to blame. We are just reaping our own fruits that we sowed unintentionally,” he continued.
Over 700 delegates will assemble in Windhoek on 24 November to decide the party’s leadership.
Geingob’s position will not be contested.
Happy times… Swapo SG Sophia Shaningwa and former education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa embrace.
Photo: Emmency Nuukala