Former works and transport deputy minister James Sankwasa has put the blame for chaos at the Windhoek municipal council squarely on residents. He said the mess in which the municipality finds itself would have been avoided had voters given one party an outright majority or eight seats in the 15-member council.
“If there was a majority party, things would be functioning properly. But when all parties are merely equal and nobody wants to accept subservience, it becomes a problem,” Sankwasa asserted.
Now, he said, Windhoek residents are reaping what they planted two years ago.
“The residents have chosen. They made the bed. They must lie in that bed. As residents, the suffering we are experiencing is self-imposed,” said Sankwasa, who attended a special council meeting on Tuesday.
“Opposition parties that have gone into the city council to monitor, deliver the affairs and services to the residents of Windhoek, are not a cohesive force. They are operating on their political island.”
That meeting elected the new management committee (MC).
“We as citizens are not getting the services we deserve. They don’t seem to have one common agenda because they all have different manifestos, and each party is trying to prove its own point so that it garners votes for the next election,” the businessman-cum-politician said.
Sankwasa spared no political party for the turmoil.
For him, it is a collective failure.
“Right now, we can’t blame any party. All are messing up,” he charged.
Back in 2020, opposition parties ganged up to dismantle Swapo’s dominance in Windhoek, a city the party made its fiefdom.
Their goal was achieved, and Swapo’s dominance was reduced to five seats from 12. The Independent Patriots for Change (IPC) was the second-biggest with four seats on the city council, while the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement and the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) both got two seats.
Meanwhile, the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) and the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) complete the 15-member council with a seat each.
For the first time, there was no outright winner.
It meant diametrically and ideologically opposed formations had to find common ground to form a coalition.
Without putting pen to paper, a first of its kind coalition was formed between the IPC, AR, PDM and Nudo.
Christened ‘progressive forces’, the coalition installed AR’s chief activist Job Amupanda as mayor, deputised by the PDM’s Clemencia Hanases. IPC and Nudo controlled the management committee, as the LPM and Swapo looked on as back-benchers.
For eight months, the ‘progressive forces’ operated in a vacuum. A memorandum of understanding was only signed in August 2021.
Things fell apart last year when the IPC, LPM and Nudo teamed up to form a new coalition. The three parties formed a new MC, while the position of mayor and deputy mayor are occupied by LPM and Nudo councillors.
In May, political jostling and horse-trading between municipal councillors from AR, Swapo, LPM and PDM went into overdrive.
Their mission, again, was to dislodge the IPC-controlled MC as there was consensus that the new kid on the block was holding the council hostage.
Every now and then, IPC councillors would receive restraining orders from their Katutura headquarters not to participate in certain matters.
IPC leader Panduleni Itula’s remote control tendencies were laid bare by then mayor Amupanda when it became clear that he would not continue as mayor by the end of last year.
In a letter co-signed by the ‘progressive forces’, Amupanda told Itula “we will not accept the dictatorial tendencies by yourself to make framework agreements without informing us [about] the content thereof, and your denial in this matter is disappointing.”
In July, AR’s Ilse Keister set the wheels in motion by invoking a no confidence vote in the MC.
Keister accused the MC of gross incompetence, sabotage and exposing the entire council to external forces.
Despite putting up a strong fight, the IPC-dominated MC fell on its sword on Monday. Neither the High Court nor lawyer Sylvia Kahengombe from Kahengombe Law Chambers could come to their rescue.
The High Court application was dismissed on that day.
The quartet are former MC chairperson Ndeshihafela Larandja, Jürgen Hecht, Otillie Uukule and Ben Araeb.
On Tuesday, a new MC was installed, with Keister ironically emerging as chairperson.
PDM’s Clemencia Hanases, Swapo’s Austin Kwenani and Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma and the LPM’s Ivan Skrywer make up the new MC, a powerful decision-making and implementation body in local authorities.
Keister said it will not be business as usual.
Residents must expect the appointment of a CEO and implementation of key council resolutions in the next three months.
The newspaper also caught up with former mayor Amupanda, who has courted controversy for different reasons since the end of his mayoral term.
While being forced to extinguish fires within the AR movement, the pressure to deliver land – on which AR was founded - from residents continues piling.
“There are political formations out there, and there is the role of council… We can’t have a leadership (MC) that is governed from outside or by popular opinion. It is very problematic,” he said.
Amupanda conceded that it has been a bumpy road.
“You want to do something [but] you are confronted by administrative, bureaucratic and political challenges,” he said.
Gone are the days when Swapo councillors swallowed party directives from headquarters hook, line and sinker.
On 11 August, a letter purportedly authored by the party’s Khomas coordinator Elliot Mbako instructed Swapo councillors not to participate in the process that dethroned the IPC.
“The meeting of the Swapo party Khomas regional executive committee of 11 August 2022 resolved that Swapo party councillors must abstain from any vote of no confidence at the City of Windhoek chambers,” Mbako is quoted as stating in the letter.
Without the Swapo vote, torpedoing IPC would not have succeeded. However, the defiant councillors refused to budge.
This is unprecedented.
It remains to be seen if the councillors will be reprimanded, as has been the case in the past.
Several Swapo councillors directed this paper to Mbako, who remained mum on the defiance.
“Councillors must be allowed to be councillors like it happened today, and not necessarily be restricted. I am very excited by the nature of the team [new MC]. It is a balanced team [two Swapo, LPM and AR one each],” Amupanda said.
“Today, we managed to overcome the political challenge. Of course, it’s not going to be easy, but we ultimately have to make this thing work.”
Voters must now judge those governing, choose those who they want to govern in future, and give renewed direction to Windhoek, once the cleanest city in Africa.
According to Sankwasa, voters now have a chance to rectify their error in 2025.