The stage has been set for intense intra-party campaigning for the coveted Swapo vice presidency following an eventful weekend, which saw four Cabinet members passing the litmus test.
Saturday’s central committee (CC) meeting outcome now pits incumbent Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, defence minister Frans Kapofi and environment minister Pohamba Shifeta against each other in the race for the party’s vice presidency (VP).
The meeting also rubberstamped ambitious Oshikoto coordinator Armas Amukwiyu’s candidacy for the secretary general (SG) position.
He faces a mammoth task of unseating incumbent Sophia Shaningwa, to whom he lost in 2017.
The position of deputy secretary general (DSG) will also be hotly contested.
The return of erstwhile Cabinet minister Uahekua Herunga to the political limelight after subdued years in the wilderness was worthwhile.
On the day, he secured the most votes among all nominees with 63 for the DSG position.
Herunga faces stiff competition in the form of parliamentarians Lucia Witbooi, Evelyn Nawases-Tayele and Kavango west coordinator David Hamutenya.
Mines minister Tom Alweendo, former Swapo Party Youth League secretary Elijah Ngurare, businesswoman Martha Tilahun-Namundjebo, who were vying for the DSG position, and party stalwart Jerry Ekandjo (VP) failed to make the cut.
Meanwhile, Swapo backbencher Tjekero Tweya’s nomination (SG) was not seconded over the weekend.
President Hage Geingob, who is planning on retiring from active politics, will retain the Swapo presidency unopposed.
He is likely to remain Swapo president until his current term as head of state runs out.
Following that, he is expected to hand over instruments of power to the Swapo VP.
It is, however, the participation of Kapofi and energy minister Alweendo – who have never served in the CC – in the weekend’s nomination that stole the show.
It is seen as a gross violation of the Swapo constitution.
This is because the Swapo constitution – which can only be amended at congress – dictates that for one to contest for the top four positions, a member must have served 10 consistent years in the CC, and must have been a party member for at least 20 years.
These constitutional provisions, which were swept under the rug, have come to be known as the ‘Helmut Amendments’. They are named after Swapo veteran Helmut Angula.
Despite fierce resistance from Nandi-Ndaitwah and other CC members, Alweendo and Kapofi were allowed to participate in the nomination and election process.
Kapofi made it through, and will now square off against incumbent Nandi-Ndaitwah, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and Shifeta for the coveted VP post at the party’s congress later this year.
According to multiple sources who attended the heated CC meeting, several objections against Kapofi and Alweendo’s nominations fell on deaf ears.
“We feel like the constitution was raped, violated or amended through the backdoor. This is gross misconduct, driven by people who want to achieve a certain objective by any means necessary,” said a CC member, who preferred to remain anonymous.
During the meeting, insiders say, Swapo leader President Geingob told those who harbour views that the ruling party’s constitution was violated, “to go to court”.
“But we will not go to court. It is a deliberate attempt to distract us. There is no time to go to court. Otherwise, we’ll be spending more time in court than the actual campaigning. We don’t want Swapo to be involved in legal battles, as the party doesn’t have money,” the insider continued.
Both Nandi-Ndaitwah and Kuugongelwa-Amadhila are known staunch defenders of the ‘Helmut Amendments’.
“Absolutely, there are so many contradictions and inconsistencies, yet we don’t want to point them out and address them. Instead, we want to conceal them, just to ensure that those selected few are protected,” said another Swapo leader.
Swapo’s road to congress was built on shaky grounds.
The party heads to congress battered and bruised at the back of successive poor performances at the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections, and the 2022 Local Authorities and Regional Councils’ elections.
The 2017 Swapo congress also left some party members with bloodied noses and in the deep political wilderness.
It is something the party wants to avoid this year.
The starting point is accepting defeat, a message that echoed in the hall as Geingob addressed around 150 supporters and CC members during the opening.
“There is only one winner,” he stated.
According to him, Swapo is in a league of its own as it is the only political formation that is organised with its processes and systems intact.
“The president emphasised that comrades must learn to accept defeat. It is the only way to build the party. The problem is people don’t accept defeat, and claim the party is divided. Democracy is a messy thing, which provides for winners and losers,” said a source familiar with Geingob’s thinking.
So far, Geingob has not endorsed any candidate.
When the hotly-contested battle for the VP position comes to a head, whoever emerges victorious will be Swapo’s presidential candidate in 2024, and is likely to be Namibia’s next president.
While Geingob has not publicly thrown his weight behind any candidate, it is believed he made a veiled endorsement and is subtly supporting Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and Kapofi as his potential successors.
The mere refusal to endorse his lieutenant Nandi-Ndaitwah, a rare phenomenon in Swapo’s history, has been interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the VP.
Nandi-Ndaitwah, New Era understands, is unfazed.
The seasoned diplomat is determined to defend her territory, with or without Geingob’s blessing.
“Nandi-Ndaitwah and her supporters will defend the Swapo constitution all the way,” said one of her confidants.
Official campaigns for Swapo’s leadership race will kick off on Wednesday.
However, it looks like there is an internal attempt to clip candidates’ wings, especially Nandi-Ndaitwah and Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, from spreading their gospel to delegates around the country.
The two have been asked to limit their local travels while on official government duties so as to prevent the use of state machinery for party campaigns.
It goes further for Nandi-Ndaitwah, who has technically been told to cancel all activities pertaining to the Swapo VP office.
She refused to budge.
“The VP will continue executing her functions. She was elected into that position, and her term will only end in November. She has a mandate to fulfil,” said a staff member close to Nandi-Ndaitwah.
Yesterday, Shaningwa held a press conference, where she laid some ground rules for campaigning, while simultaneously driving home Geingob’s message on accepting defeat.
Swapo’s legal affairs unit has since been tasked to come up with the rules which will be adopted by the Politburo before campaigning officially starts.
This publication has been reliably informed that slate politics was discouraged at the CC meeting.
To maintain healthy competition among candidates, all aspirants are expected to be on the same campaign trail when they visit different parts of the country to canvass support.
Local pundits have described the outcome of the CC as a mixed bag.
Lawyer and political commentator Natjirikasorua Tjirera said those who are seen to be pro-Geingob [Team Harambee] dominate the list of candidates, while those opposed to the president are nowhere to be seen.
“I don’t see it being inclusive of the members who lost out in the 2017 congress. The emergence of what has been seen as predominantly Harambee candidates shows that the president has a lot of power, and he is a political strategist,” he opined.
The 2017 congress was also marred by allegations of vote-buying, allegedly bankrolled with illicit money derived from the Fishrot scandal.
Through that scandal, state resources were looted at an industrial scale.
Two former Cabinet ministers and several Swapo-linked businessmen are currently behind bars, awaiting trial.
Tjirera continued: “I’m left to wonder whether this was not an opportunity missed for Swapo to heal their 2017 wounds, and to ensure that they bridge the gap between the two factions of 2017. I expected Swapo to work towards ensuring that, because of the challenges they faced at the polls. But I guess the powers that be do not feel the same.”
Political scientist Rui Tyitende said there were no surprises as he expected politburo nominees to sail through the next round with ease.
“But procedurally, especially Kapofi and Alweendo, how they have escaped the wretch of the ‘Helmut Amendments’ is not clear and seems unconstitutional, provided the CC relied on some unknown provisions within the party’s constitution,” he observed.
At face value, Tyitende said, the ruling party faces an existential threat if the quality of the candidates presented is anything to go by.
“In the face of the challenges facing the country, it appears that the nominating process lacked in depth in terms of discussion and thoughtful deliberation as to what type of leadership attributes were needed to address Namibia’s current and future challenges,” he stressed.
Another analyst, Ndumba Kamwanyah, echoed Tyitende’s sentiments.
“We need a servant, ethical, moral and competent leadership to take Namibia out of the current quagmire. Unfortunately, most of the nominees are not. Their names have been floated in some of the [biggest] corruption and mismanagement cases this country has seen,” he added.
On 24 November, over 700 dedicated Swapo members will converge under one roof to chart the party’s leadership fate for the next five years.