There is a general consensus among female Swapo stalwarts that when delegates converge under one roof to elect their next leader, meritocracy must reign supreme over the candidate’s biological make-up.
This is deduced from several Swapo veterans as the ruling party’s day of reckoning edges closer with each day that passes.
At Swapo’s 2022 elective congress slated for November, around 700 delegates, drawn from all corners of the country, will elect the party’s next vice president (VP), secretary general (SG), deputy secretary general (DSG), central committee (CC) members and the politburo.
All indications are the position of president, currently occupied by President Hage Geingob will not be contested at the next congress, as has been the case in the past.
Whoever emerges as Swapo vice president is likely to be the party’s presidential candidate at the next general elections.
Hot in the public discourse is a push for the next Swapo VP to be female.
So far, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and current Swapo VP and international relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah’s names have been flaunted around as potential heirs to Geingob’s throne.
Earlier this year, Founding President Sam Nujoma weighed on the woman presidential debate, saying the country is ripe for a female head of state.
“In many other countries, they have women presidents… for example, in India, they had a woman prime minister in the name of Indira Gandhi, and many others too. So, we must prepare our women to take over the reins of power when the time comes,” Nujoma told New Era in May.
Back in 2012, Swapo firebrand, the late Kazenambo Kazenambo ignited a debate in the ruling party when he called for the next president at that year’s congress to be “non-Oshiwambo speaking”.
His premise at the time was that all Namibian ethnic groups participated in the liberation of the country and should, therefore get a chance to lead.
While many Swapo women qualify for the party’s top post at congress, how they ascend should be based on the qualities they bring to the table.
One such person is former Swapo SG and cabinet minister, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana.
“The issue is the qualities we are looking for in the next president other than these adjectives. These adjectives can be misleading. A non whatever or a whatever president (sic). Tribal, language, sex… I find these things very disturbing,” Iivula-Ithana said.
Five years ago, Iivula-Ithana contested for the party VP position.
“We don’t push an ideological agenda. We are pushing an adjectival agenda because it is by description that we are trying to push the agenda… that is not giving us a good direction as a party and as a country,” she argued.
Her debate was anchored on the ideology or substantive qualities the candidate possesses, irrespective of their gender, race, economic standing or sex.
“We are being pushed into a corner to choose people on the basis of the attires they wear or the looks. It should be a female. Next time, probably we will be told it (should be) the ‘beautiful one’.”
Another Swapo veteran Libertina Amathila also believes women and men should be elected based on standards.
“Women should not be wheel-chaired into positions, they should contest like men. Running a country is not a joke. You need people who are committed and dedicated. Let us really look for people who can run the country properly - be it women or men based on merit,” she highlighted.
Amathila refuted allegations that women do not support each other in top positions of power.
She said: “I was there as deputy prime minister. It has never been a story in Namibia. Look at the women in parliament. They are there. If women were not supporting each other, how else would they have gotten there?” she asked.
On her part, Swapo Party Women’s Council (SPWC) secretary Fransina Kahungu cautioned those already publicly supporting candidates before the nomination process that they are violating the party constitution.
“In the given Swapo structures, there is no block vote but individuals vote. You go to the booth and vote individually. It is wrong for people who are saying they are supporting who and who in public. The danger of saying you are supporting a certain candidate in public is that it fuels hatred and division among members. But if you don’t know who I am going to vote for, then it will not create disunity and factions among members,” Kahungu said.
She was responding to growing calls that the next Swapo leader must be female.
Asked whether or not SPWC will rally behind a female presidential candidate at congress, central committee member Kahungu said Swapo wings do not subscribe to block voting.
“Swapo Party Women’s Council and its leadership is abiding by the rules and procedures of electing representatives of Swapo party and other government structures,” she said.
SPWC will make its voice heard once the party calls for congress and nominations for positions are done.
“When we are looking at various positions, Swapo party will act accordingly when the right time is at our doorstep. Currently, there is no directive. There is no instruction given for SPWC to seek candidates for any given position - be it president, vice president, secretary general, deputy secretary general, and to the extent, not even central committee,” Kahungu maintained.
Asked if she harbours any political ambitions to stand for top positions at the upcoming elective congress, Kahungu was quick to refute such ambitions.
“I think any country must be ready for any type of leadership at any instance. Women were always part of leadership. The question is whether they were making themselves available for leadership. Furthermore, it must not necessarily be about gender, but the quality the gender brings to the table, if the quality is there in a woman, what must be an obstacle?” said former member of parliament Katrina Hanse-Himarwa who has shown interest in contesting the deputy SG position.
She also disagrees that women don’t vote for women.
“Are we saying those women in top positions in our country were voted for only by men? They would not make it to the top positions if only men were voting for them. We have women in top positions like VP of the party, SG, prime minister and deputy PM.”
Deputy minister of gender equality, Bernadette Jagger said although there seems to be a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the subject of having a female president, she personally thinks Namibia is ready for a female president.
“We have more than enough women with outstanding leadership potential and capacity in this country. I can testify we have women of integrity, total honesty and capable of becoming the president of Namibia. If other African countries have moved towards female presidents, why not Namibia? We cannot be the last to have a female president,” Jagger contended.
She recommends political parties serve as gatekeepers for aspiring women to be elected to top political positions.
“They should assist women to eliminate the underlying barriers that women face in getting nominated for top elected political positions and conduct successful campaigns,” Jagger suggested.
National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) leader, Utjiua Muinjangue is the only female leading a political party in Namibia.
According to her, women are by nature, inherent leaders.
“Women are natural leaders who possess leadership qualities. As the first [and only] female president of a political party, I fully support a female president for Namibia. Women should and must support one another,” Muinjangue said.
Muinjangue is also the only opposition in Geingob’s government.
“To achieve equal representation, it is time for women to continue believing in ourselves and have no doubts at all. The community also needs a serious paradigm shift and see women as capable [beings],” she said.
Going to congress, christened the ‘Helmut amendments’, the alterations to Swapo’s constitution proposed by party stalwart Helmut Angula back in 2018, are seen as draconian and exclusionary by certain quarters.
The amendments dictate that aspirants for the party presidency, vice president, SG and DSG positions must have served 10 “persistent and consistent years” in the central committee (CC) and should have been a party member for not less than 20 uninterrupted years.
At first glance, the amendments were seen to be sound, as many believed they were guarding the party against infiltration by fly-by-night politicians who vie for political office for self-gain, at the expense of Swapo’s ideology.
Now, the amendments have come to haunt even those who believe their blood is red, blue and green.
To vie for a seat in the CC, Swapo’s supreme organ between congresses, one must be a Swapo member for not less than 10 years and other requirements are to be given as agreed upon by the political bureau and central committee.
Caption: Meritocracy 1, 2 3 and 4