Vipuakuje Muharukua wears multiple hats: He is a full-time politician, lawyer, farmer and dedicated husband and father to his young family. New Era’s Kuzeeko Tjitemisa sat down with the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) parliamentarian in this tell-all interview.
KT: Can you briefly tell us about yourself?
VM: I was born 37 years ago in Opuwo, by my father Nguzu Pelser and mother Ritutuma Willemina Muharukua. I am Omukwejuva Womutati matrilineal, wondjiwo yaKondwezu yaMukandi. I’m married to my wife, Mutafela Olga Muharukua (born Likando), the mother to my two young daughters, Uvangua Kapeere and Usora Rapita Muharukua. I hold three personal values very dearly: being genuine, following deep personal conviction in everything I do and respect for my young family and my wife. These values I don’t compromise on! I am an admitted legal practitioner since 2012 and came from practising law before I assumed a political seat in the National Assembly. I am a keen commercial farmer, producing beef, poultry and various range of crops.
KT: Why are young people disengaged with politics in this country and how do you aim to change this as a youthful MP?
VM: When I was elected to the National Assembly in 2015, I was the youngest at 31 years of age. There were sceptics who thought I was too young and would be intimidated by the elite and experienced career politicians. It was my quest to instil faith in the Namibian youth; to demonstrate that being young does not mean being irresponsible. It was my duty at the time to show the Namibian youth that politics is about us and that we must assume control of our destiny. At present, the youngest was elected at 23 years old, and there are three of those; there are more who are below 40, all of whom are providing serious contributions to the direction of this nation.
So, our collective contributions will have to show Namibians that we need youth: in agriculture and food production; to own our mining companies and minerals; to transform our health, education and energy sectors. This cannot just be through parliamentary contributions, but through real and genuine leadership; our personal lives must depict that which we want for the rest of the country. Otherwise we’ll be fooling the country.
KT: In a nutshell, as PDM chief whip in the National Assembly, what does your role entail?
VM: The primary role of a chief whip is to ensure that our parliamentary contributions are in line with the PDM’s policies and promises to the Namibian people. Collectively, the PDM will always be genuine to Namibians and remain true to the promises we made to Namibians. What is important is not the theatrics for the TV screens and social media, but to ensure that our parliamentary work affect the day-to-day living of Namibians. We have had various motions that bring positive change in Namibian lives (e.g. sex offenders motion, the drought motion, street vendors’ motion, and the anti-elite Kombat residence motion). As whip, I also liaise between different political parties and PDM. Through corridor lobbying, with other whips and party leaders, we maintain opposition unity. When the interest of Namibians dictates, it is my job to ensure that I negotiate with the ruling party whip and demonstrate the need to get through or block a specific item.
KT: Lively debates and sometimes a hostile atmosphere prevail in parliament. Do you think opposition MPs are keeping the ruling party on its toes in the current sitting of parliament?
VM: Keeping the ruling party on its toes is of course the mantra of our president. That is what the PDM is set out to do and continues to do on a daily basis. Each organisation has its political strategy, ours is rooted in robust and firm debate that attains results for the populace. We have a deliberate strategy to conduct ourselves and the affairs of the August House responsibly as a government in waiting. Notwithstanding that responsible strategy, we have and always robustly and radically met the unfair and biased treatment of any presiding officer in parliament with the force it deserves, but we shall always be sensible and have self-respect. We will never lose our sense of self-worth because of politics.
KT: What do you make of recent brawls involving LPM MPs during the State of the Nation address?
VM: Firstly, what occurred during SONA was despicable. The LPM should have let other parties make their contribution, they too were elected like the PDM and LPM that was heard and their voters deserve their voice. There was nothing wrong done against the LPM during SONA. Frankly, it was childish from LPM’s side to have disturbed SONA in that fashion, but I suppose that is their political strategy. The Speaker and Presidency are equally culpable for the denigration of the house on that day.
Secondly, the President is the guest of the house during SONA. His security guards have no business in the house, they are aliens. If they were allowed in, wrong as it was, their business ought to have been the safety of the President. However, it appears they had a vendetta against the members of parliament (MPs). It appeared as if they had orders to batter the members if they misbehave. It was none of their business whether the members disturbed SONA, or Seibeb called the HPP II useless and tore it apart. It was the job of Swapo MPs to deal with fellow members, of course, these are seemingly too weak to deal with the issue hence the need for security guards. The security guards ought only to have ushered the President out of parliament in the event that they perceived physical danger on his person, it is not their business to manhandle elected MPs, rule 111 is clear. Notwithstanding the weakness of Swapo MPs, the Speaker could have used the rules to deal with the issue. He too, seemingly, does not know his rules and powers; that is what messed parliament up on the day. Rule 111 allows the Speaker to withdraw a member/s from parliamentary chambers for one day only, through a ruling in parliament. In violation of the rules, the Speaker saw it fit to withdraw members from parliament with a letter, (this does not amount to a ruling), and to do so indefinitely, quoting rule 124. Rule 124 has no bearing on what occurred on the day, but rules 111, 112, 113 and the parliamentary code of conduct. These set out the conduct expected of members and the procedures to follow, should members fail to observe the code of conduct.
KT: Your recent motion calling for government’s intervention to tackle the drought situation primarily in Kunene was adopted. What other pertinent issues do you want adopted by the National Assembly and taken up by the authorities?
VM: Drought has hit Kunene, parts of Omusati, and part of Erongo regions. The PDM has provided 200 bales of grass to Kunene, I have had a conversation with the mayor of Windhoek to see how the citizens of Windhoek can come on board in helping our fellow Namibians. Following the motion, the OPM has provided N$160 million as an immediate relief measure. We thank the government for that, but also hope that the bulk of the N$160 million will actually go to the stomachs of the hungry, rather than the pockets of the rich that will be providing services to the relief programme. Be that as it may, I hope to see more long lasting solutions. A water pipe must be erected from Omahenene through Omakange and Opuwo to Etanga and through Omakange to Sesfontein. Small farm holdings should be developed along this water pipe, catering for irrigation projects, livestock replenishment projects, taxidermies, dairy projects and many other projects that will help these regions withstand droughts, land degradation and other impacts of climate change.
KT: What are your political ambitions? Do you see yourself as a future president of PDM?
VM: Much has been said about my political ambition, and specifically, relating to our 2024 congress. My personal opinion is that those saying these things are people from other parties. These things are said in order to plant division and or castigate internal fights. As far as I am concerned, our movement’s constitution allows our current president to lead at least until 2029. To stop him before that is basically a vote of no confidence in him. Now, I ask you a question, is his record at the helm of the movement one that justifies such a vote? Were it up to me to answer that question, I’d say the president has done well. Nonetheless, we have so much young talent in the party, perhaps individuals who would be better suited to lead than Muharukua. The year 2029, even 2024, is too far to speculate what the movement would look like; what it would want in a leader and how we all will develop as leaders by then. As for Muharukua, I will remain humble, genuine, focused and robust!
KT: Your party did not perform too well in the 2020 regional council and local authority elections compared to your showing in the general elections in 2019. Some have attributed your good showing in 2019 to independent candidate Dr Panduleni Itula who due to the constitution could not partake in National Assembly elections. Did PDM profit from the Itula factor?
VM: The purposes of regional council and National Assembly elections are not the same. Therefore, voters’ patterns cannot be expected to be the same. In 2019, Namibians had a choice of 16 political parties at the ballot and 16.4% chose PDM, almost equal to the entire opposition. It was an anti-Swapo vote. That vote would still have been there even if Itula wasn’t on the presidential ballot. Surely there is a reason why 16.4% of voters voted PDM and not any other opposition. We benefited from our politics of ideas, robust opposition and responsible leadership. Most importantly, we are a national movement, represented in all the regions of the country. Even when 2020 was regional elections, it is clear that the PDM’s base has not moved, we expect to increase our votes during 2024.
KT: Are opposition parties united to the extent of forming a coalition ahead of the next presidential and National Assembly elections?
VM: The PDM has always been ready to talk and negotiate with any party to form a coalition, provided that such party purports to, and actually, negotiates with the interests of Namibians at heart. In Kunene, we are working with UDF. We are in coalition with the UPM. In Windhoek, we are part of the progressive forces and played an integral part in the success of the formation of that coalition. With that record, it is clear that 2024 presents a new beginning for Namibians. The PDM is ready to be part of a coalition of the willing, a coalition of the enlightened.
KT: Any parting thoughts?
VM: The young must assume the presidency of this country, the young must assume serious ministerial portfolios in this country. That is the only way to realise a prosperous Namibia for all. This will happen in 2024, watch this space!