The third Swapo policy conference has laid the foundation for what is expected to be a fiercely contested congress later this year, with the youth highly unlikely to feature anywhere in its top echelons due to the so-called ‘Helmut amendments’.
The two-day conference, which started on Friday in the capital, saw at least 600 delegates convene under one roof to steer the party’s policies, which serve as a yardstick for government policies.
The third Swapo Policy Conference took place under the banner: ‘Strengthening the Swapo Party for a United Congress 2022’.
In his closing remarks on Saturday, party president Hage Geingob was impressed with the outcomes of the indaba, saying the debates demonstrated the “quality of our membership and the leaders of the party at all levels”.
“[There is] visible impatience and seriousness to improve the lives of ordinary Namibians.
The absence of any demands for gender inclusion in this conference means that we have done well as a party on gender equality,” Geingob stated.
The conference touched on an array of topical national issues, including advancing youth employment, and reports on the implementation of the 2020-2025 Swapo election manifesto, the mining sector, agriculture and the economy.
The adaptation to respond to new threats within and outside the party, the changing political landscape and youth demographics were also looked at.
Swapo furthermore discussed how the party should campaign in future elections.
Other topics that featured were universal healthcare coverage, affordable and adequate housing, economic diplomacy and reimaging the transport infrastructure in the country.
“I believe in effective governance, buttressed by robust processes, systems and institutions. There is a need for an anchor paper from the think tank; a paper that analyses our governance architecture,” Geingob said.
He continued: “Is there a need for reform or adaptation to better deliver goods and services?”
What did not feature in the discussions were the contentious ‘Helmut amendments’, which effectively block young people from vying for top Swapo leadership positions.
Seen as draconian by some ruling party quarters, the constitutional amendments which were brought forth by Swapo stalwart Helmut Angula in 2017 dictate that candidates vying for the top positions should have “consistently and persistently” served as a member of the ruling party’s central committee for 10 years.
“Talks about amending the constitution to remove those rules were not discussed in terms of our policies. We discussed serious bread-and-butter issues. So, those proposals were not entertained,” said a delegate.
As things stand, the current rules favour Swapo vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, who are seen as frontrunners in the race to replace Geingob,
to the detriment of mines minister Tom Alweendo and defence minister Frans Kapofi, who are the dark horses in the contest.
“Although they were not discussed, we did submit recommendations to the party to reconsider those selfish rules,” said another source.
Contacted for comment on Sunday, former Cabinet minister Nahas Angula expressed gratitude that an invitation was extended to him. “Attending the Swapo party’s conference is like attending a family meeting. Swapo is a patriotic movement historically. Swapo as a liberation movement is our heritage because we made Swapo what it is or ought to be,” the former Prime Minister said.
He, however, was quick to concede that Swapo faces an uphill battle to regain the public’s trust.
To achieve this, Swapo must be outward-looking. “We have a long way to go to rebuild the trust and confidence among each other. We need a new political mission and vision, based on comradeship and ethical leadership. Ethical leadership is key to repair public trust,” he stressed.
During the opening ceremony, Geingob said Swapo’s liberation credentials and 32-year governing experience position it as the only political party locally which can deliver inclusive economic emancipation.
“It is only Swapo, the party with a track record in Namibia’s political freedom and governance, that will be able to deliver on the promise of economic emancipation and shared prosperity… only Swapo,” he told the delegates.
At the conference, Geingob said it is crucial for Swapo members to meet regularly to
discuss policy-related matters, global or local, as they evolve constantly.
“It is not static… therefore, it is no surprise that we are holding our third policy conference since independence. We are constantly leading from the front,” he added.
The former Premier then conceded that they face a mammoth governance task.
“It has not been plain-sailing. But contrary to any detractors who may want us to backtrail on our 32-year journey, Swapo has achieved a significant amount of success,” he said.
Geingob would not go without saying present-day Namibia and the one under colonial regime are “miles apart. Worlds apart”.
“Some even say colonialism was better. Go back to colonialism then. You have freedom to express yourself like that, but not to accept what has been achieved after independence. Of course, the opposition has the right to say everything is wrong, but not members of Swapo,” he reasoned.
Those waiting for Swapo’s demise are in for a long wait, Geingob boasted, adding that
they are the only formation that can bring Namibians in their diversity under one roof.
He also took time to dismiss claims that Swapo is a deeply fractured movement.
To show this, he asked some Swapo veterans who are considered his internal opponents to rise and shame their external critics.
Among those who rose were stalwarts in the form of Helmut Angula, former Prime Minister Nahas Angula, ex-Cabinet minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, Petrina Haingura and now Swapo backbencher Jerry Ekandjo.
They all formed part of the now defunct Team Swapo, which fiercely contested for the Swapo throne at the 2017 watershed elective congress against Geingob’s slate, Team Harambee. That congress left some veterans with bloody noses, while pushing others into the political wilderness.
“I am glad that the stalwarts, Nahas, Helmut, Jerry and Pendukeni are all here so that you can shame those who were wishing that Swapo is apparently divided, and Swapo is collapsing. Shame on you!” he said.
The politician continued taking a dig at Swapo’s critics, saying the former liberation movement will never stop talking about its past, for it is glorious. He, however, was quick to note that “we cannot be stuck in the past”.
On another score, Geingob reiterated Namibia’s unwavering support for the Russian Federation, Cuba and China, saying those countries stood on Namibia’s side during the liberation
struggle when it was not popular to do so.
“We have Russia… I always say whoever was involved in [a] liberation struggle, somehow, the Soviet Union or the Russian people were there to support them. Anywhere where you were fighting. Now, we’re asked to vote against Russia? You got the point… we will be stupid and ungrateful not to say thank you to those who were with us when times were hard. Not today.” He was seemingly defending Namibia’s decision to abstain from voting in a Ukraine-related vote taken by a United Nations (UN) body earlier this year.
He also vividly recalled when France, Britain and the United States “triple-vetoed defending apartheid...triple, while one veto was enough.”
Geingob continued: “Now, they are saying we must condemn Russia. This is the problem. And I am glad you are here to see who was there with us.”