The first time I saw him vividly and closely, he came across as a well groomed, advanced in age, clenched fist in the air and, with rhythmical grace, responding to the beckoning of the spellbinding lyrics of Hage the Unifier by Ndilimani at a Swapo rally in Otjiwarongo, in 2014.
I never anticipated that this “Grande Personnage De La Revolution Namibie” would, the following year, become a major role player in my 23-year-old civil service career.
This was none other than Dr Nickey Iyambo, the longest serving minister since independence in 1990, Founding Vice-President and a leader once assigned with the life threatening responsibility of leading an advance team of exiled Swapo Party cadres into South West Africa in 1989, to set up the Repatriation, Resettlement and Reconstruction Committee.
He was also to prepare the groundwork for the return of the Swapo Party Elections Campaign Director and Head, Dr Hage Geingob, and ultimately that of His Excellency, Dr Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma, then President of Swapo, in fulfillment of UN Resolution 435 for the independence of Namibia.
For many Namibians, 1989 was an extremely volatile, and difficult transitional year in which hundreds of Plan combatants were massacred on April 1, and Anton Lubowski assassinated on September 12.
These are grim reminders of the dangerous milieu, and accentuate the height of bravery displayed by Dr Iyambo to have risked his own life, by having entered Namibia as the head of the first Swapo leadership team. I elaborated on this homecoming incident, since it was the first time when the greater than life personality of Iyambo appeared on my mental map, when I was a 22-year-old youth.
These two incidents, one very recent, on the campaign trail for Namibia’s 3rd president and the other the 1989 home-coming, formed lasting impressions on me about the courage and the never die spirit of Aluta Continua which comprised the mosaic personality of Nickey Iyambo.
My colleagues and I were most fortunate due to the perceptiveness of President Geingob, who was kind and trusting enough to entrust us, as former employees of his Prime Minister’s bureau, with the responsibility to help the 1st Vice-President set-up from the ground, and manage the Office of the Vice President, post March 21, 2015.
I, with Presidential Advisor on Elders’ Matters, Tate Mukwaita Shanyengana; Loini Ter Avest, a personal assistant; and Elina Kamalanga, executive secretary, were seconded in this respect.
I will be amiss if I do not mention also a few of Nickey Iyambo’s most loyal staff members such as Mimmie Dunaisky, Inspectors Kafita, Kamenye, Shikesho, Amunyela, and Witbooi, as well as Sergeants Tomas Naluno, Josephine Kamati, Thomas Jonas, Niita Asino, Losvita Shambwila and Hesron Amutenya, under the command of Deputy Commissioner Valeria Elago, who formed the core team of cadres, of the Vice-President’s Office, and closely interacted with him daily.
From 2015 to February 2018, my colleagues and I continued to work under his tutelage. It was a once in a lifetime, rare, liberating experience to serve the Namibian people under Dr Iyambo’s leadership. Him being an eminent personality, decades ahead of our time, a well-qualified holder of MSc, MA, and MD in Social Sciences, Political Science and Medicine at the famous University of Helsinki, Finland, and a veteran of the first liberation struggle, added a refreshing perspective to our life views.
Dr Iyambo was a very gentle and humble soul, who loved his family, Swapo and country, and yet was a meticulous planner, his wedding, farm life and even his death are clear examples of such planning, as he never left the smallest detail to chance.
He was purposeful and firm on the specifics of what should be done, by whom, when and how it should be done.
I will relive here some of the anecdotes on trust, patriotism, patience and inclusive development to which we were fortunately introduced by Dr Iyambo.
On trust: Dr Iyambo in the cutthroat competitiveness of government boardroom power politics was an astonishingly composed leader to work with, in part because he inspired those around him by bestowing them with unconditional trust. This in turn motivated us to aspire to always do the right and best thing, to the utmost of our capacities, to return the trust. I still remember, his classical approach, the day when he heard a very bad rumour about me - it was so uncommon and full of trust, and almost brought tears to my eyes: “Mr. Pakote, I was visited yesterday at home by some people who told me a worrisome story about you, but I said to them, I really do not believe what you are saying, because the Mr. P that I know and the one you are telling me about are totally two different people, worlds apart. Nevertheless, I thought of asking you whether this is true or not, to remove any doubts.” After I factually rectified the unjustified rumour, ostensibly calculated to cause a rift, and as I learnt could be a career sinker at this level, he responded, “You confirmed my thoughts, that there was no way for the Mr. P I know to have done any such thing.”
On patriotism: Clearly he was the most eligible No.1 choice of President Geingob, in the entire country, to serve as the 1st Vice President, because Dr Iyambo was an absolute sincere patriot without an iota of a counterfeit gene. He unequivocally abhorred the base idea of the supposed validity of tribal supremacy notions. To him tribalism was akin to the discredited apartheid and therefore a non-starter. He made this clear to me when he stated that I should ensure that we bring in employees who are qualified and competent to execute the job, but that he wanted a tribally balanced office to reflect the rainbow colors of the President’s Harambee House, reflective of all Namibian tribes. And he never allowed those who reasoned that because they speak the same language as him, they had the leverage to use such proximity, to disrespect his senior staff.
On patience: One day I was totally taken aback when, during consultations, one well-known chief took offense and with characteristic arrogance, railed against the fact that the Vice President was delegated to meet and hear his concerns. The emotionally incensed chief said to the VP: “We will not speak to a messenger.”
However, Dr Iyambo unfazed, unmoved, not least displaying a grain of indignation, listened with full composure to such insulting arrogance. At the end, he responded affably, promising that he will accordingly deliver the message and wishing the chief all the best. I have never seen such cool headedness in my entire civil service career.
On inclusive development: We as part of the Vice President’s outreaches visited the Kunene Region, where he commented, after having heard the cries for development at community meetings and having observed that economic life was very difficult in drought stricken places such as Opuwo, Outjo, Kamanjab, Khorixas excetra, that “something must be done here, we cannot all wait for one day when we will have money.” This is how the Khorixas Vocational Training Centre was birthed as a brainchild of Dr Iyambo, and he still wanted to do more in the two Kavango regions, Omaheke Region, and others, especially among the marginalised communities, but it was not to be. He took his retirement in 2018 in a stride, also cautioning us not to be alarmed about incoming Vice-President, Nangolo Mbumba. “He is a good person. I have known him for many years, trust him and work with him the same way you were working with me,” he remarked.
This golden advice turned out to be 100 percent correct. And when I visited him to convey news in person on my deployment to the President’s Office, he gave his blessings and stated: “Mr. Pakote, go and serve the President well, do your best, but stay away from people and places which will distract you from your work.” He had the greatest respect for the President, being appreciative of the development challenges facing the country. Dr Iyambo was a firm believer in the President’s policy direction of transparency, effective governance, poverty alleviation, and a corruption free Namibia.
Despite his sun-setting age, Dr Iyambo’s spirit was as young and revolutionary, as the day he first joined the struggle for Namibia’s liberation, and to the very last end he was willing to serve the people of Namibia, not for financial benefits, but due to solid convictions of uplifting the Namibian people and realising the Namibian Vision of development, prosperity and economic emancipation.
Most unfortunately we were unable to pen some of his life experiences and thoughts in a formal narrative as he wished.
The mosaic portrait of Dr Iyambo suggests that he will be remembered as a fearless freedom fighter and a most loyal Comrade by some, by others as a physician who assisted thousands of Swapo fighters with medical treatment and facilities, and still by some as a good father, husband, brother and uncle; but for us, we will remember him as a rare God-given shooting star for humanity’s enlightenment, a mentors’ mentor, a flesh and blood archetype.
May his soul rest in eternal peace!
* Moses Pakote is a former Deputy Executive Director in the Office of the Vice President.
2019-05-31 09:58:14 16 days ago