• November 14th, 2019

Swanu at 60: Looking backward to move forward


Alexactus T. Kaure

Swanu, the grand old party of Namibian politics born on September 27, is celebrating its 60th birthday this month.

Swanu is Namibia oldest political formation or liberation movement in the lexicon of the times. It was formed as vehicle or transmission belt through which the Namibian people could express their political opposition to the then South African occupation of South West Africa, now, of course, Namibia. In that sense Swanu is the older brother, or should I say older sister, of Swapo which was formed a year later in 1960.

But unlike Swapo, which evolved from OPC to OPO and eventually to Swapo, Swanu had no such ethnic origins. It came about as a nationalist movement right from the word go. As Dr Zed Ngavirue has written: “One of the reasons for which the first national organisation, the South West African Union, was founded, was to shift the locus of politics from the ethnic to the national level.”

 Yes, there were pre-party associations that provided the training ground for future leaders such as the SWA Student Body and the SWA Progressive Association, whose leaders later co-founded Swanu. But these were youth of different ethnic groups. 

That is perhaps why the party has no specific regional base in the country, unlike so many other formations that have support bases in different regions of the country – drawing on tribal allegiances.

Thus, Swanu draws is support from politically conscious masses and the peasantry countrywide. The very masses who have to bear the brunt of the current economic turmoil. That is why the party wants to problematise and radicalise the economic/development agenda/discourse in order to disentangle it from its current neo-liberal moorings or trappings which the Swapo-led government has religiously been following since the dawn of independence.

On the land question the party is clear – give the land back to the people. Who are the people? The peasantry who are supposed to be the backbone of the agricultural economy and not your usual ‘weekend farmers’. 

This calls for the socialisation of land and not its privatisation - turning what is supposed to be a natural resource into a commodity. This is in line with the party’s long standing socialist ideological orientation. Remember that when Swanu was a member of the executive committee of AAPSO it was labelled as part of “Africa Red Harvest” -   meaning part of the Communist world order, by Pieter Leasing in 1962.

At the same time the party is also accused of being elitist. That perception is perhaps based on the facts that most of its leaders are highly educated individuals. Take the last three presidents – Rihupisa Kandando holds a PhD, Usu Maamberua an MA and the current, Tangeni Iijambo also a PhD. But that is just a perception. Swanu has been a leftist movement and remains so to this day. 

This is unlike Swapo which has totally jettisoned all its socialist pretensions after it crossed the Kunene, Zambezi, and the Okavango rivers in 1989/90. The ‘party the people trust’ is now building a mansion to the tune of N$750 million while Rome is burning. This is perhaps understandable.

Because, as Dr Zed Ngavirue pointed out in his book: Political Parties and Interest Groups in South West Africa, “The major South West African parties, Swapo and Swanu seemed generally agreed on the crucial issue of national independence. Differences occurred only in the paths they followed towards this common objective. Swanu being an ideological party which often set out its principles and followed them consistently, while Swapo tended to pay less attention to theory/ideology than practical consideration at any given moment or place.”

That is why Dr Rukee Tjingaete’s piece: “The Rivalry between Nujoma and Kozonguizi: Dogmatism vs Pragmatism in Namibia’s liberation struggle”, was an interesting intervention (Confidente, 21 – 27 March 2019). Thus Swanu has been left alone to carry on the revolutionary torch because the struggle is still very much incomplete or, in the words of Andrew Astrow with reference to Zimbabwe, a ‘revolution that lost is way’.

As the late Swanu intellectual Fanuel Kozonguizi, or Kozo as he was affectionately known, would put it: ‘It is not just the independence that matters but the quality of that independence’. Yes, we got our flag independence but what is its quality? Many of our people are still living in the shackles of un-ending and inhumane poverty and the popular refrain that ‘we fought for the land’ remains hollow because for many it is still a pie in the sky whether it is urban or rural land. 

Now if the leftist Swanu is to remain true to itself, those are some of the issues that it should champion not only for election purposes but beyond. Swanu must concentrate on the education and mobilisation of the masses, just as it did before independence, for them to understand the issues that are affecting their lives.
As we all know Swanu’s struggle was pursued at two broad levels: local resistance and the diplomatic front. The militant demonstrations of 10 December 1959 during which eleven people were killed by the police and army, as well as the refusal to move to present-day Katutura and boycott of certain municipal services, were some of the early resistance strategies and tactics used by Swanu. 

On the diplomatic front, Swanu has been an early bird. Kozo went abroad before most Namibian leaders to canvas support for the armed struggle from the former Soviet Union, China and other progressive countries. The party maintained a strong presence in a number of countries as part of its diplomatic struggle to solicit international solidarity/support which eventually proved so vital for our eventual independence. 

There were offices in Dar es Salaam, Accra, Stockholm, Cairo and Dukwe. While in Cairo, in the 1980s, Comrade Kauna Kuhanga and I used to visit the offices of AAPSO of which Swanu used to be a member. And there was this old Egyptian man manning that office located in Zamalek, where incidentally we used to live, always asking about Moses Katjiuongua – apparently he was the youngest and very brilliant among the Swanu cadres there. Therefore, one cannot possibly write the history, story or narrative of the Namibian pre-colonial and post-colonial struggles without the footprints or shadow of Swanu. 

* Alexactus  T. Kaure  is a freelance writer and social critic. He is the author of: Angola From Socialism To Liberal Reforms, published by SAPES Books, 1999.


Staff Reporter
2019-09-20 08:06:40 | 1 months ago

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