After years in her cocoon, veteran Swapo politician Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana is ready for deployment anywhere by the ruling party for as long as the process is above board and bona fide.
The erstwhile Swapo secretary general and Cabinet minister is currently engaged in agribusiness in northern Namibia.
Since her vice presidency defeat at the 2017 elective congress to incumbent Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Iivula-Ithana has since deployed a wait-and-see approach, remaining largely far removed from contemporary party politics.
But as congress fever heats up, leftovers of the two factions – Team Swapo and Team Harambee – that fought knuckle-to-knuckle for power then are showing signs of reincarnation.
Alongside former sports minister Jerry Ekondjo, the two lost their Cabinet positions after President Hage Geingob showed them marching orders.
The move was seen as vengeful on the part of Geingob, who got rid of ministers opposed to his then christened Team Harambee, an internal party contestation.
Geingob has not publicly provided reasons why the two were removed.
Iivula-Ithana was rated one of the top performing ministers in Geingob’s executive at the time when the axe landed.
She was lauded for improving efficiency and modernising services in the home affairs ministry.
Five years down the line, Iivula-Ithana is ready to stage a comeback.
She forms part of the Swapo Party Women’s Council delegation to November’s congress.
In an exclusive interview recently, Iivula-Ithana was conservative on numerous issues, including the state of the ruling party and her political ambitions.
She is only available for a position if asked to stand at the congress.
“There is no way and no day that I can abandon Swapo. I can only sit back and probably avoid conflicts and fights over positions,” she said candidly.
“But if things are done in terms of our constitutive documents and on a comradely basis, we can always meet each other halfway. I have no qualms whatsoever. I’ve grown beyond the fights.”
She did not specify which position she might vie for.
On 5 September, candidates interested in vying for top positions, including the party vice president, secretary general and deputy secretary general, will be nominated at a politburo meeting and again during a central committee sitting.
Known as the ‘Iron Lady’ in the Swapo circles, Iivula-Ithana ascended to the position of SG when Swapo was facing its toughest internal revolt in recent memory.
In 2007, party stalwarts among them the late Hidipo Hamutenya, Jesaya Nyamu, Kandy Nehova, Jeremiah Nambinga and Mike Kavekotora marched out of Swapo to form the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP).
Soon thereafter, RDP became a thorn in the ruling party’s flesh.
So bad were things that trust within Swapo was broken. The untrusted group was coined ‘RDP hibernators’.
Since then, Swapo has witnessed three other high-profile defections.
In 2016, firebrand politician and deputy lands minister Bernadus Swartbooi quit the ruling party to form the Landless People’s Movement.
Swartbooi accused his supremo, land reform minister Utoni Nujoma, of presiding over a flawed resettlement scheme and gross incompetence.
He also refused to render a public apology to Nujoma, which was the final nail in the coffin.
At the 2019 presidential election, Swapo member Panduleni Itula challenged Geingob for the highest position in the land.
Itula went a step further by mobilising voters to vote “anything other than Swapo” for the National Assembly election.
A year later, he went on to form the Independent Patriots for Change.
On Heroes’ Day in 2020, members of the Swapo Party Youth League and Affirmative Repositioning, spearheaded by Job Amupanda, resigned from Swapo en masse.
These are indications the party is on a decline, Iivula-Ithana conceded.
To address Swapo’s contemporary issues, the party must return to the basics as entrenched in their guiding documents, rules and procedures.
“Our constitutive documents have been produced over the years and have given us solid grounds upon which to base our actions. If our actions become kangaroo, in a way where you cannot explain your actions, then that is a sign that we are not working to the satisfaction of everybody,” she added.
According to the politician, Swapo has standards that set it apart from other political formations.
“These are principles embodied in our constitutive documents that inform the kind of policies we have and, therefore, if we are to choose the next president, we should look at these requirements,” she said.
Those contesting for Swapo’s top post must go through a public litmus test, she added.
This is unprecedented.
Among other signs is Swapo’s reduced popularity at successive polls, which saw it lose its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in 2019.
Swapo has also been reduced to the opposition benches in major municipalities such as Walvis Bay, Keetmanshoop, Swakopmund and Windhoek.
Geingob’s popularity, too, waned from 87% to a little over 50% in 2019.
For her, it is worrying that those at the helm of the party are oblivious to reality.
Some Swapo members, she said, have accepted mediocrity as the new normal.
“What is disturbing is that the outsiders of the Swapo leadership are the only ones who are seeing the diminishing fact taking a toll on the party. Others are saying ‘but we are still ruling’. ‘We don’t need a two-thirds majority to rule’,” Iivula-Ithana said rhetorically.
She continued: “With such a mentality, what can you do as an ordinary member of the party? Nothing”.
Iivula-Ithana then cautioned against running the party like a personal entity, noting that Swapo is not a love affair.
“That is precisely to guard against actions that are done capriciously. They are the ones making us weaker and weaker,” the veteran warned.
At a central committee over the weekend, Geingob downplayed assertions that Swapo has nosedived.
He also took a dig at naysayers who pray for Swapo’s downfall.
Geingob is perplexed by the hate meted out against Swapo.
“What is the crime that Swapo has committed? Is it because Swapo has mobilised the sons and daughters of this country to liberate the country… if Swapo is elected democratically, what is the problem?” Geingob continued.
Equally astounding to the President is how the Swapo-led government is expected to fix the country’s socio-economic situation in just 30 years when colonialism and oppression lasted for over 100 years.
Driving the point home, Geingob dismissed: “You can’t make people hate Swapo. The people are Swapo because [we] are the liberators of this country. We are marching forward to victory”.
Unlike other political formations on the local scene, Swapo has strong processes, systems and institutions in place.
For Geingob, Swapo is the only political party that can resolve issues Namibians are grappling with – chiefly, housing and unemployment.
He seemingly took a jibe at opposition parties currently running some municipalities and regional councils, where suspensions and chaos are the order of the day.
While noting that press freedom is guaranteed, Geingob accused the media of treating opposition parties with kid gloves.
“The press never asks the hard questions about opposition parties that are messing up local authorities. After six months in office, they started to fight and no questions are raised about the poor quality of service delivery,” he said.