The Kunene region appears to be the new political battleground and key target for the country’s two biggest political parties – Swapo and the Popular Democratic Movement.
Recent times have seen senior government figures and Swapo heavyweights frequenting Kunene, either in their capacities as government officials, as Swapo leaders or both.
In the last six months alone, President Hage Geingob, who doubles as Swapo president, his lieutenant, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila have all visited the region.
For instance, in April, Geingob was in Kunene.
His first stop was at Otjinungua on 29 April where he opened a containerised clinic.
On the same day, Geingob proceeded to Opuwo to officially open that town’s trade fair.
The next day, he addressed a Swapo event at its regional headquarters along the Mbumbijazo Muharukua Avenue, an event which saw hundreds of party members converge under one roof to hear their gospel.
A month earlier, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila presided over the trade fair’s fundraising dinner.
Last weekend, Swapo’s top administrator Sophia Shaningwa was also in Kunene.
These are but a few examples of top ruling party stalwarts who have thronged to Kunene in recent times.
Shaningwa in Epupa
Shaningwa addressed a rally in Okangwati, in the Epupa constituency, a political hotbed where the PDM has never lost an election.
According to Shaningwa, Swapo welcomed at least 130 new members from PDM.
Contacted by New Era for a comment on her recent trip, Shaningwa pointed to Article 17 of the Swapo constitution, wherein her role as secretary general is embedded.
“It is not the first time that I am visiting Kunene,” Shaningwa emphasised before she candidly added: “I am going back to receive more members.”
Shaningwa continued: “We picked up some problems faced by our people such as poor roads, poor water infrastructure and shortage of food.”
She vowed to elevate these plights to the relevant authorities.
As secretary general (SG), Shaningwa is required to streamline party activities in all regions.
“So, you seeing me in Kunene or any other region is my mandate…The SG must visit all regional offices and meet with their executives in order to follow-up on the implementation of the Swapo manifesto, which we sold to the people and to see what problems our people are facing.”
Shaningwa hastened to indicate that she needs no invitation to go anywhere, in Namibia, on official party functions.
More so, she said, Swapo is currently busy with a mass recruitment drive, countrywide.
The party is not electioneering but spreading its gospel to whoever wishes to listen and follow, she said.
“I don’t agree with you that Swapo wants to take over Kunene. We want to convince the masses. If that is the results, then it’s fine, but we don’t want to take over,” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by Tuarungua Kavari, Swapo’s coordinator for Kunene who conceded that Swapo has always been the underdog in the region.
“Since independence, this region has been dominated by UDF and DTA (now PDM). We only won for the first time in 2014. But I can tell you, Swapo is improving,” Kavari noted.
So far, Swapo section and branch level elections are nearing completion as they prepare for the intraparty congress later this year, Kavari confirmed.
Meanwhile, the PDM remains unshaken by Swapo’s inroads.
Its SG, Manuel Ngaringombe believes Swapo is a party on its way out of government and therefore “very desperate”.
“Desperate times call for desperate actions. Those are last kicks of a dying horse,” he said.
According to him, the ruling party has been deploying dirty tactics to lure members from PDM to Swapo.
“They promise unrecognised traditional chiefs to join Swapo so that they can be recognised by government. They offer young people jobs on condition that they join. But people are not blind they are politically mature,” he charged.
Swapo denies this.
At present, Swapo leads one of the seven constituencies in Kunene: Outjo.
PDM and UDF share the remainder.
PDM is in charge of Opuwo Urban, Opuwo Rural and Epupa constituencies while UDF controls Khorixas, Kamanjab and Sesfontein.
At the regional councils’ polls in 2020, Swapo’s popularity in Kunene waned. Resultantly, it lost Opuwo Urban, Sesfontein and Kamanjab constituencies.