When Uahekua Herunga failed to make it to the National Assembly in 2015, many in Swapo and his close associates wrote him off.
Some blamed him for failing to be on the right side of history: siding with the then Swapo vice presidential (VP) aspirant, Prime Minister Hage Geingob, who had President
Hifikepunye Pohamba’s blessing.
At the 2012 congress, Herunga rallied behind Swapo veteran Jerry Ekandjo in the VC race. It is his greatest sin, on the political arena, it appears, as it would later cost him his ministerial post.
This, New Era, understands was against the will of Pohamba who was determined that Geingob should take over both party and country once his term ended. As fate would have it, Herunga failed to return to the National Assembly after a lacklustre performance during Swapo’s electoral college and was equally not retained as environment minister, a position that was filled by his former lieutenant, Pohamba Shifeta.
Herunga’s name featured nowhere in Geingob’s list of presidential appointees. It was the end of the road for the former teacher.
In Opuwo, his hometown, the once celebrated Herunga became the talk of the town, for the wrong reasons.
He was vilified.
The perks that came with the ministerial position – including a fat paycheck, a black Mercedes Benz and 4x4 bakkie, a government-paid chauffeur and an unlimited petrol card – were now things he could only reminisce of.
Reality kicked in.
Talks at the time also suggested that Herunga returned to teaching, to make ends meet in the face of a precarious economy that ravaged livelihoods and a devastating drought that forced farmers to shut kraals and seasonal gardens.
Herunga’s inner circle was divided, with some seeing his return to the noble teaching profession as a “downgrade for someone who was in parliament.”
As if this was not enough, allegations that the former minister raped a 51-year-old woman did not help either, for a man starring at unemployment eyeball-to-eyeball.
That case died a natural death, it would appear.
Since his disappearance from mainstream politics, he has been engaged in full-time farming while simultaneously serving in the Swapo central committee and as the party’s chairperson for leaders assigned to Kunene north.
Swapo has since deployed its full machinery to wrestle Kunene away from the opposition, a project that Herunga is seen as the focal point of.
Several senior Swapo and government leaders have frequented the region in recent years.
Herunga remains the only person from the Kunene region to have ever been a fully-fledged minister. It is a record he holds highly.
“What did the region benefit from his time there? What regional interests did he advance? Ministers from other regions go out of their way to expose the plight of their people.
“When [Bernadus] Swartbooi was fired, he was fired because he was raising the plight of the south and how they were being sidelined in the resettlement programme,” said a
Kunene inhabitant who preferred anonymity.
Deputy secretary general race
Herunga’s relentless efforts paid off on Saturday, at least for now, as the ruling marches closer to the elective
When results of aspiring candidates for the top four positions were announced on Saturday during Swapo’s decisive central committee meeting, Herunga’s name stood head and shoulders above the rest with 63 votes.
He is in the race for the Swapo deputy secretary general’s (DSG) position.
The closest name was that of Shifeta (57) while Herunga’s opponents in the DSG race, parliamentarians Lucia Witbooi and Evelyn Nawases-Taeyele were tied at 54. The rest of the candidates failed to make it beyond the 50 mark.
The other candidate is Kavango West coordinator David Hamutenya.
“If I am elected, I want to make an impact through assisting whoever is elected as SG. I want Swapo’s policies and programmes to be implemented not only fairly, but efficiently and effectively,” Herunga said.
“I want to encourage an open-door policy and take the head office to regions. If there is a problem in Zambezi or Kunene, we must be able to go there, advise and guide.”
Born 25 October 1969, Herunga told this paper during an exclusive interview that his never-say-die attitude and strong belief in self has brought him this far.
He is well aware of those who laughed at him when he was at his lowest point, politically.
“I have heard those things. People talk, sometimes in a joking way but you can see that this is what the person really feels about you. But I don’t have any regrets politically. I have learned lessons, if I may put it that way,” Herunga said
He went on: “I will never allow people to define my destination. Many never believed in me. However, I have proven people wrong over the years. When I believe in something, I commit with everything.”
At all times, however, he has chosen to rise above pettiness.
“I joined Swapo in 1983. At the time, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) was very strong in Kunene. I saw the Koevoet soldiers, well dressed and paid, a startling contrast when compared to Plan combatants with who we shared food and water.
“I still chose Swapo under those difficult circumstances. I knew that we could not support the same DTA whose members were wining and dining with the oppressor while the party itself was sponsored by the whites,” he said, adding that his affiliation to Swapo was never about the “money”.
That remains the case today, he
In the late 80s, Herunga joined Swapo’s youth wing and the Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) to officially mark the genesis of his active political career.
Immediately after independence, Herunga, who started school aged 15, would go on to finish a diploma in education in Ongwediva.
He taught in the northern regions for most of his life before returning to Kunene in 2002, following the death of his father.
In Kunene, a DTA [now Popular Democratic Movement (PDM)] political fiefdom, Herunga’s zeal to preach Swapo’s gospel was reignited.
Fast forward, around 2006, the DSG aspirant was elected as Swapo branch coordinator for the Otuzemba branch before rising to the position of regional coordinator for Kunene in 2007, a position he occupied for two years before heading to the National Assembly in 2009.
“When I took up the position in 2007, I had to take a pay cut to serve the party. I complained to the likes of comrade Tuarungua Kavari and others. But they reminded me about sacrifice in Swapo. People paid the ultimate prize with their lives while others worked without being paid. So I took that [financial] knock,” he recalled.
The 52-year-old conceded that the ruling party has performed below its weight in recent elections but there is light at the end of the tunnel, he continued.
Herunga expects the PDM to perform poorly at the polls in 2024.
“In 2019, people thought Panduleni Itula was a Swapo member with the party’s interest at heart. But they now see him for what he is, a president of the Independent Patriots for Change. So, those Swapo members who voted for PDM because of Itula will come back home. I see PDM’s seats in parliament dropping by 50%,” an optimistic Herunga charged. - email@example.com