Time for the voice of reason
The Namibian nation’s identity will for a long time be wrapped in the narratives of the liberation struggle - for better or for worse. Thousands of young people entered the struggle as individuals, out of the conviction that the harsh experiences that their elders lived through were unacceptable.
They made the commitment, individually and collectively, to change those conditions, for the sake of their children and the coming generations.
Many of these self-motivated dreamers of a new world, lived through uncertain circumstances for over three decades, with the only glue holding them together being the belief that their country would one day become a free nation.
With high idealism and the best of their abilities, many equipped themselves to take up struggle tasks, such as military training. Some went to sharpen their intellectual and technical skills, to become components of the avant-garde movement towards freedom and mental emancipation.
The struggle for national independence demanded all sorts of services and sacrifices. Some worked in offices and slept in houses. Others did not have that luxury, and worked the bushy terrains of Angola and northern Namibia, to prosecute the war effort.
Others took on the responsibility of preparing the young with the necessary Namibian ideology that would mould them to acquire the requisite mindset to launch them into leadership roles in different fields across the country.
All activities were geared to bring about national independence and selfhood.
We learn about the struggle for what we have today through books, and we are fortunate enough to share space and time with some of the people who have been through it all.
Through their work and interactions with other Namibians, we get to know who they are and the contributions they made and continue to make to the ideals of One Namibia, One Nation. The experiences of those who were in the struggle were not the same. Some lived better than others. Some worked in offices and received salaries, while others laboured in the trenches and provided the conditions for others to survive and improve their lives.
One such individual, who truly epitomises the spirit of the liberation struggle, is Tate Nahas Angula, affectionately known as Citizen Nahas. During the difficult days of campaigning throughout the world for solidarity with the Namibian course, SWAPO tasked Nahas to spearhead the education for Namibians in exile. As the liberation movement’s Secretary of Education he set up schools in the bush of Angola, a task he remembers with great fondness, combined with his own education until he finished his Master’s Degree at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City. He taught under trees and instilled a philosophy which he still practices - equality for all.
Records show that when the ceasefire under UN Resolution 435 was under threat in 1989, SWAPO President and Commander–in-Chief, Sam Nujoma, dispatched a delegation of men in uniform for sensitive talks with the enemy.
The leader of the delegation, Nahas, arrived for the meeting in civilian clothes, armed only with a pen and a note book, and in so doing showed the other side of SWAPO.
He showed that more than being oorlogsugtig (warlike), SWAPO was sophisticated and ready to lead a nation.
Before that, just after the Mount Etjo Talks, it was Nahas who met the Soviet leadership on behalf of SWAPO and took the pressing message to Nujoma that the Soviet Union was soon to be history, and that flexibility should be the approach of the day.
History will show one day that when the victimisation of Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) members started, it was Nahas who cautioned his fellow SWAPO leaders to tread carefully, in line with the freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution of the Republic.
At independence, Nahas continued to be ‘Educator Number One’ in the new nation. He was the founding Minister of Education and Culture, and later Minister for Higher Education and Employment Creation, as well as Minister of Defence. Throughout his official political career, especially as Prime Minister, Nahas was perceived as lacklustre, lacking flamboyance and pomp, which upon closer scrutiny exemplifies frugal leadership in the context of a new nation with so many demands.
Nahas has been consistent with his passion to serve, without expecting personal rewards for his service. In the dark days, many young Namibians went to the front to execute the armed struggle. The leadership of SWAPO was as committed to winning the war on the battlefield as it was committed to winning the war for self-governance in the future Namibia. It is towards the latter that Nahas is inextricably linked, up to today.
Our reality today calls for a rethinking of our direction as a nation, generally, and as a governing party, specifically. Compared to many former liberation movements on the continent, SWAPO acquitted itself exceptionally well, in terms of the task of maintaining peace and stability. This is sadly not the case at the moment.
To remain what we have been, and become better competitors in the region and beyond - and before we join our South African counterparts and become too preoccupied with the worsening internal leadership situation - we should reinvent ourselves to respond to the new challenges of today, with a new attitude and a greater readiness.
A new vigour is needed to engage all stakeholders as equals and important roleplayers. The era of finger pointing and name-calling, coupled with official dismissiveness of other voices and their contributions cannot sustain us in the medium and long-term.
The glue that held SWAPO together, namely the power to persuade, is to all intents and purposes gone. We now live in a moment of ‘Us versus Them’, and the Namibian project of unity is floundering severely.
When one looks at the current capable leadership, Nahas stands out as the voice of reason. He is scandal-free, and in any measure, the least corruptible. In a time when we celebrate the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Nahas comes closest to that icon of people’s leadership.
Castro refused to be celebrated as an individual, to the extent that there is no street in Cuba named after him. Nahas is very simple, with his people all the time, mostly self-deprecating and with no penchant for self-enrichment.
Nahas could have used his official positions to become wealthy, through consulting or teaming up with foreign businessmen. He did not. He remains involved in pan-Africanism, by engaging other critical thinkers, to assist with repositioning Africa in the world of ideas.
It is common cause that in the governing party’s high-level deliberations, he is the most fearless, but disciplined, taking his fellow leaders to what matters, and the ethics of good governance.
In the most recent SWAPO Politburo meeting, it was Nahas who raised the bar of the deliberations on the State’s challenges on land resettlement. Instead of reacting emotionally, he urged his fellow leaders to resort to reason and established processes of conflict management.
A man with very few enemies, he has been in the trenches of the struggle, where it was perhaps the most difficult - dealing with the youth whose future was at stake. After retirement, he remains committed to the plight of Africa, with his contributions to the intellectual discourse about who we are as a nation and what our roles ought to be, even when we are not in positions of power.
As a retired politician, Nahas possesses a heart and an unusual intellectual honesty that ought to be emulated by all Namibians, regardless of tribe, ethnicity, language, class and political affiliation, especially now that the nation is having great consternation with regard to where it is and where it is going.
At his age and with his vast experiences, Nahas is a rare gem in the national leadership - not fearful to voice what is in the interest of the nation, yet not arrogant to diminish others, even when he is correct or the most powerful. Nahas is a man with an uncanny ability NOT to place his self-interest above that of the nation. This trait is more than noble, in light of what the continent and the world are going through currently.
He is comfortable in his own skin, and not afraid of criticism, but is always ready to persuade others to see things differently.
Nahas is not known to be vengeful.
He opts for persuasion, rather than intimidation, where reason rather than might, where confidence rather than fear, should be the hallmarks of leadership.
Though ever-reluctant to lead from the front, he yields deep ‘casual’ influence that is indispensable for consistency, maturity and principled stewardship of the nation’s resources. He has a common touch with the average citizen, and can relate to the common man and common woman and child, anywhere anytime. Nahas Angula is Namibia’s philosopher king of our time.
(We are inundated each week with requests to publish opinion pieces and letters, and as we hurtle towards the end of 2016, we felt that this particular contribution would be food for thought, while provoking debate, as we enter the New Year. -Ed)