Taking disciplinary action or expelling former Land Reform Deputy Minister, Bernadus Swartbooi, would be tantamount to “a political suicide mission”, which will impact heavily on SWAPO’s internal dynamics ahead of the ruling party’s elective congress later this year.
This is according to analysts who weighed in on the unfolding drama around Swartbooi, after the SWAPO Politburo this week ignored growing calls for the former Karas Regional Governor to be disciplined, after he called his former boss, Land Reform Minister, Utoni Nujoma, “an idiot” in the National Assembly last week.
Swartbooi was fired as Nujoma’s deputy in December, after he first refused to apologise and then resign, for publicly telling attendees at a traditional festival at Hoachanas that Nujoma should be called to order for resettling people from as far as the Zambezi region, on land in the South.
His outburst last week in the National Assembly, when he repeatedly interrupted Nujoma’s ministerial address, was expected to have featured prominently during Monday’s SWAPO Politburo meeting.
However, the official word from SWAPO Secretary General, Nangolo Mbumba, who spoke to the media in the aftermath of the gathering, was that the public should decide whether Swartbooi’s “idiot” comments, were appropriate or not.
Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah said SWAPO finds itself in a catch-22 situation, because of overwhelming support Swartbooi is receiving, especially around the question of resettlement and the burning issue of ancestral land.
“So taking action against him is tantamount to a political suicide mission, as far as electoral support, both at the party congress, and at national election level, is concerned.
“The Swartbooi issue is turning into something bigger than itself, making it complicated for the party to deal with. It is clearly dividing the party, the country and even families.
“It is also becoming a source of inspiration for those who are feeling that the national cake is not and hasn’t been shared equally. It has become a source of inspiration for those feeling excluded and left out, as well as a source for political opportunism and for re-energising Agenda 2017.”
Agenda 2017 is reportedly a campaign by President Hage Geingob’s enemies, to stop him from ascending to the presidency of the ruling party later this year.
“Certainly there are certain people in the party and the country who want to use the Swartbooi issue to their own political advantage. Therefore, I would not be surprised that some people are trying to capitalise on that issue, to push the president deeper into the mud,” Kamwanyah said.
Henning Melber, who is an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and at the Centre for Africa Studies of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, said that Swartbooi, as an MP, has used “wrong language and insulted another party member”, but this was not enough of a reason for SWAPO to expel him.
“This is not the same as attacking the party in general. It is sufficient for a reprimand, but not necessarily for expelling an elected MP from the party.
“It would be a very tricky legal matter to decide if an MP elected through a party list can simply be removed for using offensive language,” Melber said.
Asked what other divisive issues were plaguing SWAPO at present, he said leadership succession is much of a contested matter, as well as the issue of intergenerational tensions, partly related to this.
“After 27 years of independence, it is time that the ‘struggle generation’ provides space for those who come from a different background and socialisation in a country, where soon the ‘born-frees’ will be the biggest portion of voters.”
He added that land resettlement, does have a regional component, which includes ethnicity as a factor.
“It was not by accident that the fallout between Swartbooi and Nujoma happened over land resettlement and land allocation in southern Namibia, and the dispute over who the beneficiaries are or ought to be.”
Melber added that it was also not by accident that Swartbooi’s criticism of the land resettlement process had found resonance among not only in the Nama, but also in the OvaHerero and Damara communities across the country.
“I am therefore not sure that Geingob’s intention is to further isolate Swartbooi,” he said.
Former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s speechwriter, Dr Charles Mubita, said those drawing parallels between the Swartbooi issue and the expulsions of Elijah Ngurare, Job Amupanda, Dimbulukeni Nauyoma and George Kambala in 2015, were being mischievous.
“At face value it may look like a double standard, but in reality that is not the case. One must realise that the SWAPO Party has procedures and structures that are supposed to deal with such cases. You will recall that the expulsions of others in the party did not arrive within a week or month. Whether procedures were followed, or not, some of those comrades were suspended before being expelled.
“I am sure that the party will want to ensure that if they have to take any disciplinary action, that action should be well-thought-out and watertight, to avoid what happened with the previous cases mentioned,” Mubita said.
He also addressed the “bad illusion” in the country, where almost everything is seen within the realm of minority versus majority.
“People join parties as individuals and not as groups. The intention of joining a party is to make a contribution to the aims and objectives of that party, and to strength that party. The purpose of joining any party, especially SWAPO, is not to advance your minority, majority, or group rights.
“Only affiliate organisations join with such purposes, and not individuals. Therefore, a member of the party is responsible for his or her actions as an individual.
“It follows, therefore, that if disciplinary action has to be taken against any member for transgressions; such action is not aimed at any group, but at the guilty individual.
It would be foolhardy to believe otherwise. Unfortunately some comrades wish to hide behind a group whenever they find themselves in a tight corner. It is unfortunate that some members of society align themselves to some people, on the basis of tribes or places of origin, and not on principle,” Mubita added.