We’d rather have Mandela than Mugabe
The great King Mandume ya Ndemufayo fought the brutal Portuguese and British colonial forces on 6 February 1917; he was 17 years old at this pinnacle of his life, and we celebrate his achievements.
Our current President, Hage Geingob, was appointed as Prime Minister of the newly independent Namibia at the age of 47, and we honour his commitment.
And yet, the country remains under the authority of a plethora of leaders, who are far past the pinnacles of their lives.
We are forced by this reality to ask a key question: when does patriotism and commitment for the promotion of a strong, growing Namibia in the 21st century matter more than an individual’s personal desire to remain in a position of authority that is beyond their performance capacity?
Nelson Mandela spent most of his life fighting for a non-racial, democratic South Africa. When he was finally released from prison and served his term as the first president of a free South Africa, he did what he could for his country and then recognised that it was time for him to step aside and let others take it further.
He did so with personal grace and a strong belief in the structures he helped to put in place.
On the other end of the spectrum we have our nation’s ally, Robert Mugabe, who is 92 years old, questionably capable of being in charge of anything, and yet is still standing as a relic of the victorious anti-colonial struggle in Zimbabwe.
There he is, pathetically reigning over the destruction of what he spent his life building. He has stayed in power for far too long.
Our leaders should rather look to Mandela for guidance on when to step aside rather than Mugabe.
We do not agree that when a person reaches a particular age, they instantly become useless and should be thrown away; Ageism is wrong.
We believe that those who are willing and who have experience and a commitment to public service, could be available to the authorities to help ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated and the wheel isn’t reinvented. Speaking truth to power is often necessary.
At the same time, we know that there is a deep pool of Namibian men and women with degrees or proven intellectual capacity, achievements as captains of industry, enriched with international exposure, and communications skills of a high calibre who are capable and who have the energy to hold high office.
Namibia’s leadership pool is deeper than what is indicated by the limited list of names that have been recycled to different ministries and posts over the last couple of decades.
In these days of severe economic crisis, drought, unemployment, increased social decay and growing grassroots frustration, we need a wider pool of ideas and talent to implement innovative programs.
In view of the SWAPO Party Congress upcoming this year, we believe this issue is critical.
We had thought that back in 2015, a vice president reflective of this deeper pool of available talent would be selected to bring in a new leader to be exposed to the seat of authority and apprentice in running a nation.
Instead, an octogenarian unable and unwilling to challenge for the presidency in the future was selected as an example of how we continue to ignore the need to empower new people with fresh solutions for recurring national problems.
A generation of capable, talented and committed potential Namibian leaders who are now in their late 50s and 60s have mostly passed their primes vainly waiting for the baton of power to be passed to them, while the same leaders from yesteryear occupy the heights of authority as if there is no one else capable of running this great nation.
Many from this ‘ignored generation’ of potential leaders are now forced to retire from public service after being asked what more they could offer to Government.
We must ask those who served in Namibia’s first decade of existence, what they offer as we approach our third decade of independence?
But, first, these distinguished leaders should ask themselves that question before asking to continue in office. Those without energy or good health must step aside with immediate effect. Those with no new ideas to help build Namibia further, must do the same.
Why not embrace the example of Honourables like Theo-Ben Gurirab, Toivo ya Toivo or Libertine Amathila who are revered in our society and did not complain about ‘de-campaigning’ when the power wheel moved on.
Leaders lingering on in power past the point of their effectiveness weaken the nation, as the depths of capacity available, languishes untapped and frustrated.
A younger generation of leaders and potential major contributors to the future of Namibia may include Ngurare, Amupanda, Kapere, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Swartbooi, and Mensah.
Even talented Namibians with other political opinions like Venaani might be able to play a role in developing the country as a multi-party democracy.
The majority of our leaders today are not the leaders of tomorrow. We must radically blend the roster of leadership in this regard. This does a disservice to the vast reserves of national talent that is being held in roles in society where they are not meeting their full potential.
Those in power must always look to the past for lessons and guidance, but equally they must keep their eyes firmly on the road ahead to choose the correct path for Namibia.