Venaani fires on all cylinders
DTA leader McHenry Venaani (MV) has shared his views on a range of issues, including how to tackle the country’s current economic challenges, the firing of former Land Reform Deputy Minister, Bernadus Swartbooi, the growing number of Chinese immigrants and the rebranding of his party.
Sonja Smith (SS) sat down with him recently, where he also shared what was discussed between himself and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, at a recent meeting.
SS: It has been just over two years since the DTA reclaimed its long-lost status of being the country’s official opposition. What have been some of its most significant successes? And how do you see the DTA growing from a 4,8 percent party, in terms of national support?
MV: We came in as the official opposition at 4,8 percent, during the general elections in 2014. However, in the 2015 Regional Council and Local Authority Elections, we garnered 10,2 percent of the vote, registering a nominal growth of nearly 5 percent. So looking at what we have achieved so far, all indications are that we are moving our numbers up.
Our successes have been that we have remained very consistent in holding Government to account. We have introduced various motions in the National Assembly. Parliamentary records will show you that DTA’s parliamentarians, led by myself, make the most contributions in the House. So that is strength on its own. It gives us an advantage to enter the Namibian psyche.
We have succeeded in keeping radical political momentum in the country alive, in terms of the issues that we are raising at press conferences. The last unemployment strike that took place in Walvis Bay was well-organised and well-attended by hundreds of sea fishermen. We have succeeded in raising cardinal issues.
Elma Dienda, the DTA Secretary of Education, has been doing a lot of work, raising issues of national importance. We have been dominating the news. And one thing that is really important about an opposition party is to dominate the news. If you look at the last two years, no party has been dominant in the news, not even the ruling party. Besides Government, we were more dominant in the news on a number of issues.
One of the successes is that we are the only political party to have presented audited financial statements on our resources, and even the ruling party that receives N$100 million in funding, has not even tabled a report, so that is also a monumental success on its own.
Some of the work to be done this year is the creation of 700 branches across the country.
We have fulfilled all our constitutional obligations, our congresses our CCs and our executive meetings. I have managed to renew the party leadership. We have slashed down the central committee from 180 members to 76. All these things where done on time.
SS: What about the DTA rebranding exercise, which has been in the pipeline since 2015?
MV: We are going to rebrand. We have consulted widely and we are still consulting for the next few months, before we rebrand, but the understanding is that we want to rebrand in 2017. This is a very important year, in which the DTA is marking 40 years of existence. So we are celebrating 40 years of existence, and we want to make that Rubicon leap.
SS: Have there been any developments on the international front for the party?
MV: On the international front, the party is gaining momentum. For example, I recently had a meeting with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is the third most influential politician in the world, behind American President, Donald Trump, and Russian President, Vladimir Putin, at this point in time, and we had good discussions.
We had discussions around issues of terrorism, we discussed the refugee crisis, and most importantly, we also discussed briefly the issue of deepening African democratisation. We also discussed prominent issues locally, including our fears about what is happening in negotiations on the genocide issue. This happened without compromising our Government’s position on negotiations. The DTA is also going to be accepted again, to become a full member of the International Democrat Union.
SS: What are your views on the numbers of Chinese immigrating to Namibia?
MV: There is an embedded culture of corruption, of collusion with Namibian officials. How do these Chinese business people enter the country, 100,000 of them? Who approves their visas? What do they come and do here? What are the businesses that are allowed to come and operate in this country? We are going to put those questions forward in Parliament.
SS: But are you not afraid of being labelled a xenophobic party?
MV: We are not xenophobic. What we are saying is that if you look at all the corrupt activities that have been unravelled, it tells us that China Town and these Chinese nationals, the way that they are doing business in this country, do not conform to the law.
For the first time we are going to probe, together with Parliament, these Chinese companies. I think that we need to come down hard on them.
The other day the business partner of President Hage Geingob (Jack Huang, who has since been arrested on tax evasion, fraud and money laundering charges involving N$3,5 billion) brought a vessel that was allowed to come into the country and capture some mammals in the sea. But how was this person allowed? I think he needs to be probed.
How was this vessel authorised? What was its purpose in coming into the country? So those are some of the issues that we are going to raise.
It is important to protect your niche market. You need to create employment. If you do not create employment, you are creating a problem for yourself. What we are seeing now is that the Chinese are bringing in people to push wheelbarrows. Is that globalisation? Globalisation should not take away from me. It should create a win-win relationship. We are not winning in those deals.
If we say that we need Chinese experts, yes we need their engineers, yes we need their quantity surveyors, we need their planners, but do we need their people who push wheelbarrows? Do we need their painters? Are you saying the Namibian painter is so useless that you need to bring somebody? I tell if you try to apply to be a painter in Israel, in Morocco or in China, nobody will give you a visa.
How is it that the Chinese get it right? How is it that they are given visas for pushing wheelbarrows, and yet we have an unemployment rate of over 30 percent in the country?
So I am not pursuing a protectionist policy, what I am pursuing is an asymmetrical bilateral relationship with countries, to create a win-win for everyone. Why would you tell me that Sonja cannot be able to sell Chinese shoes in the village?
Why do you give a visa to a Chinese company that will come sell shoes here? Give venture capital to the young people of this country, take them to Beijing and let them go buy the cheap commodities and let them come sell it in the villages. Why do you take the job away from a Namibian and give the right to a Chinese, or any other person for that matter, to come and sell cellphones here? Why don’t we go to Pakistan and buy the goods and be able to become manufacturers of goods, as opposed to bringing people who come sell things for us and are competing with us.
So these are now the issues that we need to address in our economy.
SS: What else is wrong with our economy?
MV: We are not oiling our SMEs. What we are oiling is tenderpreneurs. We are creating millionaires through Mass Housing, through this, through that, but that is not the way to run the economy. The economy is best run by SMEs.
If you look at the German economy, the South Korean economy, they are run by SMEs, people that are able to do things on their own.
With all the capital projects in this country, we should have created thousands of SMEs. But we are not doing it, because of the stringent conditions that we are putting on procurement rules and we are putting in place these conditions primarily to benefit the elite.
It is the permanent secretaries that understand what is happening at the Tender Board, that understand the rules of engagement. There is a lot of inside trading. They know which company to target. This is what is happening in this country.
You have a PS that has been working for 20 years in this country and he has a net worth of N$60 million. Where did he get that money from? It is inside trading.
SS: Give us the names of these permanent secretaries…
MV: I don’t want to mention people’s names, but I know there are a lot of permanent secretaries doing inside trading in this country. It is open. It is there. Their families are benefiting. They are doing inside trading. Inside trading means that the deal, when it comes to the president, all they do is they go line up their cousin and two other people and say talk to that company. There is also a story now in the newspapers that says that the chairman of the board of a parastatal is involved in a company that is doing business with that parastatal.
SS: What have been some of the challenges you have encountered in the past two years and highlight for us some of the DTA’s plans for this year?
MV: I think the biggest challenge that we have encountered is on rebranding, particularly explaining the processes to people - why we want to do it, how and when.
This has been a challenge, because as a leader you don’t want to alienate your people. What you don’t want to do is split the party, so it is not a walk in the park, you know. So when you are selling the ideas, you compartmentalise them in a manner and fashion that people accept them in pieces.
Even when I had to change the leadership of the party, I faced so many headwinds. People asked why I was reducing the members of the central committee.
But all I was saying is that we had a systematic failure, where we have a central committee that discusses the secrets of the party. I said that you cannot protect the interest of the party by having a delegate system every time you have a new representative from Zambezi, from Khomas, from Otjozondjupa, from Karas on the central committee. You needed to have fixed leaders that take care of the business of the party. So that transformation was also a challenge, because people thought I wanted to get rid of many people and I wanted to bring my own cronies together. But I told them that for us to run an effective organisation, our structures must be aligned with processes. One of the challenges was that if you want to rebrand the party, you cannot start with rebranding the party. I started with the policy conference. We created five key policies on housing, on unemployment, on this and that or the other.
We went to the policy conference, and we went to the youth congress, to revitalise. But all these processes had challenges, because people thought that why are we changing from the old. So changing from the old to the new is always a challenge.
The other challenge, and it’s quite a monumental challenge, is I am working on an idea to bring the fragmented opposition together.
It is a slow process, but we are moving. I think by the end of February we will have our first summit of opposition parties, to talk about the future of politics in the country, because we are not attempting to co-align, only to unsettle the ruling party. But the current political fragmentation does not give fair choices to voters, because there are too many political parties on our political horizon.
SS: If you were the Head of State, how would you be tackling the unfolding economic crisis? What immediate, medium and long-term steps, in your opinion, need to be taken?
MV: Well, I think one of the key issues to kickstart the economy, is to robustly address the trickling down effect of the economy. Our biggest emphasis would have been to promote the SME sector, so that more people can benefit from the tendering processes of the country, because the Government is the biggest procurer of services. Secondly, it will be to allow the venture capital processes to give SMEs a kickstart. Young people that want to start businesses must be given the necessary loans to be able to kickstart the economy. Agriculture is not one of the biggest contributors to GDP; it is round about 4 percent of the total GDP.
But because of its economical nature, over 75 percent of the population lives off agriculture. So you need to re-finance agriculture in a way that will stimulate growth. The minister of agriculture has just announced in the newspapers that the green schemes are falling apart... You need to kickstart the agricultural sector, so that you have more people doing things with their hands.
One of the issues that need to be addressed is the dichotomy of the North versus South - the Red Line thing. You need to create a buffer zone between Namibia and Angola, so that the cattle prices in the North will be able to equate with the prices in the South of the country. If you put a buffer zone between Namibia and Angola, the 1,2 million cattle that is roaming the North of Namibia will immediately get the same value as the cattle in the South of the country.
In doing that, you are making farmers in the North, who have more cattle than farmers in the South, instant millionaires.
We also need to look at property rights, as a means for people to able to access collateral from their land. I moved a motion that was adopted by Parliament, on property rights. Now there is a Bill coming up that is partly addressing property rights, and it is an idea that I have been working on for years now.
One thing that is happening in the economy that I would have done differently is, for example, the fishing sector to create thousands of jobs through value-addition.
SWAPO has been in power for 27 years, and they have been trying to do everything, but they have done nothing. Leadership is not about trying, it is about doing things. You can’t say that the Government over the 27 years has been trying to put value-addition in place; we are speaking of industrialisation.
For example, we must start sitting with companies such as Meatco, which are selling products to Europe. We need to bring beneficiation back home and beneficiation of our raw materials must be given impetus, so that we keep jobs in the country. We must look at all the opportunities that we can create from our own fish. Our fish is creating jobs in rich countries, and we are doing nothing about it... we are creating 4,000 jobs in Spain and we are saying we want to bring beneficiation. The Government’s role is not to create jobs, but to create a conducive environment for job creation.
SS: What are your views about former Deputy Land Reform Minister, Bernadus Swartbooi’s firing? Did it, for example, add to tribal tensions? What could have been done differently?
MV: I think Swartbooi raised a very fundamental issue. There must be a bigger consideration of people who have lost land. And that is true. It is a fact. You cannot deny that. Nahas Angula, at the time when he was the prime minister and then minister of education, was very consistent in saying that when promoting nationalism and equitable distribution of land, we should not forget that reality. We should be sensitive to those that lost land.