Political commentators have advised Vice President, Dr Nickey Iyambo, to retire gracefully instead of holding on to a position for which he may not be physically qualified.
This comes after Iyambo, who turns 82 this May, collapsed at the funeral of the former Home Affairs and Immigration Minister, Rosalia Nghidinwa, at Nkurenkuru last Saturday.
Since taking office in 2015, concerns have been raised that the 81-year-old politician does not have the physical stamina and vigor necessary to meet the requirements of the office he holds.
Saturday’s faux pas was the second public incident in just over a year that the elderly vice president had collapsed at an official gathering, reigniting debate on his fitness to hold office.
Political analyst and visiting professor at the University of Cape Town, Henning Melber, said it was embarrassing for the vice president to publicly display fragile health.
“It is a matter of concern that Government officials in such a high-ranking office are publicly displaying their fragile health… the fact that the president continues to keep such a person in office is not a sign of good governance,” Melber said.
“It is obvious that the VP’s physical condition makes it increasingly difficult for him to execute his functions. The president should act responsibly and ask the VP to retire.”
The academic added that Iyambo should retire gracefully instead of holding on to a position which does not have any impact on governance.
“I do not know why Nickey Iyambo, who remains the only one who has served as a member of Cabinet since Independence, does not retire gracefully. There should be a life after political office, rather than ending in a fragile condition,” Melber said.
Iyambo’s ill-health first made headlines in September 2016 when he collapsed in Tsumeb, while standing in for President Hage Geingob at a belated Heroes’ Day celebrations.
At the time, Oshikoto Regional Governor, Henock Kankoshi, became a subject of public ridicule when he claimed that Iyambo had fainted because he had not eaten anything that morning.
Ndumba Kamwanyah, political commentator and Deputy Director in the UNAM Centre for Professional Development, Teaching and Learning Improvement, argued that anyone who wants to hold the second highest job in the country should have their medical condition vetted since the job comes with a lot of responsibilities.
“I am not sure how much of the vetting was done for the VP. In general, you will want your VP to be medically healthy and fit because should anything happen to the president, the VP takes over,” Kamwanyah said. “You want to assure the voters that you are fit and that you will be able to make sound judgements and they can confidently trust that the nation is in the hands of a medically sound person.
“The VP has done a lot for this country and no one can take that away from him. But there comes a time for our politicians to call it quits and say ‘I have done enough and cannot be there forever’.”
PDM Treasurer General and parliamentarian, Nico Smit, said the fact that Iyambo is collapsing from ‘things like low blood pressure and fatigue’ seems to suggest that he should be ‘thinking of taking it easy’.
“His collapses are probably not very good for the image of the country as it suggests that there are no people in better health that could be doing this job.
“I have often wondered why some politicians choose to cling on to their positions long after retirement age. However, this is a question only Dr Iyambo himself can answer. I personally believe that he has done enough in the past 27 years that he has been in Government, and deserves to retire with dignity and the nation’s thanks for services rendered.
“I doubt whether there is anything left for him to do – he should leave it to people with more energy to pick up the baton and carry on with his work,” Smit told the Windhoek Observer.
Presidential Affairs Minister, Frans Kapofi, was quoted earlier this week saying that Iyambo is now “fine and back at work”.
Iyambo was born on May 20, 1936.
A doctor by profession, he was the first Minister of Health and Social Services at independence and has held several ministerial posts since then including his current post as Minister of Veteran Affairs and Marginalised People concurrent with his role as the first Vice President of Namibia.