A cautionary tale

31 August 2012

WE live in dangerous times right now. People, particularly in politics and the media, have become delirious with congress fever and this seems to have slightly unhinged some people’s minds.
The Swapo Party Youth League congress that started this week perhaps provides an appetiser or foretaste of what we can expect in the run-up to the main congress of Swapo towards the end of the year.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply say let the contest begin in the knowledge that we will have a clean, fair and free contest in which the best man or woman emerges as the winner.
Regrettably, we don’t see any signs that suggest we will see a fair and clean contest in the race for the Swapo vice-presidency, and by extension the country’s next president-in-waiting.
Vicious political infighting has marred the regional conferences to select delegates to attend both the SPYL and main Swapo congresses.
The general confusion, constant delays, postponements and nullifications that marked the process at the regional level quite frankly do not reflect well on Swapo as the government of the day.
The entire process has left ordinary citizens perplexed, scratching their heads and wondering how Swapo can govern the country efficiently if it runs its own affairs so chaotically.
The opposing sides have drawn their battle lines. Those involved regard it as a winner-takes-all contest and a vicious campaign of underground mudslinging simmers under the surface.
The dirty-tricks campaign of smear tactics and disinformation campaigns against opposing candidates is in full swing and does not augur well for what we can expect as the congress dates draw nearer.
Already, the allegations that some candidates have received financial inducements to withdraw from the SPYL leadership contest have cast a dark cloud over the gathering.
Moreover, many people feel disappointed that only one single female candidate has emerged in the contest for either secretary or deputy-secretary of the SPYL.
Is there really such a dearth of political and intellectual heavyweights among the young women in the SPYL?
Party members at the regional level were virtually scratching each other’s eyes out to secure positions but failed to spell out for what aim they fought so ferociously for those positions.
Many of these political squabbles seem to centre on what candidate for the vice-presidency potential delegates who will attend the main party congress support.
The reasons why they support one or other candidate remains unclear, since none of the names party members bandy about as candidates have articulated their political programme or vision of the direction they want to take the country.
Sadly, the only conclusion one can arrive at is that the politics of the belly rather than any ideological differences drive these titanic political battles.
The tribal chauvinists among the politicians, and in the media, have openly come out of the closet and they burn the midnight oil trying to think up new ways to smear opposing candidates.
Some of the smear tactics used on both sides are in extremely bad taste and often border on character assassination and outright libel.
People dredge up old stories about the ‘Lubango dungeons’ while others counter with tales of alleged torture at the Old Farm outside Lusaka.
What people tend to forget is that an almost identical climate of political hysteria and paranoia led to the horrors of the Lubango dungeons in the first place.
People who backed the wrong horse at the 2004 extraordinary congress became political outcasts and the victims of witch-hunts, so obviously no one wants to repeat that mistake.
They want to make sure that they are guests seated at the sumptuous dinner table when the new presidency starts on 21 March 2015.
They do not want to find themselves seated under the table waiting for other people’s crumbs to fall into their mouths.
Unfortunately, some people seem to fear the prospect of becoming a crumb-eater more than death itself, even though the fear should have no basis in reality.
We should all worry about the fact that the politics of the belly seems to have driven some people to the edge of lunacy.
Furthermore, it is not acceptable that people seem prepared to destroy the country in order to ensure that their stomachs remain nicely filled.
We need to take a step back and pause and reflect before the whole situation spins out of control.
More than ever, this calls for leadership. The contest serves as a test of our level of political maturity as a country and of the leadership qualities of top Swapo personalities.
They need to lead by example, and rein in some of their more overzealous lieutenants and proxies.
What everyone seems to have forgotten is that first and foremost we are all Namibians, and the country always comes first – ahead of any individual or personality. We are one country and one people!
It is not a winner-takes-all contest, because whoever wins, he or she needs to ensure that we all become winners in the process and that the country emerges as the real winner.
As a young democracy, our leaders have to learn to both accept defeat gracefully and embrace victory with humility.
In other words, we don’t want a fight to the death that lays the country to waste but a fight for renewal and new hope.
Whoever wins, whether it is Hage Geingob, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana or Nahas Angula or anyone else for that matter they must all be willing to shake hands, hug each other and be prepared to continue working together.
If they are not prepared to do that, they have no right to even be in the contest.
They must pool all the ideas that come out of the deliberations of congress and work together for the common good of all.
We have a responsibility toward all Namibians, particularly the youth from all corners of the country who bear the brunt of the country’s horrendous unemployment rate.
This country belongs to all of us! It is within our democratic rights to differ politically, and we should not deny the ‘losers’ opportunities or their fair share of the resources of the country.
We use the term ‘loser’ with circumspection, because no one should see themselves as losers but as just not the first choice.
Being on the so-called losing side does not make anyone less of a Namibian and deprive them of their rights.
We hope that at the end of the congress people will not have coined new pejorative terms such as ‘hibernator’ or ‘imperialist’ to use as a club to beat their fellow Namibians over the head with and vilify and ostracise them.
That’s a chapter of our history most of us want to rather forget. Let us move forward not backwards.



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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