Landless People’s Movement (LPM) leader Bernadus Swartbooi has branded social media darling and independent presidential candidate Dr Panduleni Itula a non-entity whose only value in the Namibian political space is to divide the ruling SWAPO Party to the benefit of the opposition.
Speaking to the Windhoek Observer on Wednesday during a candid interview, Swartbooi said Itula was a ‘nice-to-have’ for the opposition because of the way he is exposing and deepening the divisions in the ruling party.
The former Land Reform Deputy Minister, who was fired by President Hage Geingob following his refusal to apologize publicly for making derogatory remarks against his former boss Utoni Nujoma, laughed off suggestions that the emergence of Dr Itula is drowning opposition parties’ messages.
“There is nothing he has drowned out; in fact, he has no message. All I know is that he is a dentist dealing with matters of teeth, how to make your teeth better and stronger. Maybe he should have remained there.
“He is a nobody, that guy. Itula is a storm in a cup of tea who merely represents a faction of SWAPO. When we were in law school we were told that if you memorise articles you should know that you don’t know anything. That guy just goes around memorizing articles and things like that.”
Swartbooi said Dr Itula represents a faction within SWAPO that has already clashed with Geingob and come up short.
“Dr Intuleni, Itula, Panduleni, whatever his name is, is not his own man. He represents a faction within SWAPO that has lost a number of rounds to Geingob. Those that are the leaders of that faction are such cowards that they cannot even stand up and directly challenge Geingob again. Where they did, they lost twice to Hage.
“Now they went and invented a person under the guise of an independent candidate, but who is substantively neither independent nor non-partisan.
“Dr Itula remains SWAPO. In other words what message does this man has other than that of SWAPO? Has that man spoken up recently against injustices around land, around corruption at GIPF, around issues of workers’ rights or young people? He doesn’t criticize SWAPO because he remains SWAPO. His fight is to get rid of Hage that is why he has been asking other opposition parties to stand down so that he and Hage can fight.”
Swartbooi said Dr Itula is doing a very good job of dividing SWAPO something that the opposition welcomes.
“He is dividing them right in the middle, and that is why his coming is the last straw in the death ceremony of the SWAPO Party. For us in the opposition, Itula is good to have.
“We welcome the presence of Itula in any debate or on any issue under the moon, on the left-hand side of the sun, at dawn, at night. Itula will not match even a single mosquito in LPM, nothing, nothing. That is the extent we don’t fear Itula. We are just celebrating the confusion within SWAPO and Itula epitomizes that level of confusion.”
The former ruling party MP declared that Dr Itula is an unofficial SWAPO candidate disguised as an independent candidate.
“Just as SWAPO is useless, his agenda is also useless. He is no threat to LPM. Maybe he has drowned other people, but I don’t think so. That is why you don’t see us commenting on Itula because he doesn’t matter.”
The opposition leader alleged that there is a deliberate effort by the official press and those on social media to give Itula coverage because just like SWAPO did not threaten white interests, Itula also does not threaten any white interests on the issue of agricultural land and on the issue of urban land.
“We are there as a party that will move tables and chairs, but Itula and others will keep the status quo, they will not move anything. That is why some of the white people are okay with him because the status quo will remain. Black people will remain poor and reduced to squatter camps and informal settlements while white people will remain rich and privileged and part of the business enterprise with the black elites, so you must be careful about who supports this guy.”
He, however, said he refuses to believe the popular notion that Dr Itula and his supporters are tribalists who want to perpetuate the dominance of the Oshiwambo-speaking tribe.
“Just because those that support Itula are Oshiwambo-speaking I am not going to conclude that Itula or his supporters are tribalists. I refuse to say it because I don’t believe it is entirely true. Yesterday, Geingob was voted by Namibians including the Ovambo people despite their campaign saying we want a non-Oshiwambo speaking president.
“Even when his campaign said we want a non-Oshiwambo speaking president, Ovambo people stood up and voted for him. Today, they disagree and they don’t want to vote for him and people are now calling those voters tribalists which I think is wrong.
“It is wrong to abuse those very few Oshiwambo-speaking people that support Itula by concluding that they are tribalists. I don’t think that type of cheap politicking is helpful.”
Swartbooi’s comments echo sentiments by former Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture Minister Kazenambo Kazenambo who once described Dr Itula as a remnant of Team SWAPO that was obliterated by Geingob’s Team Harambee at the ruling party’s sixth elective congress held in November 2017.
“We were together in Team SWAPO, and his decision to run as an independent presidential candidate points to him being a bad loser. I don’t think that if Team SWAPO had won, he would have run as an independent candidate. Why are we dancing around that? We cannot do politics with dishonesty. Let us be honest for the sake of this nation,” Kazenambo said in a previous interview with the Windhoek Observer.
He said SWAPO should never allow itself to have two drivers at the wheel, adding that any member who is not happy with the way the ruling party is doing things or its leader should resign.
“If you can see that the driver of this vehicle who has been given the key by the majority of SWAPO members is a wrong one, get out of the car. That is democracy. You cannot sit in the car and fight over the steering wheel. The car will overturn. In SWAPO, we do not have co-drivers; we have a process of identifying a driver.
“It is your democratic and constitutional right to get out of the car otherwise those who are the majority in the vehicle will use their rights too and ask you to get out of the car so that you do not disturb.”
Kazenambo said Dr Itula’s action reminds him of Ben Ulenga who, together with several other prominent members of SWAPO, resigned from the ruling party in 1999.
“The former colleagues were not happy with the way Ulenga was treated and the way SWAPO was handling the DRC war so they walked away from the party.
“The same happened with the formation of RDP after the late Hidipo Hamutenya lost out on the SWAPO presidency in 2004, so the comrades who are not happy with the outcome of the 2017 congress must also walk out and form their own party.”
Dr Itula’s phone was answered by an unidentified lady who referred the Windhoek Observer to his campaign manager Ella Nghifindaka.
Nghifindaka did not respond to messages sent to her by the time of going to print.
Dr Itula has so far attracted huge crowds at his rallies in Windhoek, Walvis Bay, Tsumeb, Otapi, Tsandi and Ruacana with poor turnouts in Zambezi and the two Kavango regions.
The small crowds in the two Kavango regions have been blamed on the SWAPO Party star rally that was held the previous day and the fact that there was no water and electricity in the area at the time.
SWAPO Executive Director Austin Samupawo maintained that the ruling party is not worried about the rise of Dr Itula.