Last week, Windhoek Observer Editor-in-chief, Kuvee Kangueehi (KK), sat down with Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service and SWAPO Party presidential candidate,Jerry Ekandjo (JE), to discuss his bid for the ruling party’s top job and the state of the party. Below is an extract from that interview.
KK: In what state do you find the SWAPO Party in today?
JE: The constitution is being violated, especially from the highest office. If I say from the highest office, here I’m speaking about the head office, the office of the secretary general. That office needs to ensure that all the activities of the party are being implemented according to the letter and spirit of the constitution which is not the case at the moment.
Let me put it this way: At the beginning of 2015, at the start of Hage Geingob’s presidency, there was a Politburo meeting where the former President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, announced that he was going to relinquish the presidency of the SWAPO Party. That matter was discussed at the Politburo on 18 April 2015 and also by the Central Committee in Ongwediva. There, the Central Committee acknowledged that the party was going to accept the resignation and accord Pohamba a permanent membership of the Politburo, Central Committee and congress, which was approved.
The discussion then centred on the disparities caused by the resignation. First, the former president said he would like to relinquish and hand over the activities and functions of his office to the vice president, comrade Hage Geingob.
The Central Committee, realising that it is only the congress of the party or an extra ordinary congress that can appoint the president, decided as per Article 9B3 of the party agreed that the vice president should be in charge of the party in acting capacity, until the next congress.
This article 9 is on page 16 of the SWAPO Party constitution and it reads as follows:
“The vice president shall exercise the same powers and carry out all the duties and functions of the president in the absence of the president and shall exercise all the powers and functions of the president in the absence of the president meaning that if the president is not there, whether temporarily or even for a length of time the vice president should act in that capacity until either an extraordinary congress is held or the congress itself.”
Since then, these minutes were not made available or if they were made available, they were not followed up. The minutes of the Ongwediva meeting where never discussed and since then the vice president was assigned to act as president of the party. However, we were made to believe that comrade Geingob, the elected vice president of the party, was now the president of the party, which is wrong. It’s a violation of the constitution.
KK: How were you made to believe he is the president of the party?
JE: You see, there is no resolution to that effect, so it means that from the moment comrade Pohamba left his office as party president, the agenda for Central Committee meetings or Politburo meetings, was supposed to come from the ‘acting president’ not the ‘president’ of the party because we don’t have a president currently.
And yet, on many occasions at press conferences, journalists would ask the secretary general about various subjects and he would [incorrectly] say that the current vice president is not the acting president; but the president.
If people accept that the current vice president is the president, then the question is, ‘who is the vice president?’ The SWAPO constitution is clear that there cannot be one person holding two positions. Then, there was also this Oshikoto elder’s council issue. Up to now, they’ve never had their regional conference, but they are still allowed to attend the congress of the elder’s council. How can that be?
Even the last Politburo meeting we had recently, the nomination was done wrongly. First, there must be a nomination called and listed on the agenda for all to see. But, in our agenda for the meeting, there was no indication of nominations, there was only item number 6 which was ‘congress procedure,’ so the ‘nominations’ [ by Geingob] was something hidden.
The other thing which is also important currently is that SWAPO is divided into factions. There are sections that belong here and other sections that belong there. There are now Harambee sections, Katusha sections and Masalad sections.
Regardless of the sections, it is the united congress that will elect the top four and whoever emerges as the president, is the one we all work with.
It’s the congress that decides amongst the candidates who will be in the party’s leadership, not the candidates. Someone vying for a particular office cannot dictate to congress who must occupy the various offices.
KK: How is it that members have been suspended or expelled from the SWAPO Party by the ‘top four’ or Politburo and these actions have then been found to be illegal?
JE: We have a disciplinary committee in SWAPO as elaborated in the constitution. Why then, is the Politburo taking on the functions of a disciplinary committee?
Politburo can dismiss or suspend somebody, but when it comes to dismissal or suspension, this must be done on the recommendation of the disciplinary committee.
However, since 2013 when this disciplinary committee came into being, up to now, if one asks, ‘who is serving on that committee and how many cases have they handled?’ there is no information available.
I don’t think that committee has ever been enacted in truth because I have never attended a Politburo meeting where we received cases recommended from the disciplinary committee. But in the meantime, how many people have been expelled or suspended by the Politburo?
According to the constitution, a disciplinary hearing must be the first step in handling member issues that lead to suspension or expulsion, not the Politburo on its own with no disciplinary committee recommendation.
These are the wrong things being done which have resulted in costly lawsuits, bad feelings, confusion and divisions that have hurt the party. We can correct this and organise things better in the future, with a stronger leadership at the top.
KK: What kind of leadership will emerge from the congress in November?
JE: It will be a collective leadership guided by the SWAPO Party constitution. The constitution is a guiding principal document and all leaders from top to bottom, including the president, must adhere to it.
First, we must be guided by the constitution of the SWAPO Party, meaning that we should allow free expression of thoughts. Let every person be free to express his or her rights without fear or favour. This must be allowed.
Second, in a democratic society, we have movements and collectives which may not be political. Being in a legitimate movement loosely connected to the party or an official wing of the party does not necessarily place a person in a particular political faction within the party. We must not mix up this situation.
For example, I belong to the movement of former political prisoners, those who were arrested by the South African apartheid Government. This is not a faction, but a group of people sharing a common identifying factor. It is meaningful to us and the group has no political overtones, but rather, historical roots.
When we, as a movement of former prisoners meet, we should not be in a situation where we look over our shoulders to see who might be listening and making assumptions that we are a ‘faction.’ We must be free to speak as we choose when we get together.
We must stop the name callings and labelling of comrades, especially those who are perceived to be against the top four proposed by the acting president of the party, who are apparently being called Masalad.
Masalad, as a term for one ‘faction’ that has emerged within the party, apparently originates from events at one of the birthday celebrations of the founding father and first president, because on that occasion, people were eating salad.
KK: What are your other thoughts about the leadership of the party that will be elected at congress? What should good leaders of the party strive to do?
JE: We need a leadership that will ensure that the constitution is followed religiously; we all have to follow the constitution irrespective of our interests.
We need a leadership that provides an environment where members of the party support and sympathise, feel comfortable and feel at home within the party.
We need a leadership that prioritises the goal of uniting all the people of Namibia; we should work on it. We should ensure that we are united and there is peace and that everybody feels comfortable.
We should strive to avoid having cliques and factions. We should ensure that we have a solid SWAPO leadership that will work to unite rather than divide members. It should not promote cliques. Cliques form when groups of people feel that their points of view are not being considered.
A strong party leader will consider different points of view and make decisions, firmly and quickly, but after due consideration.
Leaders of the SWAPO Party must treat every human being; every member of the party equally, because only then, will other people join SWAPO and feel included.
But, if we continue as we are, and don’t follow the constitution (which is a leveler as it applies to all members equally), violate the constitution as we are doing at the moment, we cannot expect other people to respect us.
KK: The acting president has proposed the only ‘team’ he will work with and they, along with others, have been nominated appropriately. We now have different members standing for election to party office. What is your comment on this?
JE: Although we know the line-up, the delegates to the congress are the ones who will ultimately decide who will be in the top four. If I happen to be elected, I will accept those duly elected by the congress as ‘the SWAPO team’ and members of the Central Committee who will assist me, but the congress is the one that decides the top four.
Congress is the highest decision-making body and will decide who the president is, who the vice president is, who the secretary general is and who the deputy secretary general is.
They will also choose the Central Committee and it is up to any leader to accept the final verdict of the congress.