Outgoing SWAPO Secretary General, Nangolo Mbumba, has described his tenure as the administrative head of the ruling party as ‘tough years’.
The 76-year-old Mbumba (NM), who leaves office this week, recently sat down with the Windhoek Observer Political Reporter, Sonja Smith (SS), and discussed a range of subjects, including his love-hate relationship with the youth in the ruling party and his ambition for higher office. Below is an excerpt of that interview.
SS: Your job as secretary general of the SWAPO Party is pretty much over. Can you take us through some of your achievements during your time in that role?
NM: Whatever achievements there are, are the achievements of the SWAPO Party and the leadership of the SWAPO Party. I was honored to be the first fully employed and permanent secretary general working here without a ministerial or Government job.
When you are secretary general of the ruling party with so many people, you are the servant of everybody; in some cases you are the top leader of the party. Sometimes you are pushed upstairs and other times you are pushed downstairs. Things can get difficult.
The real test of a secretary general is the mobilisation of the people, especially when it comes to elections. Whatever anybody might say, SWAPO remains a very popular party. People are attracted to it because of its brand, its history, its luminaries such as Sam Nujoma, Lukas Pohamba and many others who have already passed on. They truly contributed enormously without getting the prestige of the jobs we have or even getting salaries.
People like Nathanael Maxuilili, who was a true leader of the Namibian revolution and yet, the only level he ever achieved was being a Member of Parliament and that was even for a very short period of time. People like Kahumba Kandola, Simon ‘Mzee’ Kaukungwa and many more other people who built up this party. We are very grateful for what they have accomplished and that can never be forgotten. Because of them, things are now easy for us. We have telephones, computers, transport and offices, but these were leaders who were operating from their own houses with little or no logistical support.
When it comes to elections, we never lost any by-election and we never lost presidential and national elections. We must be honest with ourselves that when we want these top positions in the SWAPO Party, we must know what is waiting for us. Not only the good things, but also the difficulties as well. The achievement belongs to SWAPO; to leaders in SWAPO, supporters and sympathizers of this ruling party who also love their country so much and are determined to maintain peace and stability.
SS: What are some of those achievements?
NM: The result of elections, the establishment of the SWAPO Party School (we are in the process of digitalizing our membership.) We no longer want to depend on pieces of papers, but we want things computerized. That will really be a revolutionary move in terms of history, so we can know who joined SWAPO during this year or that because right now as we speak anybody who is born in the 60s can say I joined in the 60s and those born in the 70s say they also joined in the 70s.
So this computerisation will help us and nobody can question people on when exactly they joined or impose themselves and say we are the people of the 80s, 60s or 70s.
We must also list accomplishments such as the issue of gender equality. Right now we have a tight rule that nothing happens in the party without 50/50, except the in the SWAPO Party Women Council, of course.
SS: What would you say were some of the major challenges that you encountered as SWAPO Party SG?
NM: SWAPO is a huge family and it has many different components. We have questions on what we can do when it comes to veterans and this was addressed by creating the Ministry of Veteran Affairs. On the issue of the Children of the Liberation Struggle, we are still training them and accommodating them in the structures of the party and Government, but it remains a challenge. Then we have the problem with our impatient youths doing all kinds of things. We have a number of court cases of which some we lost and some we won, but our aim is not to penalise anybody, but to maintain stability and calm in the party.
I am happy that the current youth leadership seems to be willing to listen and they are also willing to work hard. They are ready to give working proposals not quarrel about proposals. They express what they need in terms of projects and what they need in terms of programmes, and the financial support they need in terms of mobilising their fellow youth. All those things are in line.
SS: So do you think you have successfully managed the youth question in the party?
NM: The youth will always remain the youth. We were also youth when we joined; I was a secondary school student and we gave Tate Pohamba and others a lot of headaches, so we were not always the sweetest of people, but that does not matter. The important thing is we need the contribution and support of everybody, and we need everyone to feel that they belong to the party whether it is with regard to the issues of the youth, grants, veterans, or struggle children.
SS: Are you happy as SWAPO SG with the 50/50 representation that goes to Parliament? There is a notion that SWAPO is just ‘wheelbarrowing’ women to positions of power because it wants the zebra style, but not necessarily because they can do the job?
NM: You ask them, they are doing the work that they are assigned to do. At the two education ministries you have women who are ministers. At the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development we also have a woman who is very tough, as small as she is in terms of stature, but she is doing the job. So women to men, men to women if we are to be marked by the president or the general public, I think we are still 50/50.
SS: Given what you have gone through during your tenure, if you could go back to 2012 when you were elected as SWAPO SG, would you still accept the position?
NM: Yes I would. I remember when the former secretary general decided that she was no longer interested in this job and that she wanted to be the vice president. I was deputy secretary general, I did not jump for this position, but it was the leadership that wanted me in this position. I was asked what my position was and I was told to make up my mind.
But what do you do when your senior leaders are saying, ‘there is a vacancy in front of you, what is your decision’? We are not doing these things because they are easy, we are not doing them because they give us prestige or peace of mind, but we are doing them as a duty to the party and to our country. Now whether we do it perfectly or not so perfectly, it becomes a different thing. When leaders tell you to ‘make up your mind,’ you are the next person in line. You move. I have no regrets in terms of becoming the SG.
SS: There has been a lot of speculation surrounding your future. Some people are linking you to the country’s vice presidency, but you have said previously that you are retiring. Where to from here? Will we see you at the farm in the next two years?
NM: I am not going anywhere. I am a Member of Parliament for the next two years, so I still have a job. To link this elective congress to the vice presidency of the country is a mistake; it’s a speculation because we are not going to change Government.
SS: Are you prepared to be just an ordinary MP, don’t you have any ambition for a higher office?
NM: Let us forget about our wishes. Politicians must learn to face facts, truth and accept them. You are secretary general today, tomorrow you are not. If two years from now I don’t make it to Parliament; I must be ready for it. What should be the problem with that?
There are only two things I don’t want to lose. One is my position as a Namibian and the second is my SWAPO Party membership, for which I joined officially and formally in 1965 at the age of 24.
SS: What do you think you will be remembered for as the SG, what legacy are you leaving behind?
NM: People should not worry about individual legacy because the public always remember what they want to remember. Some will remember the good things; that’s those wishing you well while others will remember you for the bad things, especially those who thought you were a thorn in their flesh.
I had the good fortune to get an education through SWAPO and to have lived in exile as a school principal, working among women, children and soldiers. Coming home, I was able to witness independence, join Government, and witness the negotiations over Walvis Bay.
SS: Do you think you are leaving the party intact or more divided than before?
NM: The division is coming because of the campaign (for positions at the sixth congress) and not because of the management of the party. Let them say whatever they want and let’s allow delegates at the congress to decide who they want to vote for.
SS: What message do you have for the incoming SG?
NM: I will give them the keys to the office, and if they need my advice they should come to me and ask for it. I am not going to give advice to people who do not ask me.
SS: With all the SWAPO infightings during your tenure as SG, was there any moment you felt like giving up?
NM: Giving up and go where? Honestly, at no moment have I ever felt like that. I think I am stubborn enough to work toward whatever I am supposed to do. In fact, if I had done that, it would have created even more crisis for the party which I told you, nurtured and educated me.
SS: What are your last words?
NM: Saying goodbye is always not so pleasant. I am grateful to my God, grateful to those who gave me the genes I have, so that I can carry heavy loads like this. I have survived five tough years. And of course grateful to my leaders Dr Nujoma, Pohamba and Geingob, they have really been supportive, especially when things got tough.
I will be even more grateful the day when congress ends and I can still stand on my feet, walk to my car and drive to my house without worrying about anything.