As widely expected, President Hage Geingob has wielded the axe on Home Affairs and Immigration Minister, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service, Jerry Ekandjo, after the two challenged him at the ruling party’s elective congress last November.
Geingob’s move on Thursday comes as no surprise after he wrote to the two liberation struggle stalwarts on 8 December 2017 asking them to explain why he should keep them in his cabinet after they questioned the party’s leadership in the run-up to the elective congress.
The letter to former Minister Iivula-Ithana says, “By virtue of the powers vested in me by Article 32 (6) of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, I have decided to relieve you of your duties as Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration with immediate effect.
“The termination of your appointment should in no way be interpreted as a blight on the immense personal sacrifices, as well as the immeasurable contribution you have made in the interest of the Republic of Namibia, during our struggle for independence, as well as after independence.
“These are feats for which the people of Namibia shall always hold you in the highest regards,” Geingob wrote.
The president’s move is seen by Ekandjo and Iivula-Ithana’s loyalists as revenge for them standing against Geingob at last year’s elective congress.
Geingob loyalists have, however, argued that he should have long axed the two for running against him.
Political analyst, Ndumba Kamwanyah, told the Windhoek Observer that he is not surprised by Geingob’s move.
“This should not come as a surprise. This is a politically motivated firing. In some ways, it has political revenge components because the two challenged him not once, but twice.
“The first time he needed them for his political survival because they still had some power which was why he appointed them. This time around, he does not need them for his political survival. It is his SWAPO and he can do anything.
“Firing them at the same time also makes the president look vengeful. It makes him look like he does not like to be challenged. The message is clear: Dare challenge me, I will deal with you,” Kamwanyah opined.
He applauded the fired ministers for standing up to the president without fear.
“I think this is the beginning of the end for the two. All SWAPO structures are well-aligned with the president, making it difficult for the two to come back. In addition, age is also not on their side. So many factors are against them coming back strongly.
“They are fighters who stood their ground and challenged their boss without fear. Fear is not a good quality in democracy. So when the history of our democracy is going to be written one day, two or three pages will be reserved for them for opening up the party and the country to more democracy,” Kamwanyah concluded.
Visiting professor at the University of Cape Town, Henning Melber, said Geingob’s action was justified.
“Since the minister (Iivula-Iithana) stepped out of line, despite being co-opted after her defeat at the congress five years ago, her role in the last congress displayed no loyalty to the president. That in politics generally is a strong reason for cutting ties. The same argument applies to Jerry Ekandjo.
“I do not think that such termination is ruthless. A general cabinet reshuffle in which the two would have been replaced might have been a more elegant way, which also would have allowed some face saving. But Geingob acted in a legitimate way politically. After all, politics is by definition, nature and tendency, ruthless.
“If you are too soft, you will find it difficult to survive in politics. I am pretty certain that if Geingob would have lost the power struggle towards the end of last year, then members of Team Hage would have landed on the receiving end.”
Melber said he will always remember Jerry Ekandjo for his courageous role in the SWAPO Party Youth League before Independence.
“He was a fearless hero then. But different times require different talents and competences. Jerry Ekandjo deserves admiration for his commitments back then.
“Pendukeni Iivula-Ithuna followed in the footsteps of meme Meekulu Putuse Appolus, Libertine Amathila and Meme Mukwahepo, the first three brave women in exile. Through her own role in exile a few years later she personified the will power and determination of Namibian women. But I regret that she placed party loyalty with the (male) comrades above solidarity with sisters.
“I think the time is up not only for these two, but also for several more still occupying responsible positions in Government, who should retire or be retired. Loyalty to the one in control over Government alone should not be sufficient criteria to be allowed to hang in,” Melber said.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) Treasurer General and Member of Parliament, Nico Smit, said despite Iivula-Ithana’s commendable work in turning around the fortunes of the home affairs ministry, Geingob should never have appointed her to his cabinet in the first place because of conflicting views.
“Before she became the minister of home affairs a visit to this ministry was undoubtedly a nightmare for any Namibian. I think since Pendukeni took over as minister she turned the ministry around and made it one of the best functioning ministries in the country.
“During her term as SG of SWAPO, I also believe there was unity within the party, no signs of dissent and the party did well in elections. This indicates to me that she was successful in her job there,” he said.
“Geingob, however, should never have appointed her as a minister as it was clear from the start that they did not agree on many issues.
“He should have known that she would not change her views just because he appointed her in his cabinet – she’s not that kind of person.”
He added that although the dismissal might be a setback for the two former ministers, they are unlikely to remain in the shadows.
“Remember that they’ve only been removed as ministers and not as SWAPO members. Knowing them both and taking their background into consideration, I don’t think for a moment that they’ll disappear from the political scene,” Smit said.
“Regarding Ekandjo, he must be seen as an icon of the liberation struggle. His contribution to the independence of this country and the struggle as a whole will not be easily forgotten. In this light it’s a real pity that his political career should end this way.”
Following the sacking of Iivula-Ithana and Ekandjo, there are now three ministerial posts that urgently need to be filled.
One such position is the portfolio of Urban and Rural Development which is currently being held by the newly appointed SWAPO Secretary General, Sophia Shaningwa.
Speculation is rife that Khomas Regional Governor, Laura Mcleod Katjirua, is being considered as Shaningwa’s replacement.
Environment and Tourism Minister, Pohamba Shifeta, is also being linked with a move to the sport and youth ministry, with NYC’s Mandela Kapere or SWAPO Member of Parliament, Veikko Nekundi, as his deputy.