Those who vote are not stupid

07 December 2018
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
When I read about the SWAPO Party attaching decades of membership tenure and inclusion in this or that party structure to eligibility for holding elected office, I am utterly confused.  What does it matter whether someone is a party member for 1 day, 1 year, 10 years or 100 years when it comes to holding elected office?  The posts in question are ELECTED, not given away like candy. 
Unless the party members going to a congress to elect leaders are incapable, gullible or insane or that election-fixing in congress proceedings is super easy, what does it matter how long someone has been a member? 
People voting will decide who will be their leaders and this is how it should be.  To include such draconian amounts of decades and requirements to hold office is a clarion call that those voting at the SWAPO congress are incapable, and I disagree with that assumption.
Certainly, an age limit should be in play for candidates for elective office within the party as there is a Youth League membership cap (I think it is 35 years except for the Secretary, who may continue in that position until the age of 45). 
Naturally therefore, party leadership posts could be available to those 36 years old and above.  I certainly agree that anyone wishing to be an elected leader of the ruling party must be a Namibian citizen in any of the legal citizenship categories; the party should not discriminate where the law of the land does not as this can attract legal difficulties later. 
I think it is normal to have a reasonable number of years (+/-5 years is ok in my book) as a member of any institution before a person vies to lead.  I think it is more important that people should demonstrate that they are committed to the organization they would wish to lead.
I recommend a basic test on the constitution and history of SWAPO as qualifying criteria for elected office or perhaps holding regional/local offices in the party or fundraising or membership campaign successes for the party.  But 20 or 30 years before being eligible to compete for an elected office is way over-the-top.  It is severely dramatic.  For heaven’s sake, the official life expectancy in Namibia is only 64 years old!  Someone would statistically, be close to dying before they might qualify for elected office in SWAPO.
Membership in ruling committee structures within the party should have nothing to do with who is eligible to run for office.  Those slots are limited and politically connected.  Such an internal committee membership has less to do with competence and skill and more to do with who is currently in favour. 
With all due respect to my dear friend for decades, Helmut Angula, who first suggested such absurdly high levels of years of membership before someone can be an elected official of the SWAPO Party, I don’t agree. 
Let the people of the party vote according to the systems already in place and decide who should lead. 
Surely someone joining the party yesterday would never have the constituency, popularity, party track record of achievements or even name recognition to come close to securing a nomination for any office at any congress.  So why worry about it?
The demand for decades of party membership before someone can stand for election, is exclusive, not inclusive.  I rather suspect that right now, there are people in power who want certain others excluded and this rule is tailored to do so.  If this is true, then it is a sad day.  Rules of this magnitude must never be made with any individual in mind, but only for what is good for the institution.
The rule about SWAPO members not being allowed to be in ‘movements’ that the party does not accept is open to abuse.  Again, I worry that this ‘rule’ is tailored to exclude certain individuals, rather than something to strengthen the institution. 
Has the party really given this rule the thought and research it requires?  People these days head for court on every little thing.  The party is asking for law suits if the definition of ‘movements’ is not precise and justifiable. 
I can imagine that some local areas where there is party in-fighting, will use that rule to get rid of their rivals.  Imagine that such a rule on ‘other’ memberships applied to someone joining the LBGTQ movement or a movement to name and shame men who beat their wives.
Age should never be the sole determiner of competence.  I know people 10 years younger than me that are much more capable than me in many areas.  Likewise, I know people 10 years older than me who haven’t had an original thought in years.  It is not about age; it is about their CAPACITY.  
SWAPO taking up this decade’s membership rule weakens the gene pool in the party.  It means that only a small group of people can ever have anything to say about how the party is run. 
Will we only have inbred (meaning repetition of the same faces and same ideas) members as the only eligible leaders of tomorrow? 
I once worked with an association that had a rule that their office bearers could only be someone from the eight-member executive committee.  As each president’s term expired, I watched them struggle to get someone eligible who was willing to stand for election.  And yet, there were many other members who were good, strong leaders and were motivated to take on the heavy responsibilities, but did not qualify to stand for election.
The result was that less than competent and unwilling officers fumbled as leaders simply because there was no one else eligible.  Shall this happen with SWAPO?
Given the strong party constitution and the structures in place, no one without a minimal level of internal engagement, track record of work for the party, proven support for the manifesto, and backing from most quarters within the party, would ever be elected anyway.  Those who vote for SWAPO leaders are not stupid!  So, why create such an age and tenure-based barrier as if those voting have no ability to make their own choices?


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