The Time Traveler: The party and the idea

11 October 2019
Author   Hugh Ellis
I grew up among the Namibian exile community in the UK. When our family returned to Namibia in the 1990s, I was surrounded by returnees and other veterans of the struggle.
Freedom songs like Jackson Kaujeua’s ‘The Wind of Change’ were the first tunes I learned by heart. I knew all the words to Ndilimani’s ‘Gun Smoker’, and Ras Sheehama’s ‘Cassigna’ long before I could ever speak conversational Oshiwambo.
This was, of course, a rare adolescence for a white Namibian (and I’m not denying I had a degree of while privilege through it all). I understand that you might be surprised, but my family’s story can be found in the archives.
Growing up in such an environment, SWAPO was always more than just a political party.
SWAPO was the very idea that Namibia could one day, be free. SWAPO was the idea that Namibia was indeed a nation, not merely a random collection of ‘tribes’.
Later, in immediate post-independence Namibia, the SWAPO-led government that set up two universities from scratch, that directed the Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kalahari highways be built, that took possession of Walvis Bay, was a source of pride.
Once again, for me, SWAPO was more an idea than a party, the idea that Namibia would one day be a winning nation.
It still hurts to hear excessively harsh criticism of SWAPO, because part of me feels they’re not just going after the party, they’re going after the idea, the vision.
Like many Namibian returnees, issues with my getting national identification papers persisted for many years, and it is only this year, at the age of 41, that I will cast my first vote in a National Election.
It may surprise you to learn that I’m conflicted as to whether I’ll vote SWAPO or not.
The party launched its manifesto last weekend. The speeches seemed long on rhetoric and short on actual plans. There seemed to be no Big Idea to get Namibia out of the worst recession it has ever known. Most of the promises seemed to imply more of the same (with less corruption this time).
Clicking the link ‘Manifesto’ on the SWAPO Party website the following Monday afternoon revealed only a message ‘This page is currently under construction, please visit again’. Sad for a party that talks enthusiastically about the Internet, big data and bio-information-technology as part of a global ‘fourth industrial revolution’.
President Geingob was quoted as saying that only the SWAPO Party could move Namibia forward, as there is no other capable political party for this purpose. This strikes me as a very strange statement. Can you imagine Coca-Cola’s advertising saying ‘Pepsi is disgusting, Fanta is gross, you may as well drink a Coke’?
But realistically, that is the deal, and everyone knows it. SWAPO the party are the best of a bad bunch.
Besides McHenry Venaani’s youthful vigor, what’s different and new in what the PDM has to offer? Ever since some of its senior leaders drifted back to SWAPO for the promise of a pension and a heroes’ burial, the RDP seems a shadow of its former self.
I’ll always be loyal to SWAPO the idea. The One Nation. And please tell my parents’ old comrades that I voted for the red, green and blue?
But I may just mistakenly press the button for NUDO or SWANU or, Lord knows, someone, at least as a force to ask tough questions of the ruling party, remove the cushion of that soft, luxurious two-thirds majority, remind the party’s big guns that we, the people command politicians, not the other way around.
I’m no strategist, but I can’t help thinking that many young people feel the same way.
I’m also no politician, but in my opinion, the only way to stem the rising tide of youthful disillusionment is for SWAPO the party to become SWAPO the big idea, again.
Throw away all the ‘development speak’ in the last few manifestos.
Find ways to bring together white and black, government and business, young and old, for a national conversation and come up with a new and inclusive and inspiring and daring and implementable vision for this county (not for your own enrichment or for business as usual) in the next ten years.
If that were done, I’d be singing the old songs all the way to the polling booth.
Hugh Ellis is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow his blog at


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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