Three is definitely not a crowd! Instead, it is a convenient number for candidates because it eliminates the direct enmity that characterizes a two-candidate contest. Now the competitive venom is shared among three persons.
For the record, the other two candidates are the incumbent party vice-president Hage Geingob, and current party Secretary-General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana. Each of the three candidates has his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and it is really up to the congress delegates to make up their minds about the suitability of each candidate.
What makes Ekandjo’s candidacy interesting is that he is the only one who has been nominated and seconded by party wings: at the just concluded central committee (CC) meeting of the ruling party, Ekandjo was nominated by the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) and seconded by the Swapo Women’s Council (SWC). Reports have it that even the giant union federation, NUNW, is backing Ekandjo. Apparently, almost all of the CC members present seconded the nomination!
I am not a congress delegate, so my opinions about the candidates do not matter at all. As a columnist, I have to present some “neutral” views, so please do not expect any clues from this piece. Sometime ago, I mentioned a few facts about Geingob (as the “defending champion”) and Iivula-Ithana (as the only woman and the youngest candidate).
It thus makes sense that I should focus a little bit on Ekandjo as the “new kid on the block”. Actually, among the three candidates, Ekandjo is the one I know best, going back to the early 1980s. Ekandjo’s nomination has surprised and excited people in equal measure, so it will be interesting to see how he performs now that he is in the pot.
I came to hear about Ekandjo around 1981, the year in which he was released from Robben Island (no, I am not dreaming, he WAS on the Island with Toivo ya Toivo and Madiba!). He was quite active in the Swapo Party, especially the Swapo Youth League of which he was secretary. In 1985, Nanso was formed, and the Robben Island ex-prisoners like Ekandjo, Pandeni, Shifidi, Kepewasha and Ulenga, among others, were quite active among the youth, students, workers and the churches.
In 1987, I was appointed Youth Coordinator at the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN), and I thus got involved with youth matters all over the country. This brought me into contact with youth leaders such as Ekandjo, and I had the opportunity to get to know him a bit better. He was very energetic and it was clear to all and sundry that Robben Island had not destroyed the fire within him.
Some of the readers may want to know why Ekandjo ended up on Robben Island. Let us start from the beginning. Jerry Ekandjo is what some people call a “remainee” because he did not go into exile during the liberation struggle (unless you count Robben Island as a form of exile!). He was born in Windhoek, and was the chairman of the Windhoek branch of the Swapo Youth League during the 1970s.
According to the profile by the Namibia Institute for Democracy (NID), Ekandjo’s political activism caused him to be expelled from the Augustineum Secondary School in 1968. The following year, he went to Walvis Bay and teamed up with the Lion of Namibia, Nathaniel Maxuilili, who was Swapo’s Acting President inside the country at the time. Ekandjo was involved in organising the 1970-71 nationwide strike against the contract labour system.
Needless to say, his activism caused the apartheid security forces to take serious note of him, and gave him special treatment! As expected, Ekandjo was arrested in 1973 after addressing a Swapo rally in Walvis Bay, but was released after four months. In August of the same year, he was again a special guest of the colonial prison services after addressing a rally in Katutura.
The NID profile cites Soggot who stated that, during the 1973 trial in Swakopmund, Ekandjo referred to the colonial court as “the temple of devils where Namibians are being crucified”. So, his straight talk has come a long way! On 16 November 1973, Ekandjo was sentenced to eight years in prison, and in March 1974, he was transferred from the Windhoek Central Prison to Robben Island. He was released in November 1981.
Ekandjo worked as a history teacher at the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church school in Gibeon, and in that capacity he taught many youth activists who flocked to Gibeon. You will recall that Reverend Hendrik Witbooi was the head of AME church at the time. Many former students have fond memories about Ekandjo’s history classes; he was apparently excellent at teaching history and they enjoyed his classes the most. In 1987, he left Gibeon and became a full-time Swapo organiser.
He was a SWAPO member of the Constituent Assembly from November 1989 to March 1990. The rest, as they say, is history. From 1990 to 1995, he was Deputy Minister of Local Government and Housing, and was then promoted to become the Minister of Home Affairs from 1995 until March 2005. He then became Minister of Lands and Resettlement, and since April 2008, he has been the Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, following the death of John Pandeni in that year.
There you have it, dear reader. Ekandjo speaks many indigenous Namibian languages, including Oshiwambo (his mother tongue), Otjiherero, Damara/Nama, and I am told also a bit of Rukavango. He thus mingles easily with all tribes, and is known as a down-to-earth person. He definitely appeals to the party apparatchik, so do not be surprised if he becomes the spoiler at the congress!
Congress is just around the corner. As commentators say at horse races – ‘away they go . . .’