Tjitendero: Deeply committed to region, people

One such rare person was the Hon Dr Mose Penaani Tjitendero, who died in Windhoek on 26 April, aged 63, after a life dedicated to his country, his region and his family. Honoured as a hero in his own country, Namibia, where he was to be given a state funeral and burial at Heroes Acre on 6 May, he also provided inspiration beyond his borders. Dr Tjitendero was widely respected throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and played a key role in community building. It can be said correctly that he made a significant contribution to changing the region. He was the vision, inspiration and driving force for the establishment of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, a battle he fought over several years, persisting until he won the support of all SADC parliaments, for an initiative so new and yet so obvious that it is now taken for granted as an established player in the region. It was not always thus. Most writers about Dr Tjitendero in recent days have concentrated on his considerable post-independence achievements. He contributed to drafting the Constitution for the Republic of Namibia as a member of the Constituent Assembly, and emerged as the first Speaker of parliament, a post he held for 15 years. As Speaker, he built and reformed the parliamentary system, committee by committee, to make it a transparent and effective forum for legislation and debate on national and regional issues. He was an elected member of parliament since the pre-independence elections for Namibia’s independence in 1990. Little has been written, however, about his formation during the liberation struggle as a member of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), his commitment to the independence of Namibia, and his contribution as an educator, notably as Assistant Director of the UN Institute for Namibia (UNIN) in Lusaka, while in exile. Mose Penaani Tjitendero was born in Okahandja in 1943, and left the country in 1964 through what is now Botswana and Zambia around the time of its impending independence, via Kazungula, making his way to the United Republic of Tanzania and the SWAPO office there. He was involved in the radio broadcasts from Dar es Salaam to Namibia that were presented in several languages, and he was active in youth politics, rising to a leadership role on the youth executive. He enrolled at the Kurisini International School in Dar es Salaam to get his high school certificate, and was awarded a scholarship for undergraduate studies at Lincoln University in the United States, where he read history and political science. He followed this with a Masters in History from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a doctorate in education from the same university. The young and well-educated Tjitendero then returned to Lusaka in 1976 to share his knowledge, as a Senior Lecturer at the new UN educational institute for Namibians, and later as Head of Teacher Training and Assistant Director of UNIN. Just prior to Namibia’s independence, he moved to Luanda as Director of the UN Vocational and Technical Training Centre in 1988-89. A former UNESCO colleague who worked with him in that period says he was “a visionary with a deep commitment to the cause of independent Namibia”. Other colleagues mentioned again and again, his “honesty and his principles”. He was dedicated to his own family and his wife, Sandy, his life partner for more than 30 years, but they were often called upon to share his time and attention for his wider family of Namibians and southern Africans, to whom he was also committed. A key objective of his vision and his contribution to the region was in the broader role of the proposed development community for southern Africa. He said the signing of the SADC Treaty in Windhoek in August 1992 was “not simply a matter of transforming SADC from a loose regional grouping into a legal entity, but ushered in the spirit of the treaty establishing the African Economic Community adopted by the OAU Heads of State… in June 1991.” When SADC followed up with adoption of a community-building programme to widen its community beyond government, Mr Speaker was ready with his vision for a regional Parliamentary Forum to “familiarise the peoples of SADC countries with the aims and objectives of SADC.” “We need to bring SADC closer to the people. Our people, all our people, need to know, understand and popularise the aims and objectives of SADC. “For example, what is this concept of development, and of a development community? We need to start from the beginning and systematically inculcate the values of SADC in the hearts and minds of our constituents.” Among the other objectives that Tjitendero enunciated for a regional forum of parliamentarians in support of the SADC ideal were the promotion of the principles of human rights and democracy, provision of a forum for matters of common concern, to facilitate networking and popularise the concepts of development and cooperation, as well as inclusive participation by other members of the community. But, as he repeated many times in many fora over many years, the primary objective of a SADC PF should be to encourage effective implementation of SADC policies, and to provide services to SADC as required. The late Dr Tjitendero seldom worked alone, always with a team and in partnership, and he would expect therefore that others are ready to continue the work that he initiated, and in the same spirit. ‘

May 2006
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