The Southern Times’ reporter Timo Shihepo (TS) caught up with Namibia’s governing Swapo party secretary-general, Nangolo Mbumba (NM), who talks tough about former liberation movements, unruly youths and the much anticipated elective congress.
TS: Former liberation movements recently met in Luanda, Angola. What was on the agenda?
NM: It has now become a tradition to meet. We have a structured way of meetings. We meet annually. At this meeting we had a special occasion because our Chinese friends have decided to support us to put up a leadership training school in Tanzania, called Julius Nyerere leadership school.
The six parties signed an agreement that the school will be a property of the six parties. The management will be by the six parties, the students will come from those six parties.
The Chinese friends will help us with the construction of the school and they will hand over the building to us. It’s on Tanzania’s soil but it’s not a Tanzanian school. It’s a regional school.
The construction will start this year and the school is expected to be fully completed in the next three years.
At the meeting we then we discussed the issues within our region. ANC and Swapo will both have their congresses this year. Angola will have presidential and national assembly elections in August.
Those are major happenings in the region and as usual we have to attend each other’s congresses.
TS: There is talk that this meeting was held because there is fear among former liberation movements that they are losing control in their respective countries. Is this true?
NM: No. We don’t phrase it that way. These former (liberation) movements have a history and we are so proud of our history.
We liberated ourselves. Many people have sacrificed a lot to bring what we are enjoying today.
But we know we are a target of some other people who like to involve themselves in other people’s countries.
They are not happy that MPLA (Angola), Swapo, ANC (South Africa), CCM (Tanzania), Frelimo (Mozambique) and Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe) are still in power for many years.
We have not lost the power. Other countries, especially in the West, are not happy and they think that to be a democracy you have to lose power and gain it back and so forth.
We didn’t grab this power, the voters in our respective countries decided to support our parties.
Why are they supporting us? Because of history, leadership and because of the nature of our parties that is truly organised.
Within these same parties there is a lot of democracy. There are a lot of people who are competing for positions, we discuss matters but at the end we support the winners.
Those who do not win at a certain moment they continue working for their respective parties and countries.
TS: The former liberation movements have faced challenges with the diminishing numbers of voters in recent elections. What can be done to prevent these numbers from dwindling further?
NM: When you go for elections you aim to get the maximum votes. You do not motivate your supporters to say we must vote to get 50 percent. We always aim to win the elections.
Yes, the moods amongst our countries do change. They can change depending on the economy; they can change on the social well-being of the people. You can even lose elections because there was either draught or floods.
There are many factors that determine the number of voters. But as parties what are our responsibilities? Is to keep our members well organised and the activities of the party to be well coordinated.
That is important. The voters will always show either their happiness or their displeasure with us as individuals or us as a party.
The most important thing to keep the people voting us, is to deliver services to the people. Education, health and developments are very important; the issues of housing, water, electricity, good road networks are all essential.
Basic food is the most important aspect for our people and we must make sure that it’s available.
TS: Let’s talk about factionalism. There is a general consensus that there are sub-factions within the former liberation movements that are trying to destroy the ruling parties from within. This can be observed by looking at Swapo, ANC and Zanu-PF. Is this something that the liberation movements should be worried about?
NM: There is definitely factionalism. This is one thing that we all have to be careful about. People must not stretch their democracy to extremes. The fact that you are being voted for, other people also have equal chances of being voted for party positions.
All of us must be engaged in clean politics. You stand for a position, your job is not to say how bad other people are but rather indicate how good you are. Within these parties the competition will always be there.
Some people will get fed up, some will even try to physically take on others. Others will try to use the law to chuck out somebody from the office because that person didn’t listen to them.
But the leaders of these parties did not win to listen to every single person.
Let the person lead. Let the person listen to his/her own conscious, philosophy and to want to respect the oath that he/she has taken. Let’s respect the terms given to our leaders.
TS: Speaking of terms and leaders, what is your opinion on the issues currently disturbing the ANC?
NM: ANC, as the oldest liberation movement in Africa, has produced some of the eminent leaders in Africa. At the point of getting power, ANC was lucky to have the likes of Nelson Mandela. Then after Mandela, they had a diplomat, President Thabo Mbeki, then they get a militant activist (Jacob Zuma.) In between there I think because of the competition between the two leaders, Mbeki and Zuma, things did not work out in line with the rules.
It was me against you and if you have the power today I show you, if you have the power tomorrow, I show you. However, not everything is lost, the ANC remains still the largest party, ANC still remains as the party with people with history and with brains. It is still a party for the average African. It can still redeem itself. We have no advice to give them. We wish them well.
We can only say that there are certain principles that can make you victorious. Principles of unity within the party and the country, principle of peace, principle of having a stable atmosphere to run the party and the country as well as the principle of non-tribalism.
TS: Can you briefly tell us about the Swapo ideological school? Tanzania is also in the process of having a similar regional school. Is this one of the former liberation movements’ initiatives to make sure that they stay relevant?
NM: It’s a party school and it is preparing Swapo party leaders. Not just ideology but other skills as well.
The principles on which these parties are being build is to liberate their countries once and for all. That must be maintained.
To have friendly relations with all our neighbours and especially those that supported us during the tough time of our liberation struggle when we did not have food, weapons, transport.
There was a time when we walked from the central parts of Namibia to Botswana. We are then saying that we don’t want to throw that history away.
We have people in southern Africa who were the first people to walk from this region to Cairo (Egypt). Some of us saw the pyramids in Egypt before I could see Cape Town.
There was no chance to enter South Africa during the liberation struggle period. The main thing is to keep our history while at the same time studying geography for the potential resources of our region.
TS: In Namibia there are squabbles within the Swapo Party Youth League with many saying this could destabilise the ruling party. These squabbles are so intense that the Youth League is divided into two. There are those supporting those who were expelled from Swapo and those supporting the current Youth League leaders. Will this not affect the ruling party?
NM: It will affect any party not just because of the congress. You don’t want a party where people are not getting along with each other. We must learn to follow our own instructions. We also need to learn our positions.
A wing is a wing of a big part. In this case that part is the total membership of the Swapo party. Why do we then have wings? The women wing is to make women active in Swapo and politics.
Why do we have the Youth League wing? The Youth League wing is supposed to be the most active wing of the party to run around promoting the party for example putting up promotional banners, creating songs, writing speeches and so on.
This is because they have been to universities and they want to be leaders of tomorrow.
We have put up a committee to welcome all the Youth League members who want to talk to us.
We did not set up this committee for those who were expelled only but it’s for everyone who wants to engage us. Even those that are now in charge of the wing.
The questions is; are they really managing the affairs to the point that they can have all their regional and district conferences? Can they have a reputable decent congress of the youths? The women wing did it. They have a good structure in place and no one is questioning its legitimacy. Are the youths able to do that? We are ready to spend time and energy listening to them and to advise them in terms of laws, policies and regulations and share them with our experiences.
We were also naughty young people. People now think we belong to the same (age) group, so be careful not to think that other people are now old and they no longer listen. If you are 30 and one is 50 there is a real difference and it must be respected. But really we need to harmonise everything and move in one direction.
TS: But are you aware that the disgruntled group in the Youth League is planning to run for the top positions at the Swapo congress slated for later this year?
NM: Every member has a right to aspire and run. There are, however, procedures to be followed. I cannot just decide that I want to continue being a secretary-general for Swapo. People first have to nominate me and this goes for everyone who wants to contest for a position.
The nominators must also be from the structures that do so not just someone from my village.
There are people who just want to talk about contesting for these positions but if you really aiming for these positions you must conduct yourself in a decent and respectable manner.
You can’t be antagonising and insulting everyone calling them useless and zombies. If you are calling other people zombies while you are just an ordinary member what about if you are the head of the party, government and head of the army?
TS: How confident are you that Dr Hage Geingob (the Head of State and the Swapo party acting president) will become the party president come the congress?
NM: Well, first of all, one person cannot elect the president. Dr Geingob will not be president because I voted for him or lose because I did not vote for him. Mine is just one vote.
TS: But do you endorse him?
NM: We are not talking about endorsement yet. As a person I have worked with him. I know his abilities. I even saw him today performing (when he was launching Namibia’s fifth National Development Plan (NDP5). So if it is a question of merit, experience, stamina, or a question of wanting to work for your people, he is still the star politician we have within the party.
TS: The road to the congress has intensified with many people within Swapo aligning themselves to different camps. These fights are in mainstream media as well as on social media. While there some people throwing insults at Swapo on social media, there are many young people who are defending the party. Are these people on Swapo’s payroll?
NM: No. No one. All the people we have on the payroll, we know them. We know those who are working here (Swapo party headquarters) and in regional offices. This is done by individual members on their own merits. We do not have money to pay everyone who does that for the party.
That is not possible. We are just lucky that we have so many members who are passionate about Swapo.
We are fortunate that we may have Swapo members who are angry with certain policies or leaders of the party but their aim is still to be leaders within Swapo.
Why? Because it’s the only movement capable of propelling you to into leadership of the country.
TS: You are one of the most powerful members of the Swapo party. Do you have any plans of returning as a minister?
NM: No. I have been a minister in many ministries (agriculture, finance, information, education) and by the way I liked being a minister of safety and security because I had the power.
I had the instruments (laughs). To go back to government will be very difficult because I am used to my own hours.
The president of the party (acting) Dr Geingob has given me authority to supervise, direct and work here full time. I am a full member of parliament, that’s good because it keeps me in touch.
I have a unique position within the party. I am a full time worker of the party in line with our constitution.
TS: Finally, how long are you planning to stay on as the Swapo secretary-general?
NM: I don’t want to say anything because the time of nomination has yet to come. I don’t want to be accused of violating the rules.
When the time comes the process will be followed and everyone will know.
I think we will have a meeting beginning of August then everyone will be in the know.