Nam’s main opposition struggles to shake off the apartheid tag

By Timo Shihepo

Windhoek – Namibia’s official opposition party, DTA of Namibia, has submitted documents to the Electoral Commission of Namibia to change its name to Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) in a bid to shake off the apartheid tag.

The party is also looking at shaking off its unpleasant past, which includes that of former leader, Mishake Muyongo who was the mastermind behind the failed attempt to secede the Caprivi Strip from Namibia in 1998. Muyongo is currently in exile in Denmark.

Members of public, including political parties, now have 30 days as from Monday, November 6 2017 to object to DTA’s name change.

DTA’s past affiliation with the apartheid government regime continues to affect its current image and appeal in post-independent Namibia.

The party was formed as the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) in November 1977 as a result of the Turnhalle Constitutional Conference held in Windhoek from 1975 to 1977 as a counterbalance and main opposition to the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO).

The DTA won the then 1978 South West African legislative election by a landslide, claiming 41 of the 50 seats. This was largely due to widespread intimidation and the presence of South African troops, particularly in the north of the territory. Liberation movements, SWAPO and SWANU, did not partake in the elections.

The 1989 UN supervised free and fair elections saw the DTA’s parliamentary seats reduced to 21 out of 72 seats as liberation party, SWAPO, took control of the country from 1990.

Five years later, the DTA’s 21 seats became 15 in the 1994 national assembly elections. The party’s presence in the National Assembly further shrunk to seven in 1999, four in 2004 and then two in 2009.

At this point the DTA was considered dead.

After the successive dwindling number of seats, it took the ambitious and young leader, McHenry Venaani, to reverse the trend and win five national assembly seats in the 2014 elections.

It was the first time in many years that the party regained its official opposition tag. Venaani made it his mission to reform the party, making it more appealing to the youths and shaking off its association with the brutal apartheid government since taking over from long serving president Katuutire Kaura in 2013.

Despite the party’s leadership changing in 2013 to a younger leadership, Namibians still regarded DTA as the oppressor’s party.

Venaani suggested rebranding the party to give it a new feel and give the nation something to talk about in the lead up to the 2019 elections.

This culminated into the renaming of the party to the Popular Democratic Movement during its congress in Windhoek last week.

The timing of the renaming is arguably right as it comes at a time when former official opposition parties are either fighting themselves or dying.

The Congress of Democrats (CoD) has seen its former leader Ben Ulenga return to SWAPO while the Rally for Democratic Party (RDP) is battling internal strife, with its president Jeremiah Nambinga turning to the courts to avoid impeachment by fellow party members.

The renaming also comes at a time the ruling SWAPO Party is preparing for a congress to elect new leadership, and the campaign for top positions has turned hostile among party cadres.

“We are in politics not to remain an opposition.

We are in politics to run this country. Our members are for this change and as we are walking with the party regalia around town, people are happy to see that change.

We believe that we will not just give SWAPO a run for their money but we believe we are going to look at a much more vibrant democracy because our old members will return to us and we are also taking new people from the other parties,” DTA parliamentarian and secretary for international relations, Vipuakuje Muharukua, told The Southern Times.

He said that people are realising that the hope to democracy is in the PDM, adding that they were going to give this new “funky” look the right charisma to this country.

“We are saying we are a popular democratic movement because we know and we want each and every individual’s views in this country to count.

We want each and every individual to have equitable right to improvement in this country.”

He said their members will not be confused by the name change because they have consulted and seen that the overwhelming majority have adopted this name.

Political analyst Professor Nico Horn, however, questioned the motive behind the name and labelled the renaming of parties “irrelevant”.

“What is in a name? Nobody thinks of SWAPO as South West Africa People’s Organisation.

It’s just SWAPO. South West Africa is also a colonial name.

What does the DTA stand for anyway? Of course Nico (Horn) knows but the young people don’t know and the old people forgot.

“Maybe I am wrong but I don’t think the changing of name will have an impact. In fact, I think it brings confusion. Venaani is a bright smart young chap.

He is a bit unlucky that he was up against (Hage) Geingob in the 2014 elections but this time he is going to compete with a divided SWAPO.

I think that they should concentrate more on that instead of the name change,” said the University of Namibia academic.

November 2017
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