Swapo divisions come to a head

Leaving the battlefield to party heavyweights Hage Geingob and Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana.

With Swapo the dominant force in Namibian politics since 1990, the party's presidential candidate is the most likely to be elected as Namibia's next president in national elections scheduled for the end of 2014.

A third or more candidates could still be nominated during the Swapo congress in November that has to confirm the party's presidential candidate for the 2014 election, with Regional, Local Government and Housing Minister Jerry Ekandjo's name the one most often mentioned.

Angula's sudden withdrawal is widely seen as a sign of Swapo's polarisation, a political drift to the right, to populism and a deepening rift between non-Oswhiwambo- speaking members and the party's hard-core support base in central and northern Namibia.

Iivula-Ithana's grip on party branch structures in her position as Swapo secretary general gives her a critical edge in the battle, as control over who will be delegated to attend the congress will prove critical.

The Namibian Press Agency reported that President Hifikepunye Pohamba nominated Trade and Industry Minister Geingob as the party's vice-president at a politburo meeting on Tuesday, while Justice Minister Iivula-Ithana was nominated by Foreign Affairs Minister Uutoni Nujoma, the son of former president Sam Nujoma.

Nujoma Jr's own candidacy as presidential successor was widely touted last year, and his backing of Iivula-Ithana is therefore seen as his father's implicit support for her, a factor that is likely to prove decisive in the November showdown.

"The ghost of 2004 is on the loose again," said Nico Kaiyamo, an outspoken pro-Geingob proponent in Swapo when he appealed for the candidates to "leave the old man [Nujoma] to enjoy his retirement".

Swapo liberation hero Hidipo Hamutenya was summarily fired by then-president Nujoma in 2004 after he unilaterally announced his candidacy to succeed Namibia's first president.

 The current battle has caused new divisions among the party's rank and file, with seven out of 13 regional preparatory conferences forced by Swapo headquarters to rerun their election of delegates over the past few months. Geingob's supporters were largely the losers in these new elections.

Similar manoeuvrings could be observed in the Swapo Youth League, where Elijah Ngurare was re-elected as secretary general unopposed after his would-be opponent withdrew from the race after nominations had closed. Ngurare, who at 42 is well over the age limit of 35 years to hold office in the league, denied that there was anything untoward in how he regained his position.

As in South Africa, where the battle to succeed President Jacob Zuma has caused rifts between sections of organised labour and the ANC, political support from Swapo-affiliated unions is also uncertain. The most powerful union, the National Union of Namibian Workers, was involved in a leadership crisis when nine members of the subsidiary Mineworkers Union of Namibia were suspended for alleged financial irregularities and mismanagement.

John Grobler
Guest Author
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