Ahead of the Namibian general election next month, a delegation of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members was detained by immigration officials in Windhoek, prompting the red berets to accuse the Namibian ruling party of undermining regional protocol and being implicit in the persecution of the movement.
Their visit to Namibia, from October 10 to 12, was at the invitation of the newly-registered Nambian Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) for the South African delegates to attend their manifesto launch. The delegates had also planned to visit informal settlements in the country and to meet with opposition parties.
In a press release, the party said it was horrified that the delegation was detained for more than two hours for not having visas. “We are fully aware of the requirements in SADC [South African Development Community] in terms of the visa requirements and this does not prohibit the entry of South Africans into SADC countries,” the release said.
“The extent to which the ruling party of Namibia has sought to undermine the regional protocol and African unity is an indication of their lack of respect for democracy and the African agenda.”
The envoy comprised of EFF national coordinator Mpho Ramakatsa, commissar for international relations and solidarity Magdalene Moonsamy and commissar for land reform and agrarian revolution Andile Mngxitama.
General elections in Namibia are planned for November 28, and the NEFF was launched with an aim to be a radical left, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement.
Opposition parties occupy few seats in Namibia’s Parliament as the ruling South-West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo) has enjoyed majority support since the country’s independence from South Africa in 1990.
P olitical analyst Nic Borain said with the NEFF having taken root in Namibia, he had “no doubt Swapo is going to give as much uphill to that party as it can.” He said the Namibian government would not make life easy for a delegation it perceives as contributing to unsettling political relations.
The ANC government has a close relationship with Namibia at both a government level and a party level, said Borain. “I think it is entirely realistic for the EFF to argue there have been administrative obstacles placed in their way [regarding the hold up in Windhoek].”
“What is very clear are the similarities between Namibia and South Africa in terms of their liberation movements and the kind of countries they have built with [the] kind of problems they have … In both countries, the government is accused of elite empowerment. Transformation has not led to adequate economic empowerment and the plum jobs have gone to elite empowerment and cronies of the ruling party.”
The similar social and economic architecture in the two countries has provided real grounds for both governments to be threatened, said Borain, noting that the structure of privilege has been left significantly unchallenged in both nations.
“So a breakaway rebellion, claiming to go back to roots of liberation struggle – it’s a threat,” he added.
According to the United Nations development programmes, as a middle-income country with one of the most unequal income distributions in the world, Namibia is a place of poverty amid plenty. According to the recent Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey, more than one in four households live in poverty. Furthermore, the poorest 10% of households command just 1% of the country’s total income, whereas the wealthiest 10% control more than half.
The country’s unemployment rate also remains high (27.4% at last count). Despite this, Swapo remains the majority party and still received more than 75% of the vote in the 2009 general election.
Like Swapo, the ruling ANC in South Africa has dominated at the polls since it came into power in 1994. However, the EFF surprised in the 2014 general election by winning 25 seats in the National Assembly and their presence has served to disrupt parliamentary proceedings on a number of occasions.
‘Just like pastors’
Permanent secretary in Namibia’s ministry of home affairs and immigration, Patrick Nandango did not respond to the Mail & Guardian‘s questions sent over email.
He was, however, quoted in local paper The Namibian as saying that the government demands visas from foreigners coming to work in Namibia and that the EFF officials should have obtained this as they planned to address a rally.
“It’s just like pastors. They have to get visas if they are going to preach here,” Nandango was quoted as saying.
Information on the Namibian consulate’s website does say that business visas in Namibia are defined as including business people attending meetings at subsidiaries of their parent companies and attending conferences, corporate events and meetings for which no remuneration is received. However, the website also lists South Africa as one of the countries with which it has a visa abolition agreement and its nationals “are not required to obtain a visa when travelling to Namibia”.
The EFF said it condemned the persecution of the movement for economic freedom that is growing all over the world.
The Namibian incident was similar, it noted, to the efforts of the president of Botswana who denied a visa application by EFF commander in chief Julius Malema in September.
In June last year, Malema was identified by Botswana as the only South African who needed a visa to enter the country, following his comments in 2011, before his expulsion from the ANC Youth League, where he called for a regime change in the country. Malema reportedly said the league intended establishing a Botswana command team which would work towards uniting all oppositional forces in Botswana “to oppose the puppet regime of Botswana, led by the Botswana Democratic Party”.
Swapo Party Youth League leaders have openly supported Malema, who was invited to the NEFF manifesto launch, but did not attend. The NEFF had also invited the daughter of the late Muammar Gaddafi. Upon its formation in June, the party said it strongly opposed homosexuality and believed that Namibia’s resources should be held by its indigenous inhabitants.
Despite numerous attempts, the M&G was unable to reach home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete for comment.