Namibia’s elections have come and gone, but little has changed

 

 

COMMENT

Namibia held national and presidential elections on November 27 this year, and once again used electronic voting machines without any paper trail to verify the results. So the poll credibility of the outcome is in doubt.

If it is considered that the commissioners of the Electoral Commission of Namibia are supporters of the ruling party, Swapo, with some of them beyond their term limit at that body, then there are further reservations about the verdict. Furthermore, it took the electoral commission three days to announce the decision, but with the results from seven constituencies not made known. These constituencies included 60 000 voters out of a total voter turnout of 800 000. The conclusion from one of these districts (Windhoek Rural) was eventually announced and showed discrepancies. Results of constituencies where Swapo lost by a large margin (Windhoek West and Windhoek East, for example) were made public very late. And, as in 2014, the same computer expert, who is a Swapo branch secretary, was the key person co-ordinating activities behind the scenes.

Figures released by the electoral commission revealed that Swapo had lost support in urban areas such as Windhoek and Walvisbay. The working class in Walvisbay, in particular, has a history of radicalism as was witnessed during the 1971 general strike, the recent march against marine phosphate mining and the current protests against job losses caused by corruption in the fishing industry. The fishing workers could be the spark that gets the working class into action. In the context of an economic depression and mass unemployment, the political climate is ripe for such mobilisation.

Overall, if the official verdict of the elections is to be assumed, Swapo had slightly surrendered its two-thirds majority, which would make it tricky for them to change the Constitution.

A clause in the Constitution makes it possible for candidates to remain Swapo members while standing as independents in presidential, national or local elections. This loophole was effectively used during the November elections by a Swapo member, Panduleni Itula, who stood as an independent in the presidential elections and got 30% of the vote, as opposed to the 56% for Swapo’s Hage Geingob.

Itula, the urbane dentist, ran a successful nation-building campaign and created a great deal of excitement in a nation badly in need of political transformation. Despite claiming to be an independent candidate, he represented a particular Swapo political current (mainly urban youth) and not necessarily a radical political alternative. But running as an independent also meant that infighting in Swapo has reached perilous levels.

The increasing involvement of the Namibian military in civilian life should be seen in this framework. The military command issue public statements about its loyalty to Geingob because so many army bases voted for Itula. Be that as it may, the country remains on a high security alert, with the flimsy excuse from the military that threats were made against the head of state on social media. Is Namibia drifting towards a military government of a special kind?

The Itula campaign launched a legal challenge after the presidential elections, but the judiciary in Namibia has a history of siding with Swapo. Fortuitously, Itula continued holding meetings throughout the country and draws huge numbers to his rallies. Whatever the upshot of the court challenge, Itula opened the floodgates for others to stand as independent candidates in local government elections from next year onward. Hopefully, this would include left-wing independent activists. Swapo’s autocratic grip has been overcome and opens up political space for fundamental change.

The former party of colonialism, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance — now rebranded as the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) — gained 16 parliamentary seats because they benefited from the Itula effect. Many voters appeared to have voted for Itula as presidential candidate, but for the PDM as political party.

The South West African National Union, whose only political message over the years has been that it is the oldest liberation movement, was relieved to have one representative in Parliament. The organisation seems to be stuck in the past and in denial about the anti-colonial fighters who came before them, as well as the remarkable influence of the Industrial and Commercial Union in the early 1900s. Although claiming to be a socialist outfit, this theme has never featured strongly in the political campaigning of that pan-Africanist party.

Indeed, not a single political party raised left-wing issues such as the rejection of austerity measures, job-sharing, a living income grant or the ecological crisis. The rigging of the economic system should also have been highlighted. A left-wing campaign could have been an opportunity to question the ability of a liberal democratic Parliament to bring about drastic changes, and to rather encourage the Namibian working people to form grassroots structures, or to call for a Constituent Assembly because of the fraudulent elections.

Notwithstanding having been expelled by the earlier central committee of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP), Hewat Beukes peculiarly emerged as the number one candidate of that formation on the parliamentary list for the 2019 elections. Beukes, who released a manifesto but did not run a political campaign, uncritically endorsed the independent presidential candidate. But the previous militarist elements of the deadly police unit, Koevoet, and the apartheid army deserted the WRP — which they had taken over before the 2014 elections — and this time by and large joined up with the Republican Party, which got two parliamentary seats. The WRP did not make it into parliament.

The Landless People’s Movement (LPM) will have four representatives because they managed to overcome the public perception of being tribal-based. Its leader, Clinton Swartbooi, is a former deputy minister of lands, who had a falling-out with the minister, Sam Nujoma’s son.

The Namibian Economic Freedom Fighters started off a few years ago with xenophobic and homophobic public statements, but was able to obtain two seats in this election, although their political base is unclear. Other regional political parties such as the All People’s Party, the United Democratic Front, the National Unity Democratic Organisation and the Christian Democratic Voice also made it into Parliament.

With regard to civil society, the young activists of the Affirmative Repositioning movement were vocal in their political support for the independent presidential candidate. Its leader announced that he would stand as a mayoral contender in Windhoek next year. The Forum for the Future also endorsed Itula. The silence of the trade union federations — the Swapo-affiliated National Union of Namibian Workers and the independent Trade Union Congress of Namibia — were deafening during the elections, as was the Council of Churches.

In the end, little has changed in the country in terms of the social conditions of the working people. If anything, the global stench of the “Fishrot” scandal hangs over the country and the political elite can no longer pretend that Namibia is a model country. So far, the ministers of fisheries and justice were compelled to resign. It ought to be pointed out that Parliament approved the legislation that gave the fisheries minister increased legislative power that led to the corruption in that sector, and about 20% of Swapo parliamentarians and Namibian Intelligence Agency members hold fishing quotas. Namibians have been angered by the scale of the corruption, which shows a political elite who do not care about the people. Their main focus for the past three decades has been self-enrichment, while the socioeconomic situation of the working people only got worse.

This is transpiring while there is clearly tax evasion. Fishing, mining and farming, for instance, make up 66% of the economy, but only contribute 13% to the tax base and the foreign mining companies in the non-diamond sector pay a paltry 1.5% tax. The tax burden falls disproportionately on the working people. There has been no transformation of the colonial land arrangement. Recently, the sale of a huge private game reserve called Erindi to a Mexican billionaire occurred, with Geingob somehow being involved in negotiating the agreement.

So, with Swapo discredited and the nonexistence of an organised left-wing, the country has moved into a dangerous transitional phase. Many questions persist. The opposition parties knew in advance about the electronic voting machines, so why did they not call for a boycott? Or are they complicit in an undemocratic project? Should the Namibian people rather begin to organise themselves outside Parliament? Whatever transpires from now on, the Namibian working people have begun to stir.

The authors are members of the Marxist Group of Namibia

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