NUNW Split as Congress Looms

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK BATTLE lines appear to be drawn between two senior leaders of the National Union of Namibian Workers’ (NUNW) who have been airing opposing views to the media on the dismissal of Peter Naholo recently. And with the Union’s congress scheduled for early next year, commentators have it that this issue may claim more casualties. The NUNW First Vice President Alpheus Muheua confirmed yesterday that the union’s executive committee decided that the congress, which is held every four years be scheduled for March or April next year. NUNW President Risto Kapenda and Muheua have made no bones about dismissing each other’s decisions in public lately. Naholo was dismissed following a letter he wrote questioning a press statement that some union affiliates made to the media on the mass graves discovered in the north last month. While the affiliates backed Dr Sam Nujoma’s account of the events, Naholo said there was need for wider consultation on the matter. Following this, a special Central Executive Committee meeting, chaired by Muheua, withdrew the NUNW’s mandate given to Naholo as acting Secretary General of the union. “We acted within the constitution and I think it was fair,” added Muheua. The action taken against Naholo, says Muheua, has earned him and the affiliates that took the decision the name “the Nujoma clique”. “We are now branded the Nujoma clique,” he told New Era yesterday while acknowledging that factionalism at the Swapo party level, to which the federation of the workers’ union is affiliated, was trickling down to its structures. Muheua said the union should not be regarded in isolation because “if there is a split, it will trickle down to every level of its structures,” adding that the NUNW was one of the party’s structures. The union’s vice president said the majority of the union’s membership are Swapo members and it was obvious that “if you have a rift within the party, some members will support this while others will support that”. “What is happening now is what is happening in the country,” added Muheua. He also said although the union is affiliated to Swapo, its membership was on a non-partisan basis and the union was trying to keep out of politics. Although Swapo leadership had denied that there are factions within the party and had been displaying a united front in public, last week’s revelations by former party and Politburo member Jesaya Nyamu confirmed that there are factions. He specifically named a group he referred to as the “powerful Omusati clique”, which he described as calling the shots within Swapo. He however denied knowledge of what others have dubbed a “Kwanyama faction”. Following the discovery last year of notes drafted by Nyamu proposing certain scenarios for Hidipo Hamutenya’s supporters, Nyamu was expelled from Swapo last week. The divisions within Swapo, according to Muheua are likely to have a trickle down effect on NUNW and its structures since the federation is affiliated to Swapo. Muheua further accused some of the leadership of the unions as being hell bent on pursuing their own agendas, citing the events of May Day in 2004, when the union wanted to avoid a division through supporting different Swapo candidates. On May Day last year, Hamutenya was supposed to address a May Day rally in the north. The two union officials present at the occasion were Naholo and Kapenda. The rally was subsequently boycotted by most people who earlier performed voluntary labour at the railway site, where the meeting was scheduled. The upcoming NUNW congress would be a mirror image of last year’s Swapo Party congress, which insiders said was characterised by clear campaigning in favour of one or the other candidate. In the run-up to the Swapo congress, each dominant power base within Swapo would want to see their supporters coming in numbers to push through their agenda. NUNW, in terms of the Swapo constitution, has 10 delegates to the Swapo congress, which is likely to tilt the scale in the favour of one or the other group. Meanwhile, Muheua maintains that Naholo’s dismissal is final because it was taken by the CEC, a body that makes decisions and union leaders who “feel that they have grounds opposing the decision can call a meeting for talks”. Kapenda said any decision made to dismiss Naholo should be made collectively by the NUNW office bearers as well as its structures. Kapenda, like NANTU, claimed that they were not contacted about the meeting that decided on Naholo’s fate. NANTU Secretary General Miriam Hamutenya said her union would not stand by any decision to dismiss Naholo as no affiliate had the right to make decisions on behalf of the teachers’ union. Kapenda, who was not present at the meeting, has said the decision was unprocedural as there were no charges formulated against Naholo and there was no disciplinary hearing. The union’s constitution requires that a special CEC meeting can be constituted with a third of the affiliates, but according to Muheua, around two thirds of the nine affiliates took the decision to dismiss Naholo. The Namibia National Teachers’ Union (NANTU), the Namibia Farm Workers’ Union (NFWU) and the Namibia Music Industry Union (NAMIU) were the only industrial unions not present at the meeting. However, Muheua said NAFWU was party to the decision. The NUNW president said the unions are supposed to be the most democratic institutions when it comes to fair labour practices and if Naholo’s mandate as acting SG was to be withdrawn, proper procedures must be followed. In the first place, Naholo was supposed to be charged and he was supposed to undergo a disciplinary hearing, which would have made the union be seen to be practicing what it preaches. But Muheua says the special CEC did not deem it necessary to have a DC because the constitution says that a CEC meeting can withdraw the mandate of an office bearer.