SWANU and Chiefs Council – the Split


I read the opinion piece by Dr Rihupisa Kandando in your April 07, 2006 edition entitled “Chief Kapuuo: Namibian Hero?” with great interest. Why did the relationship between SWANU and the Chief’s Council become strained between 1959 and 1964? This is the question that came to my mind and I will therefore not venture into “the reactionary and concessionary politics of the 1970s in which Kapuuo was involved”. From the onset the ‘second SWANU’ (September 27,1959) was a divided party. Those who formed it had different uncompromising intentions. The intention of the Chief’s Council was to graft the modern machinery of a mass organization upon the traditional system of authority. The SWAPA intellectuals (who founded the first SWANU on August 20,1959) on the contrary wanted to create a new movement with new symbols, transcending traditional loyalties (Ngavirue, p.216). OPO was drawn into the founding meeting of SWANU on September 27,1959 by the Chief’s Council in order for it (the Chief’s Council) to defeat the radical SWAPA intellectuals in the election of the executive committee and in particular the presidency (Ngavirue, pp. 217-218). That OPO was in actual fact indifferent to the feud between the Chief’s Council and SWAPA (and in fact did not plan to join SWANU) is illustrated by its reconstitution into SWAPO in April 1960. In his autobiography, Where Others Wavered, Sam Nujoma does not mention the September 27,1959 meeting although he was present and was even elected as an additional member to the executive committee of SWANU. I certainly agree with the author that Chief Kapuuo’s refusal to give evidence before the Hall Commission of Inquiry was a betrayal of SWANU and it perhaps stemmed from his personal cowardice. But how could a person of the calibre and stature (at least to his followers) of Chief Kapuuo betray an organisation that he helped to found (and even christened)? From the beginning SWANU vice-president Uatja Kaukuetu did not try to harmonise the strained relationships within SWANU. Kaukuetu and other intellectuals from SWAPA were openly antagonistic to the indigenous leadership (Emmett, p.302). In their attempts to sideline Kapuuo and the Chief’s Council the intellectuals created a rift in the party. It was evident that the intellectuals within SWANU did not act to the letter and spirit of the SWANU constitution which stated that the first aim of SWANU would be “to fight relentlessly to achieve United Nations’ International Trusteeship, and ultimately attain and maintain self-determination for the people of South West Africa and their chiefs” (Ngavirue, p. 219). It was against this background that Chief Kapuuo openly dissociated himself from SWANU. Frankly speaking, it is not objective to say “Chief Kapuuo, knowing that he could not be acceptable to the SWANU rank and file let alone the leadership, decided to organise the Chief’s Council out of SWANU.” SWANU’s opposition to the election of Kapuuo as deputy to the ailing Chief Kutako (and thus obvious successor), despite its (SWANU’s) opposition to tribalism and the institution of chieftainship, widened the gap between the intelligentsia within SWANU and the indigenous leadership (Emmett,p.311). The Chief’s Council wanted a political party which they could guide and direct (not that I am fond of the idea). It was thus more likely that Chief Kapuuo who had a significant following among the ordinary Ovaherero people would break away from SWANU amidst this conflict. It is against this background that NUDO was formed in September 1964. The SWANU intellectuals and radicals were not pragmatic to realize the protean quality of ethnicity to mobilise the masses for the nationalist struggle at this stage. It is important to stress that the Namibian people and in particular the masses had not started to identify themselves with the concept of nationalism and the nation state at this point in time. The SWANU intellectuals did not try hard enough to groom the conservative tribesmen to gradually associate themselves with “new symbols, transcending traditional loyalties.” The intellectuals instead elevated themselves to an elite group which had the monopoly of knowledge. In fact the intellectuals in SWANU alienated the indigenous leadership (Chief’s Council) and in the process SWANU lost its ability to mobilize mass support (Emmett, P. 332). At this point in time the Chief’s Council did not associate itself with the colonial authorities to the extent it did in the 1970s and 1980s. It was perhaps this alienation and isolation by the nationalist movements which drove the indigenous leadership into the arms of the colonial authorities. With thanks Yours truly Mr N K Mbaeva P.0. Box 25327 Windhoek