The country’s oldest broad-based national political party, the South West African National Union (Swanu), celebrates its 48th anniversary today.
The founders launched Swanu at a public meeting on 27 September 1959, after a few months’ preparatory work by a special constitutional committee.
Dr Zedekia Ngavirue’s Political Parties and Interest Groups in South West Africa (Namibia): A Study of a Plural Society, says the party was set up by the Chiefs Council of Chief Hosea Kutako and the Ozohoze.
Clement Kapuuo, John Garvey Muundjua, the Rev. Batholomeus Karuaera, Erwin Tjirimuje and Ngavirue as chairperson made up the original preparatory committee.
The committee later co-opted Uatja Kaukuetu and Tunguru Huaraka to serve on the committee.
From the Chief’s Council Zedekia Ngezemba, David Meroro and Aaron Kapere were among other early informal contributors to the founding of the party.
The party’s early influences came from organisations that preceded it such as the Student Body, in which Mburumba Kerina and Jariretundu Kozonguizi, students at Wilberforce Institute (Evaton) and Emmarentia (Warmbad) respectively, were prominent.
The Student Body in turn drew inspiration from current events of the day such as the South African Defiance Campaign organised by the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress in 1952.
Uatja Kaukuetu briefly served as the party’s first acting-president.
The party elected Jariretundu Kozonguizi as its first president, his election largely made possible by backing received from Namibia’s Founding President, Sam Nujoma and his Ovamboland Peoples’ Organisation.
The party prides itself on its very strong non-ethnic roots, which marked the character of the party right from its founding.
Its ranks included personalities such as Jeremiah Jagger, Werner Mamugwe, Godfrey Gaoseb, Mbamba Uirab, A.B. Brown and Norah Schimming-Chase – currently of the Congress of Democrats.
Over several decades, Swanu became one of the leading nationalist parties campaigning for the independence of Namibia.
Executive Committee member Hitjevi Veii then became president until his arrest and sentencing to prison terms in South African jails between 1967 and 1975, five of which he served on Robben Island.
When released the party elected him president for a five-year term between 1975 and 1980.
In 1980, Moses Katjiuongua took over the presidency, until the party fractured into two factions around 1983, with one faction led by Katjiuongua and the other by Kuzeeko Kangueehi.
The split came about because of disagreements over whether to join the colonial government sponsored Transitional Government of National Unity – an idea vehemently opposed by the Kangueehi faction.
Current Chief Executive of First National Bank Holdings Vekuii Rukoro briefly took over leadership of the Kangueehi faction during a short stint before independence.
The party gradually became marginalised in its early days because of its left-leaning radical politics.
In the early 1960’s Kozonguizi undertook a trip to Communist China where he launched a widely reported attack on Western imperialism.
The result was that more conservative Hereros, led by Clement Kapuuo, who formed a significant part of Swanu’s constituency, broke from the party.
The grand architect and father of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd also exploited Kozonguizi’s speech to pillory Swanu as a communist organisation.
It was in fact the first Namibian political organisation to forge links with Mao Dze Dong’s China – which eventually proved the downfall of the party.
When the Sino-Soviet split erupted in the mid-sixties this immediately placed Swanu in the bad books of the Soviet Union.
A block loyal to the Soviet Union at the then Organisation of African Unity mobilised opinion against Swanu.
In 1965 the OAU Liberation Committee decided to withdraw its support in favour of Swapo, forever killing its hopes of embarking on an armed struggle for Namibia’s independence.
Similar tactics were used at the United Nations where the Soviet Union spearheaded moves to have Swapo declared the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people.
The party nevertheless continued to forge links with other liberation movements, including Swapo.
From 1961, it was part of the South African United Front, with offices in London headed by Oliver Tambo, Jariretundu Kozonguizi and Nana Mahomo of the Pan-African Congress.
Swanu was among the first parties to mobilise opinion at the UN and internationally against South African colonial occupation of South Africa.
It was also the first party to raise awareness of the Namibian issue in Scandinavian countries, at a time when Ngavirue held the position of Chairperson of the Swanu External Council.
The prospects for the party however turned from bleak to dire in 1975 with the collapse of Portuguese colonialism in Angola and the breakout of open war between the liberation movements in that country.
International consensus quickly solidified around the idea not to support more than one liberation movement in any one country.
The non-ethnic character of the party also ensured that it could not rely on blind loyalty from a single unified ethnic constituency.
Swanu still has a small, but extremely loyal support base around the country. It won a Regional Council seat during the last elections. Rihupisa Kandando is the current president of the party.