Former Swapo Party Cabinet Minister Hidipo Hamutenya broke his long silence when he resigned from Swapo and in swift action emerged as the interim president of newly formed Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) officially launched at a public meeting at the Katutura Independence Arena last Saturday. New Era spoke to him about some of these developments.
By Catherine Sasman
You have been elected as the interim president of the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) and yet when you resigned from the Swapo Party you were very cagey about your association with the RDP. Why was that?
I knew that if I had announced what I would do, Swapo would have moved with a pre-emptive strike and fire me on the same day. I did not want to give them the opportunity to expel me. I wanted to resign on my own. This was a tactical move.
Do you envisage more members of Parliament – be they from the Swapo Party or any other organisation – to defect to the RDP?
I don’t know. I have not consulted anybody. But it really does not matter. Not everybody in Parliament is of consequence for me to hold great store by them.
Have you had any indication of some who may be interested to join you?
People are joining the RDP from all corners of Namibia in great numbers every day. This is a fact.
The list of 700 names given to the Electoral Commission of Namibia has sparked a lot of controversy, with some people claiming that they do not know how their names got onto the list. How was the list drawn up?
Nobody was forced to give his or her name or the number of the voting card.
The actual number of registered voters required to register a party is 500. In the end we had 700 names. The 200 extra names is a clear indication that people are eager to sign up. The argument of people being coerced is debunked. Even the rally itself showed that there was no shortage of people to sign up.
What about Sankwasa who appeared on NBC TV saying he does not know how his name was smuggled onto the list?
We are talking about two lists here. There is the list of 700 people who have signed for the registration of the party. Then we are talking about a list that nobody knows the origin, containing the names of known Swapo members who are purported to have indicated their intention to join the RDP. This is the list that Sankwasa is contesting. He was never on the list of 700 people.
Was there any other list that was distributed that you are aware of?
We heard that there were some nine people who had complained that they were forced to give their names in support of the party registration. We checked with our field organiser in Omaheke who categorically denied coercing anybody to sign up. There was a large contingent from Omaheke that came to the rally, so these nine people would not have made a difference. It really is not an issue.
And all the names on the RDP list can be verified?
Yes, definitely. If somebody was seriously interested in contesting the list of 700, arrangements could have been made to verify. But this would not mean the wholesale copying and distribution of the RDP list as is the case and which is illegal. If some people were intimidated and thus pressurised to withdraw their names from the list, they should not deny that they had initially agreed to give their names.
You were criticising the lack of a democratic culture within the Swapo Party and yet you remained one of the top leaders and a big force within the Swapo Party for 46 years. What, in your view, went wrong with the democratic culture within Swapo and to what extent have you been party to what happened?
Most of the 46 years you talk about, Swapo was a liberation movement and as such the focus was on liberating the country. Maximum unity and cohesion were an imperative of the times. The emphasis then was not on democracy.
With independence and the adoption of the Constitution, the imperative shifted to democracy and putting in place democratic processes.
I was one of the people who wrote the Constitution and we knew that there was a tendency for autocracy and dictatorship in Africa. This is why we limited the term of office for the Head of State. However, it did not take long before we were obliged to amend the Constitution to provide for a third term.
It became clear that the very democratic processes that Swapo had brought about were being flouted … by Swapo!
Then we started being subjected to capricious decisions. This is when autocracy and a cult of personality irrevocably set in.
People who are not privy to the inner circles of Swapo do not know that intense debate takes place in the meetings of the party’s highest decision-making bodies. Much of the time it is the wishes of the one who holds the gavel that hold sway.
So when people say, “you were there …”, they must know that there is always somebody with the gavel.
How will the RDP ensure a democratic culture?
There is only one guarantee and that guarantee is to be constantly aware that democracy is the best way to manage an organisation or the society. And we will seek to remind ourselves continuously that democracy must be our guiding principle in our day-to-day activities.
You were Minister of Trade and Industry for nine years, a ministry that has the mandate to grow the economy. How did the ministry fare under you?
The ministry fared well. We built up institutions such as the Investment Centre, the SME incubation centres throughout the country, the EPZ regime, Competition Law, new company laws, credit facility for small and medium enterprises.
It was during this period that Namibia received the highest investment flow into the economy. Namibia was among the top four performing economies in Africa. This position has dropped dramatically.
How does the party intend to rollout its mobilisation and recruitment plan before the intended national conference next year?
In the next few days and weeks, we will bring into the party’s operational structure a number of cadres who will be tasked with combing the length and breadth of the country to recruit members. And we are positive that our political message will be well received. Accordingly, the people will come in their droves to the ranks of the RDP.
How do you think the RDP should position itself on the Namibian political landscape?
We have done our homework and we know what the burning issues that are affecting our people are. We will continue to keep our finger on the pulse of the nation so that we can respond speedily and effectively.
When you announced the interim leadership last Saturday at the RDP’s inaugural rally, you said a number of positions would remain vacant until the conference next year. And do you have the kind of leadership that will inspire and move people to join the RDP?
Yes, indeed. To date, we have thousands of signed-up members. This surely indicates that the interim leadership and the party programme inspire confidence in the people. The RDP leadership brought thousands of people to the Independence Arena to witness the launch of the party. Nobody should therefore think that the party does not have the capacity to attract the masses.
There is a perception that many of the RDP mobilisers were CEOs who were sacked because of corrupt practices. Can you comment?
That’s nonsense. If you want to tarnish somebody’s name in this society, you simply label him or her as corrupt without proving beyond a measure of doubt that this is the case. However, the RDP is committed to fighting corruption. We will tackle cases of proven corruption head-on.
Were you disappointed at the audience size at the RDP’s star rally last Saturday?
First of all, the police put the figure at close to 4ǟ