Hidipo Hamutenya, essentially the founder of the ailing Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), yesterday made a sensational return to Swapo – the party he quit in 2007.
Hamutenya alluded to alleged ill-treatment he received from the leadership of the party at the time, hence his bold decision to lead a mass exodus of Swapo members to the RDP, of which he was to become the first president.
While Hamutenya spoke at length about the factors that pulled him back into the Swapo fold, he did not say a word about what the push-factors in RDP were. In the absence of clarity direct from the horse’s mouth, speculation soared as to why the former Cabinet minister has abandoned, what many consider as his baby.
Among the countless theories that emerged yesterday was the manner Hamutenya was knocked off the RDP presidency – saying the exercise lacked dignity and legitimacy. People like RDP vice-president Steven Bezuidenhoudt have gone on record calling for Hamutenya to step down, saying he lacked the energy and charisma to take the party forward.
RDP’s dismal performance in the 2014 general election was blamed squarely on Hamutenya by most of his then comrades in the party, until he announced that he was quitting. Hamutenya later tried to change his mind by clinging ever so slightly onto the helms of the party leadership, but he later acquiesced to the demands of the rank-and-file.
The implications of Hamutenya re-joining the ruling party are too many to list here. Swapo has a reason to smile, not only for welcoming back its prodigal son, but also because several RDP members are expected to join Swapo in significant numbers.
This spells a difficult time for RDP – a party that arrived on the scene with much pomp and fanfare eight years ago. The party’s performance in last year’s election, where it lost five of its eight parliamentary seats, was already a clear indication of a dwindling support base.
Back in 2007, some people quit their positions in Swapo and other institutions to join Hamutenya in RDP, and already yesterday there were accusations that Hamutenya has betrayed the trust of those who made massive sacrifices for him.
On the flip side of the coin, Hamutenya – just like all Namibians – has a constitutionally-guaranteed right to associate with whomsoever he wants. But another implication is that Hamutenya will likely not be able to reclaim the prominent status he once enjoyed in Swapo.
The fact that he was among the three presidential contenders at the 2004 extraordinary congress is an indication the high regard in which many Swapo members once held him.
After all, Swapo policies require that one should be a member for at least five years, without a break, in order to qualify for any leadership position in the party. It could therefore be argued that Hamutenya will live to regret his decision to quit Swapo, the party that he credited yesterday with helping him become the giant of Namibian politics he once was.
Hamutenya is no magician, but his return to Swapo will add an element of strength to the party, because he still commands a respectable following in RDP.
As for RDP, the going could not have been tougher. Jeremiah Nambinga, the party’s new president, brings a bit of energy to the party – but he is no Hidipo Hamutenya. The real test for the Hamutenya-less RDP will come later this year during the local and regional authority elections.
Yet, in light of this whole episode of political ping-pong, one thing is for sure: Hamutenya’s contribution towards the struggle for freedom and independence of Namibia is indelible.
Whatever his political home – yesterday, today or tomorrow – he will forever be among those sons and daughters of the soil who persevered in the struggle. Re-joining his contemporaries in Swapo, including President Hage Geingob, can only help cement his formidable legacy.