Outspoken Deputy Minister of Land Reform Clinton Swartbooi yesterday offered to resign rather than apologise to his senior, Minister Utoni Nujoma, whom he accused of resettling people from other regions in southern Namibia ahead of the landless local communities, whose ancestral land had been seized by the then colonial German regime in southern Namibia.
Swartbooi made the accusations during the Kai//Khau Festival at Hoachanas recently. President Hage Geingob subsequently issued a 24-hour ultimatum for Swartbooi to apologise, but the deputy minister – who received backing from some Nama tribal chiefs – remained defiant.
In a closed-door meeting at State House yesterday, attended by Swartbooi, President Geingob, Vice-President Nickey Iyambo and Presidential Affairs Minister Frans Kapofi, Geingob explained the context of his demand for an apology.
“The purpose of the meeting was for the President to explain the need for an apology, which was requested of the deputy minister in relation to recent public comments he is reported to have made in relation to Honourable Utoni Nujoma, Minister of Land Reform,” a statement issued by Kapofi late yesterday reads.
“During the meeting, the President pointed out that the deputy minister was appointed to serve under the minister, support him and assist him at all times in the execution of his functions. Swartbooi’s other quoted comments that he doesn’t work for Utoni Nujoma, but for Geingob are also incorrect and therefore form the basis for a demand for an apology,” Kapofi said.
“The President further explained that despite differences of opinion that may exist between the deputy minister and the minister, the choice by the deputy minister to use a public platform to launch an attack on his minister was inappropriate. This is because there are many appropriate avenues through which such differences could have been handled.
“The President reiterated the point that Honourable Swartbooi should apologise. However, the deputy minister refused to apologise and instead offered to resign from his position as the deputy minister of land reform,” the official statement from the Office of the Presidency concludes.
Swartbooi is likely to keep his position as a member of parliament, to which he was recently elected. News of his resignation yesterday came mere hours after President Geingob had warned at State House about leaders who stoke fires of tribalism and hide behind their tribes once the guns are out against them.
“It is unacceptable what Utoni does with resettlement. He must be called to order. I do not work for him. I work for President Hage Geingob,” Namibian Sun quoted Swartbooi as saying at Hoachanas a week ago.
New Era has since last week sought statistics from the lands ministry on how land has been allocated in the South since March 2015 when Nujoma became land reform minister, to establish whether the deputy minister’s outburst was based on facts related to the skewed allocation of land at the expense of the local – predominantly Nama – people, or whether Swartbooi simply did not want other ethnic groups in that region.
Ministerial spokesman Chrispin Matongela, however, did not honour his weeklong promises to produce such information.
Last month, Swartbooi told attendants of the #Nu-Khoe (Damara) Annual Cultural Festival held at Okombahe that three tribes – the Damara, Nama and Ovaherero – must stand up and fight for the land from which their ancestors were brutally uprooted by the colonial powers. He said then that no other tribe in Namibia can claim to have lost more land in the same fashion.
“Namas stand up. Hereros stand up. Damaras stand up, because if we don’t no one will be able to stand up for us. Let’s get what is rightfully ours,” Swartbooi said in the Khoekhoegowab language.
His latest outburst was seen by some as incitement, but it was the manner and platform he used to launch his attack that seems to have infuriated Geingob.
Conventional wisdom would have dictated that Swartbooi, an admitted legal practitioner of the High Court, first address his frustration with Nujoma directly, failing which he should have approached Geingob to put across his suggestions.
The Swapo politburo met on Monday night and reportedly discussed the Swartbooi issue, with some saying it would be harsh to dismiss him for expressing his views, while others felt the youthful former governor of //Karas should be shown the door for inciting tribal hatred – but neither of the proposals materialised as Swartbooi chose to resign.
There are those who also felt that Swartbooi had disrespected the president’s authority by not heeding his call for an apology and should therefore vacate his position.
Speaking at State House during the year-end review of what has been achieved under his Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) yesterday, Geingob did not bite his tongue when responding to questions about tribalism, as journalists tried to squeeze an update from him regarding the anticipated apology.
The president – referring to the Constitution – said the Namibian war of liberation was fought to “free every inch” of land in the country and to dismantle the Bantustan system that confined tribes to homelands and refused them to co-exist with fellow Namibians in the same area.
“It’s a serious development that we must fight against,” he said of the simmering ethnic tension, without mentioning Swartbooi’s name.
“Don’t hide behind tribes. If one is excluded, don’t make it an issue of an entire tribe. We spend one third of our productive time talking about tribalism. It can cause war. Inclusivity is key. We can’t say ‘Don’t come here’. We are allowed to live anywhere in this country.”
Meanwhile, two meetings were being set up yesterday, in support of the former deputy minister – one at Keetmanshoop by the Nama Genocide Committee and another by young people who back his stance. “We’ll brainstorm on an idea to have demonstrations in Windhoek on Friday or next week against the manner Swartbooi has been treated,” Paul Thomas, secretary of the Nama Genocide Committee told New Era last night.