New Era Senior Reporter Albertina Nakale sat with Swanu president Usutuaije Maamberua, who will not serve another term, on various issues of national concern ranging from politics to protection of the environment, President Hage Geingob’s administration and the numerous challenges that it faces.
NE: How is the party in terms of its standing in society?
Usutuaije Maamberua (UM): “I am surprised New Era is calling me to talk. The way I characterize the media in Namibia is that New Era is on the other side that supports Swapo and the government. We have another dimension in the media, which is the neo-liberal press. What is lacking is the radical transformative media houses. That is where Swanu ideologies and articulations would have found ground for transmission to the mases but I am surprised New Era is actually calling me to talk. Surprisingly this time around New Era is calling me. Are you no longer aligned to Swapo and to government? That is my position, I characterise the media in that fashion.”
NE: Do the ideologies of Swanu still apply in modern politics?
UM: “For Namibia to claim it’s a capitalist society is actually trying to commit suicide. We are trying to fashion ourselves after certain capitalist countries. But we can’t reach there given our historic uniqueness and experience. Namibia is the most unequal society in the world. And yet some people want to sing the song of being a capitalist. In fact, there is no single mention of market system in our Constitution. Our Constitution just talks about a system where you have some businesses that could be owned by government and some by the private sector. Countries that call themselves capitalists are basically more imperialist than capitalists were. For us now to pretend that we will not tolerate socialism but will tolerate capitalism is like committing suicide. Therefore it’s clear that socialism takes the majority of poor people out of poverty into the middle classes or other classes that broaden access to resources in any country.”
NE: What have been some of your activities in the National Assembly and what has Swanu achieved in parliament?
UM: “Swanu is probably the most accomplished political party in parliament. We have achieved a lot and it cannot be compared to any other political party. The level of debate when Swanu entered parliament transformed and changed to the level where Namibians actually appreciate the issue-based debate we brought in parliament. The new parliament which was supposed to be built was stopped because of Swanu. We tabled a motion in parliament that either the ruling party could not understand, tolerate or have the guts to debate it with Swanu. They decided to shelve it until maybe when Swanu is no longer in parliament. But they will not continue that debate in the presence of Swanu. We brought in a lot of other things such as the commission of health which was instituted by former President Hifikepunye Pohamba that looked at challenges and constraints in the health system. Swanu was the only political party that made contributions. Look at the Harambee project of President Hage Geingob. We are the only political party that arranged to see the president and whose contribution was incorporated into the Harambee document. No any other political party has contributed to that project.”
NE: How has your role been as the chairperson of the public accounts committee?
UM: “It has been a critical role. It has taken a lot of my energy and time because I had to run the party, I had to run my own life and the public accounts committee. During my time, as a chairperson, the public accounts committee was transformed into a stronger oversight committee than ever before. During my time I introduced systems of accountability. One was that anyone appearing before the committee must take an oath. So everyone appearing now takes an oath. The procedures and rules of subpoenaing people were also developed, consolidated and adopted – it was never done before, it was only done during my time. The first and only conference that brought … accountability in institutions in Namibia such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the police, the Investigative Unit of Bank of Namibia, Namfisa, Public Accounts Committee and so on, all these were brought together and a committee on accountability was formed during my time. Since I am no longer the chair since my term ended in 2015, I don’t know to what extent they carrying that role of sharing information. It was also during my time the public accounts committee introduced mid-term reports which was never done before.”
NE: Is it difficult to serve on a public accounts committee when you are from the opposition and have you encountered any resistance?
UM: “Yes and no, it’s not easy to carry the oversight function because government is not always cooperative. It’s not always willing to disclose information. Sometimes it’s also that they are not capable to carry out some of the recommendations or meet requests by the public accounts. So it’s difficult to carry out your functions. But the question of whether you come from the opposition or not, yes resistance is there because we have not developed fully the culture of respecting the opposition. Sometimes the opposition is viewed as the enemy or an intruder, so from that point of view it’s difficult until the ruling party and government have developed a much higher level of tolerance and acceptance.”
NE: Is it true you are stepping down as president of Swanu? And if so, don’t you think that will be the end of Swanu?
UM: “My sister when (Sam) Nujoma stepped down from Swapo, was it the end of Swapo? So why are you asking me that question? Swanu is an institution, it’s an ideal. Even if there is no single member in parliament, it will still exist. Swanu does not depend on me or anyone, its existence is permanent. We are only there to operationalize Swanu’s ideologies and thoughts. Swanu is the most democratic organization or political party in Namibia. No political party in Namibia had a democratic political transition like Swanu. Now tell me of any political parties that had that number of congresses electing presidents, there is none. It’s just as important that the party moves on as a responsible and accountable party. Swanu has no time limitations but it’s been the trend and culture that after sometime a new president is elected to take the party forward. I am in fact not stepping down, I am just not standing, and I am not resigning. I am just not standing as a candidate at the next congress in April. We don’t fight for political leadership in Swanu unlike in Swapo where if someone loses goes and starts a new political party.”
NE: When last did Swanu hold an elective congress?
UM: “We do it every five years. But I was elected ten years ago as president of the party. That was in 2007.”
NE: Tell us more about the motion on Genocide Remembrance Day, which you have been so vocal about?
UM: “The motion will come back to parliament when we open but it was accepted last year. It’s just a matter of procedure now. So as of 28th of May, Namibia will be celebrating Genocide Remembrance Day. The date in May is when the genocide victims – the Namas and Hereros – were released from the concentration camps. So it’s a common day that we have to honour as Namibians. This is because of the motion Swanu brought to parliament. Swanu is the only political party that has emerged from the dust, blood and ashes of genocide. When people came to form Swanu in September 1959 it was that realization that Namibians had with the genocide. The understanding of genocide, the suffering of people, is fully bonded and enshrined in the psyche of Swanu. We are the only political party that is articulated and outspoken about genocide.
Do you know there is a Cassinga Day? What do we do on Cassinga Day? We come together as Namibians and it helps us to appreciate each other. It helps us remember what happened on that day in Cassinga. It helps us learn from the experience of Cassinga in Angola and also the experience of the northerners who suffered the most. Now, having a Genocide Remembrance Day will be for the same educational purpose. They will start to understand that there are Namibians who had a certain experience and learn more about their cultures and importantly that there was genocide committed in the 20th century. It’s important that Namibians become tolerant towards each other. This day is long overdue.”
NE: What do you make of President Hage Geingob’s administration since he took office in 2015? What has been your overall impression of his tenure?
UM: “There are two big failures that are happening in Namibia. One is the Vision 2030 that died when President Sam Nujoma left. That is when Vision 2030 died because President Hifikepunye Pohamba had no much interest in it. The current president came up with his own vision of Harambee Prosperity Plan. The problem is Harambee is going to die at the end of his term. Harambee is a vison that is going to die and its busy dying. The most important pillar for me in the Harambee Prosperity Plan is that of economic development and economic transformation which houses the land question. It also houses industrialization which is depended on the solution of the land question. We just had an Investment conference last year. Foreign and local investment all depended on the resolution of the land question in Namibia. But you see, what is happening now is that this government of President Geingob is not committed to resolving the land question. It means they are not committed to increasing foreign and local investment and they are going to fail in that respect and also not going to succeed in industrialization without addressing the land question. Swanu is the only political party that has met president Geingob during his tenure. So we talked about three things; poverty, land question and genocide. That is one thing I am going to thank the President for having allowed Swanu to share with him issues regarding his administration. He also incorporated most of our proposals in the Harambee Prosperity Plan. It’s just unfortunate that Harambee is linked to the president, it’s not rolled out and has no regional champions. The other day I was invited by ALAN (Association of Local Authorities in Namibia) to give a talk on that one pillar called economic development. I realised that people on the ground still don’t know what Harambee is all about. They don’t see the benefits of Harambee. One of the main important pillar that should house on which investment and industrialization should be based is being tempered with. We agreed with the president during our meeting that there will be a second land national conference. That conference was out of the blue postponed by the minister of Lands (Utoni Nujoma) indefinitely. This year the president when he was reviewing Harambee said it will take place end of this year. But that’s the most unfortunate time to have such an important conference. It will be after the hullaballoo of Swapo congress. November is also not a good period since people are in the festive mood and exhausted. It means the second national conference if it takes place will not bear the desired fruits. It means the issues and outcome of conference will never see the day of implementation until after the election. It means this Harambee in terms of investment is a dead story. Between now and his term we will not be able to have rolled out these things about food banks across Namibia, even in Windhoek we are not even close. This is a president who is presiding over what I call financial shortcomings and mismanagement. Even police officers must take taxis or ask neighbours to assist take them to work because there is no fuel. It’s not the only ministry, it’s across the spectrum of government ministries and agencies. So this president is presiding over that period of budget cuts, the situation is not going to improve until the elections. Many public works are halted so many people are out of work. So by the end of this term we are going to be looking at about 40 percent of unemployment. Inflation is about 7.5 percent, meaning the interest rates you pay at the banks is around 12-13 percent. What is going to happen in two years from now? Many people would have lost their properties and cars. We have serious financial problems such as our money owed by Angola. I thought he had good ideas, but he is facing a very unfortunate period of time. I don’t know it’s his own doing or he found the situation like that, I still have to do my own analysis. We are in trouble and the president legacy will be such that he presided over a collapsed system. Even corruption had not been addressed. That’s why I say he is a one term president. At the moment there is no vision in Namibia. ”
NE: What do you think of the poaching crisis which has reached alarming levels?
UM: “Poaching is a Swapo and Namibian government issue. They are the causes of poaching. Swapo receives millions of T-shirts and money from China every election and in return they import Chinese into Namibia. They tolerate all sorts of nonsense from China. They get kickbacks from China and that’s why Chinese got to the poaching fields because they know there are no punitive measures against them. So Swapo and the government are both captured by the Chinese. China is no longer the revolutionary and communist that used to be the friend of Swanu. The China we are dealing with is a capitalist, imperialist and exploitative country that has sold out the revolution like Swapo did. At independence probably there were only about two or three, if there was any Chinese at all, but now there are more than 100 000. What are they doing? They are in the villages selling kapana and vetkoek. How do they get the permits into the country at that rate? All the people teaming up with the Chinese are all politically-connected, they are all children of President Nujoma, President Pohamba and President Geingob, so Swapo and the Namibian government must answer to this.
“Swanu is calling on government to step down – they failed with the public financial management, health system, education, protection of the environment and food security. So the honourable thing for them is to come to that realization and step down. So they must not even participate in the elections. Swanu is ready to take over rather than the chaos happening.”