Sunday 17th June marked the birthday of Hidipo Hamutenya and that reminded me of the fact that close to three years ago on 6th October 2016, this nation parted with one of the children of the storm, who made selfless contributions to the struggle for justice in this land. I thought about him and later on I lay reflecting about some of the developments that have marked Namibia’s political life.
Two weeks ago I went to the coast pretending to be on holiday. As I left the hotel after a meeting with a business associate I ran into an old colleague from the civil service whom I have not seen in a while. We hugged and kissed. Then he said: “Listen Bob, you write a lot but you never wrote anything about Comrade Hidipo, why?” I smiled at him and when I looked in his eyes I realised that he was emerging from a joyful day.
And before I could say a word he said: “No Bob, do not think that I ask you this because I am drunk, I mean it, Comrade.” When I said that I had given him a tribute during his memorial service, he said: “Who remembers what you said at his house then?” I told the Comrade that I was working on a manuscript called “The Hidipo Campaign”, and that I shall pay him a good tribute in that book. The comrade was happy and we parted. Upon reflection I remembered that I have said so little about Hidipo, much as I have worked with him in the management of state during the formative years of our Republic.
I had met Comrade Hidipo for the first time in New York when he had come with the Swapo delegation from Luanda, Angola. He then impressed me as a person with deep intellectual capacity who could articulate complex issues in a non-abrasive fashion. Then I met him for the second time in Luanda when I was assigned by the Namibian churches to engage in discussions between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for repatriation of Namibia’s refugees and Swapo, as we prepared for the country’s independence from South Africa.
Comrade Hidipo returned to Namibia in the delegation of then Swapo’s director of elections and now Namibia’s Head of State, Hage Geingob. Our real first interaction was when both of us were appointed by President-elect Sam Nuyoma into the Presidential Manpower Committee that was to select and recommend persons of quality to be appointed in the management of state in the political and senior civil service echelons.
That is when I got to appreciate the depth and versatility of this boy from Katutura. It so turned out that Hidipo was selected Minister of Information and Broadcasting and I as permanent secretary for the same ministry. And the following three years were mutually rewarding for the two of us. Three years later I left the civil service to join the University of Namibia. Hidipo and I retained our association as we found a common page on most of what occupied the ruling party and its government.
Raja Munamava was the editor of the New Era newspaper. On a Saturday morning in November he phoned me and asked whether I would give him an interview. He was doing a broad-lens article on the Swapo succession prospects and was struggling to have anyone say anything about the potential Hidipo candidacy for president. He knew many senior people in Swapo, including ministers, who supported Hidipo’s aspirations but none would speak in public. I promised Raja that I would speak to him provided that he would not paraphrase what I say. Raja came to my house in Wanaheda and I gave him an interview.
In it I said that I felt that Hidipo Hamutenya was good material for president and he deserved consideration by the Namibian people. Raja published the story that had adrenalines running in Namibia for the longest time while few would discuss it in public. And it jump-started political dynamics that would rage for the remainder of the year and the ensuing years, the details of which you will read in the book “The Hidipo Campaign”.
The shortest version of it all is that Hidipo’s candidacy left many of his supporters leaking wounds and some still do to date. He lost his job as Namibia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently left Swapo to spearhead the formation of a new party, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP). Comrade Hidipo was very disappointed that I kindly declined his invitation to leave Swapo for the creation of the new party.
As he was poised for the launch, one day we met in the present day Post Street Mall. We spoke for five minutes and as we were parting, I said: “Good luck with your new honeymoon”. He gazed back at me, smiled clandestinely and said sarcastically,: “Make sure that you will not be the last to leave Swapo for the new party.” We both laughed.
In the fullness of time, Hidipo returned to Swapo. After I saw him on television rejoining Swapo I drove to his house. He strolled from upstairs to the living room where I waited. We hugged and kissed and I said:
“Congratulations Comrade.” We both privately recalled our last conversation on the eve of him launching the new party. As I was about to leave, I once more congratulated him and wished him the best. Comrade Hidipo said: “Thank you Comrade, you are sarcastic. Did you mean it when you wished me well then, or are you real now that I am rejoining your party?” We both laughed loudly and in the end he said: “You were smart, Comrade, for sticking it out with Swapo despite what you went through.”