Fare thee well guru of Namibia’s diplomacy – tribute to my mentor

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Dr Peya Mushelenga

Eloquent, brilliant, genius, dynamic and illustrious – these are some of the attributes of the guru of Namibia’s diplomacy, whom Namibia recently lost to eternity. Theo-Ben Gurirab, affectionately known in diplomatic circles by his initials, TBG, was a giant of a man, diplomatic savvy and with unmatched revolutionary credentials.
Born and raised in Usakos on 23 January 1937 (1938 became the official year of birth when he needed to lower his age for the purpose of scholarships application in exile), little did his people know that the young Dururob, his home name, was set for a greater destiny in life.

After successfully completing a teacher’s Diploma at Augustineum Teacher’s College in Okahandja, he set for Walvis Bay, where he first worked in the factories before pursuing his teaching career. He worked in the same factory with Eneas Peter Nanyemba, with whom he later served together as members of the Swapo central committee and politburo in exile. It was at the factory that TBG, Nanyemba and others strategised on their contribution to Namibia’s independence.

His exile days as associate Swapo representative to the United Nations (UN) and America from 1964 to 1972, Swapo Permanent observer to the UN from 1972 to 1986, and Swapo secretary for foreign affairs from 1986 until independence, were put to good use. He was endowed with brainpower and had the intellect to argue persuasively and win people on his side.

As part of the “seven men” team of Swapo negotiators who engaged the Western Contact Group comprising the US, Canada, France, UK and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), TBG demonstrated his talent as a seasoned diplomat. He was a skilful negotiator who could cool down boiling temperatures of enraged opponents. He had a peculiar aptitude to disarm his rivals and transform their blood-dripping swords into peace-waving flowery canes.
At the heights of diplomatic campaigns, TBG impressed the world with the logic in his arguments and the manner in which he articulated them as a diplomat par excellence. You would not want him on the opposite side, believe me. If in doubt, ask Pik Botha, former South African ambassador to the UN and later minister of foreign affairs. At the UN, TBG often took the wind out of the sail of his opponents, leaving South African diplomats dis-oriented, their foreign minister sweating, South Africa’s allies wounded, and the snow in New York melting down. Oh yes, do not play with the breed of Usakos.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs of an independent Namibia, TBG often stole the show during the UN General Assembly debates. Delegations filled the hall to listen to his skilfully crafted speeches, and admired him as he emptied the calabash of wisdom before the world parliament.

In peace-making exercises, TBG was a golden compass that directed warring factions lost in a jungle of riots to a valley of ceasefire and harmony.

As president of the UN General Assembly and Inter-Parliamentary Union, TBG presided over international summits as a dignified presiding officer, earning respect amongst statesmen and women in the world. He focused on pertinent issues affecting the human race and made them part of the world agenda. He was committed to international peace and security and to bringing hope to those in pain and anguish. TBG was my mentor in my foreign service career and he inspired my studies in international relations and diplomacy. Since my early days as a freshman at the university, I followed with keen interest his first-class debates both in the Namibian parliament and at the UN. During the period when I served as chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Economics and also as chairperson of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) National Group, TBG aligned my activities to his programmes as Speaker of the National Assembly and President of the IPU.

He kept me under his tutelage and I benefitted from his wisdom a great deal. Subsequently, and unbeknown to me, in March 2010 TBG formally consulted key stakeholders proposing that I should become his deputy at the National Assembly – only to be advised that President Pohamba had different plans for me. I shall forever remain grateful for the keen interest that he took in my personal development.
Go well my mentor. !Gâise !gûre. //Khaba mûgus.

* Dr Peya Mushelenga is a Member of Parliament and Namibia’s Minister of Urban and Rural Development.

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