Job Shipululo Amupanda
By 2010, 12 years after Namibia’s involvement in the DRC conflict, there was still no scholarly account of Namibia’s involvement in this post-1945 major conflict which on the African continent involving close to 10 countries.
Namibia was involved in the conflict, alongside Angola and Zimbabwe, on the side of Laurent Kabila, the father of current president Joseph Kabila, who was under siege from rebels who enjoyed the support of Rwanda and Uganda amongst others.
By the time Namibian troops arrived in Kinshana, it is said that Kabila Senior was already at the airport about to flee for Lubumbashi. Namibian troops started engaging the rebels at the airport. The military engagement was, therefore, very instrumental in the survival of the Kabila regime. Beyond military involvement, Namibia also gave a loan, whose repayment status is still to be established, of more than N$ 20 million to the regime in 1999. It is for this reason that my young mind, in 2010, chose to conduct research in this area for my Masters of Arts in Political Science degree at the University of Stellenbosch. The title was; A Comparative Analysis of Namibia’s Peacemaking Role in the Southern African Development Community region: The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola (1996–2002). For this complex and secretive topic, it was going to be difficult to conduct research. In fact, most of the senior SWAPO leaders were not cooperative.
I needed to talk to someone authoritative who can give me insight information and serve as a base for mapping out themes, indicators and intimation of prospective respondents.
Theophilus Benjamin Gurirab, then a Speaker of the National Assembly, was different. He understood the importance of research and understood the centrality and importance of students and youth in taking this country forward. As soon as I made contact with Simon Uirab, his then Personal Assistant, an interview was arranged in early 2011, for me to sit down with this great intellectual and an astute diplomat. It was during this first encounter that I got to understand the political dynamics, the foreign policy politics and the balance of forces at play during the two conflicts. The discussion operated at three levels; grandfather-grandchild discussion, scholar – politician/diplomat discussion.
The grandfather-grandchild discussion saw Dr Gurirab persuading me to drop my critical writings on Namibia’s foreign policy and said “if you want to go into diplomacy, come talk to me”. This conversation went on until it led to the other. The short version is that it was a rich discussion, wherein we agreed and disagreed, that taught me a lot.
But I still declined, to go to him and serve in diplomacy that is. The second discussion, scholar-politician/diplomat discussion was an asymmetric discussion.
I was unable to get specific details, the way I wanted, because of his skilful and tactful ability to navigate out of taught questions. I was, however, able to get three important insights from these discussions that were useful and assisted me greatly in the completion of my study. I was able to understand the nature of the foreign policy dynamics at the time, the relationship between the then principal foreign policy maker, President Nujoma, and auxiliary foreign policy makers such as Dr Gurirab.
I was able to get insights into the ‘behind-the-scene’ dynamics of the Angolan conflict including Dr Gurirab’s two meetings with UNITA’s leader, Jonas Savimbi – a disclosure that took efforts to come by. He also took me into confidence as to the public discourse postures he was forced to take, as the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, because of the dynamics of the time. On his advise and wise counsel, I was able to interview the former Chief of Defence Lt. E.D Ndaitwah, late NDF Chief of Staff Brig. General Karel Ndjoba, Benjamin Ulenga and many others.
The insightful learning from a grandfather and critical engagement on various subjects characterised our relationship from then until his death. Two years later, after our 4 hours meeting, we would frequently encounter each other in the SWAPO corridors. The years 2012 to 2014 were eventful primarily because of our efforts to cause SWAPO to adopt a radical character to address socioeconomic issues the country was facing. The SWAPO elites reached a determination that if we are not guaranteed and liquidated, SWAPO might take a radical position and disturb the existing elite privileges. The SWAPO leadership sent a committee chaired by Dr Gurirab, consisting of Dr Nickey Iyambo, Dr Libertine Amadhila, Marco Hausiku and Nangolo Mbumba amongst others to meet with us and discuss our so-called ‘unacceptable conducts’ in party and national politics.
While others took cannibalistic positions, Dr Gurirab chose to listen to our views and as chairperson concluded that, the matters are more complex and are not just involving the s-called ‘ill-disciplined’ youth. As an astute politician, who could also engage in political acrobatics depending of the balance of forces, his reports to the SWAPO politburo remains a mystery but his grandfather character prevailed and placed all hostile parties in comfort. We will never forget.
When we started the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) in 2014, Dr Gurirab remained true to his character – maintaining a grandfather position, expressing his stance within the SWAPO cultural collective yet recognising the role of the youth. He did not wish us to disappear or to be harmed. These are his views on our struggle for land and our efforts; “we have talked enough [on land]. Twenty-five years after independence, we must grab this animal by the horns. We’ve talked enough…Job didn’t impress me with his threats, but his pressure certainly brought some hope for the landless…Of course we must ask some tough questions such as whether Job would really want to live in Henties Bay or if his application for land in that town was an unnecessary gimmick”.
Where I was wrong he would publicly and in person state his position. Where I was correct, he would do the same. When the University of Namibia tasked me to write the chapter on Tactical and Diplomatic Relations, as part of the Namibia History Project, I had to engage him. In our last telephonic conversation, he informed me that he is following our activism, sometimes he does not agree but most of the times, he agrees. We must continue, it is important, he counselled.
As we remember Theophilus Benjamin Gurirab, it is not only about our encounters with him that matter but what he represented. For me he is an enigma. An astute, calm and collected statesman with a kind heart. He understood the importance and role of the youth and students in advancing the struggle forward. He did not force people to accept his position because he is old or fought for freedom; he used the art of persuasion.
He knew that once people are made to understand through persuasion, and not forced, the impact would be more strong and enduring. Although we were unable to meet recently as he desired, a task he had bestowed upon Simon Uirab, I have no doubt that all he had was well-meaning wishes, from his well-meaning heart, for the youth of this country. He was, indeed, a friend of the youth of Namibia. Ancestry has received a kindest member. He will be watching over us as we advance the struggle for economic freedom in general and social justice in particular.
* Job Shipululo Amupanda is a de-colonial scholar and activist from Omaalala village in northern Namibia.