A tribute to my comrade Kazenambo Mandela Kazenambo

Hafeni Natangwe Nghinamwaami

The Namibian nation is mourning the untimely departure of our comrade, our hero and friend, Kazenambo Mandela Kazenambo, who passed away on 17 August 2021. Covid-19 has robbed us of yet another gallant son of the Namibian soil whose life was yet to reach its prime.

Mandela as most of his comrades of the 1980s and early 1990s knew him, was one of the descendants of the Namibian Herero people in diaspora (Botswana). Kazenambo never knew his fatherland until he returned to fight for that land in the jungles of Angola and Namibia as a member of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).

I met Kazenambo for the first time around June 1989 soon after he returned from exile when most of the Namibian exiles were repatriated back to Namibia, as part of the implementation of the United Nations Resolution 435, paving the way for the country’s independence.

Our paths crossed when some of the NANSO and Swapo Youth League (SYL) activists studying at various universities in South Africa were requested to take leave from their studies in order to come and assist in the mobilisation campaign, to ensure a landslide victory for Swapo in the UN supervised elections in November 1989. Our bond never broke until 17 August 2021, despite the various (different) political and professional paths we have travelled since then.

Our group included comrades such as the late Elias Groovy Kanguatjivi (MHSRIP), Dr Elia George Kaiyamo, Steve Katjiuanjo, Vincent Likoro,Trophimus Hiwilepo and Skue Kapanda Marenga.

We were attached to the mobilisation team headed by comrade Nahas Angula, which worked in Katutura’s western suburbs of Soweto, Golgotha, Wanaheda, Marula and Katutura Central.

We organised cells of activists to drive the house to house mobilisation campaign. Part of our mandate was also to form new sections in order to rationalise our work. KK, Steve Katjiuanjo, Kanguatjivi and I were tasked with the establishment of many sections including the dynamic Maharero Section and always met at a house belonging Phanuel Kaapama’s mother.

We worked together and even lived together in rented accommodation for safety and security reasons. The first few days we were accommodated by KK’s cousin comrade Ruben Tjamuaha who owned a house in Marula section of Katutura. This was our temporary base before we moved into a rented house which belonged to a certain Meme Nekwaya in Golgotha.

It was during those weeks and months that we all bonded and became not only true comrades but friends with KK. As most people have testified so far, KK was a no nonsense person, a fair and disciplined patriot. He believed in the notion that dictates that “fear no one but fear itself”.

One trait he rarely displayed in public was his sense of humour. With KK, you would never be bored as he would crack jokes all night long, especially after long days of meetings and strategic planning sessions.

We hardly slept at night as we had to coordinate and chair mobilisation and voter education meetings until in the early hours of the morning.

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Most of the days we would sleep between 08h00 and 15h00, just to rest and re-energize.

Some people misunderstood KK in so many ways. Some perceived him as a tribalist, some even considered him anti-Aawambo. However, the opposite has always been true about comrade Mandela. Kazenambo Kazenambo was non-racial, and a true nationalist who detested tribalism and reactionary tendencies. His steadfastness and straight talk approach won him a few enemies in the party echelons.

That was the reason why he appeared controversial to some people.

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We all understood KK so well that never doubted his opinions on most political questions confronting the party. As the legendary Vladimir Lenin (founder of the Russian Bolshevik-Communist Party) once remarked, “The fear of criticism displayed by the advocates of freedom of criticism cannot be attributed solely to craftiness. No, the majority of the economists look with sincere resentment upon all the theoretical controversies, factional disagreements, broad political questions and plans for organising revolutionaries”.

These words aptly reflected conditions under which KK operated in the latter years of his political career. Being a revolutionary of a different kind, comrade Kazenambo would never settle for less in order to make his opinion known and accepted. He was often faced with situations of political contradictions within and outside the party. His approach was unorthodox in the Namibian political context.

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To most of us, it was so apparent that Comrade Kazenambo found it difficult to understand tenets of counter revolution which gradually crept into the rank and file of the Swapo party. Noticeable ideological deviations and reactionary tendencies posed serious emotional and theoretical dilemma for people like KK. Those who didn’t tolerate KK’s reactions to some of these contradictions characterised him as an unreasonable politician.

In our view, reasonableness could never be obvious to those who are politically blind. Vladimir Lenin again teaches us that, “Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form”.

Many comrades in Swapo have been conformist in their deeds and outlook. As a consequence, they never bothered to rock the boat by challenging ideas and deeds of most ideologically deviant senior leaders of the party. These were leaders who sat on the opposite side of Kazenambo Kazenambo.

As one of Africa’s finest revolutionaries, Thomas Sankara, once remarked, “He who feeds you, controls you”. These words adequately describe those leaders who made KK’s political life a living hell and he succinctly classified them as “counter revolutionaries who sold their principles for a dollar”, and by so doing irritated some of us, including Kazenambo Kazenambo.

I am convinced that KK died with a heavy heart, knowing that such elements are calling the shots and shape today’s political direction in Namibia. Leon Trotsky, one of the Russian greatest thinkers opined (1935) that, “In a country where the main employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation. The principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat”. This is the gravest political tragedy Namibia is faced with today, which KK fought tooth and nail until his demise.

KK’s critique of the shenanigans in the Swapo party compelled him to confront even the most senior power brokers including the Founding President comrade Sam Nujoma, ministers and the incumbent president, comrade Hage Geingob. These were clear manifestations of the unique political mind that KK possessed.

Kazenambo’s ethics and principles of fairness, put him on a collision course with many leaders within the party to an extent that some of them labelled him an anti-Swapo element.

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His defence of the late Hidipo Hamutenya when sycophants were ravaging fellow comrades was but one of the examples. We vividly remember when KK challenged his senior, comrade Jerry Ekandjo to allow Miss Lilly Shilongo to go and study in India. KK went as far as threatening to resign if the lady was denied that opportunity. 

As the Swapo party and the Namibian nation is grappling to fathom what went wrong, we painfully feel the vacuum left by Kazenambo Kazenambo. We are confronted with the nasty reality that the project of building a democratic society has horribly gone wrong, evidently mirroring what happened in post-colonial states elsewhere in Africa, where the vanguard parties became monsters unto themselves.

Kazenambo was one of the lonely voices that tried to reverse the antitheses of this revolutionary project. He believed that without any robust contestation of ideas, the revolution is dead. Rosa Luxemburg, a leftist intellectual in Poland who lost faith in the Soviet style of Socialism remarked…

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” without the free competition of ideas, life in public institutions dies”. This amply sums up the stage where we find ourselves as a vanguard party and the nation at large.

Need I state that KK represented a unique generation of politicians who challenged the betrayal of our struggle by the political elite, who usurped the power and ideological hegemony of the party, and anointed themselves as the new political messiahs of Namibia? Where to from here? Kazenambo is gone to soon.

I can only posit that the words of Lenin, that, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”, find their true meaning in the current political epoch in our beloved Namibia.

The legacy of KK will forever reinvigorate our resolve to carry on the revolutionary struggle until its bitter end. This we know is certain, like the sun rises from the east.

The youth of our motherland are unequivocally signaling to us that they are picking up the baton where people like KK left it. The struggle continues and victory is certain.                                     

Rest in peace my comrade. We salute you!!

* Hafeni Natangwe Nghinamwaami is a former vice president and secretary general of the Namibian National Students Organisation (NANSO) and part of the leadership of the Swapo Youth League (1985 – 1991).