Retirement ready Geingob bares all at 80

By Hilary Mare

“If you drive past Otavi you will see what is going on there on my farm that will show that I am preparing for my retirement,” a jovial President Hage Geingob said in an exclusive interview with Confidente on the eve of his 80th birthday this week.

In this instance, Geingob was shrugging off the narrative that a third term of office may be on the cards with full acknowledgement that while much has already been done during his tenure, more pending work was receiving full attention to pave a clearer path for his would-be successor.

But first, Geingob expressed a great deal of gratitude to God for carrying him through eight decades.

“My wish is first to thank God. It is not everybody who reaches the age of 80 and blessed as I am with good health. Secondly, I’m thanking the Namibian people for giving me this chance to serve. Anybody could have been president. We are all qualified. But I was chosen by my party and, therefore, put in a difficult position to serve my people,” expressed Geingob appealing to Namibians to join hands and move together going forward.

“This is the only country we can call home. It is easy to destroy but difficult to build up. We have examples of countries which had civil wars – and up to now, they are trying to build up. So, build on what you have. We know people are poor. Some people are suffering – no houses. Don’t go and break down what is there already. Add on it, and when you become president, at least do something to build on, instead of starting from scratch.

“We must know there is going to be an end, and I’ve been blessed to be 80. That is long. I was teased by young people who don’t have manners about my 80 years. Some of them look older than me mentally, intellectually and otherwise but, they like to say ‘old man’. Eighty years old, yes, I came from a good background,” chuckled Geingob.

A FAMILY MAN WITH A DAILY ROUTINE

Behind his stature as the head of state, President Geingob is a man who enjoys spending time with his family. Indeed, there are busy schedules acerbated by the current crises but Geingob says it is important to always make time.

“We shouldn’t make things to be so bad as if there is no time or so. You must make the time. There is a time to be busy during a crisis. With our structure, which is very small, you come to your office and go to your family when you are done. I used to sleep with the television on the whole night, but my current wife does not want it.

“I always watch TV especially NBC because you need to know what is happening. Newspapers are brought by my guys; I don’t know where they get them from but I always see them outside my door every morning. So in the morning I watch TV and read newspapers and I do that before I eat breakfast, which is pap and Oshikandela before going to the office,” expressed Geingob.

BIRTH OF POLITICS

Perhaps, Geingob’s political orientation started at a very young age at //Kharases, Otjikururume, a farm that is 30km from Otavi, as he recalls. In this upbringing Geingob notes that he was already exposed to a multi-racial and multi-tribal set up where they did not just grow up as Damara but other tribes such as Ovaherero and Oshiwambo were also there.

“Then, after that, we moved to Otavi, where I had to start school. While I was there, in 1957, the Augustineum guys came there for a concert, and I was very much impressed. Ben Amathila was the director of ceremonies. The late Kalenga and Joseph Iithana were also there. When they were singing, I said, ‘Oh I want to go to Augustineum to become a teacher’,” reflected Geingob adding that politics at Augustineum was ‘hot’.

“It was meant to be a place of apartheid to divide us from white people. Manifestly, to divide us, but blatantly, it served as a unifying place. It was the first time I met someone from the deep South (Nama speaking) and the North. They all started to talk about politics,” he said. From a young and tender age, Geingob recalls coming face-to-face with legends like Chief Hosea Kutako and Malcolm X among others who had driven his ambition and impetus for political life, a life that would today define his legacy.

A JOURNEY OF COMRADESHIP

However, Geingob states that Pohamba is the first top leader that he met in 1962.

“We greeted each other and you must have heard him teasing that he met a tall, skinny person. That is the person I met first and we are still together. When I escaped, I went to Francistown, there we met Maxton Joseph Mutongulume and Peter Nanyemba. As for Nanyemba specifically, I can say was my cool cat. I have never seen a person who is so tactical, who is a tactician who can plan. He is the one who turned around our tactics for our liberation. I have very high respect for him. We were very close.

“I went to America in 1964 in March and President Sam Nujoma came around June.  That was the first time I met him. I was then made a representative for Swapo in America at the age 22 as a UN petitioner deputised by my late colleague, Theo-Ben Gurirab and Hidipo Hamutenya. That is how we started our political campaign in America both at the UN and all over America. We joined the black movement and we learnt a lot about Pan-Africanism from scholars in America. This set off my political journey.”

NAMIBIA IS ALL WE HAVE

With a few years left in his tenure, Geingob also spoke about the hope that Namibia has created over the last 31 years and the need to preserve what had been built.

“Young people don’t know how this country was. Rightly they want to get more because they have hope. You have hope after 31 years and you want to reach the top quickly. You are in a hurry, but this is because the country has kept its peace with effective governance. Thirty-one years ago we removed apartheid oppression and created hope. This country is rated as one of the best governed countries.

“Strengthening our processes and institutions does not depend on one person. This is because this is our country. I can go and anyone can come but these structures will still stand. This is the modern way of governing. In this Namibian house we must also not be able to see different tribes, we are one. This house has to be guarded and protected so that when others take over they have something to take over; proper processes and proper institutions,” explained Geingob.

A MENTOR OF NOTE

Despite criticism from young people who have called him old as he turned 80, Geingob noted that he has known how to respect both the elderly and young people.

“You’ll see I’m always surrounded by young people I have nurtured. I brought this guy (Dr. Alfredo Hengari). I just saw him. He wrote articles in the newspaper. I didn’t know him. He is not from exile. All the guys who worked for me as Prime Minister, I just saw them on TV. I nurtured them, and they are big people. President Nujoma, the same. He never looked down on us, young people. We are always respected. So, we come from that background; we respect women; we respect young people – young people are the future.

“To act like they are not taken care of is not true. We groom our leaders. All those guys in parliament, the Shifetas and so on were young boys when we met them. Now, they are grown. Don’t people want to be groomed? You just jump from a tree and want to become president? No! You’ll fail! So, we are grooming, and we have already many of them. As I’m saying, systems, processes and institutions are there. You can come in and run this country – women and men, anybody. We are grooming,” concluded Geingob.