Some have come back to Swapo

Political heavyweights have crawled back to Swapo in recent years after publicly ridiculing the party for failing to act on its promises amid infighting and name-calling.

In May 2004, Hidipo Hamutenya, a close ally and Geingob’s confidant, annulled his Swapo membership after failing to secure preference as its presidential candidate.In addition, the former leader of another opposition Party, the Congress of Democrats (CoD) Ben Ulenga, is among those who abandoned their new-found political shell to rejoin Swapo in 2017. Ulenga contested the 1999 presidential election against Nujoma and received 10.5% of the vote.
The CoD gained seven seats in the parliamentary election, replacing the then DTA as the official opposition. In the 2004 election, the party won 7.2% of the popular vote and five out of 78 seats before plummeting in 2009 and securing only one seat along with the All People’s Party (APP). Although former Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) leader the late Katuutire Kaura was never a Swapo member, he was shocked by his sympathisers when he declared that he had joined his political arch-rival, Swapo.

After joining Swapo, Kaura was appointed as special advisor to late Kunene governor Angelika Muharukua by Geingob’s administration, in what is widely seen as a payback for his allegiance.
Interestingly, former PDM MP Vipuakuje Muharukua is also said to be going back to Swapo after sharing a post on his social media platforms singing praises for Swapo presidential candidate Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah.

Muharukua, who also threw in the towel after the fallout with the PDM leader, McHenry Venaani, is on the verge of forging ties with Swapo to wrestle and regain control in the Kunene region from the latter. The fragmentation of the opposition has played well in bolstering Swapo with defectors, historically rejoining its rank and file after severing ties with the ruling party.
The former leader of the leftist Landless People’s Movement (LPM), Henny Seibeb, has poured cold water on claims that he is seeking to rejoin his old political home – Swapo.

Seibeb recently resigned from LPM after a public feud with its leader, Bernadus Swartbooi.

The speculation comes amid claims that another leader from the opposition bench, Vipuakuje Seibeb did not mince his words when quizzed if he is keen on such a quest, saying he is ‘enjoying’ his freedom albeit a precaution that the highest law in the land allows anyone the ‘freedom of association’ without going into context on his plans.

“I am enjoying my freedom right now. So, if people are curious and want me to join political parties, it’s up to them. I am not into that. I am enjoying my freedom. So, if they want to join a political party, they must join. Why are they tagging my name along? The constitution of Namibia is clear: anyone can [join any Party], and people with freedom of association can join and do whatever they want to do,” said Seibeb yesterday in a telephone interview with Confidente.

Seibeb served as a special assistant to former Swapo secretary-general Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana from 2008 to 2012 before being fired by her for purportedly siding with the camp of her rival, Swapo’s then vice-president and late statesman Hage Geingob.

He also served in the same capacity as former tourism minister, the late Willem Konjore.

“Why are they worried about what Henny will do or so on? As I said, I am enjoying my time. I am not even thinking about politics. So ask those people who are saying I am rejoining Swapo. Maybe there is a person behind it. So ask that person?” he retorted. Furthermore, a youth leader who served in the top hierarchy of the firebrand Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement, Simon Amunime, is also amongst the handful of defectors to rebuild ties with Swapo as a fully-fledged member after a public spat with AR’s leader Job Amupanda.

Amupanda, a councillor in Windhoek and an academic at UNAM is also in the race for the presidency.

Amunime, when confronted by journalists, indicated that he never resigned from Swapo, albeit with such a stance in August 2020 alongside youth leaders George Kambala, Dimbulukeni Nauyoma, and Amupanda.

“I have never resigned (from Swapo). I have never taken my membership to the headquarters or written a resignation letter to any party structure. But I am aware there was a sort of social media prank, that was arranged of course by iduna – Amupanda – where he hired a personal designer and they took people’s pictures from Facebook and  just designed some sort of resignations like that,” Amunime told The Namibian in May last year.

According to reports, Amunime has joined Nandi-Ndaitwah’s campaign.
If left unresolved, the infighting amongst opposition leaders will fragment and erode their share of the votes in any polls, a newly appointed political science lecturer at the University of Namibia, Wade Henckert, has warned.

“The expected 2024 polls may be significantly impacted by the voters’ declining trust and confidence as a result of internal party conflicts and hostilities, including those within the LPM, NUDO, and AR. [The] voters’ perceptions of political parties’ cohesion, stability, and efficacy are weakened when they observe power battles and internal strife.

“Voters may begin to doubt these parties’ honesty and capacity to properly represent their interests and run the nation if elected due to this erosion of trust and confidence. Ultimately, it can lead to a decline in voter turnout and disenchantment, which would be detrimental to the validity of the election results and the democratic process as a whole,” said Wade Henckert. The political scientist says most voters are left perplexed about the unity and message of the opposition and will likely shift away and explore a “convincing” alternative.

“If the opposition can’t even control their own parties, one wonders how they would be able to govern with any effectiveness. What, if any, do you think is the driving force behind these infighting. Is it power perhaps or merely a normal occurrence? The internal conflicts within these groups might have a variety of root causes. Internal conflicts can also be caused by other elements, such as ideological differences, rivalries between individuals, and disagreements over tactics and strategy, even though power struggles and ambitions undoubtedly play a part,” Henckert observed.

On his part, the Institute for Public Policy and Research’s head, Graham Hopwood, also did not mince his words about the wedge between politicians in the opposition sphere, saying there’s more than what meets the eye.

“Small parties are often riven by disputes. We only need to look at the demise of the CoD and the RDP in the past. This is because a small number of individuals are vying for power and resources and therefore come into conflict. Swapo’s patronage network is much larger than the likes of the PDM or LPM and therefore they can include more people in key positions and keep them happy. Politicians also tend to become frustrated if their leadership ambitions are not fulfilled. Parties can mitigate these effects if they are run on democratic principles and members accept this,” said Hopwood in an interview with Confidente recently.

The IPPR predicts voter apathy may also suffer as a result. “At the moment Swapo could be a beneficiary of opposition in-fighting. Also the IPC stands to benefit as they are emerging as a frontrunner among the opposition and have already started running an energetic campaign. But voters could also be turned off completely by internal party disputes and decide not to vote. Therefore apathy could be the winner if voters become disillusioned with the ways parties conduct themselves and the lack of quality in their leaderships,” he added.

UNAM’s head of the political science department, Ericka Thomas, says most opposition parties are often accused of being “divisive” instead of shaping inclusivity policies for the interest of all. “They must actually represent their primary function of these political parties  is to represent their members whenever they are being unfairly treated and also try to shape their policies in the interest of the country. Now we seeing their fighting amongst themselves and that’s actually not encouraging,” said Thomas