A house divided

Espionage allegations have engulfed the ruling party as the Team Swapo and Team Harambee factions renew their battle over the election of local authority office-bearers across the country, while divisions among cabinet members are also out in the open.

12 December 2019 | Politics

Swapo has entered the final weeks of 2019 in disarray, as factional battles characterise the election of mayors and other political office-bearers in local authorities across the country.

This follows the party's lacklustre performance in both the National Assembly and presidential elections, which led to massive opposition gains and a neck-and-neck race between Hage Geingob and independent presidential candidate Panduleni Itula, who has still not accepted the election results.

Adding fuel to the fire is the Fishrot bribery scandal, which has seen cabinet ministers publicly airing strong views on the alleged involvement of their former colleagues Bernhardt Esau and Sacky Shanghala, who together with four others are facing charges relating to facilitating access to Namibia's fishing quotas in exchange for over N$150 million in kickbacks from Icelandic seafood company Samherji.

Yesterday there was another twist when economic planning minister Obeth Kandjoze took to Twitter to lambast his cabinet colleagues who have been outspoken about the Fishrot mess and its impacts on Namibia's international standing.

“Cabinet collective responsibility, or collective ministerial responsibility, is a constitutional convention in parliamentary systems that members of the cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in cabinet, even if they privately disagree,” he tweeted.

This followed media revelations that Geingob went on the offensive during last Friday's final cabinet meeting of the year by telling cabinet ministers who publicly condemned the Fishrot scandal to resign if they don't trust how the government is dealing with the matter.

Finance minister Calle Schlettwein was the first to condemn those implicated in the Fishrot scandal, saying the Al Jazeera video shows a typical case of resource looting from a developing country, Namibia, by a multinational company with the involvement of few highly placed and influential Namibians.

“It is criminal. All must be prosecuted. The process has started, must be completed,” he tweeted.

He was followed by Tom Alweendo, the minister of mines, who said the plundering of the country's fish resource was reprehensible and needed to be condemned by all.

“What makes it even more deplorable is the fact that it was perpetrated by those entrusted with public office leadership,” Alweendo said.

Namibian Sun understands that Alweendo was blasted not only his views but also for allegedly always “presenting himself as smarter than the president”, according to those in the know. Minister Leon Jooste of public enterprises followed suit soon after and said he was personally devastated when considering the social, financial and reputational consequences of these actions. A government official said: “As things stand, if you criticise Fishrot you're perceived as directly criticising cabinet.”

“Those who raise this issue are now lone wolves in cabinet.”

However, political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah said it is peculiar that the cabinet would take its collective responsibility on all other certain matters but not corruption, seriously. According to him, if the cabinet prides itself on having collective responsibility on any matter, corruption must be the first priority.

According to him, Kandjoze and Geingob's criticism against those speaking up raises serious questions about the cabinet's ultimate stance on corruption.

“In the absence of cabinet collective responsibility on the matter of corruption I see it as good that people speak out. People in high authority positions must condemn corruption, but that is the problem we have, that when people cry out about corruption they do not see any senior officials condemning corruption,” he said. Another political commentator, Frederico Links, said, judging from public statements made by various officials, it was clear that there was some division in Geingob's cabinet.

Links, however, pointed out that one must also interrogate to what extent cabinet ministers are allowed to express their views on certain issues.

“You have to ask what it means if this is how fairly innocent condemnation are treated… they have not mentioned names. They did not actually criticise government. And this was not their official capacity but their private capacity on their private Twitter accounts. So the question is, to what extent are they allowed to express themselves as members of society? Or is it a situation that everybody should just say things that conform to the president's predominate narrative at the table,” Links said.

Faction fights rage on

After the Swapo regional executive committee in Khomas endorsed Fransina Kahungu and Ian Subasubani as Windhoek's new mayor and deputy mayor respectively, the party's top leadership intervened to seemingly undo the decision.

The two, together with other party councillors, were nominated over the weekend, but a letter by Peter Katjavivi, chairperson of Swapo leaders assigned to Khomas Region, asked that elections scheduled this week to formally endorse the nomination of Kahungu, Subasubani and others be halted. Katjavivi, in a letter written on Monday this week, said the Swapo Politburo had directed that the process be halted. Kahungu replaces Muesee Kazapua, seen as a blue-eyed boy of Team Harambee, while the incoming mayor and deputy mayor are perceived to be in the opposing camp, called Team Swapo. The two factions emerged in 2017 ahead of the party's elective congress but never disintegrated since then. On Tuesday, a Swapo district executive meeting demoted two councillors of the Ongwediva town council allegedly on suspicion that they are anti-Geingob.

The party shifted councillor Malakia Katumbo Petrus from the management committee to ordinary member, while councillor Naemi Amuthenu was allowed to continue serving as chairperson of management committee, but under strict monitoring.

Swapo functionaries at the town claim that Petrus does not hide the fact that he is not a fan of Geingob, while Amuthenu is suspected of the same although she is seen to be covert about where her loyalty lies.

When contacted Namibian Sun, Amuthenu said that she was disappointed by remarks that she was anti-Geingob after all she had done during the campaign.

“What is that I have done to be labelled anti-Geingob? I have played many roles during the campaigning and chairing committee and now I am being labelled anti-Geingob. Where were they if they are the pro-Geingob when we were preparing all that?” No comment could be obtained from Petrus as his cellphone number went unanswered.

When the district executive met on Tuesday, he was shifted from the management committee to ordinary member and he was replaced with councillor Maria Kavalela.

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