Swapo vs AR on the cards
The ruling party, which is hanging by its fingernails amidst a series of controversies involving its leaders, has a new problem on its hands.
19 June 2020 | Politics
While facing the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement in several guises in the past, including a campaign around landlessness and its support of independent candidates, Swapo and its ailing hegemony will finally have to confront the radical youth movement at the polls in the 2020 local authority and regional council elections.
This is dependent on the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) okaying AR's application to register as an organisation.
There was a massive buzz on social media last night as news was revealed that AR had applied to the ECN to enable it to field candidates at the polls later this year.
The movement's co-founder Amupanda wants to be the mayor of Windhoek. Swapo has already been given a taste of AR's influence, with the movement led by former Swapo youth firebrand Amupanda and his supporters firing up the independent presidential campaign of Panduleni Itula that made massive inroads into President Hage Geingob's support base last year.
Itula lost to Geingob by 30% to the head of state's 56%.
Swapo's vote declined from 80% to 65.45%. Walvis Bay Urban councillor Knowledge Ipinge's campaign was also buoyed by AR support, as well as the campaign of Angelina Immanuel in Ondangwa.
The 2019 general election featured 400 000 voters born since Namibia gained its independence from South Africa in 1990. This is largely the swathe of voters who may be eyeing AR as a potential vehicle to take forward the aspirations amid a youth unemployment rate of 46% in the country.
AR's application for ECN registration also fires a warning shot to existing opposition parties who benefited from the Itula campaign when hordes of Swapo voters who had supported the country's former chief dentist also cast their votes for the opposition in the National Assembly vote. The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), for example, gained 11 seats in the National Assembly.
Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah said AR's pending registration at the ECN “means a replay of the 2019 presidential election outcome, where we are going to see Swapo cede some of its traditional local and regional seats to AR”.
“The people that voted for Itula will most likely throw their weight behind AR come the November elections. The registration of AR and its participation in the coming November election is a broader strategy for the 2024 national elections.
“There is high likelihood that by then AR will evolve into something larger than a mere organisation. From that perspective, it's a testing ground exercise they are involved to see if they will obtain much support during the November election. Once they capture some seats, it will give them a momentum to mobilise themselves for the 2024 election,” Kamwanyah said.
Another commentator, Hoze Riruako, said AR's application for registration as an organisation with the ECN gives it a chance at continuity, unlike when they were just a movement.
“They are playing it smart by registering as an organisation and not outright as a political party. [They] may not be kicked out of Swapo. Swapo may be in a catch-22 situation where they cannot removed [AR leaders] from the party.
“They may affect Swapo during the upcoming elections in a big way. They have a chance of scooping votes away from Swapo if one looks at what Panduleni Itula was able to do in the presidential race.
“If they can get support from the so-called Team Swapo, they will do well at the grassroots. It will be a big challenge to Swapo,” Riruako said.
After the hangover of the 2012 Swapo congress, which saw the party's youth wing, then under the control of Elijah Ngurare, Amupanda and other now senior AR leaders, unsuccessfully backing Jerry Ekandjo against Geingob, in 2014 Amupanda said he was tired of paying rent of N$8 000 a month and together with Dimbulukeni Nauyoma and George Kambala occupied a piece of land in the affluent Kleine Kuppe suburb of Windhoek.
This was followed by the formation of AR and mass applications for plots around the country, amid threats to instigate land grabs if government did not satisfy the urban land hunger felt especially by the youth.
This culminated in a State House engagement on 24 July 2015 between AR and a government delegation led by Geingob, where a deal was struck that averted the impending confrontation that included a deal to service 200 000 plots under the Massive Urban Land Servicing Programme (MUSLP).
Following further AR pressure, rent tribunals were also established across the country.
But politically Swapo was also moving against Amupanda, Ngurare, Nauyoma and Kambala.
They were booted out of the party, but in 2016 they were reinstated by the High Court in a landmark ruling. Swapo was ordered to immediately reinstate the four as fully-fledged Swapo members. The party was also ordered to pay 60% of their legal costs.
As bad blood between AR and Geingob continued, forces within Swapo coalesced around two camps ahead of its 2017 congress - Team Harambee and Team Swapo. Again, AR's mission failed, as Geingob's slate stormed to a landslide, amid allegations of irregularities that culminated in a court battle over the contested result. Among the casualties were Ekandjo and Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, who were unceremoniously ushered through the exit doors of Geingob's cabinet.
A new vehicle was then sought to challenge Geingob outside the party, which emerged in the form of Itula ahead of last year's national election. He battered down Geingob's electoral support from 87% in 2014 to 56%.
A later court challenge to the election results won a significant victory for the country when the Supreme Court ruled that no future elections should take place using electronic voting machines (EVMs) without a verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT).
Amupanda's mayoral ambitions
But even before the November 2019 polls, Amupanda announced his ambition to become mayor of Windhoek in September that year - setting the stage for probing questions in which AR would contest this year's local and regional government elections. That was answered this week, when it emerged that the youth movement had applied to the ECN to be registered as an organisation, thereby opening the door for an electoral showdown with Swapo.