The sad case of O’Brien Hekandjo
29 November 2021 | Opinion
After a press engagement on the state of coalition politics at the City of Windhoek, I rushed home to collect my luggage on my way to Hosea Kutako International Airport. I was headed to Victoria Falls for the Young African Activists Network meeting. Sankara, my four-year-old son, decided that he was coming with me to the airport. As expected, we would fight over my phone. As we passed by the Finckenstein Estate, a residential estate ostensibly belonging to once-powerful mayor of Windhoek Bjorn Graf Finck von Finckenstein, I remembered that I needed to check if the University of Namibia Covid-19 lab had sent my Covid-19 results, which are required before boarding flights. After taking my test in the morning, I was informed that my results would be out by mid-day and they would be sent to my email. Indeed, there are things our university gets right. Before I could enter my mailbox, after Sankara surrendered my phone, I came across an online article titled ‘Namport cancels City official’s appointment’. Let’s return to this later.
We were sworn in as councillors on 2 December 2020, for our five-year term. As we left those coalition meetings before swearing-in, Fillemon Hambuda, the City’s then strategic executive for economic development who was set to be sworn in as a councillor being number one on the Independent Patriots for Change (IPC) list, told us – and created an impression in us – that there were dangerous things being done by former councillors and we needed to act with urgency from day one. Only if we knew, we would later realise. True to his resolve as a newly elected chairperson of the Management Committee (MC), merely two days after we were sworn in, on 4 December 2020, he wrote a memorandum to the acting CEO, George Mayumbelo, directing him to urgently convene an MC meeting to discuss two items – the appointment of an engineer in the electricity department and the appointment of the deputy head and senior superintendent at the City Police. Mayumbelo did as instructed by Vambolokasie’s operator, Mr Fly, as they call him, the MC chair. This meeting took place with Hambuda and Mayumbelo dominating the discussions. In our defence, we were new, having been in office for only two days. For Mr. Fly, all his machineries were in place; he had all templates. Personnel matters were not yet introduced to us. Mr Fly flew with the discussions until a resolution was passed; the two matters must be investigated by internal audit with fellow IPC councillors Ndeshihafela Larandja and Desiree Davids co-opted to the investigation team. Meeting concluded, Mr Fly announced. After the meeting, he explained his grand plan that the aim of the investigation is to net Mayumbelo as a substantive head of human resources, and thereafter use the outcomes to remove him as acting CEO. Mr Fly comfortably retreated for Christmas to return in January to deal with Mayumbelo.
It is important for one to understand factional corporate politics at the City of Windhoek. This corporate politics has converted the City into one of the toxic working environments. Those who disagree must obtain a copy of the results of the City's culture survey. With the departure of Niilo Taapopi as CEO in 2014, the City experienced a period similar to the one we are experiencing – bickering over the successor and limping from one acting CEO to another. This instability contributed to the centre not holding. Management degenerating into opposed factions that sometimes morphed around tribal identities. It would seem that at his arrival, former CEO Robert Kahimise landed in the wings of one faction. The opposing faction rebelled against him. To solve this impasse, councillors and management scandalously ended at State House seeking divine intervention from President Hage Geingob. Hambuda and Mayumbelo, as senior executives, seemingly belonged to opposing factions. Hambuda saw his post-retirement return as councillor as an opportunity to complete their incomplete project. Mayumbelo is to be dealt with. “Your worship, atu mu kula omayego (we will remove his teeth),” he once boastfully stated to me.
The result of the investigation subsequently came. Unfortunately, for Mr Fly that is, the result did not net Mayumbelo as prophesised. I recall the chairman's poignant face when the investigation results were presented. Unbeknown to Mr Fly, the investigation made findings on someone seen as closer to him; O’Brien Hekandjo, the strategic executive for electricity. The recommendations were that disciplinary measures be taken. Hekandjo was eventually charged. He wasn’t initially the target of the plan hatched by 4 December 2020 letter of Chairman Fly. Whether related or unrelated, Hekandjo got an offer to head the operations of Namibian Ports Authority (Namport). He eventually resigned. Shortly before his last days, The Namibian ran a story about the offer and his troubles at the City. Whether this was by accident or part of the City’s retributive politics remains in the realm of speculation. It would seem that following the news reports Namport withdrew its offer and gave it to the second candidate. Hekandjo, who had resigned by then, attempted to retract his resignation at the ninth hour. It wasn’t accepted.
As I read that article on my way to the airport, it took me to the beginning – the 4 December 2020 letter of Mr Fly, two days after being sworn in. Indeed, life can be unfair. Hekandjo once took me to the informal settlements to see our electrification efforts. During our few encounters, Hekandjo appeared reserved – a technical and not political person. I looked at him and thought to myself how politics can be cruel at times. Mr Fly unceremoniously left the City as a councillor. The other day, on my way to the University of Namibia, I saw him exercising along the Academia road wearing a floppy. I wonder if he remembers his 4 December 2020 letter and its impact on O’Brien Hekandjo. I hope we will one day eradicate the City’s toxic factional corporate politics.
· Dr Job Shipululo Amupanda is mayor of Windhoek and holds a PhD in Political Studies from the University of Namibia.