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In honour of Founding President Dr Sam Nujoma, SWAPO and Namibia's first President

By Paul T. Shipale
In light of the announcement by the organizing committee of the 12 May Movement that the third celebrations will take place in Windhoek, on the occasion of the 85th birthday anniversary of the Founding President as it was reported in the Namibia Today of last week, I would like to applaud this initiative by the SPYL to honour SWAPO's First President and the country's Founding President, H.E. Dr Sam Nujoma.

Founding President Nujoma or Tatekulu, as we fondly refer to him, led our country during a critical time in its history when we were in the process of establishing the new systems and institutions of government following the historic defeat of the apartheid-colonial system.

He knew that he had an unenviable task because he had no models to follow, leading as he did the last colony on the African continent by European powers after a protracted liberation struggle for a period of thirty years. Accordingly, he understood that we did not have the luxury to fail as failure could wreck our economy and thus undermine our programme for fundamental social transformation. Founding President Nujoma understood very well that this task constituted his most critical challenge given that he had to lead our movement as it was leading our people away from apartheid-colonial rule through the transition towards nation building and a demo- cratic society.

The capture and transfer of state power on its own is simply not sufficient to accomplish the social revolution and Founding President Nujoma had properly imbibed this lesson and knew it, that independence from colonial rule was not enough to bring about a revolutionary change which will transfer power to the great mass of the people; that we still had to destroy the old state machinery to build a new one in order to carry out a social revolution; and that the SWAPO Party, as a people's revolutionary party, built through toil, sweat and blood over many decades had to be preserved and, in the process, develop a revolutionary theory fundamentally to transform society so that it is not said of our victory over apartheid-colonialism that it amounted merely to continuity and not revolution.

The period soon after the independence of our country on 21st March 1990 constituted a critical moment in our struggle when SWAPO as a former liberation movement had to provide clarity on its perspectives and tasks during this new moment in order to avoid the pitfalls of its predecessor revolutions elsewhere on the continent. Founding President Nujoma was at the centre, both in the movement as well as government, of providing thought-leadership to this process in order that our revolutionary victory could have content and a sense of purpose and direction.

In his own words in the memoirs he wrote in the book titled;

"Where others Wavered", he says "The chains of slavery and colonialism were at last broken, but for the future there were other chains to be wrenched apart. The first of these held in place the deep divisions that make the various population groups strangers, sometimes even enemies, in their own country. I told our people repeatedly that we had a huge country and a very small population: there was more than enough room for all of us to live together as brothers and sisters".

He further said: "For me it was essential that our people should understand and play their parts in the political life of the country. We are a democratic country and all Namibians should be able to participate in the democratic process and economic development". Here was a man, born of royal blood in the rural areas, who had imbibed revolutionary politics from childhood and was sent into exile at SWAPO's instruction with the assistance of Chief Hosea "Katjikururume" Kutako in 1960 soon after the 10th of December massacre, in Windhoek. He was instructed not to come back until and unless he completed his mission and never wavered but made sure that in our lifetime, we were able to usher in our political freedom.

When he first spoke in the Constituent Assembly in November 1989, he said: "I feel humbled and honoured to take part in proceedings that happen only once in a lifetime. As the son of an ordinary labourer, I feel humbled and honoured to be leading the country towards nationhood."

Lest we forget, for a period lasting 75 years, between 1915 and 1990, the state was an instrument of racial bigotry, political repression and economic plunder and served only the white minority exclusively without any regard as to the interests of the black majority or their legitimate sense of injustice.

If anything, Founding President Nujoma must be credited, though not exclusively, for the painstaking work of re-conceptualising the new state in order to become an instrument to carry out a social justice. In pursuit of this, he placed a high premium on the values of discipline, hard work, dedication, commitment and the determination and vigour to win, the primacy of the SWAPO Party as the foremost leader of this process and the unity of the movement. As the Founding President of the SWAPO Party, he was a consummate intelligent man who used his wisdom in order to struggle against and eventually defeat the apartheid policies and thus to affirm his people's birthright to freedom, justice and equality.

He had understood that our country's independence would be meaningless if we did not singlemindedly pursue the course of African solidarity. In his own words in the memoirs he wrote in the book titled; "Where others Wavered", at page 443, he says again "... it was my firm belief, and so it remains, that the Independence victory of SWAPO would enable the Namibian people to participate in the wider Pan-African movement to attain the ultimate goal of a united continent, in which the aspirations of the African people on the continent and those in the Diaspora as whole will be achieved."

Indeed, he knew that Africa had given more for our freedom than anybody else. African countries housed the SWAPO Party and allowed it to establish its external rear bases, providing it with political, moral and material support even when they were equally poor and vulnerable to the regular infringement of their sovereignty by the apartheid regime. Even as they lived in the shadow of a permanent threat of unlawful raids from the apartheid regime trying to force upon them a surrender they would never accept, Africa stood united and refused to flinch or concede an inch to the common enemy.

The apartheid regime was characterised not only as a threat to international peace and solidarity, but also as a threat to Africa's very survival. It had both regarded itself and was conferred with the status of bulwark of imperialism and outpost of colonialism on the African continent, seeking through the means of military threats and economic plunder to turn African countries into the its client States which were free in word but perpetually colonised in reality.

Nowhere was the apartheid regime's arrogance more blatantly displayed than in its invasion of neighboring countries, maiming innocent and defenceless people in their sleep just because it was trying to force them to cower before its gigantic death machinery and isolate the liberation movements who were fighting against the vestiges of apartheid colonialism in Southern Africa. Yet Africa stood her ground and believed the defeat of apartheid would usher in a new period of her own freedom and development.

Nobody disputes Founding President Nujoma's passion for African unity, full independence from colonialism and imperialism as well as for peace, democratisation and development. Against much public liberal outcry and cynicism, he singlemindedly devoted his energy and our country's resources in pursuit of Africa's peace, stability and development as exemplified in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola as well as in the peaceful resolution of the border dispute with Botswana. Thus, the very existences of peace in those African countries owe a lot to his leadership, unyielding zeal and vision. Today, our challenge is to discern the future and chart a clear path towards its accomplishment.

Our responsibility is to reclaim the character of the SWAPO Party and restore its prestige, which was never pre-ordained to be the pre-eminent leader of the people of Namibia nor was it decreed from high places. That the party has lived for this long and is considered today by our people as their foremost champion was never a result of survivalist instincts or superstition but has earned its leadership of and prestige among the people through hard work, commitment to the struggle, willingness to sacrifice for the people, its principled stand against apartheid-colonialism and against imperialism its being rooted among the people and its admirable ability to envision the future, keep its singular gaze to that future and galvanise the masses behind it.

As we prepare for our Presidential and National elections, we are duty-bound to encourage the party members to desist from an inward focus and fix our gaze on the needs of our people, bearing in mind that the movement exists to solve the problems of the people and not fulfil the personal ambitions of anybody amongst us.

Members must place a high premium on the unity and prestige of the Party and its ability to unite our society and make our people believe once more in the vision of the future we spell out and represent. None among us must aim to caricature themselves either as "forces for change or inclusivity" or "forces for continuity" as only the Party as a collective is the authentic force for change, inclusivity and continuity. Ultimately, the Party could never find itself representing either exclusive change or exclusive continuity, as in the process of revolution, a revolutionary movement such as ours cannot but represent both continuity and inclusive change.

The change we talk about must not be opportunistic change devoid of content, and about mere leadership positions. The change we talk about must be about the revolutionary process we are leading; and the continuity we refer to must be about those elements of our revolutionary process we have decided to carry forward from the past and to transmit to the future.

Elections must not be about a fight to the death about leadership; they must be about the united future of our country, our people and our movement and when the dust settles, we must not have buried our movement or totally destroyed the foundation of its unity with new splinter parties and calling each other derogatory names.

To sacrifice the unity of the Party at the altar of uncontrollable personal ambitions would amount to a dismal betrayal of Founding President's work and vision who built this movement throughout the difficult years of the struggle. The party is the hope that our children will have a future; we owe it to future generations to preserve it and its prestige as their hope and guardian of their fortunes and dreams.

These aims are best summed up in the Inaugural Address Founding President gave on Independence Day and when he said in his book 'Where others Wavered': "My keenest wish is that in time to come, we and our children will be able to look back and see that we have been true to the objectives set out then".

Of course, we know we have great difficulties ahead of us as a people - our economy is distressed as a result of the global economic slowdown; jobs created are fewer than those lost and many families are struggling to make ends meet. There are difficult challenges that lie ahead of us and that we must pursue unrelentingly. However, we take a leaf from Founding President's Address when he said: "A people united, striving to achieve a common good for all members of society, will always emerge victorious".

Disclaimer: These views do not necessarily represent the views of my employer nor am I paid to write them.


SWAPO Headquarters Mandume Strt
Windhoek, Katutura