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The ideology of the Swapo Party

By Paul T. Shipale
With the announcement by the SWAPO Party Politburo that it will hold an extra-ordinary Congress in Swakopmund, perhaps it is time we look at the issue of the ideology for the Party. In this regard, any attempt to answer the question regarding the definition of the ideology of the ruling Party must be premised on the fact that the ideal of the Party is to have legitimacy as the leader of the society, and have its ideas as 'the ruling ideas' of society.

The SWAPO Party has essentially drawn its culture, symbols, beliefs, political theory and practice, from its traditions of struggle to rid this country of apartheid colonialism, and restore the dignity of our people in general and the Africans in particular. Over the more than fifty years of its existence, the SWAPO Party progressively developed to serve all sections of the population. It remains committed to addressing the plight of the people of Namibia, especially the poor and the previously disadvantaged.

Current ideological scenario and challenges Each day that passes, there are increasingly audacious attempts to reverse the gains of our independence. Given that the party has become a mass movement with minimal restrictions for the acceptance of new members, the SWAPO Party has become a ruling party, which controls state assets, and attracts all classes and strata of the society. This changes it from a broad church to an arena of ideological gladiators fighting to the death.

Compounding and further complicating the raging ideological contestations is the dearth of ideological depth. Ideology has somehow become a pariah word in a world where power is falsely paraded as neutral. This is a world where revolutionaries have become scarce, and boardroom power brokers, who have become bona fide members of the party, are the new fad. It is essential to analyse with care the ideology of the SWAPO Party in order to focus it on its historic mission, and help it to shed the burden of the alien behavioural patterns currently tearing it apart.

After a period of relative peace in our midst, during the early years of our independence, the party currently stand at the crossroads and needs to revisit its basics, and chart its way into the future from firm ideological foundations. The challenge of the existence of extreme poverty, which afflicts mainly Blacks in general, is a major threat to national security, unity, cohesion and peace.

Decidedly the challenge of extreme poverty and inequality in our society cannot be overcome by an accidental establishment of a welfare state. It cannot be overcome by the populist outbursts of desperate measures feeding on the frustrations of the poor. And it cannot be overcome by the crude importation of development strategies from elsewhere. But it is a challenge that can only be confronted and defeated by political and economic strategies that are based on properly aligning the party to its ideological perspective, which must serve as the basis and as a guide to action.

The question is; Can the SWAPO Party led government- whose members are drawn from rich and poor;
working class and management;
employed and unemployed;
farmers and peasants;

intellectuals and the illiterate - have an ideological perspective which embraces and advances the interests of all its membership cutting through all sections of society? Not much is said on the need for in-depth ideological training. Is this perhaps due to the fear of dealing with ideology in a world that has been overtaken by neo-liberalism? It could also be we are no longer sure how to define the ideology of the party.

Ideology of the SWAPO Party

Any attempt to answer the question regarding the definition of the ideology of the SWAPO Party must be premised on the fact that the ideal of the Party is to have legitimacy as the leader of the Namibian society, and have its ideas as 'the ruling ideas' of society.

In this vein, the Strategy and Tactics of the SWAPO Party, since its foundation, characterise the aspiration of the Party to bring about fundamental change in Namibia. The changes should seek to build a national democratic society.

national because it pursues the ideals of building one nation; democratic because it seeks to banish the vestiges of tribalism, gender discrimination and racism and commits to entrench a culture of human dignity; and revolutionary because it is inclined to the left, as a disciplined force that seeks to bring about fundamental economic and social transformation. Therefore the ideology of the SWAPO Party is a set of ideas that draw from the best of its human achievement and aspirations. It reflects its struggles and projects its future. This must be the basis of its political ideals and economic policy, and embrace the values of human dignity and prosperity for all.

Those who belittle the idea of an ideology within the SWAPO Party, do so out of a particular historical reality. This is because they fear that the battle of ideas will always favour an ideology which aligns itself with a class that is responsible for building the future, while taking along other progressive classes and strata of society. They fear that the vulgar avarice and the individualism of the society of consumerism cannot compare favourably with the progressive ideas aligned to the dynamism of the working class as the future of an inclusive transformed and restructured society.

The role and character of ideology

Does mention of the working class make the party a communist organisation? It does not, and it, must not. But indeed, it makes the Party an organisation that recognises and acknowledges its position as the vanguard party for transformation in our country. But being a vanguard of societal transformation bestows certain serious responsibilities on the party. These are responsibilities of the leadership of society as a whole. Therefore, in line with the position the party occupies in society, Ideological conviction becomes extremely important in determining the character and content of leadership.

In this regard, a leader of choice must not only be grounded in the ideological perspectives of the Party, but must be able and indeed ready to live according to its prescripts. Leaders must be role models of unity, should have respect for democratic values and possess the will to transform themselves, along with the society.

Similarly, ideologically grounded cadres would act with honesty and humility in the knowledge that, through their advanced thinking, they are able to interact with ordinary people as equals and give sound, well-considered advice, which is the strength of any leader. Deliberately, the cadres of an organisation that subscribes to the above-mentioned principles would as a matter of fact aspire to live an exemplary life above reproach and befitting leaders who are focused on building a better society.

Political education, formal academic education and skills development stand out as the most important strategies to grow the economy, create quality jobs and break the back of poverty in the country. The party must make its ideology the premise for its efforts to draw many Namibians into its sphere of thinking to effect the fundamental transformation of our society.

On his part, in an article that appeared in the same Magazine, Dr. Lesetja Marepo who obtained an MA in History from the University of Pretoria and a PhD in History from the University of Cape Town responds to the current dilemma of factionalism that threaten to tear the Party apart. C Indeed, the SWAPO Party has been an organisation of principles, values and a vision. These attributes constituted the life blood of the Party of yesteryear.

Different mechanisms and strategies were used to keep the Party painstakingly ethical and focused on its goal. The screening of people joining the organisation was one such methodology that had farreaching implications in keeping the Party ethical and moral even if it was primarily informed by the apartheid forces' clandestine infiltration proclivities.

All sorts of people are now allowed to join the organisation without proper verification of their credentials and political membership worthiness. In the final analysis, the Party should emphasise or revive political education that is based on its ideology, history and its dictates as a ruling party. Organisational discipline should serve as a pivot around which the party oscillates.

Political activists who sprout horns of arrogance should be dehorned as quickly as possible. This will assist in extirpating bad behaviour from cross-pollinating the entire membership of the Party. The myth that some structures of the movement are kingmakers should be demystified.

Well-schooled Party's political school products would not annihilate one another for a political office. It is only semi-digested graduates of a political school who would question the decisions of the party and utter unspeakable profanities against any leader or any office within the party.

The political education will also teach 'cadres' that people who are schooled in the Party's policies cannot be pompous or selfish and cannot guard coteries of friendships founded on self-protection and monetary gains. Therefore, the need for political and ideological education has never been so essential.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


SWAPO Headquarters Mandume Strt
Windhoek, Katutura