International relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah yesterday moved a step closer to taking the highest office in the land, after seeing off her competitors in the Swapo vice presidency race.
In the process, she cemented her place as the ruling party’s presidential candidate in 2024.
She will also become the first female Swapo flag bearer as its presidential candidate at the polls and possibly the country’s maiden woman head of state.
Both are unprecedented, whichever way it is looked at.
Only the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) has ever fielded a female presidential candidate, deputy health minister Utjiua Muinjangue.
But it is not the result that mattered most, but the process through which they culminated.
For the first time in almost 15 years, the usual election chief, lawyer Sisa Namandje was absent from the scene, attending just as a party member.
The Swapo election machinery had a new driver at the wheel this time around in the form of another legal brain, Joshua Kaumbi.
Before Kaumbi and his team arrived at the conference hall, after several delays, Nandi-Ndaitwah’s supporters surrounded her, singing Swapo songs and cheering her on.
It was evident that their confidence was not misplaced.
But Kaumbi’s arrival was received with mixed feelings by the various camps.
Many were unsure if he could deliver a credible election, let alone handle the pressure that comes with the task, which has time and again dictated the country’s political direction.
But when push came to shove, composed, calm and collected was the nonchalant Kaumbi, as over 800 delegates and invited guests looked on with bated breath.
What was also clear was Kaumbi’s no-nonsense approach, as could be seen from his posture and eloquence.
At the onset, he asserted his authority, assuring everyone that he was in charge and protected.
“Pohamba Shifeta got 91 votes. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila… can I have your attention? I am still the returning officer. And I am protected. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, 270,” said Kaumbi, before taking a sip from his water bottle.
He then moved to deliver the news that kept many awake for at least 72 hours.
“Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, 491,” sending the crowd into unheralded ululations, as the seasoned diplomat looked on, as if to say it was expected.
The big hug
Shortly after Kaumbi stepped off the stage and handed over instruments of power to President Hage Geingob who was confirmed Swapo leader – unopposed – the politician called the losing candidates to the podium.
As both Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and Shifeta stepped to the theatre, like a true comrade, Nandi-Ndaitwah rose and turned around, embracing the two.
As the trio hugged it out, they were joined by a towering Geingob, who held them tighter, as Swapo regroups itself towards a common destiny.
“In the true spirit of Swapo, play the ball and not the person [so that] when the game is over, you can hold hands… we said they are going to contest [and] compete, but when it is over, we must hold hands,” Geingob remarked.
He then turned to Nandi-Ndaitwah, telling her that a tough assignment lay ahead for her.
Before Geingob leaves office in 2024, an extraordinary congress will be held, where he will vacate the Swapo presidency and officially hand the reigns to Nandi-Ndaitwah.
“You will become Swapo’s candidate. Somebody who is going to hold the Swapo flag high to stand for the office of president which I am holding right now,” Geingob said.
Efforts to get hold of Nandi-Ndaitwah yesterday or her campaign manager, Kaire Mbuende were futile.
Mbuende, however, recently told this paper that their victory was written in the stars.
“Congress has ended before it started. That’s the type of support she [Nandi-Ndaitwah] received. So it is not a question of if [she will win], it is a question of when [she will win],” an upbeat Mbuende said a fortnight ago.
He has been vindicated.
Yesterday, New Era caught up with Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, shortly after the results were announced.
Surrounding by her supporters, ‘SKA’, as she was known during the intense campaigns, the PM congratulated Nandi-Ndaitwah on her victory.
In her eyes, the competition was healthy, the results, beyond reproach.
“This was always about Swapo. It is what I said in the beginning. Swapo has discharged another mandate with distinction. We have run a congress that meets international standards. It was never about me. And I congratulate the winners that were elected,” she said.
She downplayed the narrative that a wedge has been created between her and Nandi-Ndaitwah, due to the fierce contest.
“This is not the first time we are having elections in Swapo. Why do you [journalists] keep asking me that question [if I will work with Nandi-Ndaitwah?] That denotes some subjectivity. I have never shown bitterness towards anyone,” the former finance minister said.
The same exercise was replicated between re-elected Swapo secretary general, Sophia Shaningwa and the party’s Oshikoto coordinator Armas Amukwiyu.
Amukwiyu garnered 343 votes against Shaningwa’s 430 in the race for Swapo’s engine room. It was the second time he was on the receiving end against Shaningwa.
Shaningwa became the first person to retain the Swapo SG position.
In the race for the deputy secretary general, former Cabinet minister Uahekua Herunga, parliamentarian Evelyn !Nawases-Taeyele and Kavango West Swapo coordinator David Hamutenya scored 363, 323 and 92 in that order.
But due to Swapo’s adopted 50-50 gender representation style, !Nawases-Taeyele was eliminated, leaving Herunga and Hamutenya to square off in a re-run, as they both failed to generate enough votes to be outright victors.
What is peculiar was the two formed part of the Nandi-Ndaitwah camp.
Despite Herunga’s newly found popularity among Swapo’s rank and file, it was Hamutenya who Nandi-Ndaitwah’s camp wanted, for political reasons, as Swapo wants to retain its grip on the two Kavango regions.
But they were between a rock and hard place, as the ballot papers were being printed.
Herunga’s candidature, on the other hand, is seen as his return to mainstream Swapo politics.
At the time of going to print, the outcome of the DSG position was still unknown.