The song has not been sung yet: ITHANA
Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana is the Minister of Justice and Secretary-General of the ruling South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo) Party.
Arguably one of the most powerful Namibians, and definitely the most powerful woman in Namibia, Ithana agreed to sit with Prime Focus (PF) for a rare interview about her Ministry, the direction of the Party and several issues of contention among them the succession debate.
• Omusati clique is just but an animal
• The state of Namibia’s judicial system
• The succession debate
• The 2012 Swapo Party Congress
• Why courts take forever to render judgements
• How Hidipo Hamutenya sought to subdue me
PF: Honourable Minister, thank you for granting us this opportunity to have this one on one with you. To start with, 21 years on, how do you look back?
Ithana: I was still at the prime of my youth when we returned home a little more than 21 years ago. I was a passenger on the historic flight back to Namibia, a trip composed of volunteers to lay the path for the return of exiled Namibians for the implementation of Resolution 435. It was on that famous trip of 18 June 1989 that I returned back to the motherland.
The mission was to set up the election machinery of Swapo under the directorship of Comrade Hage Geingob, the current Vice President of the Swapo Party. As one of the vibrant, fearless young women trained and groomed in the crucible of the struggle for Namibia, I saw the opportunity with others to bury apartheid, colonialism and whatever discriminatory issues associated with it forever.
As the only woman among the Committee of 21 members of the Constituent Assembly who drafted the Constitution, no amount of harassment from the opposition members on the Committee could silence me, not even on a matter I considered principle for the sake of the emancipation of Namibian women.
As Secretary of the Swapo Party Women’s Council (SWC) as it was then known, I felt empowered to raise their concerns. In actual fact, shortly before we returned home, the SWC organised a workshop in Zambia to prepare ourselves as womenfolk for homecoming.
The inputs from participants from independent countries of Mozambique and Zimbabwe gave us the insights into their own experiences after independence, where women were given a Women’s Ministry to propel the feminist agenda in their independent countries.
Against that background, I used the opportunity as a member of the Drafting Committee to influence the basic principles enshrined in the current Namibian Constitution to advance the general equality principles in favour of women and the less privileged members of the Namibian society. I was at that age when my creative thoughts could keep me energetic. There were so many things I wanted to achieve in life and I had the will and energy to do so.
I have to say that we had options as young people in the days, albeit limited. I chose the option of the fulfilment of tasks for the liberation of Namibia, which was an option entailing foregoing other personal growth and achievements.
While at secondary school at Oshigambo High School, where I was one of the top performers, I wanted to become a medical doctor. The option to pursue the liberation struggle pushed aside all other personal wishes and aspirations.
I could only continue my education at independence and I made a personal commitment that in a liberated Namibia, despite other personal and national responsibilities that may arise, I would pursue my education aspirations at whatever costs. My studies at the University of Namibia for a Law Degree were an accomplishment of one of my dreams. Others got frustrated as time went by, however, I have no regrets. Proudly speaking, I have been one of the blessed few Namibian women of my contemporary.
I have been entrusted with various responsibilities since I was quite young comparatively speaking, in Swapo and Government. I continue to be one of the few founding members of our National Assembly still serving as Member of Parliament.
Since my appointment at independence as Deputy Minister of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, as that Ministry was called then, which I left a year later to create the Ministry of Youth and Sport then, I had served Namibia in various capacities as a Minister.
I was appointed Minister of Lands Resettlement and Rehabilitation (as it was called then) at the height of land revolution in Zimbabwe. As such, the influence from the happenings in our neighbouring country encouraged some of our nationals to attempt land grabbing in the Omaheke Region. It might be a result of the actions that I took at that point in time that they continue to call me the “Iron Lady”. What happened to ‘land grabbing’ in Namibia is history.
PF: Sorry to cut you there, but are you an ‘Iron Lady’? Are you happy with that title?
Ithana: That connotation originated during the reign of Margret Thatcher (Former British Prime Minister). I would not want to be associated with Margret Thatcher but if you used it to connote the stand with which I address issues, I would not have a problem with that.
PF: Noted, you can continue.
Ithana: Yes. I served longer than my predecessors in the position of Attorney-General (AG) of our country, from 2001 to June 2008. During that period, I was able to preside over a transformation in the constitutional and State law offices and
institutions to reflect the reality of our demographics as a Nation.
Looking back, twenty-one years ago, one cannot help but thank the Almighty for the blessings upon one’s self and Namibia. It is twenty-one years of sacrifices and rewards, of pain and achievements for me personally, and for Namibia as a young nation. Nationalistically speaking, Namibia is a country governed in terms of its constitution and the laws it has established – all the machineries of governance are there, and I thank God, I was part of that effort. With all its flaws and positives, I can identify with and stand by our achievements as a nation.
At personal level, I have grown in age and in other areas of human endeavours. It glorifies me to see one’s children grown up on their own and helping with advice. Life is a journey, long, sweet and sour. It takes us to our destinations at various points and times. Twenty-one years ago, the destination of my companion came earlier than I expected, but life goes on. Twenty-one years back, memories are still very fresh. My generation has acquitted itself, if I have to say so myself.
PF: Talking of you serving longer than any other AG. You were having too many hats and that could have attributed to your removal?
Ithana: Since April 2001, I assumed the portfolio of Attorney-General until 2005 when the position of Justice was added by the current President, Dr. Hifikepunye Pohamba.
These two positions notwithstanding, at the Swapo Party Congress of November 2007, I was elected Secretary General of the Swapo Party. Obviously, who to elect for which position within the Party hierarchy is not determined on the basis of positions held in Government or elsewhere, but the trust members have in the individual concerned. At such a congress, members felt that I was the best candidate for the position.
That added responsibility, of course created other complications. It should also be remembered that six months after the Congress, I lost someone close to me and as a human being. I needed time and space to rearrange my life accordingly.
The removal of one of the two Government responsibilities was anticipated. It unfortunately coincided with my compassionate time shortly after the passing on of my husband. One of the many hats was removed and life continued.
My load had been made manageable. My career as a politician did not hinge on the position of Attorney-General. I have served the Namibian Government in other capacities before and I believe that my legacy is there for scrutiny. I am proud of it.
Looking back to the policies and legislative framework which I worked on and changes I brought about, both at the Youth and Sport as well as Land and Resettlement Ministries, I have acquitted myself. The creation of the National Youth Council, the Sports Commission, The Commercial Land Reform Act and the Communal Land Reform Act are today the pillars of those two institutions of Government. At Attorney-General, together with the legal officers at my disposal then, we served the Namibian Government to the best of our abilities. The achievements at this Office are many but too sensitive to enumerate here.
My removal from the position of Attorney-General was on account of “many hats” as you put it and I have no ill feelings. It is the timing that left a bitter taste in my mouth and perhaps public perception, however, it must be remembered, it is the prerogative of the President. He giveth, and he taketh as it were.
PF: Bitter taste. How bitter?
Ithana: I was on compassionate leave. I was really down spiritually and morally. That was the moment of my lowest in life. Now if something like that (being removed from AG) happens, you feel as if the world is crumbling on you. Not that the position had anything to do with the moral, but the timing was bad. As humans we find strength in others, people come to be by your side during a mourning period not because they merely love you but to support you and help you see it through. That time i needed my colleagues to hold me by the arms and say, ‘Girl, you will come out of it.’ That was my expectation. I felt like, ‘oh, am I alone?’ Even now when I think of it, I feel let down. Back at home they might say, ‘eno malwa’ but that is how shocked I was with what transpired.
PF: But what did you do with the issue?
Ithana: I took it up and raised my bitterness. But then people now say I wanted the post yet it’s the way things had transpired that had affected me.
PF: Upon your return, you were accused as coming to prosecute those who killed your parents. Then and now, you are in charge of justice. What do you make of that?
Ithana: Indeed, my parents were killed on the night of 20 April 1981. Their bodies were collected by the South African Army trucks on the morning of 21 April 1981 and taken to an unknown destination. This part of the story is factual as some of the eyewitnesses are still alive.
Upon my return home, I had told myself to go and honour the place where my parents were buried. Little did I know that they did not have a grave because their bodies were taken by the South African Defence Force trucks.
Little did I also know that amongst us there were those who were concocting a story that my parents were killed by Swapo and that if I was allowed the opportunity to occupy an influential position I would prosecute those in Swapo who killed my parents.
This did not come to my attention until very late. God must bless the person who revealed the conspiracy to me. Without hesitation I nipped this conspiracy and its conspirators in the bud, and they were left with no alternative but to concoct the “Omusati Clique” theory. You should by now know whom I am talking about.
Our fighters, the PLAN fighters, waged the armed liberation struggle on foot. They could not have carried the bodies of two old people to Angola or wherever else they operated from and for what purpose would they carry dead bodies and to take them where to? The perpetrators of this heinous crime are known but what remains puzzling is the intention of those who wanted others to believe that my parents were killed by Swapo.
It did not take long, however, before those who for so long pretended to be very committed and ever zealous over Swapo, more than others, have come out to be wolves under the sheep’s skin. My parents’ blood forms part of that which is watering our freedom. May their souls rest in peace wherever their resting place is on this earth. One day, we will be reunited.
PF: So Omusati is just but a theory, you say? But how do you kill this theory for good, because it is becoming a reality by each year that passes? It is confusing, to say the least?
Ithana: It is difficult to arrest the situation easily because the people who coined the clique are no longer within the party. (Jesaya) Nyamu and his colleagues. You cannot make them stop talking about it. To them, it is a political weapon that they use to create fear and division within the Swapo Party.
I know for sure they are people still within the Party who ascribe and are sympathetic to the RDP (Rally for Democracy Party) propaganda. Some people call them hibernators and they are still there. They are people who are there to weaken Swapo and equate it with others. Initially I thought Omusati Clique was for people from Omusati region, but later I realised that they talk about ideological lineage of individuals within the Party. Some comrades are not from Omusati region, so what animal is this one called Omusati, permeating through the ranks of the Party?
What is it that differentiates people and what do those who label others as from the Omusati Clique know that makes them able to identify others?
PF: With all due respect, Honourable Minister, why you? Why you in this animal? Why does your parents’ death become even subject of topic? Why, you?
Ithana: In my own assessment of what was brewing before the eruption (formation of RDP); the aim was to identify people with potential to defend the Party in the event of anything catastrophic.
Some of these people who came up with all these theories, saw me growing up within the Party. Hidipo (Hamutenya-RDP President) was my lecturer at the UN Institute in Zambia. I grew up among them. When I became Secretary General of the Swapo Women’s Council, he saw my capacity and abilities. He had his strategy already, as he said, that he had been preparing for 40 years to take over. He knew Ithana would not be part of his imaginations. Therefore, I became a target.
Swapo knows the destructive nature of people who collaborate with the enemy and the legacy they always want to leave. They knew precisely what was going to happen.
So to say my parents were killed by Swapo would enable them to interpret any of my actions, as being done by someone carrying revenge.
I did not know the story till very late when a senior Party member congratulated me for standing up in Parliament and say that my parents were not killed by Swapo. That Party member said my name had been dragged in the mud for too long and it was time I clarified it.
PF: But at the end of the day you need to know where your parents are buried and you have the resources and influence to do so. Why have you not named the killers publicly?
Ithana: As a family we looked for answers. We hired the late Judge Karuaihe to trace and investigate the matter. He pursued the matter and found the culprit somewhere around the farms of Karibib and Usakos. This man was of Oshiwambo speaking and someone originally from our homestead surroundings, but had changed his name and identity to be a Damara speaking. He was picked up by the police and taken to Oshakati Police Station and Commissioner Haulyo Ndjaba was in charge.
The held this man for a few days and I do not know what he told the Police because the Commissioner never told me anything after that. He was released and went home.
Shortly, after that the man committed suicide. The Commissioner should have told me something. But I am told that my parents were put in a mass grave which was like a hole and their bodies were burnt somewhere between Oshakati and Oniimwandi.
PF: Comparing when you left into exile and today, what can you say?
Ithana: I left Namibia at a time when my world outlook was limited by the socio political situation prevailing at the time. To start with, my geographical knowledge of Namibia was limited to theory only. The restrictions of movements to one’s place of birth inhibited my knowledge of anything of Namibia outside the former Bantustan of Ovamboland.
However, politically speaking, the less I knew of what Namibia was the more I needed to know. This probably explains why the Swapo message of liberation found fertile grounds wherever it was taken among the black population of our country.
The desire to be able to travel to places I only read in school books and the knowledge that those who prevented us as blacks to see other Namibians and places in Namibia were immigrants from elsewhere encouraged me to join those who had decided to force them out. I left Namibia knowing very little about this country.
The journey on that famous flight of 18 June 1989 was a delivery to the Promised Land I had no personal experience with. It is why immediately that plane entered the Namibian space each passenger was running to the nearest window just to have a glimpse of how Namibia looked like. To our disappointment we could only see mountains and barren land. Some people were even remarking as if we shed blood just for rocks and desert. That was the first impression flying over Namibia.
Of course, Namibia is not just rocks and barren land, it is however a country of many contrasts, it is a country worth dying for as some of our patriots have. It is a country of many potentials and opportunities. It is a country requiring a lot to be done to reach its potential. Of course my imaginations as a young person until the time I left the country cannot be compared to now when I am a matured person involved in the running of the affairs of the country.
PF: As the only woman in the Committee of 21 that drafted the constitution, what do you think of it today?
Ithana: The Committee of 21 members of the Constituent Assembly of which I was the only woman, had a historic responsibility to technically and politically craft and deliver a product in the form of a draft constitution which would pave the way for Namibia’s independence.
While that was true for everybody, as a woman I had an added responsibility to deliver for Namibia a product that catered for the wishes and aspirations of those who suffered double oppression as blacks in the first instance and as women or less privileged in the stratified society as we had it.
As expounded earlier, I had to withstand the harassment from those on issues of women’s rights were being introduced to them for the first time. My insistence on the inclusion of certain principles in the Constitution drew frustrations on their part to the extent that they even accused me of holding the meeting at ransom. They could not comprehend the reasoning of the male Swapo members of the Committee and were curious to know why they could listen to, in their words, “a woman”.
Thanks to the able leadership of the Chairman of our Committee Comrade Dr. Hage Geingob, as it was no easy task to chair your comrades and adversaries alike.
However, the Namibian Constitution is one of the few gender-neutral documents in the world. This is not by mistake but by design. We must thank all the founding fathers and mothers of our Constitution for their foresight, and I am glad to be associated with it.
Perhaps I can add that, if I could get the opportunity to do it again, in this specific gender-neutral context, I would insist that the word Ombudsman is Ombudsperson.
The Justice System
PF: Well said, but as Minister of Justice, most of the judges appointed today seem to be coming from one mindset. The bench is full of people coming from a dispensation where they appear anti-government. Is it clear that they are for both interests? How do we reform this soul? Rarely does the court rule in favour of Government. Therefore, either the Government does not know how to present its cases, or the courts are just too anti-Government.
Ithana: The Namibian people are not oblivious to the realities they see unfolding before them, and it is due to the respect for law and order, after having come from a depriving and dehumanising past, that Namibians, through their institutions, such as their political parties, Swapo Party being the most prominent progressive political force known to Namibia, that they continue to engage in discourse over the jurisprudence being generated by our Courts and its impact upon the people of Namibia.
People seem to forget that whatever an Organ of State does, be it the Executive, the Legislature or the Judiciary, outside of Namibia, in international law parlance; it would have been an act of Namibia, not of the individual Organ of State. We cannot hide behind our separation of powers in that respect.
The truth is that some decisions have been very troublesome. Some other decisions were however necessary. It’s a mixed bag. Our judiciary is obviously credible, because we as citizens choose to respect their rulings and by doing so cement our social contract towards one another and our
It should be remembered by all, including the judges that, we are all on one ship – it sinks with all of us, and if we engage in intellectual escapism, devoid from the teleological setting prevailing, we do the system of governance a disservice.
I am happy to see that of late, the mix on the bench draws from former Magistrates and former officials of the Ministry of Justice, so called advocates and legal practitioners. I say so-called because the profession is
unified by law.
PF: You are saying you are happy with the mix, but we have had cases where today someone is in court as an advocate, then tomorrow the person is a judge. What is your view of such a legal structure? Does this reflect positively on the entire legal system?
Ithana: This is a problem, inherent with it, the reliance of all on the hope that individuals, who are appointed as acting judges, will hold themselves to the higher call of ethics and professionalism, and recuse themselves, or at the least, demonstrate their impartiality through their conduct on the benches.
As Minister of Justice, I will always respect the institutions of Courts of Law, and other judicial institutions, however, on this one, we should be our own judges. Let us dig into our hearts where hopefully some honesty may still be. I will not be the only one to answer this one. Let Unam and other educational institutions interrogate the subject. Some of them cannot wait to sit on the bench and infuse their dogma into law. It should be remembered, that justice is for all, and as Judge President Damaseb once said, ‘even Government is entitled to justice.’
PF: Courts take forever to render judgements. What is the cause?
And how do you intend to solve this case?
Ithana: As a citizen, I know that it is frustrating to wait for judgment and sometimes your life is on hold while judgement is pending. However, I would rather have a proper judgement, well thought through, and one that instils confidence in the judiciary, as opposed to a judgment rushed to meet the perception of competence, and resultantly, not well composed in legal arguments and theory. It is a fine mix with which we must continuously tamper so that we achieve the desired result.
Yes, some judges may also need refresher courses, and perhaps we need to start training career judges, and drawing from a wider pool as well. Comparatively, however, Namibia is not doing badly, and I welcome the suggestions of others with a view to bettering the system.
Some time ago, we spoke of introducing suitably qualified lawyers, not necessarily legal practitioners, to assist the researches and judgment writing of the judges. Of course, we need to rethink the Justice Training Centre, as it relates to the whole system of the legal profession, including the magistracy, prosecution and private practise ready lawyers. Perhaps these efforts will create that wider pool to ensure we have enough widely trained lawyers to pick from and put on the bench.
PF: Justice delayed is justice denied, even to a layman. The Caprivi treason trial seems to be lasting an eternity. Your take on this?
Ithana: I am in total agreement with the abovementioned statement.
The duration of the Caprivi Treason Trial can hardly be seen as Access to Justice and more so a speedy trial as guaranteed by the Namibian Constitution.
We should however not lose sight that once a criminal trial has started there are various factors which may play a role in the duration of the trial.
In the Treason trial the Directorate High & Supreme Court and the Judiciary as such has a responsibility towards the following:
Sufficient and efficient Interpreters;
In all of the abovementioned we have met our responsibilities without any unnecessary delays.
I am however of the belief that most of the delays are due to:
The number of accused persons, and each is entitled to representation and their say;
With more than 100 trials within a trial, brought by either the prosecution or the defence, a trial can only be longer;
and The absence of plea bargaining or the inability of then Prosecutor-General to become creative within the law and try only those that ought to be tried in the greater scheme of things.
PF: The Guardian Fund is now said to be at a billion dollar mark. Is that so? And how is it being brought under public scrutiny?
Ithana: The total assets of the Guardian Fund on 31 March 2011 were approximately N$834,816,520.01. The financial statements of the Guardian’s Fund are now being audited by the Office of the Auditor-General and are also subject to an internal audit by the Division: Internal Audit within the Ministry of Justice.
The financial statements for the year 2010-2011 will be submitted to the Auditor-General before the end of July 2011. Statements of all previous financial years have been submitted to the Auditor-General.
Any beneficiary or guardian may request a detailed transaction record of such beneficiary reflecting all interest earned, deposits and payment made.
PF: Legal aid is an issue in Namibia. Will there be reform?
Ithana: There will always be need for reform to ensure that the purpose for which we established legal aid, we are achieving those purposes and goals. Of course, the Namibian Constitution under the Principles of State Policy determines that we should provide legal aid to our citizens.
I am confident that one day, however distant, we will not need to dispense legal aid, as citizens should be able to engage the justice system of their own accord, or at least, in a really affordable manner. There may be need to also reform the type of legal aid being dispensed. Perhaps we can hire enough professionals to cover the country, and at that, specialise them. Currently, a steady brief from legal aid files ensures some lawyers the posh life. It seems that after the MVA, there is life after all through another Government sponsored source of funds. This needs to change.
We also need professionally competent staff to serve the current dispensation, and that is a result of having enough people trained, continuously exposed and motivated. I see this lacking and will be addressing it.
PF: But what about community courts? How reliable are they?
Ithana: Community courts are legal institutions established by an act of parliament, No.10 of 2003. A recognised Traditional Authority may apply to the Honourable Minister of Justice for the establishment or recognition of a Community Court. In terms of the Community Courts Act, the adjudication process is done in terms of the customs of each traditional authority as the act regulates the administration of day to day functions.
In answering the question concerning reliability of community courts, the following should be noted: Judgements/orders made by Justices in community courts are enforceable by Magistrates’ Courts as the aggrieved party has to lodge the Order made by the Justice for issuing of Warrant of Execution. This Warrant of Execution will be served by a Messenger of the Magistrate’s Court.
The adjudication processes and orders made by community courts are mostly in the hands of the justices taking into account the Namibian Constitution, rules of natural justice and fairness.
There may be room for improvements and I will be looking into the community courts soon, to assess how they are functioning, what the challenges are, and how we can make improvements.
PF: But would you say you are impressed with them?
Ithana: They are functioning but not all them at the same rate. In certain communities, they are not a new phenomenon. As the Act say, Government is not creating Community Courts but it recognises such existences and gives it a form. Some never had these courts before because they needed to be registered and recognised as communities by the Ministry of Regional and Local Government.
But, the current law is not a reflection of the realities on the ground. Community courts should have their own hierarchy. From Village headman, the matter can go to the district level at the oshikanjo by way of an appeal. Finally it should go to the Ombara where the King sits. Ombara is the Supreme Court.
But now the community courts are starting and ending at Ombara, before coming to the Magistrates. This is affecting the Ministry a lot in terms of administrative issues. We are seriously thinking of reviewing this set-up, so that cases can be accommodated at all structures.
PF: One gets the feeling that the Ministry with the shortest name in the country has much more bigger things to deal with that imagined?
Ithana: Ministry of Justice sounds smaller but it deals with too many important aspects of our own lives. From courts, Guardianship, children’s affairs, Ombudsman and other institutions, besides other litigation roles and advising Government.
It’s all in one. And yet the personnel requirement remains a bigger challenge. Lawyers are forever on the move. They come and go. Resources are also an issue.
PF: The administration of estates is being done in Windhoek. The Bernedt case said ‘everyone is equal’. What about the rest of Namibia and the application of justice in respect of their estates?
Ithana: The Master currently supervises 58% of all deceased estates reported in Namibia. The remaining estates are supervised by the Magistrates in the various districts. 2802 deceased estates have been reported to the Master of the High Court during the financial year 2010/2011.
The Master’s offices took over estates supervised by the Magistrate’s offices of Windhoek, Rehoboth and Oshakati. Deceased estates are still being reported to the various magistrates’ courts whilst I have instructed the Master of the High Court to investigate a cost effective way to have representation at all Magistrate’s office to administer deceased estates. Until a workable solution has been found and implemented, Magistrate’s are assisting the public in the various districts with smaller deceased estates.
Congress, In-fighting and the Succession
PF: Coming back to issues of the ruling party. What has been your greatest achievement as SG of the ruling party, Swapo?
Ithana: The last Congress of the Swapo Party at which I got elected as Secretary-General took place on the 27-30 November 2007. As we may all remember, this was at the height of RDP formation and destabilisation of Swapo structures and programmes. At that time three Constituencies lost Councillors one after the other.
Rundu Rural East, Eenhana and Tobias Hainyeko Constituency Councillors resigned under mysterious circumstances; one claiming to go for further studies to Australia and the other pretending that he resigned just to be free from any political involvement. So, my immediate responsibilities as Secretary General from the 1st December 2007 were to organise for by-elections for the Rundu Rural East Constituency followed by Eenhana and Tobias Hainyeko Constituencies. Of course Swapo won these bye-elections hands down.
Two newly proclaimed towns were due to set up their local authority councils, that is, Omuthiya and Nkurenkuru. Swapo’s adversaries believed that they were entitled to run the Local Authority of Omuthiya as many of them have homesteads in the Omuthiya Constituency. The battle for the running of Omuthiya town was therefore decisive of the future of the newcomers. We dealt them yet another blow.
To date, I am proud to have been at the helm of organising and preparing the Swapo Party machinery for successful campaigns, which we have all won since 2007 to date.
For the past three consecutive years since I assumed the position of Secretary General, 2011 is the first year where we have no scheduled or bye-elections thus far.
While I can probably not claim the above victories as achievement of the Secretary-General, by and large, such turned out as such due to the organisational abilities of the person in charge of the Party Administration machineries who happens to be the Secretary-General. Yet, I know that the song has not been sung yet, as there are still some years to come, and maybe then, we can have a relook.
PF: The supposed in-fighting within the party. Does it really exist?
Ithana: Our adversaries know just too well how strong the Swapo Party is. Equally, they know how strong a weapon it can be, to divide and destroy. The alleged infighting in Swapo is better known by the outsiders rather than the members themselves. The next Congress of Swapo Party is drawing huge interest largely from non-Party members. The question is, whether their interests are genuine when they do not find it necessary to belong but want to direct certain issues that are typically partisan.
The so-called division in Swapo is in the fertile imaginations of the non-Swapo Party individuals hoping to create a crack within the unity of our Party rank and file membership. At best, our on-going robust discussions reveal a truly democratic Namibian institution, which was the midwife of this democracy anyway.
PF: Do you have enemies?
Ithana: While I do not intend to go technical on issues, the word “enemy” is a strong word. It invokes fear and revulsion. I can therefore not use such an expression in a peaceful and democratic Namibia. Not to say that every Namibian likes me, but there is a big difference between an enemy and a person with a dislike for someone.
There are people for one or the other reason that do not just like me. This is their right. Perhaps I also cannot say that I like every human being. Liking or disliking someone can be caused by a variety of reasons, such as what I do or how I do it, what I say and how I say it or even how I dress up. Such can be a cause for the dislike of a person. I am a human being. I also have my dislikes but I cannot call those who do not like me as my enemies. I do not believe I have enemies.
PF: You are the most powerful woman in Namibia at the moment, politically and administrative wise, if asked to take up the number one position in Namibia, would you accept?
Ithana: The expression used in the question is too strong. The position I am holding that of Secretary General is an elective position given to me on behalf of the membership of Swapo Party. As such the incumbent of the position cannot be stronger than the position itself. The position of Secretary General stands at number three in the hierarchy of the Party. It therefore cannot be called powerful. The person holding it can also not to be said to be powerful all of a sudden without qualifying what makes him or her so powerful.
Of course it is historic that a woman occupies such a position for the first time in the history of our organisation. It is also a practical expression of the Swapo Party maturing in implementing gender equality.
The incumbent contested the position with a male colleague and she won the election. This means that the position is not given and the incumbent is not wheel chaired as it were, on account of being a woman, but earned.
Power has no role to play here for one to be elected in a position of authority in Swapo, what matters is whether such a person has earned enough trust and confidence of the membership. To serve in whatever capacity of the Party is not a one-person decided issue. Decision making is a process as we all know. This is not a question of yes and no situation and cannot be therefore taken upfront. The timing of such exercise places an important role. Time will therefore tell.
PF: If one is to start talking about the succession issue with you, where should one start?
Ithana: Start with the arrangements of the Congress, which is my office. The Congress is an ordinary affair of the party. It is not a extraordinary event. It does not surprise anybody because we have gone through a lot of congresses. It is a matter of setting up committees. The reports of the Party over the past five years and issues requiring the Party to take a position on, will be discussed. That is my position as well as ensuring that the resources needed are there. That is what I should be doing before the Congress which is likely to be held early December next year.
PF: And where do you fit in the succession debate? Speculation is that the Party’s Number 2 (Swapo Party Vice President Hage Geingob) who should naturally be in line for the top job, might be discarded because he does not hail from the roots of the party. You are number three in line. And thirdly, one of the other hopefuls, Nahas Angula has said he is retiring after this term. It’s you and Hage?
Ithana: I keep saying to those confused with this succession debate. In fact, succession discussion, I am put in this position to carry the activities of the Party forward. Whatever I do, they are people watching me. Some will say, ‘thank you for a job well-done’ others will say, ‘she is messing up’. It is these forces that are at work knowing that Pohamba is serving his last term. They are talking. It is their debate. They are entitled to it. But I do not want to join this outside discussion. It is not worth it for me to be involved. I am listening but whether I agree with them or not, I have not been asked. And I have not answered either.
Interestingly, they are not talking about me alone. Many names are coming out. You cannot silence people. One way or the other, the Congress will decide. In my position, I am not able to go out and say, I want to be next President. What makes me see myself as the appropriate candidate? Party Congress attendance will decide.
PF: If the Congress asks you to. Are you ready?
Ithana: If I am asked by Congress? Well, I grew up in the Party, I grew up among them, as a girl, young woman, mother, grandmother and now leader. I am here because these people supported and promoted me. But the position to decide whether or not the offer should be taken, requires consideration. It’s not something that I can sit here and say yes or no in a day. One has to make an informed decision when considering everything in totality, a decision which needs the consultation of family, comrades, role models or senior officials in the Party.
PF: Does Namibia have what it takes to follow Liberia?
Ithana: I do not have any doubts. When I stood as candidate for Secretary General, I don’t think people just wanted a woman for a job. They wanted someone to do a job at critical moment among us. People did not look at me as a woman, they voted for me because they thought and knew that I was able to deliver. If Swapo Party members feel that there is a job that requires somebody for a certain criteria, and if they find those criteria in a woman, they will not look at sexuality but quality.
PF: At what level does the ruling party address the aspirations of those who were not involved in the struggle?
Ithana: The basic tenets of Swapo Party are recorded in Article III B (1) of the Party Constitution, the aims and objectives among others are:-
“to unite the people of Namibia, irrespective of race, religion, sex- or ethnic origin, into a democratic, vibrant and peace loving nation”.
Discrimination or exclusion is not part of the objectives or aims of the Party. However, there have been instances of people demanding certain services or privileges to be awarded to them on account of them having incurred disadvantages due to years in exile or having been born in exile.
There can be merit or demerit in each situation. However such cannot therefore be used as the basis for labelling the organisation as not addressing the aspirations of those who were not involved in the struggle.
Swapo Party is the ruling Party since independence. Many institutions have been created and services delivered to the people of Namibia, irrespective of whether they participated in the struggle or not. In our schools, I have not heard of a child excluded from attending classes on that basis nor have I heard of a patient refused ARV treatment on account that he/she did not participate in the struggle. Many of the civil servants have not participated in the struggle per se, others even served the colonial regime.
Under the Policy of National Reconciliation, another brainchild of the Swapo Party, the Namibian Nation has truthfully become one and united. There is no basis for such a claim of exclusion on the basis of non-participation in the struggle. Such a claim must be dismissed with the contempt it deserves.
PF: But what is your philosophy in life?
Ithana: My formative years have a lot to do with who I am today. I come from a humble background of a peasant Christian family. My father served in the Second World War and he was a disciplinarian par excellence. The fear of God through the teaching of the ten commandments of God at a tender age remains the bedrock of my existence.
The Ten Commandments without going into each one of them can be equated to what nowadays is called Good Governance and Anti Corruption at a personal level.
My philosophy in life is to be who I am without pretence, without fear or favour, to be truthful to myself and to others. I believe that what God has planned for me no person can take away or destroy, and hence I cannot aspire to take what is not mine or meant for me, from others.
I believe in hard work for myself and I thank my late parents who moulded me to be who I am today. I believe in myself to the extent that I know my abilities and limitations.
I am a Christian and as such I have learnt to forgive. I believe in justice and fair play however, this should be a reciprocal exercise, else human nature takes over, and the animal in us may take over.
PF: How has it been being a single mother?
Ithana: I thank God that my husband’s demise came at a time when my children were not very young. They stood by me and remain my pillar in his absence. That has made my life manageable. It could have been different if they were younger.
PF: But where are all the women of your time? This month Namibia marks Heroes Day, but it is difficult to find heroines in Namibia. Where are they?
Ithana: It pains me that people did not take care of their legacy. The coming of the RDP has destroyed a lot of legacies of people. People who played a key role in Swapo and the liberation of this country. Some of them we are unable to mention their names because we do not know where they are. I have worked with a team of Namibian women, commmitted and powerful during my time with the SWC, but I would also ask you, where are they now?
PF: Finally, your message to the President on the occasion of his 76th birthday this month?
Ithana: His Excellency has become that basket that protects the chicks amid storms and hurricanse. We have known where to run to and he has been that source of protect, comfort and motivation. Happy Birthday, Dr. Pohamba. PF
PENDUKENI IIVULA-ITHANA: PROFILE
Profile: Minister of Justice since 2008 – present
Attorney-General 2002 - 2008, Minister of Lands, Resettlement
and Rehabilitation 1996-2001. Minister of Youth and Sport, 1991-1996.
Deputy Minister of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism, 1990-91. Member of the National Assembly since 1990
Details: Born 11 October 1952, Uukwandongo, Omusati Region, Resides in Windhoek, Khomas Region.
Education: Primary and Secondary education in Namibia. Diploma, UN institute of Namibia, BIURIS, LLB, University of Namibia (UNAM)
Career: Exile, 1974-89. Secretary, SWAPO Women’s Council since 1980-1991.
Secretary-General of the SWAPO Party since 2007 – present
• Member of the Constituent Assembly (1989 – 1990)
• Deputy Minister of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism (1990-1991)
• Minister of Youth and Sport (1991-1996)
• Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (1996-2001)
• Attorney-General of the Republic of Namibia (2001-2008)
• Minister of Justice and Attorney-General (2005 – 2008)
• Minister of Justice (2008 – until present)
Political and Administrative Involvement
• Female activist
• Exiled (1974-1989)
• Secretary for SWAPO Women’s Council (1980-1991)
• Secretary-General for SWAPO Party (2007-present)
• Member of the Cabinet Committee on Legislation - Chairperson
2001 – until present
• Member of the Judicial Service Commission (2001 – 2008)
• Member of the Cabinet Committee on Public Service
(2005 – until present)
• President of the Namibian Association for Women in Sport (NAWISA)
• President of Association of African Women in Sport
• Patron of the Namibian Women’s Organization (NANAWO)
• Patron of the Onamutene Primary School
• Patron of the Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana Combined School
• Patron of the Black Africa Football Club
• Patron of the Namibian Professional Golf Association Club
• President of the Benfica FC Soccer Team (Tsumeb)
• B IURIS Degree (University of Namibia-1998)
• LLB (University of Namibia-1999)
• Diploma in Public Administration and Management (United Nations Institute for Namibia-1979)
• Certificate in Public Administration (Harvard University, John F Kennedy School of Government -1994)
• Certificate in Strategic Public Sector Negotiations Program (Harvard University, John F Kennedy School of Government -2002)
• Gender related issues
• Empowerment issues
• Development issues