At the pinnacle of an illustrious political career, a 64-year old Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana is among the handful in a group of women in the Namibian political arena that carry political weight.
However, Iivula-Ithana will face stern competition from her long-time friend and comrade, in the form of deputy prime minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who is a force to be reckoned with.
This week, The Patriot sat down with Iivula-Ithana to gauge her perspective on a plethora of issues that the Swapo party is faced with and her possible solutions to these predicaments should she emerge victorious, come November 26.
Beaming with confidence, Iivula-Ithana made it clear that during the interview that she is “not competing with anybody. I am standing in the position as my democratic right”.
Firstly we want to talk about your candidature for the Swapo vice presidency. When did you decide to vie for this position?
For this particular congress, I don’t think the decision (to run) is solely mine, unlike in 2012. In 2012, I felt challenged by the rules of the party. I also felt that all the positions can be contested and that at least one of the contestants in every position must be a woman. That time I was secretary general and I felt (that) now, if I don’t contest, people will look at us and wonder why the most senior of the women is not contesting. So that decision I took on my own. This year, truly I didn’t think I would run for office – I was not in that mood. But some comrades approached me. And they approached me from the feeling of being led down and grave disappointment.
So do you think this is the opportune moment for you to vie for this position (VP) and why?
Well the opportunity can never be ideal. You must make it opportune. Other people can help you make it opportune. It is not really up to me. Looking at myself, at this age, with my track record, the years of service, from my days as a youth within the party, as a woman within the party; as a leader of the party with 27 years of experience of governance at a ministerial level; I think I have what it takes to become one of the top leaders. I have no doubt in myself. But what I think of myself is not what others may see in me. But that is their perception. But I think, if they don’t take me, it’s just because they have selected someone they consider better than me.
With less than two months left before Congress, would you say you have sufficient time to campaign and garner support?
Under normal circumstances, the nominations are done three months before congress. Why it did not (happen) is not for me to say, but it did not take place. The tricky part is that the rules that govern how we do things in the party says first nomination is by the Politburo, then it goes to the Central Committee.
You have an illustrious career (both as a legislator and a politician) and you are a Swapo loyalist. How has this prepared you to run for the position of Vice President in the ruling party?
As I said, I was approached and those who approached me came from a background of understanding who I was. And of course my career is illustrious, I don’t have to drum it up unless if it is to somebody who is new to Namibia and Swapo. I can say without blinking an eye that my record speaks for itself. Wherever I have served, within the party, within the government, everything speaks loud of who I am and what I have done for both Namibia and for my party.
It is an open secret that Swapo is a divided body at the moment, there are many voices and forces, all pulling and coming from different directions. Can this division be attributed to the lack of policies that ought to unite the party?
Swapo is a matured political party. Every time we go to congress, we give the opportunity for the members to propose amendments. Everybody member has the right provided that it is done three months before the congress. Why am I saying this? It is because we perfected every shortcomings that we have seen in the way of doing our work. Whatever promotes the interest of the party, we have provided the relevant amendments to facilitate. What people call division within the party, I look at it as a way of arriving at a consensus. When the party is so democratic, that you are saying there should be at least four candidates for every position. Two men and two women so that at least the gender issue is taken on board at all times. When the president is male, the vice president should be female. When the secretary general is female, the deputy should be male.
People are saying by announcing his nomination last week, Geingob essentially started the race before other candidates. Do you hold the same views?
Well, that’s why we called the president[Geingob] to order. It is not time yet and it is not done that way. Now that we elected you, it does not give you reason to do as you please. You still have to be nominated. The vice president has to be nominated. The secretary general has to be nominated, the same with the deputy SG. And that cannot come in an ambush style. No. It has to be announced so that whoever wants to contest can know, there is nomination coming and I should prepare myself, the person who is going to nominate me and who is going to second me. The rules are there. This one was just out of the rules and I think at the end of the day, we understood each other.
Swapo has never been as divided as it is now. What is your plan to bridge this divide?
What we call division is caused by the interests of candidates. This one wants to be sole candidate or one of the candidates or whatever. That is what is causing the division. After the congress, what will the division be about? And that’s why I am saying that (after congress) we must go back to the rules and policies of the party. Whoever is now is stepping out of whatever was achieved at congress will now have to be dealt with in terms of the party diciplinary structures.
Another challenge facing the party is the generational gap. What plans do you have to bridge this gap?
This party is matured and it has clear guidelines. It is only that at times for personal reasons or whatever, we don’t want to follow them. What is the purpose of the youth league which we call the transmitting belt? What is it transmitting? From which point to which point? We have the pioneer movement which takes someone from childhood to youth league level and from the youth league to the mother body. That is grooming. The problem that we are facing is that between the youth league and the mother body, we are not using these products that are groomed from the pioneer movement and the youth league, they disappear…deliberately or out of ignorance, I don’t know. But the machinery is there. We just need go back to these principles.
How is your relationship with Hon. Netumbo
Well, we have known each other for quite a long time. We are almost of the same age. And we never had real issues between the two of us. If I tell you that we had quarrels or argued, I would be lying. We respect each other’s territory as adults and we have a good relationship, cordial.
Do you think Hon. Nandi-Ndaitwah is a worthy contender for the position of vice presidency?
This one is quite tricky. Because, honestly, I cannot give myself the high moral ground to become the evaluator of others. Who am I? I am just one of them.
Who is your preferred candidate for party presidency and why?
There you were condemning the acting president[Geingob] that he came with his list and now you want me to roll out my list also before time? Wait for Sunday or after Sunday then you can ask me that question. So far I don’t have a preferred candidate because I don’t know who is going to stand; who will get through the nomination process. It is premature (at this stage).
You’ve always been an ambitious individual. In 2012, you went toe-to-toe against President Hage Geingob and Jerry Ekandjo. Why are you going for VP this time around?
I’ve explained to you before that I am only ambitious in the sense that I see my role. If I see there is no role for me to play, I will sit back. As I told you, it did not occur to me that I was going to be party to these contestations. From 2012, you know what happened there. And when I was called to serve at the Ministry of Home Affairs, I challenged myself that if my President wants me to do this, I will do with all the energy that I have. And truly, I was just looking at Home Affairs. Were it not for the comrades who approached me, I would not be standing for this position. (That) is not because I was not seeing what was going on, but I thought maybe others will do so. But now that I am in there, my excitement is there as usual. My ambition is provoked.
Since you’re vying for the VP position, can we safely conclude that your future plans include becoming party and State President?
The future is very difficult to predict. Even tomorrow can be another day. And for one to say, I am sitting here today because tomorrow I want to be in in Keetmanshoop, maybe you will not make to Keetmanshoop. Maybe that tomorrow will never come.