The presidential reigns of former South African President Jacob Zuma and Namibian President Hage Geingob share similarities that exhibit the close links between the two SADC nations.
Both have come into office under similar circumstances and perhaps that could explain why both of them faced immense criticism and pressure during their time in office. For Zuma the pressure bubble could not contain the pressure beyond February 14th and it eventually burst, a situation that led to him resigning as State President.
In a sharp contrast, Geingob enjoys widespread support from the top echelons of the Swapo Party, but it is the public outcry that should be giving him sleepless nights.
Both Zuma and Geingob increased the size of their respective Cabinets when they assumed State power, making the Executive structures of the neighbouring states bigger than ever.
At the time Zuma said the changes would help drive radical socio-economic change.
“I announced on Saturday that we have entered the second phase of our transition to a national democratic society. I also said this would be a radical phase of socio-economic transformation,” Zuma said in 2014.
As for Geingob, he admitted that the bloated executive is costly but hastened to say that the changes are necessary if service delivery was to be realised.
“Democracy, governance and effective service provision require supportive structures and institutions that come at a cost,” he said in 2015.
Rise to power
Both became president after gaining public sympathy for allegedly being victims of past presidents.
Zuma kept saying criminal charges against him were politically motivated by former SA president Thabo Mbeki.
Geingob’s supporters at some point said that he was a victim of tribalism and also used Founding President Sam Nujoma’s decision to fire Geingob as a move that was aimed to prevent Geingob from becoming the country’s president one day.
But that was not the only similarities between the two.The manner in which both personalities entered the presidency also had many similarities.
Both presidents rose to power through a popular wave with their sympathisers managing to get public sympathy. For Zuma it was the ANC youth league, Cosatu, the South African Communist party and many radicals within the party who ensured his ascendency to power. After taking office he ditched most of those who propelled him into power, these include politicians such as Julius Malema, Blade Nzimande, Zwelinzima Vavi, Gwede Mantashe and Baleka Mbete.
In Geingob’s case, outspoken politician Kazenambo Kazenambo’s call for a non-Oshiwambo president was seen as the seed that fertilised the soil for Geingob’s road to power. Party structures and the business community closed ranks to support Geingob against what was called the Omusati clique and Sam Nujoma’s grip over the party.
One of Geingob’s fiercest critics, Dr. Elijah Ngurare also played an instrumental role in Geingob’s bumpy road to the presidency by reportedly spearheading Geingob’s ascension to vice presidency of SWAPO party.
Old business friends
The link between politicians and businessmen is one that has been scrutinised non-stop in recent years, and the revelations of state capture in South Africa has placed such relationships under even more scrutiny.
Zuma’s links to one Schabir Shaik made headlines, then the headlines escalated when he dumped Shaik for an infamous Indian family, the Guptas.
Schaik was a one-time financial advisor to Zuma.
He was convicted on two counts of corruption and one on fraud, relating to his facilitation of a bribe, allegedly by a French arms company to Zuma.
The charges relate to 783 questionable payments Zuma allegedly received in connection with the controversial multi-billion-rand arms deal.
During his trial, Shaik argued that payments he had made to Zuma, totalling more than R1.2 million, were made out of friendship and camaraderie.
The payments to Zuma started during 1997 in an attempt by (Shaik) to assist Zuma to get out of the debt trap in which he found himself. The assistance, according to South African media reports, was primarily aimed at the education of Zuma’s children. Their alleged long-standing friendship developed during the anti-apartheid struggle years.
In essence, Zuma had Schabir Shaik to maintain his lifestyle and pay for his children’s school fees during the lean years. Shaik eventually paid a hefty price for his link to Zuma when he was convicted for corruption for allegedly corrupting Zuma in relation to the Arms deal saga.
As for Geingob, he had businesspeople like Vaino Nghipondoka, Knowledge Katti and Desmond Amunyela as close friends. These gentlemen were said to have funded his lifestyle, paid his municipal and medical bills as well as leisure trips to destinations like Brazil. Their link to Geingob brought to the fore Geingob’s liking for the opulent life.
They formed a core part of Geingob’s 2012 Swapo vice presidency and 2014 national president campaigns. Like Zuma’s business buddies spent millions on his electoral plots and campaigns, in Namibia it was no different.
Many thought the business personalities parted ways with their money to ensure access to State resources once their candidates ascend to power, this was not to be.
New business friends
When both men(Zuma and Geingob) assumed the highest office of their respective countries, they played a similar trick, both ditched their old business friends and jumped into bed with seemingly wealthier friends.
Zuma became close to the Guptas who managed to become so influential that they allegedly also appointed Cabinet ministers or had a hand in who gets appointed. Shaik was ditched and did not feature anywhere near Zuma since he took office in 2009.
State contracts worth billions also started making their way into the Gupta businesses and they appeared to call the shots at most of the commercial South African public enterprises.
Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas turned out to be his fall from grace when state capture reports and corruption claims linked directly to the Guptas started surfacing.
As for Geingob, he also got into bed with a new found friend, one Jack Huang. Although Huang maintained that his relationship with Geingob dates way back, his(Huang) name only began reverberating across Namibia when Geingob got his overwhelming mandate to lead Namibia.
A Chinese national by origin, Huang’s wealth is no secret. The difference between the Huang-Geingob and Zuma-Guptas ties is that the latter extended to the public purse and the wider South African government. In the case of Geingob this does not seem so.
Huang is a subject of criminal investigations. He is accused of money laundering, corruption, fraud and tax evasion. Huang is also involved in the purchase of a multi-million dollar furniture consignment for Geingob’s house that was exposed earlier this year by The Namibian.
Huang, chairs the Sun Group—a property and finance conglomerate that has a huge stronghold in Namibia.
A trained economist, he has conducted business in Namibia and has in the past told The Patriot during an interview that “Namibia is an ideal place to do business” saying he has invested over N$100 million in Namibia since his arrival at the turn of the century.
Huang has a 60 percent shareholder in African Sunrise Investment, in which the Dr. Hage Geingob Family Trust and the president’s ex-wife Loini each had a 20 percent stake. Geingob has since cut his business ties with Huang.
Huang and Geingob met when Geingob was still Trade and Industry minister.
“He came to Oshikango for a visit and my factory was one of the places he visited-that is how we met. I do not know whether he[Geingob] takes me as a friend but for me he is a very important figure.
Our communication is not for business purposes, but for the scholarship program I run through which Namibian students are sent to China on fully paid scholarships to the best universities for studies. That is our area of focus when we interact,” said Huang during a 2016 interview.
Huang at the time said “ever since I came to Namibia I never got any state projects…not a single one! Everything I do is my own investments.”
He has however confirmed having applied for State contracts.
Yet despite the countless similarities, Geingob was in many ways far more deserving of public sympathy then Zuma. Geingob’s promise to lead Namibia to prosperity by fighting corruption and reducing inequality was immeasurably more positive than Zuma’s corruption fight.
Geingob’s genius in administrative matters is unheralded while Zuma was seen to be more receptive to what those around him tells him.
Despite holding five honorary degrees, Zuma’s track record in the classroom is minimal.
As for Geingob, in addition to several honorary accolades, he holds a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from the University of Leeds. His dissertation was on State Formation in Namibia: Promoting Democracy and Good Governance.
Although his academic credentials leaves much to be desired, Zuma’s political prowess is unrivalled.
Zuma survived more than five no confidence votes during his presidency. Political experts have often likened him to a “political god”.
Geingob unlike Zuma, found Namibia in an unquestionably poor shape compared to how his counterpart found South Africa. In 2015, he inherited a roof-high balance of deficits and debts. It was also during the time Namibia slid into a recession.
Geingob had to deal with the consequences of falling global commodity prices and a teetering economy that led to massive job losses which had a direct impact on his blueprint plan-Harambee Prosperity Plan-that is meant to fight poverty.
He has however been accused of adding to the country’s economic woes by increasing the number of parliamentarians as well as Cabinet through the formation of new ministries. Geingob also appointed five advisors who came at a hefty price.
As different as they may be their key similarity is found in their ability to bounce back, not withstanding the circumstances.