Ekandjo miscalculated with men-only presidency – Swapo deputy SG

Uahekua Herunga

Swapo deputy secretary general Uahekua Herunga said former Cabinet minister Jerry Ekandjo did not make all the calculations before saying that the position of Swapo president at the upcoming extraordinary congress should be reserved for men.

Ekandjo this week said he believes the position of Swapo president at the upcoming extraordinary congress should be reserved for men in order to achieve gender balance.

Ekandjo also said Swapo vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah should resign if she intends contesting for party president.
Herunga, a beneficiary of the 50:50 gender balance Swapo policy, said although he understands the perspectives, Ekandjo did not make all the calculations.

“His reasoning is that the top four positions must have gender equality, but he could not make other political calculations that can still achieve gender equality but not necessarily having the position of party president reserved for men only,” Herunga told The Namibian yesterday, without explicitly saying that if Nandi-Ndaitwah stands as a president candidate at the extraordinary congress, a man can then be elected as vice president, which would also achieve gender balance among the top four in Swapo.

“…but I am, however, not here to reveal the calculations that he missed,” added Herunga.

Ekandjo said if Nandi-Ndaitwah runs for the party presidency, then she has to resign from her current vice president position and the extraordinary congress will have to fill two positions. “The one left by the deceased president and one left by the vice president. If she loses, then she won’t become vice president. It’s a risk. If she runs, she has to work hard not to be an ordinary member,” he said.

The extraordinary congress which was necessitated by the death of party president Hage Geingob must be held within three months from the time the vacancy has occurred, according to the Swapo constitution.

The death of president Geingob has now brought to the fore a debate about the possible gender imbalance in terms of Swapo’s zebra style system.

This system commits Swapo to fill its top four positions and parliamentary list with a 50:50 gender balance, whereby if for example the party president is a man, the vice president should be a woman and vice versa.

This system is set to face its sternest test at the extraordinary congress as Swapo’s leadership currently consists of two women and one man.

The women are vice president Nandi-Ndaitwah and secretary general Sophia Shaningwa, while deputy secretary general Herunga is the only man remaining in the top four leadership.

Herunga himself was controversially elected as deputy secretary at the 2022 Swapo congress when he competed against deputy minister of urban and rural development Evelyn !Nawases-Taeyele, and current Swapo Kavango West coordinator David Hamutenya.

The absence of a first-round winner, with no candidate securing the required 51% majority, set the stage for a contentious process.

Congress presiding officer Joshua Kaumbi’s decision to eliminate !Nawases-Taeyele, despite receiving more votes than Hamutenya, stirred controversy.

Former cabinet minister Jerry Ekandjo and Namibian vice-president, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah

!Nawases-Taeyele’s exclusion in the re-run, based on a disputed interpretation of the party constitution limiting women representation in top positions, raised concerns about fairness. In the end, Herunga emerged victorious in the re-run, but the episode fuelled debates on gender equity and adherence to party rules, a situation that is likely to haunt Swapo at this year’s extraordinary congress.

“We will still exercise democracy, comply with the provision, rules, regulations and procedures of the Swapo party constitution when it comes to filling vacancies,” said Herunga.

Herunga likened Ekandjo’s comments to a game of chess.

“He just looked at gender perspectives, but not the whole picture. When you play chess, you move the piece somewhere knowing that once you play it, the other piece comes here, and the other there. This will enable you to achieve ABC as per rules and procedures. That’s where he actually missed,” he said.

Former prime minister Nahas Angula said everyone is entitled to their opinions. Former attorney general and Cabinet minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana said whatever happens at the congress should be within the party constitution and its rules.

“We have adopted a zebra style and we have actually put it at the last congress whereby a position was reserved for a man. That comrade was actually told not to participate. Maybe that’s what he (Jerry Ekandjo) is referring to.”

Political analyst Erika Thomas said there is a need to wait for Swapo to first pronounce itself.

“We must be open. Not only think about ourselves. People must wait for the party to pronounce itself through the decision making process in order to bring solutions,” she said.

Efforts to get more clarity from the rest of the Swapo leadership, yielded no results, as secretary general Sophia Shaningwa did not respond, as well as secretary for legal affairs Pohamba Shifeta and spokesperson Hilma Nicanor.

Nandi-Ndaitwah, who was sworn in as the country’s vice president after Geingob’s death, said on Tuesday that she doesn’t want to comment on issues of interpretations.

“Of course there are rules and procedures that govern the Swapo constitution, but I don’t want to go into that. Those questions should be directed to the secretary general or the secretary for information and mobilisation,” she said.

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