Former Cabinet minister Jerry Ekandjo says he believes the position of Swapo party president at the upcoming extraordinary congress should be reserved for men in order to achieve gender balance.
“The strong point is that only men should run for the Swapo presidency at the extraordinary congress,” Ekandjo said during an interview this week.
During the interview, he also called for the resignation of vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah if she wants to challenge for the party presidency.
Nandi-Ndaitwah is widely regarded as the favourite to win the presidentary contest at the upcoming congress.
The death of president Hage Geingob, however, has brought to the fore a debate about possible gender imbalances in terms of Swapo’s zebra style system.
This system commits Swapo to filling its top four positions and parliamentarian 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 a stern test at the extraordinary congress.
Vice president Nandi-Ndaitwah yesterday said 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.
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 Uahekua Herunga is the only man remaining in the top four leadership.
Before Geingob’s death, Nandi-Ndaitwah was seen as a clear candidate for Swapo in the 2024 national elections. She had even started national campaigns as a Swapo candidate.
Shaningwa also declared her as Swapo’s sole candidate for this year’s election.
However, Geingob’s death has put the party into a constitutional chasm.
Even Ekandjo, who has pushed for an anti-gay law, is publicly calling for the top positions to be contested.
“It cannot be said that the position of Swapo president must be occupied by a woman and let the men compete for the vice presidency,” Ekandjo said.
“If a woman wins the Swapo presidency and another wins the vice presidency, there will be three women. Who will be told to withdraw to make room for a man?”
He added: “The strong point is that only men should run for the Swapo presidency at the extraordinary congress. This is because if the presiding officer at the last congress had allowed her (Evelyn !Nawases-Taeyele) to run, it would have been easy.”
During the 2022 Swapo congress, deputy minister of urban and rural development !Nawases-Taeyele, current Swapo deputy secretary general Herunga and Swapo Kavango West coordinator David Hamutenya, contested for the deputy secretary general position.
There was no outright winner in the first round because no one garnered the required 51% majority.
Congress presiding officer Joshua Kaumbi eliminated !Nawases-Taeyele, despite obtaining more votes than Hamutenya.
She was excluded from the re-run based on a disputed interpretation of the party constitution, limiting women’s representation in the top four positions.
Herunga, who defeated Hamutenya in the second round, won the re-run.
!Nawases-Taeyele’s exclusion was based on gender concerns about fairness and adherence to party rules.
Her exclusion is likely to be used as a reference at the extraordinary congress, set to be held within three months due to Geingob’s death and according to the Swapo constitution.
“The congress presiding officer is the cause of that issue. Yes, otherwise men will also go to the court of law. The lady (!Nawases-Taeyele) even wanted to go to court but she was persuaded by those running the election that they cannot allow her to run because she would have caused a gender imbalance. If she had won, there could have been three women and one man. She was told against her will to withdraw. There are already two women in the top four,” said Ekandjo.
Ekandjo said if Nandi-Ndaitwah runs for the 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.
Ekandjo said if Nandi-Ndaitwah was to run, it will not be on the ticket of vice president. He said she will be equal to those not holding any position in Swapo.
“Any Swapo member can stand. Once you are a candidate, there is no more a question of whether you are vice president or whatever. Everyone is equal,” he said.
Ekandjo said all this confusion could have been avoided if the 2022 congress presiding officer didn’t make mistakes.
Ekandjo labelled Kaumbi too inexperienced to run the Swapo congress.
Last year, Ekandjo wrote to president Geingob to argue that the 2022 Swapo congress did not elect a presidential candidate for the 2024 national elections, casting doubt on the legitimacy of deputy prime minister Nandi-Ndaitwah’s endorsement as the party’s top candidate.
“Why I wrote a letter is because the person who was running the congress election in 2022 doesn’t know the rules. I don’t know why they chose that person. In that congress, he could have asked the delegates to endorse a candidate. There was an opportunity and he missed it,” said Ekandjo.
Ekandjo unsuccessfully attempted to secure the Swapo presidency three times – in 2012, 2017 and 2022.
Ekandjo said things were different during the congress where the late Hidipo Hamutenya, Hifikepunye Pohamba and Nahas Angula competed against each other in 2004.
“After Pohamba won, the chairperson of the extraordinary congress at the time asked the congress to take [sic] or reject Pohamba as the next presidential candidate. The congress took a resolution to endorse Pohamba. And it happened,” he said.
Ekandjo also said when he, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and Geingob were running for the position, the congress made a resolution that all party members and supporters must support him.
“We campaigned for him because it was a resolution. In the 2022 election, there was no resolution indicating who will be our candidate. It might be inexperience from the person who was chairing and later he confused everything,” he said.
Ekandjo urged Swapo to respect its constitution.
“We have to follow the constitution. During the struggle, what kept us together? It was the constitution. Whether we like it or not (before Geingob’s death), an extraordinary congress would have taken place. We cannot just run the way we feel. We must follow the constitution whether we like it or not. There is no automatic promotion in Swapo,” he said.
Yesterday, Kaumbi declined to comment, saying: “We are mourning.”
!Nawases-Taeyele said it was premature to comment. Former Swapo Party Women’s Council secretary Eunice Iipinge said Swapo never had a provision in its constitution where a position is reserved for a certain gender. She said people should adhere to the party constitution.
“That’s his opinion, but we have never practised that in our party. Also, this is not an appropriate time to discuss these things, because we are mourning our president,” she said.
Political commentator Erica Thomas says Ekandjo should show empathy and stop pronouncing himself on an extraordinary congress.
“He must wait for a month until the mourning period is over … when the wound is healed. What Jerry is saying is not African,” she says.
“Even if you really hate a person, you can’t do that. All people should give the departed a dignified funeral. He is thinking only about himself.
“How many times has he contested for the president’s position? He got the message. People don’t want him. He is forcing his leadership onto people,” Thomas says.
Shaningwa promised to respond to questions later this week.
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