President Hage G Geingob: A scholar president and a force of nature

Alfredo Hengari

I am humbled to have been accorded the opportunity to speak on behalf of the private office in the Presidency about the third president of the Republic of Namibia, Hage Geingob. 

I also feel the unbearable weight of the task.

In his melancholic poem, ‘Solo La Muerte’, which translates into English as ‘Only Death’, the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate and controversial Chilean activist, Pablo Neruda, says the following about death in the two stanzas that we have selected:

“Death arrives at the sonorous point,

Like a shoe without a foot, like a suit without the man in it…

I don’t know, I am familiar with so little, I can hardly see,

But I believe that its song has the colour of damp violets, of violets used to the earth,

Because the face of death is green,

And the look of death is green,

With the sharp dampness of a leaf of violet

And the exasperated wintry colour of the grave.”

The poem by the celebrated Neruda reminds us that as a nation, we are abruptly coping with the stark and painful reality of having lost to death, one of the finest and best among us.

We are under unbearable pain and defeat because as Neruda says, “death arrives at the sonorous point, like a shoe without a foot”. 

We are inconsolable. We don’t even know if president Geingob would have found the vocabulary to console us. In fact, he struggled with words to console when visiting bereaved families. 

Madam Geingos has many anecdotes to that effect and I recall how president Geingob told a grieving widow, “Unfortunately, death is reserved for all of us, we have to be strong.”

During this hour of grief, as advisers, executive directors,

students, aides and staff members under the watchful eye of president Geingob – even during this darkest hour – we are compelled to celebrate not only a brave and iconic leader of the people of our land, but our teacher and boss. 

To some in the private office, he was Hefe – to others he was president.

We are here as witnesses to add to the puzzle in the life of an extraordinary and exemplary servant of the Namibian people, and humanity at large. 

We are witnesses in the private office to the life of a skilled politician who graced global corridors of power and the vast expanse of our land with a sense of mission and gravitas. 

Yes, you could feel his infectious passion and affection for ordinary Namibians when he interacted with them.

Yes, you could feel his infectious passion for Namibians when he fought for their interests in global fora. 

A Pan-Africanist, yes, you could feel the infectious passion of president Geingob for the African continent and Africans in the diaspora.

For a country which pursues small-state diplomacy, president Geingob played an outsized role in shaping the agenda of peace in Africa and the furtherance of the ideals of solidarity and justice for humanity at large. 

As chairperson of the Southern African Development Community in 2018, he marshalled with panache difficult dossiers on the Democratic Republic of Congo and shared solutions among conflicting parties with his trademark pragmatic and calm rationality.

Unquestionably, president Geingob was cut out for the ethical path of life that he walked with integrity, urgency and untold grace in fulfillment of the independence of our country and the formidable, but attainable mission of prosperity for all Namibians.

The Dr Hage G. Geingob Method

Fellow mourners;

I recall the occasion of the 70th birthday of Dr Geingob in August 2011, when the late Theo-Ben Gurirab was asked to deliver remarks about Dr Geingob where he said: “Hage is that difficult, but kind uncle”. 

Judging from his facial expression, our boss was not pleased with the first part. I suspect that he would have preferred the word “demanding” or “perfectionist” instead of “difficult”.

A vertical, but also a horizontal leader, many of us experienced the demanding and perfectionist side of president Geingob. Intolerance for explanations when the work is not done; intolerance for sloppy work; itolerance for blame-shifting, which to him demonstrated the absence of loyalty and “taking one” for the team. 

To say that I am not the one who is delaying this or that document was enough to annoy him. All of us received his legendary hair-dryer treatment in his office or at the round-table, a lieu he adored so much. 

We would spend hours on concepts and doctrines such as the three waves of

African leadership; transparency plus accountability equals trust and others. 

As part of his deeply held wish for an inclusive Namibia, president Geingob would emphasise the eradication of tribalism, racism and all other forms of division.

An agile multi-tasker, president Geingob would talk syntax, grammar and why the sentence construction in a text is wrong.

A state of the nation address could go through his hand 11 times, with questions around arguments, facts and mistakes meticulously underlined. 

President Geingob was affable and could walk into our offices, sit down to follow up on tasks and just to chat about this or that issue.

For president Geingob, work was not just work or a heavy burden to carry – it was part of his raison d’etre in service of others. It is why president Geingob worked with so much intensity and expected those around him to do the same. A force of nature, president Geingob had high standards.

He was proud to say that as a teacher he used to be strict in marking.

True, working with him felt as if 90% of our performance did not count for much – we only had 10% in which we could get 10 out of 10 to deserve praise. When he had assigned you a task, since he was a fast-thinker, you needed to be ready for the follow-up questions. 

However, when the work was executed properly, he was extremely generous in praise. That is the hallmark of a top leader, a great teacher and affable mentor.

Fellow mourners, You may ask why we chose a Chilean poet to accompany our tribute. We chose Neruda because he believed in “a poetry of bread, where everyone may eat”. 

Neruda also gives the colour green to the face of death, which imposes  optimism and guides us to the lessons of regeneration that we must draw from our interactions with president Geingob. 

Throughout his four lives; first, as a teacher in Tsumeb, second, as a Swapo freedom fighter in exile, third, as chairperson of the Constituent Assembly and founding prime minister; and fourth as president of the Republic of Namibia, president Geingob was animated by the emancipation, the unity and the development of the Namibian and African people. 

When he said in his 2015 acceptance speech that we must eradicate poverty, he meant it.

In fact, to deeply believe and to work hard as president Geingob did to ensure that no one should feel left out speaks to the kindness and generosity of his spirit and soul.

Many of us in the office served as his emissaries to give on his behalf assistance to this or that person in distress; we received calls from him about his concern for this or that person who was unwell or in hospital and that he needed to visit. We bore witness to his sense of leadership based in concert with the vice president Nangolo Mbumba, the prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and deputy prime minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, including other members of the executive and the Swapo top four.

There was an eternal tone about president Geingob. In addition to the pursuit of excellence, the most valuable lesson we should draw from the life of president Geingob is to care for the weak, the vulnerable, those without a voice and those without means.

I recall on one occasion when we returned from the inauguration of president Yoweri Museveni in 2021 and he decided to land at Grootfontein in order to go to his farm, Hadaloha. Upon landing at Grootfontein, the Presidential Falcon was hit by a bird and could not proceed to Windhoek. 

The remaining members of the delegation needed to be lodged in Tsumeb. True to his sense of duty towards others, president Geingob called me to find out if everyone was settled and had found accommodation; I said to him, yes Yvonne Dausab and Tom Alweendo are accommodated at Kupferquelle Lodge. 

Irritated with my response, the president said to me that what I had just shared was not the full picture – “You are only telling me about ministers, what about Mercia, the photographer and Thomas, my bodyguard?”

This is just one of many examples that goes on to demonstrate his humanity and watchful eye over the interests of each and everyone. Certainly, the Geingob heritage is a rich bouquet of enduring values that he shared with all of us through his acts of kindness.

Many of you out there may have grown to appreciate a president of the people, an astute politician, a champion of effective governance and a statesman. But in Geingob, we have grown to be fond and to love the human being even more.

We conclude with one of the favourite verses of president Geingob from the Bible during periods of mourning a loved one.

Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

As the private office, we condole with you madam Geingos on your loss of an amazing husband and exceptional leader of our people. 

It is hard to understand how the two of you could regularly speak on the Presidential Falcon for five hours, which is a demonstration of the solid bond you shared with each other.

We condole with the children and the entire family for the loss of a dedicated father and family patriarch, one you generously gave to serve Namibia and humanity. 

We are extremely proud of the journey president Geingob walked with all of us. His legacy is rich and eternal.

Farewell our scholar president, Dr. Hage G. Geingob!

May the humane soul of president Hage G. Geingob rest in eternal peace

Sit Tibi Terra Levis, president Hage G. Geingob

May the earth rest lightly on you, president Hage G. Geingob.

*Alfredo Hengari is the presidential spokesperson.

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