SWAPO youth league gets a spanking

Namibia's ruling party, SWAPO, has always vehemently denied divisions in its ranks. But recently things came to a head when the top leadership and the Youth League clashed over remarks made about presidential candidate-in-waiting, Hage Geingob, which resulted in a showdown at a Central Committee meeting last weekend where the SPYL’s ejection from the party was narrowly averted.

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June 26th, 2013

Namibia's ruling party, SWAPO, has always vehemently denied divisions in its ranks. But recently things came to a head when the top leadership and the Youth League clashed over remarks made about presidential candidate-in-waiting, Hage Geingob, which resulted in a showdown at a Central Committee meeting last weekend where the SPYL’s ejection from the party was narrowly averted.

The most immediate cause of the current dispute was the battle for party president at the SWAPO Congress last December, when the SPYL's candidate for the presidency, firebrand Minister Jerry Ekandjo, lost out to former Prime Minister Geingob, who was backed by both incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba and founding President Sam Nujoma.

Since the Geingob 'victory', SPYL members have taken to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, with anti-Geingob comments. The most hurtful, apparently, was an accusation that the presidential hopeful was using State House as a 'club-house' following fundraising dinners that were held there, and allegations that – what the SPYL termed – the 'establishment' had used state resources to secure a Geingob win.

Last week, the party leadership demanded an apology from the Youth League. One was given, but it was deemed to be half-hearted and insincere. So SWAPO Secretary General, Nangolo Mbumba, responded by barring the SPYL from attending the Central Committee meeting at the coast, but they turned up anyway. While the SPYL Secretary, Eljiah Ngurare, did not attend, others did on the grounds that they had not received any official letter, merely a verbal instruction to stay away.

And the SPYL were not without support in the CC meeting so President Pohamba's decision that they be allowed to stay may have averted a major confrontation. SPYL's secretary, Elijah Ngurare, was forced to eat humble pie and issue a second more grovelling apology, this time admitting the remarks had been “disrespectful” towards the leadership and affirming that the "utterances were not in line with the code of conduct" of SWAPO. This was then accepted by the leadership and a potential crisis was averted – for the time being.

Although the Youth League may deny that their criticism was being levelled at Pohamba's chosen successor, the prospect of a Geingob presidency remains controversial in some sectors of SWAPO. What is also clear is the fact that although the leadership backed away from ejecting the SPYL from both the CC and the party, this was primarily to do with the fact that there was support among some of the delegates such as the Women’s Council and party elders, most of whom felt that the Youth League had been denied a fair hearing.

As to the subject of the dispute, many feel the leadership overreacted. Many deem that the comments on Facebook, in particular from some Youth League activists, are in keeping with freedom of speech and therefore fair comment. A SMS writer in asked why SWAPO leaders were accusing the SPYL of indiscipline when they were "merely exercising their right to freedom of expression". The writer went on to say that Namibia needs to have those "who point out abuses and deficiencies" and that the country's democracy requires such critics in order to grow.

For the time being though, the status quo has been maintained, the youth have been 'brought to order' and a not-altogether-happy truce prevails. But one only has to look across the border in South Africa to see how simmering disputes between a ruling party's leadership and its disgruntled youth wing can explode into open warfare. And while the SWAPO Youth League’s fire may have been doused for now, it certainly hasn't been extinguished altogether.

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