SWAPO secretary general Nangolo Mbumba yesterday apologised for his Saturday comment omake aafyoona nye (clap hands you poor people), saying he was consumed with excitement and seized by the moment.
Mbumba set the social networking sites abuzz all weekend after uttering the comment during Swapo's closing rally at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek.
The packed stadium was stunned when Mbumba, who took to the platform after a few other speakers, made the comment when he welcomed President Hifikepunye Pohamba to the stage.
Omake aafyoona nye is perceived by many as an insult, and some offended Swapo supporters 'left' their voters' registration cards behind in the stadium.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who was director of proceedings, called on several people to come and collect their 'lost' voters' registration cards.
Humbling himself yesterday, Mbumba said in a telephonic interview with The Namibian that he wanted to crack a joke at the heat of the moment.
“I was out of line,” admitted Mbumba, adding that he was too excited and caught up in the jovial moment. “I was happy. I did not mean to call people poor.”
Mbumba said he does not wish to explain or justify his actions but wants to apologise to the Namibian people as his job is to serve them.
“I do not want to blame others. I blame myself. I only wish that they accept my sincere apology,” Mbumba said, adding that he is sorry for ruining such an important event for the Swapo leadership and the voters .
Following the remark, President Pohamba allegedly told Mbumba to issue an apology to the public.
An Oshiwambo lecturer at the University of Namibia, Petrus Mbenzi, said the word is culturally acceptable for a member of the royal family to address his subjects in such a manner.
In Mbumba's case, he said, it was used to address people of a lower ranking.
“I don't see anything wrong with it. Of course, those who are unfamiliar with the origins of the word will take offence,” said Mbenzi, who also referred to an Oshindonga-English dictionary by Toivo Tirronen where the word means “Subjects or a ruler to a subject”.
“There is a danger in looking at a word in only one way,” Mbenzi said.
Although the sound quality at the stadium was poor due to the excitement and celebratory mood, those who heard the supposedly light-hearted remark were not amused.
“He just said it out of the blue and continued afterward as if he didn't say anything out of the ordinary,” said one of the witnesses at the rally. Others said Mbumba's comment was open for misinterpretation from the public since he did not elaborate on its meaning.
“The word has many connotations, among them commoners or ordinary people,” Mbumba himself explained. “But it did not come out in an acceptable manner and I sincerely apologise,” he said.
Some Swapo heavyweights came to the defence of their comrade, claiming that when used in such a context, the word in English actually means “royal subjects” or “subordinates” and not necessarily economically poor or inferior. Others defended it, saying it was merely an expression. There are those calling for Mbumba's head, with DTA president McHenry Venaani jumping into the fray calling Mbumba's remarks “uncalled for.”
Swapo Party Youth League secretary for economic affairs, Immanuel Nashinge said Mbumba was putting the party's name into disrepute. “The people came to Swapo, not to arrogant leaders who have no regard for the masses. The party must take a decision and suspend him as well. This damage is big. As a young person I am disappointed since the majority who came are the people who came from the slums, just because they have faith in the party. The party must be brave enough to suspend the secretary general,” he said.