Namibia’s third oldest party, Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) seeks a new leadership at its elective congress this September.
Either its current president, Katuutire Kaura or its secretary-general McHenry Venaani will remain standing in an outcome that may determine the future of opposition parties in Namibia.
DTA currently occupies only two seats in Parliament. This is a huge contrast to 1990 when it occupied 21 seats and strong indication of how the party has lost ground under Kaura’s leadership.
For a party that was the first to reconcile with white Namibians in 1990, DTA had just as many advantages as Swapo. But due to its pathetic leadership, its key leaders joined Swapo after which it lost seven parliamentary seats in the 1994 elections.
No one has re-engineered the resurrection of the party since then.
“The party’s elders believe they are the ones who can lead better because they have the experience but experience does not necessarily guarantee progress,” argues Venaani, who at 28, lost out on the 2005 party presidency.
Under Kaura, DTA has lost its nerve as a strong opposition and has failed to become a non-tribal party. If the trend continues, under Kaura, DTA might only get one seat in the next Parliament.
DTA, under Kaura who is now 70, has failed to reform itself into a contemporary party by re-defining its policies. Instead, it has become a Herero representative party, failing to nationalise itself the way the Rally for Democratic Party (RDP) has.
The camouflage of Philemon Moongo and the mayor of Keetmanshoop, Titus Moses, who are non-Herero leaders in the party, has failed to make an impact.
DTA needs to go through a new focus on critical areas that confront our societal needs to become an effective all-seasons party.
It is from DTA’s weaknesses that Swapo has found strength; the inability to have female representatives in top echelon; the inability to mix non-Hereros in its structures and giving away the vote, selling the German-reparations debate to National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo).
Born the same year that DTA was formed, 36 years ago, Venaani takes lessons from Joseph Kabila who became the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president at 28, Angola’s president Jose-Eduardo Dos Santos who took charge at the age of 36 and even Dr Sam Nujoma who led Swapo at age 33.
The only difference between Venani and the other leaders is, they all either brought something new to the table or merely continued with the policies they had found.
Expecting Venaani to bring anything new to DTA now when he has been the secretary-general all along is far-fetched. As the SG, he had enough powers and time to effect new policies and ensure continuity with the party.
What effective role will he play as president that he did not play as SG? The current state of DTA is both the president and SG’s baby.
Venaani is the centre and the rock of the party. As the SG, everything should revolve around him because he is the one who consolidates the affairs of the party. He needs to sustain the DTA brand by promoting its ideologies through the various channels, which has not happened.
Venaani might argue that Kaura sleeps in Parliament but he too has lost the charm. It is his fault that the party has out-dated ideals and policies. It is the SG’s fault that DTA has ran out of new strategies!
His exception might be the ability to lure the youth vote against the ruling Swapo’s Hage Geingob, come 2014.
Despite his political blood, Venaani has been a victim of his own shrewdness.
He was there in 2003 when DTA drew up a list of the party leadership, copying it from other political parties in Africa where the top four of the party would go into Parliament first.
As the SG, he automatically became number four on the list. It was his duty to ensure DTA gets more than four seats in Parliament, yet he himself has been out in the cold because of his own undoing.
He lost the plot and became comfortable - from that young man who challenged Jerry Ekandjo in one meeting, telling him he was not telling history correctly; to hitting back on Ekandjo saying, “You cannot tell me I was not there then; how do you know about Jesus when your own mother was not born during His time?”
That Venaani only remained with his charm, not his tactics, until he fell out of Parliament. But that could be his strength; as often, the best coaches are the ones in the stands.
Venaani’s quest to become the party’s president must be welcomed to heighten competitiveness within the party and at the general political landscape of Namibia. No doubt, Parliament misses Venaani.
Even Swapo knows; when Venaani speaks given an ear, he controls a very powerful constituency of politics. Swapo misses Venaani in Parliament.
But to beat Kaura, Venaani must win the trust of the elders, period!
Kaura’s strength is his own belief. His believes not all Namibians are Swapo supporters. Even if he were to lose, he would remain in the party and play an advisory role. Despite his weaknesses, Kaura represents stability.
But there is nothing more he could tell the 180 DTA congress delegates that he has never said.
Kaura argues, “People talk about the party’s decline without understanding the reasons behind it. The DTA used to have a major support base amongst traditional leaders across Namibia. This support was lost due to intimidation by the ruling party.”
To date, 46 Ovaherero traditional leaders are not recognised by Government, which is intimidation by the ruling party, according to him.
He accuses Government of issuing fishing quotas and tenders to certain people while it bribes traditional leaders to quit DTA. Veteran journalist, Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro says the issues at hand are more than just the two contenders. He questions whether the executive leadership of the party has ever discussed the presidency issue among itself or if it is just a power issue between the two contenders.
“They have become an embarrassment to the party by plotting their own agendas,” Matundu-Tjiparuro says.
Could this be the immaturity of the young and the dementia of the aging leaders?
Whether Kaura wins and DTA remains a one-party leader or Venaani comes in and proves intra-party democracy, DTA is unlikely to change under either of the two leaders.
What will change, though, is DTA will become one of the few parties in Namibia where a leadership position is democratically challenged. firstname.lastname@example.org