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Swapo’s 50/50: A populace decision against competitiveness

by John Walenga

The Namibian Constitution (1992, Article 10) provides for formal equality before the law for men and women and outlaws discrimination by gender.

However, the Constitution goes further and qualifies Article 10 with Article 23(2), which empowers parliament to enact legislation that leads to the “advancement of persons within Namibia who have been socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws or practices, or for the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at redressing social, economic or educational imbalances in the Namibian society arising out of past discriminatory laws or practices, or for achieving a balanced structuring of the public service, the police force, the defence force, and the prison service.”

The same document acknowledges the fact that women in Namibia have traditionally suffered special discrimination and that they need to be encouraged and enabled to play a full, equal and effective role in the political, social, economic and cultural life of society.


The ruling Swapo Party has realigned its constitution to ensure that women get the other side of the coin. All sections of the party leaders are expected to be in line with this amended constitution, be it at the district, section and regional up to the national level. Noble intention. But what militated that change?

It must have been a hard-lift issue in Swapo Party if it took an extraordinary congress to overhaul its constitution and make provision for a 50/50 representation in all its structures. Those who thought Swapo had a near balanced mix of both capable female and male amongst its members were wrong.

All members are not equal, and all members will not enjoy equal opportunities. Well, if that is the democratic route Swapo has chosen, its one way of the same Swapo to put a vote of no confidence in the current crop of male leadership. Who gains? The enemies of Swapo Party as opposed to the opposition.

The later will continue to eat from the crumbs of politics until further notice. Perhaps party secretary general Nangolo Mbumba must clarify the following: Are we saying that these opportunities will be handed over to female members on a silver plate? Are we going to reserve certain posts in the party for women? Are we going to abandon the democratic way of going for elections whenever any posts have to be filled in the party?

Are we going to handpick office bearers for positions in the party? Or, are we limiting our female members only to elections amongst themselves? I deserve to know because Swapo is my political home. Leadership is about qualities and vision. Women have these qualities and vision hence their efforts can be witnessed by any other member of the party.

Those that have showcased these talents have been duly awarded on merit, competing against the same men, who today are now advocating for special treatment for women. Leadership in politics requires people with spine, people who are strong and who can lead everyone regardless of gender.


The moment we start positional segregation, then we are limiting ourselves by not being able to project our full talents that can be well appreciated when we all compete in one, level playing field.

Could it be that women in Swapo do not want to be challenged head on and yet they want to lead the country? Why is it that women in Swapo are shunning away from direct competition with each other, and give gender as an excuse? Should the change of Swapo’s constitution be listed as a legacy of the current crop of women in the party?  

There are women in the police force, army, and even public sector, and all of them took the same necessary training with their male counterparts.

Nothing was reserved for anybody. There is no special treatment when it comes to training because one is trained for real-life situations. And in most cases, those that do well at training usually go on to be experts in their chosen fields. Every woman who is a leader today is there because of merit (they fought for chair).

Their leadership qualities were easily seen, and they were duly rewarded. Stiff competition usually brings out the best from the competitors and the strongest survive. Women and men should compete on an equal footing. Segments will encourage limited competition or “niche markets”.

Niche markets have limited innovation strides and also put limitations on growth prospects.  Reserving positions for women will limit their political exposure.

It will give less room for qualities and talents to be put to maximum use. It will encourage both men and women to relax because positions are already reserved for either side. A half-opened door is the same as a half-closed door.

A 50% women representation are the same as 50% representation for men. The only difference here is that members do not want to compete on one playing field, an area where everything will become transparent; they have rather chosen to compete on two different playing fields where not all qualities are projected for everyone to see. The party is for everyone, and everyone can be a leader, and leaders need qualities and qualities are earned not awarded. Such a policy is ONLY limited to Swapo structures and not to Parliament or Cabinet. If for some reason I am wrong, then the same principle should be extended to the whole public structure, private sector, traditional structures, religious etc. That would mean amending The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia. Until then, no structure of government should be contaminated by such a populace decision.