interviewBy Helvy Shaanika
New Era senior journalist Helvy Shaanika interviewed Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana. She was the first Deputy Minister of Wildlife and Conservation, first Minister of Youth and Sport, former Minister of Lands, Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation, former Attorney General and currently the Minister of Justice. She is also currently the Swapo Party Secretary General.
In short, tell us who is Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana
"Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana is a daughter of a peasant family, daughter of Efraim Iivula and Hagar Elia. They were ordinary villagers but deep rooted in Christianity, God-fearing people. I was brought up in that spirit. My parents moved from the place where I was born, when I was six years and therefore I had to be juggled between families in order to be able to go to school. Schools that time were very scarce and that was in the area of Ombalantu. When I reached Standard Five (Grade Seven), I was sent to boarding school at Tsandi Girls School (Okagumbo). Then I got admitted at Oshigambo High School where I did my secondary education up to Standard Nine, when we left the country somewhere around August in 1974. I was around 21 years old.
In exile we were enrolled for basic military training in Zambia and later we were sent to Tanzania for more in-depth military training, where I was also selected among the graduates to become a military instructor, the post I held until I was relieved to go for further studies in 1976. I did a Diploma in Public Administration and Management and a Diploma in Development Studies in 1980. That was the year I also got elected to the position of Secretary for Swapo Women's Council and that is the position I held until I came back home in 1989. Before I came home I was given another responsibility, that was as Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs, to assist Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange. It was a temporary position, which only lasted until we became independent. We carried out the election campaign - I was in the team that came home to set up election machinery led by Comrade Hage Geingob. We were elected to form the first Constituent Assembly and I was again elected among men from other parties to form a committee that drafted the constitution. We agreed on the date of independence and I was also appointed as first deputy minister of wildlife and conservation."
We understand that you recently turned 60. A belated happy birthday. Tell us about your achievements - things you feel that you have accomplished.
"My life became entangled in the lives of others in so many ways that there is nothing that I can say that I have single-handedly did without the contribution of others. Whether it is when I participated in the war of liberation - there were other fighters, other commanders, some have achieved much, much more than myself, but the mere fact that I was there, I was part of that effort, I think it's an achievement. I led the Swapo Party Women's Council (SPWC) at a very critical moment in the war of liberation, when the majority of those under my leadership were older women who had left their homes behind, their husbands behind, some of them left their children - so they had all sorts of traumatic experiences but we had to try to make their lives more bearable. There are a lot of women who have gone through training through the programmes that we designed as the Swapo Women's Council. Sophia Shaningwa, meme Eunice Iipinge, meme Loide Shinavene and there are doctors like Dr Mwadhina, she is a doctor at Katutura Hospital, they are among those that studied through the cooperation agreement we had with the Soviet Women Federation.
And what was the low point in this journey of life?
"I consider myself to be one of the lucky people. I was married to a wonderful husband, Joseph Mukwayu Ithana. He was a gentleman, a comrade, a man who really took me, as not only a wife but as a sister, a friend, a comrade and he fulfilled my life. And his departure from earth really sent me into the deepest end, I should say. However, I thank God that I came out. I never knew that I was ever going to have a smile on my face, but God is great, I overcame that. The other point was when I lost my mother and my father. But since we were in the struggle, in Oshiwambo there is an expression that thoyendji ka dheema kulila, meaning the misfortunes that befall you, cannot overwhelm you because you are so many."
You are a mother, a family woman, one of a few successful female politicians and a businesswoman. How do you manage to fit all these functions in one person's life?
"It's not easy, I must say. As I said my husband was my mentor, was by bedrock and a lot that I achieved was really on account of his moral support, his assistance. For example, I was studying while working, and he assured me that I shouldn't worry much about the household affairs, to such an extent that my daughter who was the youngest was more of daddy's child than mummy's girl. I have three children. He (husband) took care of everything and he made me concentrate on what I needed to do - including the business. The business was his initiative; but there is nothing that he would do, without me participating, if I had time. I juggled those, with his assistance. Thank God the time he left us, the children were old enough to understand. I found myself in the midst of it (busy life), ever since. It's my life. I have learnt how to combine them, how to deal with them - just like that. But I know it has its own shortcomings because sometimes the family suffers. The children feel it, I can tell you my children look at politics as a life of hardship, something that they don't look at with admiration on account of what they've observed their mother go through."
Apart from the butchery, what other business interests or business activities are you involved in?
"Not really, what you see there is what I have and that is an inheritance that I thought we as a family should continue to support because it was ours when he (husband) was there and it should continue being ours when he is no more."
What improvements have you brought to your ministry in terms of infrastructure and other related improvements?
"That is a continuous process. Not long ago, we constructed a high court in Oshakati - there used to be only one court in Windhoek. We created the high court here (in Oshakati), and we had to facilitate it - it is not just a building there. We have created a magistrate's court at Tsumkwe, at Khorixas ... I can enumerate those and we continue. We are constructing in Omuthiya, we are constructing in Otjinene and these are continuous projects because we want to assist the communities, to bring service closer to where they are so that people don't have to walk long distances to seek justice."
Can you perhaps share with us important laws and acts passed during your reign, in which you feel your ministry has played a role.
"Laws are part and parcel of our existence. As we continue to live, the laws continue to grow with us as a nation. Our constitution says all the laws that have been existence at the date of independence continue to operate, until, and unless declared by the court of law unconstitutional. That is precisely why the government has come up with the idea of creating a law reform and development commission that is busy researching laws that are not in conformity with our way of life. Like the law that separates marriages and dissolution of marriages and deaths of different people; the whites, the coloureds, the blacks. That reform has reached a very advanced stage - we had a workshop in Swakopmund early this year with the view to abolish these separations because we have a slogan of 'One Namibia, One Nation'. I know the law itself is not yet enacted but the report on such a study has already been completed."
At the beginning of the talks on President Pohamba's succession, some media reported that you had no ambition in the presidential race - what convinced you to change your mind? What motivated you to accept the nomination?
"The media does not understand how Swapo operates. Swapo has its own culture, its own documents, principles, according to which it is run. Swapo looks at its resources and decides among its resources, which one should serve where and all these kinds of things. For the media to want to gauge who is interested and who is not interested, I think that that is a misplaced belief. Because in the final analysis, it is Swapo that must indicate who among its members it wants. It is not up to the individual to say 'I am interested' - you are interested but are you going to vote for yourself? Somebody must nominate me and that somebody who can nominate me, should be convinced that I am material enough to attract support from others. This question from the media is irrelevant and does not stand any good ground for consideration."
Have you started campaigning already?
"Well campaigning is a strong word. As I said, party members know what they want. They have been observing us, as individuals. I've served these past five years just like a lantern that is lit alight on top of a mountain. How can you not see that lantern? Whether it is a good light or a bad light, you just have to see it. Now for me to go out and start campaigning, what do I tell Swapo Party members? The leadership of the party is collective. The party has documents according to which the programme must be run. I just put my candidature out there for the party members to convince themselves whether I am the right candidate or not. I have just availed my wish. When I was asked whether I'm ready, I said I am ready because there is no inhibition, thank God my health is superb, I have the energy, I have the intellect, I have the record and the credibility - everything is with me. Therefore, I just tell the comrades to do the right thing and that is to vote for their Secretary General who has served them so well for the past five years."
It is common during the time of a presidential race that enemies are created along the way - either it is intentional or not intentional, but it happens. Are you not worried that your political career might be affected should you not win the Swapo vice-presidency race?
"I have served this party from my youth. Swapo is my life. There is no any other life, other than this. I wish and I have said so, several times before, that I want whoever is furthering my candidature to do so by confining him or herself to what he or she thinks that I am able to do and not try to downplay the abilities of others. Because it is not others we are talking about, we are talking about me. Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, that is the name I want somebody to further. So that at the end of the day we do not step on each other's toes. If at all my name did not go through, we will have no guilty conscience that we have insulted or we have tarnished someone's name. But I wish also that others should do the same because this is a democratic process, an internal one for us to be able to find a right candidate who can take us to 2014. The biggest step is when we are going to face other political parties.
"If we, through the internal selection process tarnish each other and put ourselves into factions, when are we going to reunite to face the outside world - and the outside world is other candidates from other political parties. I want when I win the vice-presidential position, for other comrades to rally behind me and everybody to own me as their candidate - that's my wish.
"I don't want to be owned only by those that have campaigned for my candidature, no, because we are all Swapo Party members.
"At the end of the day, it's Swapo to win and not to weaken ourselves before the major battle has started."