A SECRETIVE dinner held at State House on Thursday evening and touted by some of those invited as a “pow-wow” with Swapo’s “Top Four” cost a minimum N$100 000 a head.
The Namibian has learnt that about 20 business personalities invited to share dinner with the top government leaders attended and pledged amounts of at least N$100 000 each towards the Swapo congress that will be held from November 29 to December 2.
It is not clear what the criteria were for those invited, but some who did not attend said they were put off by the price tag of N$100 000 as well as the principle of having to pay for access to their leaders.
The Namibian could not establish who started the idea and saw to the execution of the high-powered dinner, as both Swapo leaders in charge of fundraising and Minister of Presidential Affairs Albert Kawana said they did not know about it.
Those who attended confirmed that President Hifikepunye Pohamba hosted the opaquely-selected business personalities. Swapo’s “Top Four” consists of the party head (President Pohamba), its vice-president (Hage Geingob), the secretary general (Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana) and deputy secretary general (Nangolo Mbumba).
Iivula-Ithana and Mbumba said they were not aware of the dinner.
“I have no idea. Ask the people of the venue,” Iivula-Ithana told The Namibian on Saturday when asked whether she was aware of the dinner.
Last week, the private dinner raised eyebrows among Swapo members who learnt about it at the last minute. Apart from Presidential Affairs Minister Kawana, who said he did not know about it, the Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Rosalia Nghidinwa, who is heading the Swapo congress’s fundraising committee, also pleaded ignorance.
Among those mentioned as being at the centre of inviting business personalities was Leon Jooste, a businessman and former deputy minister. But when asked Jooste said that he did not organise the dinner, although he heads a technical team within the congress fundraising committee that organised the event.
About 20 prominent business people attended the Thursday night dinner although about 50 were invited under strict requirements. Only those who promised to pledge N$100 000 were allowed to attend, Jooste told The Namibian.
He said that the dinner, of which the menu and discussions were not clear, was aimed at raising funds for the upcoming congress.
Jooste could not say how much was raised in total as they wanted to wait until the money was in the bank.
Judging from the number of about 20 people, it seems that the dinner will rake in no less than N$2 million. According to Jooste, they had a list of more than 50 people and not all of them could make it.
Among those who reportedly attended were Knowledge Katti, Desmond Amunyela, former Nedbank head Martin Shipanga and Tshombe Ndadi, who in earlier years ran the printing company NamPrint and then started his own company, ADS Publications. He now owns a financial services company called Kongalend, a micro-lender offering loans as bridging capital to small and medium enterprises that have won government tenders for goods and services.
Katti confirmed yesterday that he attended the dinner and pledged N$500 000.
“It’s true that I attended the dinner, nothing secret. It was beautiful, the food was great,” he said.
Amunyela, co-owner of Paragon Investment Holdings, which owns the Windhoek Observer, declined to comment about what some say was a glitzy event.
Jooste declined to reveal who else was at the dinner.
“It will be unfair to reveal the names because it might be seen as if they are favouring a certain political party,” he said.
Jooste said they invited the business people as individuals but still, “if publicised, people will make the connection to the companies they represent.”
A Swapo Central Committee member said the dinner might be a strategy for a select group of people with deep pockets to buy favours from government leaders who emerge as top leaders after the congress, among whom may be the future Namibian head of state.
Jooste, a former Member of Parliament, maintained that the event was not secretive and the idea was “just to organise a small gathering to source funds in clever and easy way” despite it not being publicised or information revealed on how the specific group of 50 was compiled.
Some business people said they were put off by the idea that a pow-wow with top national leaders must be paid for. “What about the poor?” one asked.
The dinner also raised questions about why the ruling party used State House as a venue for its political events.
Two weeks ago, the ruling party raised N$2,6 million in northern Namibia at a dinner organised by Swapo’s national congress preparatory committee.