Katima Mulilo — Linus Mafale, the Swapo Party regional coordinator in the Caprivi Region, has dismissed media reports he coerced delegates who will attend the party's 5th Congress to vote as a block for Dr Hage Geingob.
Swapo Party sources in the region said Mafale, during a Swapo Party meeting over the weekend 'coerced' delegates through their district coordinators to cast their votes for Geingob, who is fighting to retain the vice-presidency of the party as his rivals Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and Jerry Ekandjo breathe down his neck.
Mafale is said to have eulogized Geingob during a meeting that formed part of Geingob's campaign tour of the Caprivi Region recently.
A man of the cloth was also roped in to bless the incumbent vice-president and to administer oaths of allegiance to him (Geingob) using a Bible, some of those who attended the meeting claim.
Sources in the party expressed discontent, accusing Mafale of being undemocratic and said the 'block voting' he advocated was tantamount to political suicide since it went against the democratic ideals of Swapo.
"There's nothing like that. Members were just introduced to Geingob and even leaders who were accompanying him like Nangolo Mbumba, who will contest the position of secretary general and Nickey Iyambo, a position in the Central Committee, were introduced. I just asked delegates who had views to express them. I did not force anyone to take an oath. People were introduced to Dr Hage Geingob and it was up to them. District coordinators who spoke, were not [requested to do so]. They spoke on their own. Now is that coercing people?" Mafale asked this week.
Although reluctantly acknowledging the existence of a directive requiring regional coordinators to support Geingob as the incumbent vice-president and in accordance with the hierarchy of the party, Mafale who was flanked by Swapo Party regional secretary for information and mobilisation, Austin Samupwa, downplayed claims he endorsed Geingob even as an individual and repeatedly maintained that he merely welcomed him as one of the candidates.
"The regional coordinators were given information that the current vice-president according to the hierarchy and the constitution is supposed to [remain] the vice-president. Such information is there and is known by regional coordinators. District coordinators were just introducing themselves and gave their opinions freely regarding the message conveyed by Geingob," maintained Mafale.
Mafale and his supporters also maintain that those who are spreading 'misinformation' are not even delegates to the congress. Other district mobilisers were however not present to confirm or deny the allegations.
Mafale further rejected claims that the regional Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) secretary Ronnety Sikobiso walked out of the meeting in disagreement with his alleged (Mafale's) insistence that Geingob be endorsed as the preferred candidate.
"Those who are saying some delegates walked out, that's false. The secretary of the youth came to the meeting late and she walked out even before what is alleged to have happened. We had to send for her when the meeting was about to finish. She never walked out because of what was alleged. That's not true," insisted Mafale.
Approached for comment, secretary of the SPYL in the region, Sariety Sikobiso, however contradicted Mafale, saying she walked out because she did not want to be part of the process where they were being compelled to support one vice-presidential candidate at the expense of the others.
"I still maintain that my vote is my secret. I went outside because I didn't want to say anything after we were asked to confirm our support for Geingob," said Sikobiso who appeared reluctant to divulge anything more than that.
Asked about whether delegates from the Caprivi Region would vote as a block, Mafale pointed out that such a decision will not be taken and that delegates are free to vote for a candidate of their choice.
"We have not reached consensus on who to endorse, because of the basic rule of 'your vote is your secret'. When we go to the congress every delegate is free to vote for a candidate of their choice," Mafale reiterated.
On reports that a 'pastor' was requested to pray for Geingob to retain the vice-presidency, the secretary for information and mobilisation, Austin Samupwa, said this should not cause undue alarm since it was tradition in the Swapo Party to pray.
"We did not invite the pastor as if we want to anoint someone. The pastor who was here is a member of Swapo in the Sibbinda district. The vice-president extended his invitation to many members. A lot of people were invited, even those who are not going to congress and those not in the regional executive. Among those, some go to church and are often asked to pray for a meeting before it starts. It's a tradition in Swapo. We did not call a special pastor to come and pray for Geingob. Even when other candidates were here, we prayed the same," stressed Samupwa.
Samupwa further said all candidates were welcome and that campaign meetings are not meant to endorse candidates, but were rather arranged solely to garner support for each of the three candidates. "When candidates come to the regions, they don't come to be endorsed, but to introduce themselves. We cannot deny any candidate [the right] to speak. Ekandjo and Ithana were here and now Geingob. Ekandjo is even coming back on Tuesday. Our role is not to endorse, but to listen to them as our leaders.
"Take the bigger picture that all these three candidates belong to Swapo, so whoever wins we will support. Our intention is not block voting. When we are at the congress, every individual person will have the right to exercise their democratic right," said Samupwa.
John Ntemwa, chairperson of the Caprivi Youth Forum who was initially part of the meeting still maintains that delegates were asked to take an oath. "I have it on record. Before questions were allowed, delegates were requested to take an oath. The pastor also left after he had prayed for Geingob," insisted the outspoken SPYL member.