The Namibian (Windhoek)

11 January 2013

Namibia: United Democratic Front At Crossroads

THE United Democratic Front (UDF) will hold a congress during the second half of this year to elect a new leader for the first time as its veteran head Chief Justus //Garoëb steps down to formally enter traditional authority politics.

The congress comes amid strong speculation that several senior members of the party are agitating that it merge with or entirely join the ruling Swapo. But //Garoëb yesterday dismissed speculation that the party leadership might be dissolved.

UDF's presence in the National Assembly has waned from four seats won in the independence election to its current two, although it has shown strong and consistent support in the Kunene Region, dominating local authorities and the regional council.

//Garoëb has stood for Namibia's presidency three times without success.

Some in the inner circles of the party want UDF members "released" from the party to either join the ruling Swapo Party as individual members or be left to their own devices to find a new political home for themselves.

There reportedly is a pervasive sentiment within UDF circles that the party has always maintained a cordial relationship with Swapo, and with Hage Geingob (a Damara-speaker) now secured as the ruling party's presidential candidate for the 2014 presidential election, the mood among UDF members apparently is that Swapo has now become more palatable to the predominantly Damara-speaking UDF membership.

//Garoëb has always had a cordial and supportive relationship with Swapo.

While he was the president of the Damara Council (DC) - which first was a provisional administrative council that later transformed into a political party in 1980 - the organisation participated in the 1983 talks that led to the formation of the Multi-Party Conference (MPC), which became the pre-independence Transitional Government.

But the DC broke away from the MPC in 1984 and announced its support for Swapo. It also attended the Lusaka Conference in 1984 on the side of the Swapo delegation, and since then had regular contact with Swapo.

But in 1989, on the eve of Namibia's independence from South Africa, the DC joined a number of other parties to form the UDF in order to take part in the general elections under United Nations' Resolution 435.

//Garoëb this week said the party had no plans to give its members permission to join Swapo.

"There are no talks of a dissolution of the UDF except that I have given notice that I will step out of the party's management after the next election [2014]. I want to return to traditional management," //Garoëb said.

He said he had already expressed his desire to step down from party and parliamentary politics at the last general election in 2009, but was persuaded to remain UDF president.

//Garoëb, who turned 70 in December, became the king of the Damara people in 1994, a position he now wants to solely focus on.

"I am dead tired," said//Garoëb, who has been hospitalised for a heart condition, adding: "But there is pressure on me to go home; I want to go home [traditional politics]."

The three likely candidates in the UDF to take over from //Garoëb are Simson Tjongarero (currently the party's vice president), Apius !Auchab (UDF second vice president and former Dâures Constituency councillor), and Dudu Murorua.

Tjongarero (69) was a member of the DC since 1974 and a founding member of the UDF. He is a member of the party's Central Committee.

Tjongarero has represented the Khorixas Constituency as a regional councillor, and is a former governor of Kunene. Murorua (54), also a former member of the DC, has been a member of the National Council for the Kunene region, and was the Secretary General of the UDF.

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