Windhoek — Former president of the United Nations General Assembly and one-time Namibia's Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab, who passed away on Saturday afternoon after a long illness, has been described as one of the best diplomats the continent has ever produced.
Gurirab, Namibia's Foreign Affairs Minister after independence was attained in 1990 died aged 80 in a Windhoek hospital.
He was appointed as Namibian's second prime minister between August 2002 and March 2005, replacing Dr Hage Geingob who had just resigned from government. Geingob, who worked closely with Gurirab at the United Nations during Namibia's liberation struggle, is now Namibia's president.
His decorated diplomatic career saw him become president of the United Nations General Assembly from 1999 to 2000 and Speaker of Namibia's National Assembly from 2005 to 2015.
Gurirab retired from active politics in 2015 after he failed to secure a place on the Swapo parliamentary list after the party's electoral college in 2014.
President Geingob, who announced Gurirab's passing Saturday afternoon, described the late politician as one of Africa's finest diplomats and also as "a friend, a comrade and giant of the Namibian struggle for liberation".
Geingob, in a statement issued by his press secretary Dr Alfredo Hengari on Saturday, said without Gurirab, one of the leading architects of Namibia's diplomacy, a rich chapter is closing.
Geingob visited the grieving family to offer his condolences, and said that the exceptional work of Gurirab in service of Swapo and the Namibian people shall be cherished forever.
The funeral arrangements are expected to be announced soon.
Vice-President Nangolo Mbumba yesterday said he could not describe the pain he is feeling at Gurirab's death. He described the departed former minister as one of the best diplomat Namibia has ever produced.
Equally, he said Gurirab's international statue was very high and is thus far one of Africa's best diplomats.
"We will continue to mourn him until the President tells us the best way to do that. Only the President has the authority and responsibility to honour, respect or indicate how we as a country and a nation should honour somebody who has contributed so much to the independence of Namibia, development of our government and international contact to the UN," he said.
Mbumba said Gurirab's photo will forever hang in the United Nations building where he served for a full year.
In the Namibian situation, Mbumba described him as the man who initiated the contact between the old South Africa and Namibia to engage on resolving the issue of Walvis Bay.
"He was always a gentleman at all times. He was a clean fighter for his own course. When he spoke about Namibia, he spoke with passion and ready to engage any person about Namibia. He stood for his country," Mbumba noted.
National Assembly Speaker Peter Katjavivi remembered Gurirab, as an icon of democracy and diplomacy, skilled in negotiating with supporters and opponents, well known and highly respected across the world and at the United Nations.
Katjavivi is saddened by the fact that he could not reach out to him during his last moments of life in hospital.
"Dr Gurirab passed away peacefully on Saturday July 14, at 12h30, while sleeping. He went into hospital a few days earlier and was later taken into intensive care. On Saturday at lunchtime, when I heard that my old comrade was getting weaker, I drove to the hospital to see him. Sadly, I arrived just after he had left us, but I was able to pay my respects to him, to his wife Joan, their two sons, and members of the immediate family."
President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Gabriela Cuevas is among international dignitaries to have sent their condolences so far.
Swanu MP Usutuaije Maamberua remembers Gurirab as one of those who made him politically conscious during his time as a student.
He said Gurirab was welcoming, devoted, dedicated to the course and a person who never wavered.
"He was one of those voices that if you listened to, you will be encouraged and strengthened and start to firm up your political belief and conviction. When I went into exile, he continued to be an influence on my political consciousness all the 13 years I spent in exile," said Maamberua.