Veteran politician Dirk Mudge, who was one of the founding members of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), was a controversial figure during his political career, but was hailed for his contribution to the establishment of Namibia as an independent and democratic country following his death yesterday.
Mudge died aged 92 in the Mediclinic hospital in Windhoek yesterday morning. According to his eldest son, Henk Mudge, he had a lung infection and died of Covid-19.
The effect of Mudge's political involvement on Namibia's journey to independence is controversial.
Some people have lauded Mudge for bringing about a multi-party political system and multi-ethnic elections, while others see him as having delayed the country's independence and prolonging racial inequality and the suffering of the indigenous population.
In a statement issued yesterday, president Hage Geingob recounted that he came to know Mudge during the drafting of the country's Constitution in 1989.
He described Mudge as a leader who was willing to make compromises in the interest of peace and a new Namibia.
Geingob remarked that Namibia's transition to independence was fraught with risks that could have placed the country's peace in jeopardy. However, with a leader of the calibre of Mudge on the other side, Geingob said, Swapo was able to iron out differences with him and once agreement had been reached, Mudge stood by his word.
"I will remember with fondness a man with a sharp intellect. Dirk Mudge made tangible contributions to nation-building," Geingob said.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani said in a statement yesterday that Mudge played a crucial role in building bridges between white and black people in Namibia. "No white leader in the annals of our nation's history made such a great sacrifice for the democratic, independent and constitutional beacon that Namibia has become," Venaani said.
He added that Mudge was a torchbearer for a free and equal society and would be remembered as one of the leaders who pushed for an end to institutionalised apartheid in Namibia as head of an interim government in 1979, when he moved a motion to repeal legislation that enforced racial discrimination in the country.
Venaani also said Mudge had a rare talent of wits and intellect in arguing a matter and his positions were carefully buttressed with wisdom and principle.
"We had many disagreements as political leaders on the course of the DTA and its future but we found mutual respect for each other's views," Venaani said.
He described Mudge as a hardworking leader and skilful mobiliser. "He had an appetite for living life. I remember him at 82 years driving a Scania truck with cattle and I had to argue how he was overdoing it."
Mudge was born at a farm in the Otjiwarongo area on 16 January 1928.
He started his political career as a member of the apartheid-supporting National Party (NP), but went on to shake up white politics in pre-independence Namibia when he and a group of followers broke away from the NP in 1977 and formed the multi-racial DTA, the forerunner of the PDM.
He served as chairman of the DTA and one of the leaders of South African-supported interim governments in pre-independence Namibia in the late 1970s and during the 1980s, and in that role was a controversial figure who was vehemently opposed by Swapo.
Following the United Nations-supervised elections in 1989, which led to Namibia's independence, Mudge was a DTA member of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted and adopted the country's Constitution, and of Namibia's first National Assembly until he retired in 1993.
He spent most of his retirement at his farm in the Otjiwarongo district, where he farmed with Brahman stud cattle.
Mudge was also the founder of the Afrikaans newspaper Republikein in 1977, and of its publisher, now known as Namibia Media Holdings.
His autobiography was published in Afrikaans in 2015, with an English translation, 'All the way to an independent Namibia', published in 2016.
In December 2016, Mudge received an honorary doctorate in philosophy from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, where he had graduated with a bachelor degree in commerce in 1947.
The university stated: "Mudge was honoured for his ingenious yet humble leadership in service of his country, extraordinary change management abilities, and his role in facilitating independence for Namibia and reconciliation between white and black Africans as a broker of peace and dealer in hope on the continent".