“Goodnight Omes, see you in the morning”

Stanley Nick KATZAO

Imagine you’re getting ready to leave for Swakopmund on 23 December to celebrate the festive season at sea. You’re packed and the family is only waiting on you to take the driver’s seat and hit the road.

It’s around 11h00 in the morning and you get a call and it goes like this:

“Moro Katzao, tae ets ta di?” I replied: “I’m getting ready to go to Swakop uncle, what’s up?”

“Come around before you leave, I’ve something to share with you”, he replied and without further interrogation I said “I’m coming”

My wife didn’t think it’s a joke, but at the same time she had first-hand knowledge of the closeness of our relationship and allowed me to go.

Long story short, within 30 minutes I was at his residence and we started our usual common man’s chat covering topics from life in general, politics, economics, business, football and religion.

We spent the whole day lazing around and chatting, ordering food from an Italian restaurant in town, which I went to pick up. His stories were rich in detail and humour, always flavourful, but sometimes uncomfortably truthful, too honest for my fragile liking.

I left his house at 23h00 that evening, and only because nature called…his energies were sapped out by the long day’s jokes, laughter and natural biological wear and tear and his bed was calling.

I left the following morning for Swakopmund, but only after making a turn at his place to make sure he was OK, this time with my family and the car idling in the driveway to make sure I’m not spending another day there. Not that I would mind…

I had no regret for the 24-hour delay because it was time well-spent.

I must say I had a couple of these type of days with him…Dr. Hage Gottfried Geingob.

I met him for the first time shortly after his arrival from exile in 1989 when I was a young journalist working for The Namibian newspaper. I was there when his plane landed at the then J G Strydom Airport, today proudly renamed as the Hosea Kutako International Airport.

I almost want to say as the ‘first amongst equals’ he had to come to weather the storms and pave the way for the first democratic elections in Namibia that led to Swapo’s historic win.

I can clearly recall the faithful day (for me) when he was seeing off Namibia’s first President, Founding Father Dr. Sam Shafishuna Nujoma at the Eros Airport as he was leaving on an official State visit.

Not knowing the workings of protocol, I waited until the Founding Father’s plane started the runway approach for take off and when it passed the middle of the runway approached Prime Minister Geingob. “Comrade Prime Minister, can you please elaborate on the President’s visit?” I asked. He was laser-focused on the accelerating plane and didn’t even turn his head. I thought he perhaps didn’t hear me and repeated the question, this time moving closer to him. It was there and then that he, still facing the departing plane, only glared into my direction and said: “Get away from here, can’t you see I’m seeing off the President”.

I felt so embarrassed but was still confused as I didn’t know what I did wrong. It’s only after speaking to Ambassador Guibeb later that day that I was informed about the importance and solemnity of that ceremonial act and I realized I messed up…

I might be forgiven to think that this mishap of mine could have prompted him to send a group of selected journalists, amongst whom I was one, to Kenya to familiarise themselves with the workings of media in an independent nation state.

I was later assigned to State House as a senior reporter and had many, many interactions and trips with him as we criss-crossed the globe on official State business. These were the formative years when Namibia needed to cement its international relations as a sovereign Nation-State with the rest of the world.

Many moons later, our paths crossed again, this time with me as a business executive and him returning from the USA after a couple of years of self-impose exile or ‘constructive banishment’.

This time our relationship became more personal and closer. It was myself, Desmond Amunyela and Lazarus Jacobs who formed the troika of friends and we did what true friends do… Have each others’ backs…

We arranged a wonderful birthday function for him in 2006 that coincided with the launch of his book and the academic defence of his PhD Thesis. When he asked me to deliver the critic on his thesis, I first hesitated and ignored him, just to be reminded the next day that it was a sincere and serious request.

In a week’s time I had to read through a 300+ page PhD thesis in which he meticulously recounted the formation of the Namibian State, and condense it in an academically and intellectually acceptable critic of less than 7 pages. This was presented in front of an esteem audience consisting of both Presidents, academics, both local and international, and the who’s who of Namibia.

Everything went well and he jokingly said after the event: “how is it that your critic is so much more better than the thesis itself”. I accepted it as his way of saying thank you and showing his appreciation for what we did. It was priceless.

Later that year, during President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s tenure, we went together on an official State visit to Malaysia, Singapore and China. We were part of the business delegation and spent the whole 10 days together.

After the official program in Beijing we decided to stopover in Shanghai for a couple of days before returning to Namibia.

It was there, in a restaurant on the 85th floor of the Shanghai Grand Hyatt, whilst marvelling the mighty Yangtze river’s estuary as it’s 6,300 kilometre journey from the Chinese highlands culminates, that I saw the unfolding of a big dreamer, an indefatigable defender of social justice, a gifted political tactician and an incredible Statesman in the making.

He laid out his vision for this nation and I listened attentively to how he plan to craft it into reality.

I could see the burning desire in his eyes to see a fair and equitable Namibia, a country where race, tribe, ethnicity, religion and class should not determine who ascent economically or makes it to the top in any other sphere of life.

The creative tension at that juncture must have been enormous, because he had to continuously reconcile the gap between his big dreams and his current reality. However, I had no doubts that his liberation struggle credentials as well as his track record as our first Prime Minister would counterweight these structural tensions.

Mind you, he was a mere backbencher in Parliament at that point in time and not even a member of cabinet. Yet, I knew and he knew too, that he was not far from the centre of power, despite the political fallouts a few years prior. After all, he was the chief architect of Namibia’s groundbreaking constitution, a position that required him to constantly be a dealmaker for parties with competing and contradictory interests.

I guess what I’m trying to say in a long-winded way is that his proximity to the upper echelons of power was not determined by his position as back-bencher, but by his legacy.

When I look back at that conversation, I can now see, in hindsight, that he was in fact crafting the conceptual framework of his Namibian house already then.

Equality was not only a hollow construct to him. The BIG initiative, which is basically a broad-based social safety net, and upon whose bedrock the Ministry of Poverty Eradication was established when he became President, was a direct outworking of his world-view of inclusivity and social justice.

Concepts such as “peace is boring”, “transparency and accountability equals trust” and “no-one should be left out”, which became pivotal policy orientations of his government, are his true hallmarks that those close to him were already accustomed to long before he became Head of State.

And when he occasionally alerted us that peace is boring he was warning us not to mistake the peace that Namibia is experiencing with boredom, because the alternative can be disastrous.

Some people mistakenly view him as a fiery person, particularly if and when he puts up that characteristically frown face. If they just knew that that was all a mask, a defence mechanism to protect his very soft and caring underbelly.

I experienced that first hand when I run into legal trouble with Trustco. As much as I would have wanted him to help, I was fully aware that, as the chief architect of the country’s corruption legislation, he wanted the systems, processes, and institutions to run its due course. …and indeed, it did. The rest is history and public knowledge.

One of President Nelson Mandela’s most famous quotes was: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we led”

In the context of this nation, I have no doubt that Hage Gottfried Geingob will be counted amongst those selected ones to whom this quote applies.

No amount of writing will do justice to the life of this giant and I can only conclude my selected reflections by joining his beloved wife, children, relatives and the Namibian nation at large in saying “Goodnight Omes, see you in the morning”

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