National icons must not be used to prop up the speeches of politicians who have no skill at oratory and little idea of how to make a strong verbal argument. Doreen Sioka, a Swapo MP, this week used excerpts from the book written by Founding President Sam Nujoma. She was making her party’s points in Parliament. By doing this, she exposed the founding leader to rebuttal. She used the great man as her shield.

Subsequently, the ‘Nujoma’ shield was hit with incoming spears from an instigated opposition. People will not genuflect and capitulate when they hear the name Nujoma. The clap back in Parliament was directed at Nujoma’s name because it had been used as a weapon of attack against the opposition.

We do not support the rough words used by LPM Leaders Bernadus Swartbooi and Henny Seibeb referring to the Founding President. However, we review this parliamentary encounter from another angle. Why the great man’s name was dragged into the spotlight in the first place and who threw him into the arena?

The reality is that Sioka invoked Nujoma’s name. Had she not done that, then the blistering negation from Swartbooi and Seibeb would have been directed at her. She would have the right to defend herself. But instead, she used the ‘Nujoma’ shield and he paid the price for her.

The solution is for certain segments of the SWAPO party to stop using Nujoma as their ‘cover’ when their political arguments are weak. Stop hiding behind Fortress Nujoma. They must make their own victories or Waterloos.

There are those like Sioka who gained positions and political status by serving President Sam Nujoma and his goals. Back in those days, he anointed those who climbed the ladder of achievement in Swapo and in government. Loyalty was the main criteria needed.

Times have changed.

There is a new normal for debate in the Parliament. Many, like Sioka haven’t realized it yet. Skills, capacity, tenacity, reading/study and talent are also required for MPs. Swartbooi and Seibeb have struck the gong of change ever since they were sworn in. But, those who are clinging to the old normal choose to have earplugs in. Others will soon use the new normal to shout about their party’s point of view too.

Using Nujoma to speak on behalf of one party’s points, de-legitimizes him as a historical, iconic, national leader. In these very tough times of economic collapse and a global pandemic, the strength of Nujoma is needed as a point of inspiration. Instead, he is being co-opted by a small segment within the ruling party and diminished.

Those who place Nujoma in positions of going to Walvis Bay during elections and saying, “Don’t vote for puppet parties,” are placing him in the line of fire. How do you think those who are called ‘puppets’ should react? If you place Nujoma in political harm’s way, he becomes a legitimate target. He is exposed.

During the national debate on ancestral land in the 2018 Land Conference, speeches were written for the Founding Leader that stated his opposition. Former President Pohamba made similar statements in his speech. There are active, committed constituents who have invested high levels of emotional and political capital for decades fighting to secure their ancestral land rights. The Founding Leader has not lost any ancestral land and yet, he made a speech that damaged the efforts of those who have. This tended to challenge his recognition as the emeritus leader for differing segments of Namibian society. He must not be dragged into such political mudwrestling; he must remain above it.

Those who whip out the name of President Sam Nujoma to use as a cudgel against the opposition or to ‘shut down’ issues, de-legitimize him.

On the issue of phosphates, for example, speeches were written for him to join that debate as well. Whether or not one supports phosphate mining and has concerns about the resulting environmental damage, the use of Nujoma dragged him into back-and-forth political fights.

The biggest takeaway from the clash on the floor of the Parliament this week is that Swapo is making weak political points. They are relying on old sloganeering rather than preparing for responsive political jousting, solid statistical research, euphemistic banter and clever wordplay. In the new normal, Swapo parliamentarians must up their game.

In previous Parliaments where SWAPO had a supermajority, ruling party speakers were preaching to the choir. They were not speaking to the nation or to the opposition, they were speaking to each other. Those days are over. Swartbooi and Seibeb have made that point.

The best way to avoid a repeat of this week’s harsh words directed at ‘Nujoma’ is for all involved to stop using that name as a part of their political arguments and activities. The Founding President does not belong only to Swapo, he belongs to Namibia.