It’s time to clean up dirty politics

‘Swakopmund son of the soil, journalist and activist Jade McClune recently announced his entry into Namibian politics after he was nominated as one of the Landless People’s Movement’s candidates to run for a seat on the Swakopmund Municipal Council,’ writes Adam Hartmann in The Namibian today.

Below is a transcript of the full interview with Adam Hartman of The Namibian on 26 October.

Yes, I was nominated by Swakopmund LPM to stand as a candidate and after the vetting process to check my qualifications and background, the party confirmed me as an eligible candidate. As a journalist I’ve been covering issues at the coast for some 20 years, but there comes a time when you’ve researched and written as much as you can about a problem — like the shack fires and the destitute children — that it’s no longer enough to write about it.

I know the problem and I have to do something about it. So I feel I have a responsibility towards the children, especially, to do something about the dreadful situation we are in after 30 years of Swapo misrule and abuse of our resources. That is why I decided to step up. Unlike my opponents, at least I have a plan for how to get out the economic ditch Swapo put us in.

I share the LPM’s view that the land and its resources in principle belong to the Namibian people. Our historical task is to restore to the people what belongs to them. I also support the idea of restorative justice and social equality. That said, there’s a lot of excitement about LPM, because people are hungry for truth and justice, and they’re looking to LPM for real leadership. That’s really why I joined LPM, because I have high regard for the truth and I love my community enough to fight for them. I believe in equality and social justice for all, regardless of race or colour. That’s why I joined LPM.

To be fair, the needs of the people on the ground are far more important than my personal ambitions, so I would like to spend a number of years, if I can, resolving the most urgent problems we face in terms of overcoming the jobs crisis, the lack of basic services, lack of housing and land, which are at the root causes of poverty. If we can fundamentally alter and improve the economic situation of the residents and gear our city towards economic recovery, then I would feel a sense of achievement.

I also don’t crave high positions for the sake of it. I’m a down-to-earth guy and the reason I’m running is to ensure Swakopmunders have access to land, jobs and the services they need to live well. By successfully implementing our reforms at local level we’d set a good example for the rest of the country. That is the kind of leadership I hope to offer by pointing the way forward, not to fight for positions.

We have a detailed manifesto setting out our broad aims. To summarise, I’d say that we’re trying to bring about an economic recovery through focused investment in job creation in food production, land servicing, house-building, renewable energy, and the extension of basic services. Swakopmund LPM also intends to write off the water debts of the poor if we win a majority mandate from the public to do so.

We will work in the medium term to have government restore water subsidies and to implement a basic free quota of water for every household, meaning people would only pay for water once they use more than the free quota. This is a very important part of our plan to improve public health and reduce household costs. In general, I’d like to see our town on a path towards a green economic recovery.

In 2004 I wrote a book about the water crisis in Namibia, following which I helped launch the largest lawsuit in history against the Swapo government for cutting off poor people’s water supply.

Earlier this year I again led a campaign and petitioned the government to restore the water supply to those who were cut off over debt. The government complied by mid-March and ordered that the water supply be restored to all households. For me personally that was a great relief.

In 2015, I led the campaign to double the old age pension from N$600. In March 2015, Cabinet agreed to our demand and shortly after raised the pension to N$1,200. That put a lot of smiles on the faces of the grannies and their grandkids, so I was also happy to see the relief in their eyes.

In 2010, I led the campaign against Nampower’s plan to raise electricity tariffs by 35%. Although I was abroad at the time and very ill, I thought of the people who would suffer. I petitioned, I lobbied, I organised demonstrations from my sickbed, and before long the government scrapped the planned 35% price hike. As a result of that stubborn fight, every single household in this country benefited in terms of savings from my efforts to defend the poor.

People believe that “politics is a dirty game”, and there’s some truth in that. People have been lied to so many times, they are skeptical and think every politician is a liar, or in it for self-enrichment. This is understandable. For me, politics is about public policy, and we need good people to formulate and implement good policies. If politics is as dirty as we know it to be, I’ve long considered myself a cleaner. So I’m the man for the job. That is my role in politics: to clean it up.

I grew up in front of this community. And like most Swakopmunders I was also a beach-bum as a teenager and spent too much time chasing fleeting pleasures, as we all do, but when we grow up and realise what is at stake we have to put our childish ways aside. So, I’m glad I could grow up here, make my mistakes and move on to become a useful member of society. I own all my mistakes and my scars with a measure of pride. They’re a part of my experience. Many Swakopmunders know that I have long studied and worked to address our problems, that I did not give up my principles for positions, or dirty my hands with corrupt deals. My record is clean and the plan we put to the people is a good sensible offer to relieve hardship in the household.

In the aftermath of Independence in 1990 there was a real coming together of people from different racial backgrounds. We wanted to cross ethnic boundaries, to know each other, to hang out together and build the country together. But after 30 years of Swapo misrule and its ethnic overtones, the country is more divided than ever. People are withdrawing into ethnic silos, into racial laagers to protect their interests. Some politicians want to capitalise on these divisions. They openly play the tribal or race card to shore up voter support. But I always thought the “ethnic entrepreneurs” to be a dangerous lot. That’s why in LPM we’re fighting for unity and solidarity across colour and racial lines at all times.

It is seems to be born out of frustration with the ruling party, but is likely to play into the hands of Swapo by splitting opposition votes into many small portions. So if I were in Swapo, I’d be encouraging as many independents as possible to enter the race and fracture the opposition.

I generally don’t support the independent candidate tactic because I believe politicians must be held accountable by the people they claim to represent. In LPM we have a manifesto commitment that any councilor who does not adhere to the plan of service delivery, or who engages in corrupt acts can be recalled by the party members on a vote of no-confidence. Politicians must be held to account at all times, and our party structure allows for that. But who will call the so-called independents to order?

I’m a single father of two. I’m a researcher, policy analyst and journalist by profession, but by entering into this political fight, like David against Goliath, I had to forego my old job and face up to the new tasks. If I am elected, I will be able to work for my community on a full-time basis.

If you believe in something, you will have to make some sacrifices. As community activists, we sometimes we have to forego friends and family who turn their backs on us, because we’ve given up the blind pursuit of money and personal riches in order to pursue our dream of social equality.

What I want is to see is that children and the elderly are well cared for and provided for. I want to see that people have decent jobs and homes. What I want is full equality among black, brown and white people. I want people to live in respect and with dignity. I want that poverty be consigned to the dustbin. I want that there be high standards of integrity in public life. I want us to stand together to defend our country and the future.

This is our fight and we can win. It’s now or never.

A short version of this interview was published in The Namibian on 28 Oct.

Writer, reporter, activist