...an insight into the rise of Frans Kapofi
...still harbours hope for higher office
...blasts 'Helmuth amendments'
At independence, a tough assignment lay in wait for 37-year-old Frans Kapofi.
“There was no defence. We had to start from scratch and unite foes,” Kapofi reminisced in an exclusive interview with New Era yesterday. As permanent secretary (PS) in the just-established defence ministry, Kapofi had to unite antagonists, fresh from a protracted armed struggle that saw many lives lost at the back of an
ugly history – still vivid in the memories of most.
Founding President Sam Nujoma’s mandate to Kapofi was clear: create a national army. “Also remember, not everyone caught in the crossfire was innocent,” Kapofi said during the interview at his sprawling Windhoek residence in the affluent
But in war, there will always be casualties.
This meant a non-racial defence force that would see the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan) – Swapo’s military wing – and the then South West Africa Defence Force (Swatf and Koevoet) – united to form one army that would defend Namibia.
Kapofi executed the task with diligence.
Five years later, Nujoma would give him a similar assignment – only this time as PS for correctional services.
Here, his assignment was to ensure that correctional services become food self-reliant.
At first, this felt like a demotion for a man who had served in senior military and political roles during the years of exile.
“I also felt like I was doing a great job at defence. But in Swapo, we take instructions of our leaders. We don’t question assignments,” he added.
He served in the portfolio until 1999.
Years later, Kapofi would become one of the most trusted lieutenants within the government circles.
He has closely worked with all three of Namibia’s heads of state.
In 1999, Nujoma – while on the verge of securing his third term in office – appointed Kapofi as secretary to Cabinet.
Kapofi would go on to occupy this position during the decade of former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s decade rule.
When Hage Geingob ascended to the highest position in the land, again Kapofi was called to become the minister of presidential affairs, a position he held for three years before his redeployment to the ministry of home affairs.
When defence minister Peter Vilho resigned, following an avalanche of corruption allegations, Geingob again turned to Kapofi as one of his trusted comrades to head the sensitive ministry.
Analysts at the time said Kapofi was considered a safe pair of hands.
It is a position he occupies to this day.
As Swapo heads for internal elections, Kapofi is seen as a link between the fading Swapo Tanganyika group [senior members who participated in the liberation struggle] and the younger generation.
Swapo is a broad church of political pioneers, hardened freedom fighters and academics who have never carried a gun and those born from the late 1970s – to whom liberation struggle credentials matter very little, if at all.
Talk in the corridors is that Kapofi is hard at work, canvassing for support.
Even at this late hour, while nominations have started and with the so-called “Helmuth amendments” firmly against his possible candidacy, he is touted as one of the contenders for the position of party vice president.
Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and incumbent Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah are the only candidates for the position so far.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila’s candidacy, which is subject to the central committee’s blessing, was sanctioned by the politburo on Monday during the first round of nominations.
Nandi-Ndaitwah, on the other hand, needed no nomination by virtue of incumbency. The highly-anticipated Swapo elective congress will likely see another showdown between incumbent secretary general (SG) Sophia Shaningwa and ambitious Oshikoto ruling party coordinator Armas Amukwiyu.
Meanwhile, the politburo also nominated parliamentarians Lucia Witbooi and Evelyn Nawases-Tayele as well as Swapo’s coordinator for Kavango West David Hamutenya for the position of deputy SG.
Despite having served in various positions, pre- and post-independence, Kapofi’s credentials matter less in the face of what is known as the “Helmut amendments”, clauses in the Swapo constitution that require aspirants for top four positions to have served 10 “persistent and consistent” years in the central committee to qualify.
“I have been a member of Swapo for more than half of my life. I have done so many things to advance the course of Swapo but I have not been there. That is not necessarily because I did not want but just because of the nature of what I was doing,” he said.
“I was a civil servant. As a civil servant, you cannot be a member of the central committee of a political party. How else would I have become a member of the central committee?”
He, however, is adamant that the draconian laws, which discriminate against certain cadres of the party, must be challenged to level the playing field.
“Normally, the law is not applied retroactively. I don’t know whether you should have been persistently and consistently [a member of the CC before or after]. It must have started from where that amendment was made. A law takes effect from the day it was passed,” he explained.
The amendments were made in 2018.
“You don’t want to make and use rules to preclude other people who can potentially provide valuable service to the party,” he said in protest.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that when you are in the central committee it is only then that you are capable of doing anything for the country on behalf of Swapo. No! But it is important [to be in the CC] because it is a decision-making body. But it should not be the yardstick.”
He will, however, only stand for a position if nominated by popular demand.
Kapofi does not understand why he should stand in “the way of the people if they want him”.
The ardent chess player admitted to having held talks with senior members of the party over his potential candidacy.
In the public space, Kapofi has always played his technocratic duties to the tee, steering clear of controversies while also leaving little tracts in the media behind. Younger colleagues and subordinates said Kapofi is extremely fit. He can be on his two feet for the whole day. He keeps fit by taking early morning walks.
Born 25 January 1953 at Onaame in the Ohangwena region, Kapofi had nine siblings: six boys and two girls.
He attended his primary schools at Okatope, a nearby village.
There was a parish at Okatope, which meant they were indoctrinated into the Christianity belief.
Back home, Kapofi and his siblings grew up herding cattle, pounding mahangu, and fetching water and firewood. He still has a serious love for cattle farming.
His comrades and colleagues describe him as extremly hardworking: “he hardly rests”, they said. “We were trained to do everything. We would take turns. If you go to school for two days, you would skip a day and then the next person goes to school while you attend to the cattle… I can cook for myself. I can brew oshikundu,” he said.
His childhood friends include the late Heiki Ndove and Frans Haufiku.
Those ties bind.
“We shared everything… up to this day, I am in touch with Heiki’s kids. They are like my own children,” he said.
Kapofi, who is described by those close to him as a people person, would attend school at Engela, where he was first introduced to ambag skool [vocational school].
“But I thought I am a gentleman and can’t attend ambag skool. A year later, I regretted it because the other guys were already making nice things, such as tables, and buying bicycles. That’s where the money was,” the politician said.
Kapofi’s next stop was Ongwediva in 1974, where he was baptised – politically.
His initial aim was to continue with the academic journey.
He was in form one.
Here, Radio Tanzania and Radio Zambia radicalised the oppressed through political news and education.
“That was the time when the politics was becoming real, especially through political activities in Angola,” he recalls.
That year, Kapofi went for the September holidays with impressive marks.
Back home, at Onaame, there was a South African military base and soldiers who used to wreak havoc among the locals through shootings and other intimidatory tactics.
In retaliation, Kapofi and others would burn kraals and destroy crop fields of those believed to be conspiring with the enemy.
He would, however, never return to school.
However, Kapofi reads.
“When he starts a book, no matter how voluminous, he will finish it in a few days,” said a colleague.
“From a distance, people may not know but he is very charismatic; he is easy to like or love,” the source said.
“We realised that this country [Angola] is free. School is nothing if your country is not free. We must first free our country,” he said this was their understanding before crossing over to neighbouring Angola in 1975, where Swapo has established military and refugee basis.
Kapofi left Namibia in 1975 to join the liberation struggle with five others.
Their first stop was at Ondjiva in southern Angola, where they were received by David Shimwenyo.
Kafofi’s tenacity to continue beyond Ondjiva was fortified by a message by Uno Kanana Shaanika, a trained guerrilla fighter, who hospitalised: “We are freedom fighters. A freedom fighter must just find a way of surviving”.
Throughout the years in exile, Kapofi received various military training courses in Angola, Libya, Zambia and Russia.
“That day, we did not have classes,” he recalled.
Soon after, they boarded back to Angola.
His first encounter with Nujoma was in 1980 at Nyango.
He received a scarf from Nujoma, which he guarded jealously.
“Getting something that from the president? It was a big thing. It slept next to me. I always kept it. It got lost in the process maybe,” he said.
A month later, Nujoma appointed him as a director of health and education at the centre.
While in exile, Kapofi assumed important positions, such as chief of staff, political commissar and director of health and education at various Swapo camps.
As chief of staff, his responsibility was to ensure safety and respond swiftly in the event of an attack.
When apartheid South Africa’s bombs descended on Cassinga in 1978 like bees on honey, Kapofi and 300 others were in Libya, receiving training.
Kapofi goes by the combat name ‘Amin’, named after Idi Amin, the Ugandan leader who opposed colonial oppression in Africa while also earning criticism over his reign of terror.
One of the dark clouds hanging over his head is the liquidation of the SME Bank.
He is one of the directors being sued to pay back their directorship fees for the back that collapse under their watch.
Kapofi and five other former SME Bank board directors stand accused of recklessness for allowing Zimbabwean national Enock Kamushinda free rein to steal N$247 million from the bank.
Kapofi regretted the bank’s closure, saying it was established to genuinely uplift small businesses.
Seemingly not taking blame for the bank’s eventual collapse, Kapofi, when he left, the bank was operational.
At all material times, he said, those running the day-to-day activities of the bank presented documents that gave an impression that everything was beyond reproach.
“We worked with bad people,” he said, pointing fingers at the Zimbabwean partners.