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DTA ‘Down but Not Out’

Published by Oct 22, 2004

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In the following article, Kuvee Kangueehi of our news team takes a critical look at the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), its pre-independence role and mission up to when it evolved into the new DTA of Namibia. The article is part of our coverage of the upcoming presidential, parliamentary and regional elections.

The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) was the brainchild of Dirk Frederick Mudge and today it could be termed Mudge's stepchild, or orphan since the latter withdrew his party from the alliance in 2003.

The alliance was his idea, he nurtured it, he saw it grow and was at the helm of the tribal alliance when it reached its climax in the 1989 independence election winning 21 seats out of the 72 in the National Assembly.

The DTA was founded on November 5, 1977 and as Mudge put it, at a point, Namibia had to become independent because South Africa could no longer convince the international community that the on-going war between the South African Defence Force and Swapo's People Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan) was justified, with other international elements thrown in.
The United Nations had recognised Swapo as the sole and authentic representative political party in the country and Mudge and those who were groomed as an alternative to Swapo feared that if Namibia became independent at that juncture, there was nothing to stop Swapo from sweeping to victory.

Despite the fact that there were over 30 smaller political parties in the country, there was a need to create a party which would be representative of all Namibians.

Early in 1978, Mudge met with then South African Foreign Affairs Minister Pik Botha and other top ranking officials of the South African government and convinced them that South Africa could no longer hold on to Namibia and a different approach had to be found.

However, Namibia was not only important for South Africa because of its mineral resources but was an important regional pawn, especially with the Soviet Union gaining a foothold in Southern Africa with the independence of Angola and Mozambique.
Both countries had strong links with the east and their independence altered the cold war balance of power in Southern Africa. And with both Swapo and the African National Congress supported by the Soviet Union the 'red danger' was closing in on South Africa. So, something had to be done to deal with the looming threat.

It was evident that over a long period the independence of Namibia would be determined by South Africa?s regional interests in Southern Africa.

During the eighties, South Africa endeavoured to ensure its strategic dominance in Southern Africa. This regional strategy, which included the successful destabilisation of neighboring countries, became part of the South African government's survival politics. Namibia's neighbour Angola was no exception.

As a result of mounting world pressure and international opinion turning against the colonial regime, South Africa started to move towards finding its own solution to the Namibian problem.

So in September 1978, a Constitutional Conference composed of appointed ethnic representatives was convened in the former German 'Turnhalle' building in Windhoek. Turnhalle literally meaning 'Gymnastics Hall' in German. It became known as the 'Turnhalle Conference', proposing an Interim Government and constitution. One of the outcomes of the conference was the formation of a moderate political group, working along ethnic lines and that is when Mudge came up with the idea of forming the DTA.

Mudge was still then a member of the National Party (NP) of South West Africa. He convinced Chief Clemens Kapuuo to join all the other ethnic groups in the country at the Turnhalle conference, through which all the peoples of the country would work out their own future.

Frustration got hold of him when the NP did little to contribute to the conference and was not prepared to follow the avenues for change prepared by the Turnhalle alliance. He then left and formed the Republican Party.

The party took the initiative together with the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) to form the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), which consisted of 11 political parties representing all the different ethnic groups in the country.

At the conference there were 134 delegates from 11 organisations present:

- South West African Labour Party
- Bushman Alliance (BA)
- Caprivi delegation
- Namibia Democratic Turnhalle Party (NDTP, Nama)
- National Democratic Party (NDP, Owambo)
- National Unity Democratic Organization (Nudo, Herero)
- Rehoboth DTA Party (RDTAP), formerly the Rehoboth Baster Association
- Republican Party (Whites)
- Seoposengwe Party (Tswana)
- South West Africa People?s Democratic United Front (SWAP-DUF, Damara)
- National Democratic Unity Party (NDUP, Kavango)
- Christian Democrat Union (CDU, Coloured)

In defiance of Resolution 435, which called for fair and free elections, South Africa organised its own election in Namibia in December 1978. The election, regarded by the progressive forces as South Africa?s attempt for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), was declared null and avoid by the UN and thus not recognised by the international community.

The sham election was won by the DTA but without the participation of Swapo and other internal parties opposed to a UDI.
While South Africa agreed to the Interim Government in Namibia, it retained power over foreign relations, overall economic development and defence and therefore, the whole scheme fell far short of a UDI.

The DTA Interim Government resigned in 1983, and reconstituted itself in a Multi-Party Conference.

It was a non-elected body composed of ethnic-based political parties. The progressive forces of Namibia refused to be part of it. On June 17 1985 the Transitional Government of National Unity was inaugurated, again with the DTA as the dominant force.

It had no legitimacy, and was nothing more than a South African-controlled legislative and executive body. It was dissolved in March 1989 in anticipation of the implementation of Resolution 435 on 1 April.

In the election for a Constituent Assembly in 1989 that was supervised and controlled by the United Nations, the DTA won 21 seats out of 72 and Mudge claims that the DTA played a vital role in writing the much-praised Constitution of the Republic of Namibia.

"This Constitution bears testimony to the DTA's input, if one notes that the majority (Swapo) had a socialist background while the final product is free-market orientated. With the inauguration of the first Government of an independent Namibia on March 21 1990, the DTA became the official opposition."

The DTA was an alliance of 12 parties from its establishment until after independence. The original name of the party was Democratic Turnhalle Alliance. However, after independence, many of the member parties felt that their needs would be better served in an independent Namibia as a single party and the alliance then renamed itself in 1991 as the DTA of Namibia.

During the 1992 regional elections, the DTA won 21 of the 95 constituencies, thus gaining control of three of the 13 regions. It has representation in five other regions. In the National Council, the second House of Parliament, the DTA held seven seats out of 26.

In the December 1994 Presidential and National Assembly elections, the DTA won 15 of the 72 seats, losing six seats. During the 1998 regional elections, it won 15 of the 102 constituencies, thus gaining control over only one region and sharing power in another. It has representation in three other regions. Currently, the DTA holds three of the 26 seats in the National Council.

Since the independence election in 1989, the party's support has been waning and its parliamentary representation sliding downward. However, it has retained the official opposition status even in the second National Assembly following the 1994 elections.

In the 1999 Presidential and National Assembly elections, the DTA won seven of the 72 seats, the same number as the Congress of Democrats, which was formed just before the elections.

The DTA was to lose the official opposition status in the National Assembly, a position it held since the independence election. But, this was not to be as the party jumped into bed with the United Democratic Front (UDF) which had two seats, to secure the official opposition status.

Mudge claimed the waning of its support base over the years was the result of constant in-fighting in the top leadership.
The Caprivi secessionist attack, which is closely linked to former DTA president Mishake Muyongo, also made a serious dent to the reputation of the party leading to it losing substantial support.

The formation of the new political party Congress of Democrats just before the 1999 elections also robbed the DTA of its support base. But the biggest setback for the DTA took place last year when the Republican Party and Nudo, which were founding members and the pillars of the party, pulled out of the alliance in the space of one month.

The Paramount Chief of the Hereros, Kuaima Riruako, who sparked the exodus of the DTA claimed the conditions in the DTA had worsened to such an extent that he had no other option but to remove Nudo in order to save the Hereros from under-development and poor leadership.

Mudge said the drastic action by the Republican Party to sever ties with the alliance was decided at a Reactivation Congress in April 2003. Mudge was elected to its leadership and he resigned from the DTA in August 2003.

The party's mediocre showing in last year?s polls and four regional council by-elections has left critics predicting the beginning of the end of the once mighty alliance, which has served as the official opposition since independence. However the party's secretary general McHenry Venaani is still in an upbeat mood and says, "The DTA is down, but not out... come 2004 presidential and National Assembly elections, there will still be a party called DTA of Namibia."

"We still aim to take over from Swapo," the youthful DTA leader said.

The DTA previously controlled nine town councils throughout the country but it is now left with only one after the May local elections.

In the regional by-elections, the DTA also lost the Aminuis, Okakarara, Omatako and Tsumkwe seats, which it held before Nudo's withdrawal from its fold.

Venaani said during the last two years, the DTA had endured one of the most trying times in its history, with the breakaway of two 'strong' factions; the Republican Party (RP) and the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo).

Despite these setbacks, he said, the party managed to garner more votes than the RP and Nudo in the local authority elections, and "thus one of the realisations that the DTA is not out".

Venaani said competition in this year's local elections was higher compared to 1998 because a number of new political parties and associations entered the fray.

Venaani pointed to the experiences of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the New National Party in South Africa, saying they are clear indications that 'playing double roles of half-government and half-opposition does not work".

Source: New Era