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South West Africa People's Organisation
  • Suidwes-Afrikaanse Volks Organisasie (Afrikaans)
  • Südwestafrikanische Volksorganisation (German)
PresidentHage Geingob
Vice PresidentNetumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah
Secretary-GeneralSophia Shaningwa
Vice Secretary-GeneralNangolo Mbumba
FoundersAndimba Toivo ya Toivo
Sam Nujoma
Jacob Kuhangua
Louis Nelengani
Lucas Nepela
Founded19 April 1960; 63 years ago (1960-04-19)
Preceded byOvamboland People's Organization (OPO)
HeadquartersErf 2464
Hans-Dietrich Genscher Street
Khomas Region
NewspaperNamibia Today (1960–2015)
Youth wingSWAPO Party Youth League
Paramilitary wingPeople's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN)
IdeologySince 2017:
Socialism with Namibian characteristics[1][2][3]
Social democracy[4][5]
Political positionCentre-left to left-wing
International affiliationSocialist International
African affiliationFormer Liberation Movements of Southern Africa
Colours  Red (primary)
    Blue, Green (customary)
Seats in the National Assembly
63 / 96
Seats in the National Council
28 / 42
Regional Councillors
88 / 121
Local Councillors
277 / 378
Pan-African Parliament
4 / 5
Party flag

The South West Africa People's Organisation (/ˈswɑːp/, SWAPO; Afrikaans: Suidwes-Afrikaanse Volks Organisasie, SWAVO; German: Südwestafrikanische Volksorganisation, SWAVO), officially known as the SWAPO Party of Namibia, is a political party and former independence movement in Namibia. Founded in 1960, it has been the governing party in Namibia since the country achieved independence in 1990. The party continues to be dominated in number and influence by the Ovambo ethnic group.

SWAPO held a two-thirds majority in parliament from 1994 to 2019. In the general election held in November 2019, the party won 65.5% of the popular vote and 63 out of the 104 seats in the National Assembly. It also holds 28 out of the 42 seats in the National Council. As of November 2017, Namibian President Hage Geingob has been the president of SWAPO after being elected to the position at the party's electoral congress.[9]


Background and foundation[edit]

German South West Africa was established in 1884. After World War I, the League of Nations gave South West Africa, formerly a German colony, to the United Kingdom as a mandate under the administration of South Africa.[10] When the National Party won the 1948 election in South Africa and subsequently introduced apartheid legislation,[11] these laws were applied as well to South West Africa. It was considered the de facto fifth province of South Africa.[12]

SWAPO was founded on 19 April 1960 as the successor of the Ovamboland People's Organization. Leaders renamed the party to show that it represented all Namibians. But, the organisation had its base among the Ovambo people of northern Namibia, who constituted nearly half the total population.[13]

Struggle for independence[edit]

During 1962, SWAPO had emerged as the dominant nationalist organisation for the Namibian people. It co-opted other groups such as the South West Africa National Union (SWANU), and later in 1976 the Namibia African People's Democratic Organisation.[14] SWAPO used guerrilla tactics to fight the South African Defence Force. On 26 August 1966, the first major clash of the conflict took place, when a unit of the South African Police, supported by the South African Air Force, exchanged fire with SWAPO forces. This date is generally regarded as the start of what became known in South Africa as the Border War.

One important factor in the fight for independence was the 1971-72 Namibian contract workers strike, which fought for the elimination of the contract labor system and independence from South Africa. An underlying goal was the promotion of independence under SWAPO leadership.[15][16]

In 1972, the United Nations General Assembly recognised SWAPO as the 'sole legitimate representative' of Namibia's people.[17] The Norwegian government began giving aid directly to SWAPO in 1974.[18]

The country of Angola gained its independence on 11 November 1975 following its war for independence. The leftist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union, came to power. In March 1976, the MPLA offered SWAPO bases in Angola for launching attacks against the South African military.

Independent Namibia[edit]

When Namibia gained its independence in 1990, SWAPO became the dominant political party. Though the organisation rejected the term South West Africa and preferred to use Namibia, the organisation's original name—derived from the territory's old name—was too deeply rooted in the independence movement to be changed. However, the original full name is no longer used; only the acronym remains.[13] SWAPO, and with it much of Namibia's government and administration, continues to be dominated by the Ovambo ethnic group, despite "considerable efforts to counter [that] perception".[19]

SWAPO president Sam Nujoma was declared Namibia's first President after SWAPO won the inaugural election in 1989. A decade later, Nujoma had the constitution changed so he could run for a third term in 1999, as it limits the presidency to two terms.

In 2004, the SWAPO presidential candidate was Hifikepunye Pohamba, described as Nujoma's hand-picked successor.[20][21] In 2014, the SWAPO presidential candidate was Hage Geingob, who was the vice-president of SWAPO. In 2019 presidential election, president Geingob won his second five-year term as Namibian president.[22]

SWAPO election campaign vehicle


SWAPO was founded with the aim of attaining the independence of Namibia and therefore is part of the African nationalist movement. Pre-independence it harboured a socialist,[4] Marxist–Leninist[8] ideology, a thinking that was not immediately abandoned when independence was achieved in 1990 and SWAPO became the ruling party.[23] Officially, however, it adopted a social democratic ideology, until the electoral congress in 2017 approved the official change to socialism with a "Namibian character",[3] although some Namibians have labeled the change as lacking a "grass-roots [socialist]" nature.[24]

Various commentators have characterised the politics of SWAPO in different ways. Gerhard Tötemeyer, himself a party member, considers its post-independence politics neoliberal and social democratic.[4] Henny Seibeb, an opposition politician from the Landless People's Movement, describes the current party ideology as liberal nationalism with traces of "dogmatism, authoritarianism, and statism".[25]


The party president is the top position of SWAPO; in 2012 this was held by Namibia's former president Pohamba. The vice-president is Namibia's current president Hage Geingob, who was elected to that position in 2007 and reconfirmed at the SWAPO congress in December 2012. The third highest position in SWAPO is the secretary-general, a position held in December 2012 by Nangolo Mbumba. Number four is the deputy secretary-general, Omaheke governor Laura McLeod-Katjirua.[26]

Like many socialist and communist parties, SWAPO is governed by a politburo and a central committee. The party leadership is advised by a youth league, a women's council, and an elders' council.


The politburo of SWAPO is a body that currently consists of:[27]

Central Committee[edit]

Typical SWAPO sticker on Namibian vehicle

SWAPO's Central Committee consists of:

  • The president
  • The vice-president
  • The secretary-general
  • The deputy secretary-general
  • The founding president of SWAPO as a permanent member
  • 13 SWAPO Party regional coordinators
  • 54 members elected at the party congress
  • 10 members appointed by the party president

The current members are:[29][30]

  • Hage Geingob (ex officio, SWAPO President)
  • Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah (ex officio, SWAPO Vice-president)
  • Sophia Shaningwa (ex officio, SWAPO Secretary-General)
  • Marco Hausiku (ex officio, SWAPO Deputy Secretary-General)
  • Sam Nujoma (ex officio SWAPO founding President)
  • Hifikepunye Pohamba (ex officio SWAPO former president)

Elected members:

President-appointed members (2017):[27]

  • Calle Schlettwein
  • Erkki Nghimtina
  • Penda Ya Ndokolo
  • Christina Hoebes
  • Jennely Matundu
  • Collien van Wyk

List of presidents[edit]

Finances and business interests[edit]

Although SWAPO receives finances from government for its operations, the party also holds extensive business interests. Through Kalahari Holdings, it entered into joint ventures with several companies, most prominently the Namibian branch of MultiChoice, a private satellite TV provider, of which it owns 51%. Kalahari Holdings has further joint ventures with Radio Energy, Africa Online, and businesses in the tourism, farming, security services and health insurance sectors. It owns Namib Contract Haulage, Namprint, Kudu Investments and the Ndilimani Cultural Troupe.[31][32]

Namibia Today was the mouthpiece of the SWAPO,[33] and Asser Ntinda was its editor. The paper does not appear to have been active since 7 April 2011[34] and closed down in 2015.[35]

Human rights abuses[edit]

Various groups have claimed that SWAPO committed serious human rights abuses against suspected spies during the independence struggle. Since the early 21st century, they have pressed the government more strongly on this issue. Breaking the Wall of Silence (BWS) is one of the groups founded by people who were detained by SWAPO during the war and abused during interrogations.[36][37] In 2004, BWS alleged that "In exile, hundreds of SWAPO dependants and members were detained, tortured and killed without trial."[38] SWAPO denies serious infractions and claims anything that did happen was in the name of liberation. Because of a series of successful South African raids, the SWAPO leadership believed that spies existed in the movement. Hundreds of SWAPO cadres were imprisoned, tortured and interrogated.[39]

In 2005, the P.E.A.C.E. Centre (People's Education, Assistance and Counselling for Empowerment) conducted an extensive study on the lives of Namibian ex-fighters and their families fifteen years after Independence. Their published ebook investigates the post-independence lives of those who fought on both sides of the Namibian War of Independence. Data from this research indicate that ex-fighters still exhibit symptoms of long-term post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The findings indicate there is a correlation between the life circumstances of ex-fighters and their lack of resilience to traumatic war experiences. Resiliency has been linked to a number of protective factors, such as the socio-economic situation of the survivors, their socio-political environment, their social support networks, and their cognitive processes.[40]

The study says that, in the case of Namibian ex-fighters, long-term psychological distress is different from a simple PTSD diagnosis. The survivors have almost invariably gone for nearly two decades without seeking treatment, adding to their burdens. During this time, the ex-fighters have been exposed to additional social and psychological stressors through life events. For a person without PTSD, such stressors may have fleeting effects, but for a sufferer of long-term psychological distress, each life incident could reduce the survivor's resilience to trauma, as well as triggering "flashbacks" to events during the war.[40]


SWAPO is a full member of Socialist International.[41] It was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement before the independence of Namibia in 1990.[42]

Electoral history[edit]

Presidential elections[edit]

Election Party candidate Votes % Result
1994 Sam Nujoma 370,452 76.34% Elected Green tickY
1999 414,096 76.82% Elected Green tickY
2004 Hifikepunye Pohamba 625,605 76.45% Elected Green tickY
2009 611,241 75.25% Elected Green tickY
2014 Hage Geingob 772,528 86.73% Elected Green tickY
2019 464,703 56.3% Elected Green tickY

National Assembly elections[edit]

Election Party leader Votes % Seats +/– Position Result
1989 Sam Nujoma 384,567 57.33%
41 / 72
Increase 41 Increase 1st Majority government
1994 370,452 76.34%
53 / 72
Increase 12 Steady 1st Supermajority government
1999 414,096 76.82%
55 / 78
Increase 2 Steady 1st Supermajority government
2004 625,605 76.44%
55 / 78
Steady Steady 1st Supermajority government
2009 Hifikepunye Pohamba 611,241 75.25%
54 / 72
Decrease 1 Steady 1st Supermajority government
2014 785,671 86.73%
77 / 96
Increase 23 Steady 1st Supermajority government
2019 Hage Geingob 536,861 65.45%
63 / 96
Decrease 14 Steady 1st Majority government

National Council elections[edit]

Election Seats +/– Position Result
19 / 26
Increase 19 Increase 1st Governing supermajority
21 / 26
Increase 2 Steady 1st Governing supermajority
24 / 26
Increase 3 Steady 1st Governing supermajority
24 / 26
Steady Steady 1st Governing supermajority
40 / 42
Increase 16 Steady 1st Governing supermajority
28 / 42
Decrease 12 Steady 1st Governing supermajority

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Socialism with Namibian characteristics". Namibian Sun. 17 January 2019. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  2. ^ "Will Swapo's Socialism Come to 'Mixed Economy' Namibia?". The Namibian. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b Iileka, Sakeus (9 November 2017). "Politburo approves sweeping changes". The Namibian. p. 1. Archived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Tötemeyer, Gerhard (December 2007). "The Management of a Dominant Political Party system with particular reference to Namibia" (PDF). Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. p. 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 February 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  5. ^ Dauth, Timothy (17 January 1995). "From Liberation Organisations to Ruling Parties: The ANC and SWAPO in Transition". NamNet Digest, Vol. 95, no. 3. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  6. ^ Seibeb, Henny (12 May 2017). "Social Movements, Party Politics And Democracy In Namibia". The Namibian. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  7. ^ Zollmann, Jakob (2021). Socialismes en Afrique. 54. Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme. pp. 593–612. ISBN 9782735126996.
  8. ^ a b Soiri, Iina (May 1996). The Radical Motherhood: Namibian Women's Independence Struggle. Nordiska Afrikainstitutet Research Report, No 99. Nordic Africa Institute. ISBN 9789171063809.
  9. ^ "Namibia's President Geingob elected leader of ruling SWAPO party". Africanews. n.d.
  10. ^ Eerikäinen, Marjo (14 July 2008). "The South Africa Mandate 1915–1989". Vantaa. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
  11. ^ "Formation of the South African Republic". South Africa History Online. Archived from the original on 16 August 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  12. ^ "Namibia: Apartheid, resistance and repression (1945–1966)". Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa. August 2009. Archived from the original on 20 April 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  13. ^ a b Matundu-Tjiparuro, Kae (19 April 2010). "The founder of Swapo". New Era.
  14. ^ Katjavivi, Peter H. (1988). A History of Resistance in Namibia. Currey. p. 99. ISBN 0-86543-144-2 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "Ovambo migrant workers general strike for rights, Namibia, 1971-72 | Global Nonviolent Action Database". nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  16. ^ Rogers, Barbara (1972). "Namibia's General Strike". Africa Today. 19 (2): 3–8. ISSN 0001-9887. JSTOR 4185227.
  17. ^ "Country Profiles – Timeline: Namibia". BBC News. Archived from the original on 12 January 2009. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  18. ^ Eriksen, Tore Linné. Norway and National Liberation in Southern Africa. p. 90.
  19. ^ Düsing, Sandra (2002). Traditional Leadership and Democratisation in Southern Africa: A Comparative Study of Botswana, Namibia, and Southern Africa. Studien zur Politikwissenschaft. LIT Verlag Münster. pp. 125–126. ISBN 9783825850654. Archived from the original on 4 February 2018. Retrieved 3 February 2018 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ "NAMIBIA: Election expected to be low-key". IRIN. 2004. Archived from the original on 23 November 2006. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
  21. ^ "Elections in Namibia". Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  22. ^ "Namibia election: president wins second term despite scandal and recession". The Guardian. 1 December 2019.
  23. ^ Dauth, Timothy (17 January 1995). "From Liberation Organisations to Ruling Parties: The ANC and SWAPO in Transition". NamNet Digest, Vol. 95, no. 3. Archived from the original on 10 February 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  24. ^ Aluteni, D. (7 December 2018). "Swapo, what is 'Socialism with a Namibian Character'?". The Namibian.
  25. ^ Seibeb, Henny (12 May 2017). "Social Movements, Party Politics And Democracy In Namibia". The Namibian. Archived from the original on 13 October 2017. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  26. ^ Immanuel, Shinovene; Shipanga, Selma (3 December 2012). "Moderates prevail". The Namibian. Archived from the original on 7 December 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  27. ^ a b Nakale, Albertina (4 December 2017). "Swapo elects new politburo". New Era. p. 1.
  28. ^ "Newly elected members of the Swapo Politburo". The Namibian. 12 December 2012. Archived from the original on 14 December 2012.
  29. ^ Poolman, Jan. "New blood in Swapo CC". The Namibian. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2012. The offline version of the article contains the list of elected CC members.
  30. ^ "Matter of Fact". The Namibian. 4 December 2012. This erratum was only published offline.
  31. ^ Immanuel, Shinovene (29 November 2017). "Govt is Swapo's cash cow". The Namibian. p. 1. Archived from the original on 29 November 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  32. ^ Tyson, Robin (January 2008). "The South African media's (re) colonisation of Namibia". Global Media Journal: African Edition. 2 (1): 66–79. doi:10.5789/2-1-35.
  33. ^ "SWAPO distances itself from mouthpiece's Kameeta attack". The Namibian. 18 February 2003. Archived from the original on 31 July 2003.
  34. ^ "Namibia Today Archive". SWAPOParty.org/. Archived from the original on 17 January 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  35. ^ Immanuel, Shinovene (26 February 2019). "Swapo ousts newspaper editor". The Namibian. p. 1.
  36. ^ "Church council's stance on detainees revives apartheid rhetoric, charges the NSHR", The Namibian, 18 November 2003
  37. ^ "Ex-detainee issue still runs deep", The Namibian, 4 October 2005
  38. ^ Gewald, Jan-Bart (September 2004). "Who Killed Clemens Kapuuo?" (PDF). Journal of Southern African Studies. 30 (3): 559–576. doi:10.1080/0305707042000254100. hdl:1887/4851. ISSN 0305-7070. S2CID 146448312. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 June 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  39. ^ Leys, C.; Brown, S. (2005). Histories of Namibia. London: Merlin Press. ISBN 0-85036-499-X.
  40. ^ a b LeBeau, Debie (September 2005). "An Investigation into the lives of Namibian Ex-fighters fifteen years after Independence" (PDF). People's Education, Assistance and Counselling for Empowerment (P.E.A.C.E.). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 October 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  41. ^ "List of Socialist International parties in Africa". Socialist International. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013.
  42. ^ "SWAPO Party of Namibia | History & Facts | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 24 May 2022.

External links[edit]