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Tributes for late Namibia president, 1st woman head of state on the cards

TRIBUTES have poured in for Hein Geingob, the Namibian president who lost his battle against cancer on Sunday.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa paid a warm tribute to Geingob both as freedom fighter and head of state.

Ramaphosa said: “Today, South Africa joins the people of our sister state Namibia in mourning the passing of a leader, patriot and friend of South Africa. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Geingob family and the people of Namibia who have lost an outstanding leader in a year in which Namibia, like South Africa, is due to hold elections.

“I am deeply saddened at this time as I reflect on the privilege I had as recently as October 2023 to be hosted by President Geingob, Madame Geingos and the Cabinet on a Working Visit to Namibia. During the visit, we committed our two countries to even closer partnership, inspired in great measure by President Geingob’s passionate conviction about our shared future as nations and greater opportunities and prosperity for citizens on both sides of the Orange River.


“President Geingob was a towering veteran of Namibia’s liberation from colonialism and apartheid. He was also greatly influential in the solidarity that the people of Namibia extended to the people of South Africa so that we could be free today. We are therefore filled with appreciation and sadness at the passing of a comrade in struggle and a close partner in our democratic dispensation.”

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Kenya’s President William Ruto said Geingob was a believer in a unified Africa and strongly promoted the continent’s voice and visibility in the global arena.

“I extend my deepest condolences and sympathy to the family and the people of Namibia following the death of President Hage Geingob. President Geingob was a distinguished leader who served the people of Namibia with focus and dedication. May God give the people of Namibia strength and courage during this difficult period. Rest in peace.”

Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa said: “My heartfelt condolences to the family of President Hage Geingob and the people of Namibia. President Geingob’s leadership and resilience will be remembered. May his soul rest in peace. Our thoughts are with Namibia during this difficult time.”

Nangolo Mbumba, who took over as interim president of the southern African country after Geingob died in office, said he had no plans to run in elections due at the end of the year.

That means Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who replaces Mbumba as vice president and was nominated by the governing South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) just over a year ago to be its candidate, will remain on the ballot.

If she wins, she will be the Southern African nation’s first female president.

“I am not going to be around for the elections so don’t panic,” Mbumba said in a move that is rare among African leaders who have often sought to retain power once it is in their hands.

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“My aim was to be a school principal, which I achieved and now I have to thank the Namibian people for the honour they have bestowed on me to be their president, for a short period,” Mbumba said at his swearing-in ceremony.

SWAPO’s constitution forbids making changes once the candidate has been picked two years before the poll is due.

Namibia’s newly appointed president Nangolo Mbumba shakes hands with his vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah following the death of Hage Geingob. REUTERS/Sharon Kavhu

The party has ruled Namibia – a mining hotspot with abundant diamonds, uranium and lithium needed for electric car batteries – since independence from South Africa in 1990.


Geingob, in power since 2015, died aged 82 in the early hours of Sunday after a brief battle with cancer.

“It is poignant and reassuring to note that today, even in this time of heavy loss, our nation remains calm and stable,” Mbumba said. “This is owing to the visionary leadership … of President Geingob who was the chief architect of the Namibian constitution.”

Geingob leaves behind a middle-income country fighting to push economic growth above 3% following a pandemic-era slowdown and reverse racial inequalities left over from colonialism and annexation by South Africa’s former white minority government.

He led Namibia’s efforts to recast itself as a leader of the global green economy and in 2022 Namibia became the first African country to agree to supply the European Union with green hydrogen and minerals needed for clean energy.

Last year, Namibia began constructing Africa’s first decarbonised iron plant, to be powered exclusively by green hydrogen – which is extracted from water using electrolysis powered by renewable energy – blazing a trail in the reform of steelmaking, one of the world’s most polluting industries.

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These developments put Namibia ahead of its economically bigger and more industrialised neighbour South Africa, whose green energy transition efforts have faltered.

Namibia’s newly appointed President Nangolo Mbumba and his wife, Sustjie Mbumba embrace each other, following the death of Hage Geingob. REUTERS/Sharon Kavhu