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Namibia President Geingob, veteran of freedom struggle, dies

Namibian President Hage Geingob has died in hospital at the age of 82, weeks after revealing that he was receiving treatment for cancer (Phill Magakoe)
Namibian President Hage Geingob has died in hospital at the age of 82, weeks after revealing that he was receiving treatment for cancer (Phill Magakoe)

Namibia's President Hage Geingob, a veteran of the country's liberation struggle and its first post-independence prime minister, died on Sunday.

Tributes to the 82-year-old statesman poured in from African leaders who saw him as a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle.

And Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed regret that his country had lost "a partner who was committed to the process of coming to terms with Germany's colonial history".

Recently, Geingob supported South Africa's complaint against Israel under the Genocide Convention and condemned Namibia's former colonial ruler Germany for opposing the case.

Serving his second term as president, he revealed last month that he was being treated for cancer.

Former vice-president Nangolo Mbumba was inaugurated as Geingob's successor as president on Sunday, along with new vice-president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah.

The pair will serve until presidential and national assembly elections towards the end of the year.

Earlier, Mbumba had announced the death, saying "our beloved Dr. Hage G. Geingob, the President of the Republic of Namibia, has passed on today.

"At his side, was his dear wife Madame Monica Geingos and his children."

This triggered an outpouring of tributes from around the continent, including from leaders who worked alongside him in the struggle to free southern Africa from apartheid rule.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said: "Today, South Africa joins the people of our sister state Namibia in mourning the passing of a leader, patriot and friend.

"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."

- 'Visionary leader' -

President William Ruto of Kenya, and several more African leaders, echoed this praise.

"He was a believer of a unified Africa and strongly promoted the continent's voice and visibility at the global arena," Ruto said.

World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed Geingob's work to improve healthcare for Namibians, dubbing him a "visionary leader".

And Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union commission, lamented: "A baobab has fallen."

Beyond Africa, US President Joe Biden hailed the late president as "a fearless leader, fighting for independence, overseeing the drafting of the new nation's constitution, and serving his country twice as prime minister and finally as president.

"I will miss working with him," Biden added.

First elected president in 2014, Geingob was Namibia's longest-serving prime minister and third president.

In 2013, Geingob underwent brain surgery, and last year he had an aortic operation in neighbouring South Africa. He had been receiving treatment at Lady Pohamba Hospital in Windhoek.

Last month, Geingob threw his weight behind South Africa's challenge against Israel's military campaign in Gaza, under the Genocide Convention in the UN's top court.

- Critic of Germany -

In particular he singled out for criticism Germany, Namibia's former colonial ruler and an outspoken critic of South Africa's case that argued Israel has breached the convention.

Lamenting "Germany's inability to draw lessons from its horrific history", the Namibian leader accused Berlin of defending "genocidal and gruesome acts".

Germany massacred more than 70,000 Indigenous Herero and Nama people in Namibia between 1904 and 1908, in what many historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century.

In May 2021, after more than five years of negotiations, Germany recognised committing genocide in the territory it had colonised from 1884 to 1915.

Reacting to Geingob's death, Germany's Scholz did not refer to the Israel controversy, but thanked the Namibian leader for his help in bringing Germany to terms with its own actions.

"President Geingob was one of Namibia's founding fathers and rendered great services to the country's democratic development," he said.

"Germany is losing a partner who was committed to the process of coming to terms with Germany's colonial history with great openness."

- Independence struggle -

Born in a village in northern Namibia in 1941, Geingob was the southern African country's first president outside the Ovambo people, who make up more than half the population.

In his early years he took up activism against South Africa's apartheid regime, which at the time ruled Namibia.

In 1964 he was appointed representative for the SWAPO liberation movement at the United Nations.

He spent almost three decades in Botswana and the United States, returning to Namibia in 1989 to lead SWAPO's election campaign in his now independent homeland.

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