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Namibia's President Hage Geingob, 82, dies after cancer diagnosis

Published 02/04/2024, 04:32 AM
Updated 02/04/2024, 07:27 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Hage Gottfried Geingob, President of Namibia, speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

By Tim Cocks

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -Namibia's President Hage Geingob, 82, died in hospital early on Sunday, the presidency said, weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Geingob had been in charge of the thinly populated and mostly arid southern African country since 2015, the year he announced he had survived prostate cancer.

Vice President Nangolo Mbumba takes the helm in Namibia - a mining hotspot with significant deposits of diamonds and the electric car battery ingredient lithium - until presidential and parliamentary elections at the end of the year.

A presidency post on social media platform X did not give a cause of death, but late last month the presidency said he had travelled to the United States for "a two-day novel treatment for cancerous cells", after being diagnosed following a regular medical check-up.

Born in 1941, Geingob was a prominent politician since before Namibia achieved independence from white minority-ruled South Africa in 1990.

He chaired the body that drafted Namibia's constitution, then became its first prime minister at independence on March 21 of that year, a position he retained until 2002.

'CHAINS OF INJUSTICE'

In 2007, Geingob became vice president of the governing South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), which he had joined as an agitator for independence when Namibia was still known as South West Africa.

SWAPO has remained in power in Namibia unchallenged since independence. The former German colony is technically an upper middle-income country but one with huge disparities in wealth.

"There were no textbooks to prepare us for accomplishing the task of development and shared prosperity after independence," he said in a speech to mark the day in 2018. "We needed to build a Namibia in which the chains of the injustices of the past would be broken."

Geingob served as trade and industry minister before becoming prime minister again in 2012.

He won the 2014 election with 87% of the vote but only narrowly avoided a runoff with a little more than half the votes in a subsequent poll in November 2019.

That election followed a government bribery scandal, in which officials were alleged to have awarded horse mackerel quotas to Iceland's biggest fishing firm, Samherji, in exchange for kickbacks, according to local media reports. The resultant outcry led to the resignation of two ministers.

The following year, Geingob lamented that Namibia's wealth still remained concentrated in the hands of its white minority.

"Distribution is an issue, but how do we do it?" Geingob said in a virtual session at an event organised by international organisation Horasis.

"We have a racial issue here, a historical racial divide. Now you say we must grab from the whites and give it to the Blacks, it's not going to work," he said.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: President Hage Geingob of Namibia gestures during an interview with Reuters in central London, Britain December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

His comments came after the government rescinded as unworkable a policy that would have made it mandatory for white-owned businesses to sell a 25% stake to Black Namibians.

Geingob died at Lady Pohamba Hospital in Windhoek, where he was receiving treatment from his medical team, the presidency said.

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