Minister of environment, forestry and tourism Pohamba Shifeta says president Hage Geingob told him he had six months to live.
Shifeta on Thursday told The Namibian the statesman repeatedly over the years said he did not want to be buried at Heroes’ Acre.
Widely considered as close to Geingob, Shifeta said the former president revealed his cancer diagnosis to him after attending the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in December.
“He told me to go back home and prepare for my wedding, saying they would come, but when he came back he told me he was not well and informed me of his cancer.
“That he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and informed that he may not live longer than six months.
“We used to have these kinds of conversations, since he considered me as a son,” he said.
Geingob’s office last month announced that he had begun treatment following the discovery of “cancerous cells” during a routine colonoscopy and gastroscopy.
Geingob, however, died at Lady Pohamba Private Hospital in Windhoek after returning from the United States (US), where he received cancer treatment.
“He said: ‘I didn’t like the manner in which the oncologist told me. Is that the way they do it in their profession? I was told if I live beyond six months . . . it will not be longer than eight months. But I’m telling you should I die, you guys don’t take me to Heroes’ Acre,”‘ Shifeta said.
“I was having trouble processing what he was saying . . . it is still like a dream to me.
“But I learned over the years that when he repeats something multiple times he means it,” he said.
“My life stood still when I received the text message from the former first lady. For three hours I sat still, doing nothing.”
Shifeta remembers the late president as a non-tribalist person who always consulted others when making decisions, and as a generous person.
“He was the president, he did not need your input, but he consulted because it was your portfolio. Even when he was not going to follow your advice he would tell you how to change your approach.
“Oh, he was tribe neutral. At his office you would find whites, coloureds, any grouping and a friend was a friend. He could take an overdraft to save your house.
“He could not see people suffering. Even now there are children studying out of his personal pocket. He was a very generous person,” the minister said.
Last week Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) executive director Benedictus Likando told mourners at Casa Rosalia, the Geingobs’ private residence, that the late president informed him of his poor health too.
Geingob was scheduled to visit the NCIS offices, but cancelled at the last minute.
“He called me once to his office. He said: ‘You are the only one I am going to tell now. I have to go for a procedure,”‘ Likando said.
HEROES’ ACRE DILEMMA
Shifeta said Geingob told him he did not want to die in a foreign country for the first time in 2002 when he was leaving for Washington in the US after being demoted from prime minister to minister of local government.
“The late president in 2002 said: ‘I am not going to stay long there (in America). I’m going to come back. Home is home. I cannot stay there, I cannot die in a foreign country.’
“And he made a joke, which I thought was a joke, but he said it many times, even recently. He said: ‘I will come back, I have to die in Namibia, but you guys don’t take me to Heroes’ Acre. I won’t go to Heroes’ Acre. My remains will be at my plot and I will put it in my will.”‘
Shifeta said Geingob added: “Some of you, you are fighting for Heroes’ Acre. What is there? To fight underground? There is no space there, I like my space. I must be buried at my own plot.”
The minister said he is not sure whether Geingob put his final wishes in his will, but the president had repeated to him recently that he did not want to be buried at Heroes’ Acre.
UNAWARE OF FINAL WISHES
Newly appointed minister of information and communication technology Emma Theofelus on Friday while briefing the media said there is currently no information related to Geingob’s final wishes.
“If there are any, I believe the committee and the family will be able to implement it,” she said.
Initially, Theofelus said the funeral would take place on 24 February.
However, on Saturday, Audrin Mathe, the executive director of information and communication technology, said Geingob’s burial has been scheduled for 25 February.
“To ensure a dignified burial and allow all Namibians time to mourn their beloved president Hage G Geingob, president Nangolo Mbumba will declare Sunday, 25 February 2024, a public holiday,” Mathe said.
Because the public holiday falls on a Sunday, it will be commemorated on Monday, 26 February.
Mathe said the main memorial service would be held on 24 February at Independence Stadium in Windhoek.
A senior government official said Geingob mentioned his desire to be buried at the family’s plot and not at Heroes’ Acre during the memorial and burial of his aunt, Hendrina Geingos-Thomas, at her house at Otjiwarongo last year.
Geingos-Thomas, who was the last remaining matriarch of the Geingob family, died aged 87.
Officials at the Ministry of Works and Transport have, however, confirmed that a bunker has been prepared for Geingob at Heroes’ Acre .
“This thing is there and is under discussion between the former first lady, the late president’s family and the state. All we are waiting to see now is whether the state will respect the family’s wishes …”
“But I think it is obvious that Geingob will be buried at Heroes’ Acre, because his person and his service to this country speaks for itself. If not Geingob, then who should be buried at Heroes’ Acre?” the official, who prefers to remain anonymous, said.
A preparatory committee chaired by prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila has been set up to lead preparations for Geingob’s funeral.
Calls and text messages sent to her have not been answered since Saturday.
Speaking to The Namibian on Saturday, president Nangolo Mbumba confirmed that Geingob will be buried at Heroes’ Acre.
“His family and the former first lady’s family with senior government officials have already agreed that Geingob’s body will be laid to rest at Heroes’ Acre,” he said.
The technical director in the former first lady’s office, Veronica Theron, said she is not the right person to speak to about Geingob’s final wishes.
“I serve on a committee which is only dealing with the logistics around the memorials. The burial is in the hands of a different committee,” she said.
Yesterday the Geingob family again met with the first lady and government officials.
Geingob’s family members at Tsumeb and Otjiwarongo reportedly wanted to be clear on when they could start memorial services at Otjiwarongo, Grootfontein and Tsumeb.
Geingob’s eldest daughter, Nangula Geingos, did not respond to calls and questions sent to her over the weekend.