Democracy Report

This party has been going for 58 years

SWANU just turned 58. Are any parties older?

This week SWANU celebrated its 58th birthday. This arguably makes it the oldest still existing political party in Namibia. Nudo was formed in 1964, and Swapo in 1960, so Swanu just got there first. As Graham Hopwood, executive director of the IPPR, writes in his Guide to Namibian Politics:

For a brief period in 1959, Swanu looked like it would emerge as the key movement spearheading the campaign for the independence of the territory … Swanu had the backing of the Herero chiefs Council through Chief Hosea Kutako and the list of its leading lights reads like a who’s who of nationalist politics at the time – including Jariretundu Kozonguizi, Zed Ngavirue, Louis Nelengani, Clemens Kapuuo and the founder of the Ovamboland Pepole’s Organisation, Sam Nujoma.

However, Swapo emerged in 1960 and soon became the dominant liberation movement.

In any case, here’s the founding dates of the parties currently in Parliament, sorted by age:


party year founded age
swanu 1959 58
swapo 1960 57
nudo 1964 53
dta 1977 40
rp 1977 40
udf 1989 28
wrp 1989 28
rdp 2007 10
app 2008 9
upm 2010 7

There is no straightforward relationship between the age of parties in a country and the strength of its democracy, though it is generally assumed that older parties are more institutionalised — and this could indicate a more stable political system. (see some academic discussion here and here).

Certainly, some of our parties are getting to a respectable age. Internationally, though, there are many parties much older. The ANC was founded in 1912, and the Democratic Party in the US has been around since 1828, which some claim makes it the oldest political party in the world (some disagree).

If nothing else, we should expect a few birthday bashes in a few years’ time as our parties reach retirement age.


29 September 2017