Dirk Mudge, a white Namibian who began his political life with the pro-Apartheid National Party but later lobbied for Namibia’s independence from South African white-minority rule, has died after contracting COVID-19, aged 92.
He died in a hospital in the capital Windhoek late on Tuesday.
A polarizing figure, Mudge’s opponents accused him of delaying Namibia’s independence from neighbor South Africa by setting up a 1975–77 national conference.
It aimed to make small reforms that would appease Namibia’s indigenous population and prevent a full-scale independence war with rebels.
Namibia, a former German colony, had been run by South Africa since World War I, when the latter was under British imperial rule. It only achieved independence in 1990, nearly six decades after Britain relinquished control of South Africa, whose settler Afrikaner community went on to create Apartheid.
Mudge joined the Namibian branch of the white nationalist party in 1955 but later realized that its white rulers’ best interests lay in negotiating with the black majority to open up to democracy – much as F.W. de Klerk later did in South Africa.
“Although we represented different political backgrounds and ideals … Dirk Mudge … was a leader who was willing to make compromises in the interest of peace and a new Namibia,” Namibian President Hage Geingob said in a statement.
Mudge was a member of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted Namibia’s constitution after the 1989 election that led to the country’s independence a year later.