Dirk Mudge, Politician With a Key Role in Namibian Independence, Dies at 92

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Dirk Mudge, a former white nationalist politician whose later embrace of multiracial democracy helped forge Namibia’s independence from apartheid-era South Africa, died on Wednesday in the Namibian capital, Windhoek. He was 92.

The cause was complications of Covid-19, his family told local media outlets.

Mr. Mudge died on Heroes’ Day, a public holiday honoring the liberation activists who fought for the country’s independence from neighboring South Africa. Mr. Mudge played a pivotal, if sometimes controversial, role in that struggle.

Dirk Frederik Mudge was born on Jan. 16, 1928, on a farm called Rusthof near the town of Otjiwarongo, in a rural district best known for its cattle pastures some 155 miles from the capital. Mudge, an Afrikaans-speaking Namibian, was a descendant of the European colonial settlers who arrived in the area in the 18th century.

After graduating with a degree in commerce in 1947 from the University of Stellenbosch, in neighboring South Africa, Mr. Mudge returned home and began a political career. He joined the governing National Party of South West Africa, as Namibia was then known (a former German colony, it had been placed under South African administration after World War I).

The party supported South Africa’s likewise named National Party — the white minority party which harshly ruled apartheid South Africa until 1994 — and the Namibian party effectively ruled South West Africa as South Africa’s “fifth province” for more than three decades under an equally brutal system of apartheid.

Mr. Mudge, who was elected to the all-white Executive Committee of South West Africa, which was given a measure of self-determination from South Africa, was a senior administrator in the territory. He eventually became disenchanted with the party over its adherence to apartheid, and its policies that led to the stripping of Namibia’s abundant mineral resources for the benefit of South Africa’s ruling elites. He quit the party in 1977 and formed a multiracial opposition party.

Mr. Mudge fiercely opposed South Africa’s laws against racially mixed marriages and refused to celebrate South African public holidays, including those commemorating white Afrikaner settlers.

Amid a growing independence movement, he brokered a series of talks between the white minority government in South Africa and both Black and white Namibians. That meant walking a fine line. He was unpopular with the white elite in both countries, who saw him as betraying their interests, and mistrusted by many Black Namibians. But the discussions led to the drafting of Namibia’s constitution, in which Mr. Mudge became a key figure, paving the way for independence in 1990.

He later founded Namibia’s Republican Party, now headed by his son Henk, and established the country’s only surviving Afrikaans-language daily newspaper.

Along with his son Henk, Mr. Mudge is survived by another son, Jaco; three daughters, Chrisna Greeff, Annalien Basson, Rieth van Schalkwyk; 16 grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren. His wife, Stienie Mudge, died in 2017.

Mr. Mudge had earned the respect of former rivals, and tributes after his death came even from former opponents. “He was a peacemaker and a man of principle at a crucial time in the history of our country,” President Hage Geingob, a former liberation fighter, said on Wednesday.

Mr. Mudge retired from public office in 1993, returning to life on his farm where he bred Brahman cattle, most famously a prizewinning bull named Ovegere.

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