Why has the Swazi struggle not reached it’s full potential?

An honest analysis of the state of the progressive movement in Swaziland has to first examine the peculiarities of the Swazi struggle before delving into the organisational inefficiencies of those at the front line.

We must be able to characterise what is commonly referred as the ‘national question’ in Marxist literature. We must do this without being insensitive to our traditional outlook as a society.  For instance, it may be tactical to differentiate between Tinkhunda as a system, the monarchy as an institution and the present King, Mswati III, as an indivisual who happens to have been thrust to the throne as an accident of history.

In the past, our reluctance to do this was a fear of going against popular opinion (read South Africa) where the blanket demonisation of the monarchy was considered a true revolutionary act.

We must, therefore, start at the beginning: what is the national question in Swaziland? Once we discuss this we can finally confront hard questions about the nature, form and content of the struggle.

For example, are we fighting the conquest and domination of the Dlamini royal family over all facets of Swazi life or we accept the legitimacy of their political order as long as we can democratise the state and its institutions?

The national question will surface such things as whether the Mamba monarchy, for example, deserves equal status as the Dlamini monarchy. What about the historical injustice as raised by the Masekos (and others) and their legitimate concerns dating back to decades now?

After all, what makes the Dlamini monarchy more important than other clans whose history, traditions and monarchies were all suppressed and eviscerated in Sobhuza’s quest to create a Dlamini supremacy in the country?  

This may be important to sharpen contradictions and deepen divisions between and among appendages of the system as a way to weaken and deplete its support base. It also has the secondary benefit of engraining the movement as at the heart of the issues Swazis are more concerned with.  

However, any potential ‘divide and rule’ strategy should first be preceded by a thorough examination of any possible contradictions.  Citing historical injustices towards the Mamba and Maseko kingships, for example, is not without risks of their own.

This is given that the relative recognition enjoyed by the Mamba clan might be used to mobilise them against other ‘smaller’ clans in order to sustain their perceived ‘importance’ in the game of power play.

There is also the real danger that we could unwittingly foster clan identities and its attendant problem of ‘tribal’ bigotry. The difficulty would then be how to put the genie back in the bottle and create a uniting national identity.

In South Africa when discussing their national question they characterised it as being a struggle against ‘colonisation of a special type’ on account of having the coloniser and colonised co-existing in the same space.

They were lucky because they still had the race ‘fault line’ easy to identify. I argue then that how much more of a ‘special type’ is our case where there’s no clearly visible fault line? 

Given the foregoing, it would then follow that there would be ‘sub failures’ stemming from this. One such failure is the absence of a detailed position on the question of monarchy from the progressive camp.  

The 1990 PUDEMO treason trialists. The group of PUDEMO leaders were accused of conspiring to form a political party and from among many other charges.

By monarchy we must go beyond the present king and talk about the institution and its tentacles in the form of chiefs and traditional leadership more generally at the local level. Without this analysis we will continue to struggle to reach out to the rural population who, very uncharacteristic of ‘motive forces’ of struggle, seem to be sympathetic towards the regime than our agenda.

This can be attributed to our failure to identify, enumerate and make ‘sound bites’ of what exactly change means to them given this complex web of traditional power structures which are entangled with the monarchy as the ultimate ‘paramount chief’ at the apex of this hierarchy.

A mere focus on lofty ideological ideas has thus far undermined our message permeating to these communities as a way to break the backbone of the monarchy’s support. Given the tactical confluence of kingship, culture and tradition–-which happen to be an inescapable dominant feature of our society–-it is very critical that we are less emotional when addressing the burning issue of Monarchy and the struggle. 

When PUDEMO first pronounced on the Constitutional Monarchy position and called for the king to assume a new ceremonial role, the movement correctly contemplated the reality that there’s nothing inherently adversarial between the existence of the institution and (Constitutional) multi-party democracy.

It can also be argued that the movement had arrived at this observation, the incumbent monarch’s heavy handedness notwithstanding, as an acknowledgement of the institution’s endearment to the masses, even if only relatively, owing to its positioning–wittingly or otherwise–as champions of everything cultural and traditional. 

Granted, there’s always space for contending arguments for or against this position but I posit that atleast it presents a uniting program to mobilise different sectors of the Swazi society who may want a democratic state without removing the institution altogether. Others may even go further and say that they dislike the incumbent but hope that a new one may be different. 

A correct and clearly articulated position on the question of the Monarchy also makes a strong case for possible support within African society especially in instances where the institution is viewed as an embodiment of the ‘Cultural Renewal’ component of the much hyped African Renaissance.

Our unambiguous position is therefore  critical given the absence of societal fissures or fault lines in the Swazi struggle. Somehow, a poor conceptualisation of the Monarchy question blurs the extent to which in its executive character it is merely an appendage of a bad system (that has put the nation at its mercy by giving it unfettered powers over all facets of Swazi life) than an inherent contradiction for a new democratic society.  

A clear and cogent position will therefore insulate the progressive movement from accusations of being too simplistic or, at worst, attempting to conceptualise an imaginary crisis. 

There is also a need for a deeper discussion about the absence of a coherent comprehension of the ‘internal balance of forces’ in a country where the working class is numerically small.

Veteran trade unionist Jan Sithole pictured here with former PUDEMO President Mario Masuku.

In our case, and in acknowledging our society’s peculiarities, it may be necessary to note that our definition of ‘balance of forces’ may not be the ‘text book’ explanation as used in other countries.

The spatial makeup of the country is such that the majority still live in rural areas and are not per se working class in strict Marxist definition. After all, the country is still semi feudal. Is it then not naive to suggest that the motive forces for the revolution is the (organised) working class?

The discussion on motive forces would have to be linked with a reflection, for instance, of what the composition and relative loyalty of the members of the armed forces mean to any democratic project.

I say this because almost all Chiefs (constitutionally described as the footstalls of the monarchy) are ‘deployed’ to the forces or, to a lesser extent, emabandla (king’s advisory councils).

Then there’s the ever growing number of ‘Emalangeni’ and ‘bantfwabenkhosi’ housed at the many royal residences who idle daily with no clear places of employment while enjoying numerous allowances from the state. To them a change of regime threatens their ill-gotten wealth and power hence will fight any form of change with all their might.

Now, add the quotas given to each ‘special tindlu’ that have either sacred duties or are influential for historical reasons, plus the quota of ‘bemanti’ baseLwandle, bakaNkambule kaLanga (who have a certain role ngemitsi yeNkhosi) then you have a concoction of different loyalties the monarchy can bank on should push ever come to a shove.

How can one forget that almost all generations of Nkomnophondo Khumalo are represented in the security forces. This principle of quotas also applies to scholarship provided to study abroad too. And this is an age old practice.

The current Chief Justice is not only an Indvuna (an important position in the traditional structures), but he is also a beneficiary of the infamous ‘Kenya 7—the group of students identified at UNISWA for special training in Kenya.

What powers or influence do all these individuals and structures have over King Mswati III were he to even attempt meek political reforms? These are complexities and nuances we have not contended with seriously and what they mean to our struggle.

The absence of ‘Movers and Shakers’ (crème de la crème) that can capture the imagination of the country has also been one glaring let down in the struggle for a while now.

Why do people of influence in society shun leadership roles in the progressive movement? One way to answer this is to acknowledge the economic set up of the country and the absence of an ‘independent’ private sector.

This means almost everybody is at the mercy of government or her parastatals for survival. Arguably, this then means leadership in the progressive camp becomes the function of availability than aptitude, acumen and dexterity.

This has led to the movement adopting a ‘part time’ approach to the struggle. In truth, such an approach can never win any struggle. To be fair though, it would be proper and more prudent to then attribute, even if only to an extent, this ‘part time’ approach to the afore mentioned economic set up.

Also, the easy exodus (mostly to South Africa) of the Swazi intelligentsia and middle class at the slightest discomfort as opposed to fighting for change has undermined the quality of cadreship at the disposal of the progressive movement. Swazis would rather vituperate from the diaspora than take leading roles in the progressive movement.

Members of the Law Society of Swaziland protesting the arrest of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and Editor Bheki Makhubu.

Another let down of has been the general poor coordination and lack of alertness and vigilance on our part. This poor coordination creates a sustained absence the progressive voice when it is needed the most to give political direction to isolated community struggles that need to be given national character and redirected to the true enemy.

Basically, it is the movement’s heroic past, and not contemporary relevance, that ensures it still manages some relative recognition. One other man made weakness in the progressive camp is what I call ‘siblings rivalry’.

This menace has thus far outstripped ‘comradely camaraderie’. Often times we are consumed by fratricidal and immature fights over trivialities. Examples here are plenty but not worth enumerating.

It would be remiss of me not to flag the unnecessary, but much sought after, exile status which has done nothing but rob the frontline detachment quality cadreship inside the country.

If anything, it gives an impression of a motley assemblage of wannabe martyrs. Controversial as it may be, but questions needs to be asked whether it serves us well to have permanent exiles who are now completely detached about issues back at home.

Again, we may need to go further and ask when exactly should those who escaped persecution work their way back to the country in some way or the other if only to  enhance the frontline detachment.


NB: S’yabonga Hlongwane is the former Head of International Affairs for the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO). He writes in his personal capacity

S'yabonga Hlongwane
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