The political conditions that gave Swaziland Mario Masuku


The best way to understand the emergence of Mario Masuku as a leader and face of struggle in Swaziland one must be able to locate him as a product of a series of events  that produced what is today accepted as the legitimate voice for democracy in Swaziland—PUDEMO. 

Even though Masuku’s activism did not just start with PUDEMO it would, however, be safe to say that it is the movement that thrust him into political journey few have traversed. 

The formation of PUDEMO by a loose network of students at various institutions of higher learning benefited immensely from the sharp and acute leadership of Masuku especially in the teething stages of this nascent movement. Masuku had already been identified through the initial effort of attempting to resuscitate the Ngwane Liberatory Congress (NNLC).

 He was one of only two people that never hesitated when invited into the spadework of building PUDEMO. It would be incomplete, therefore, to understand how Masuku became a committed and selfless revolutionary without understanding the conditions that gave this nation such a leader.

Formation of PUDEMO

An extensive consultative process preceded the formation of PUDEMO. The initial objective was identifying individuals throughout the country who could be invited to be part of this new political movement. As already stated, the initial efforts centred on reviving the old NNLC. 

To the founding assembly, the NNLC was a natural base to resuscitate the struggle which had stalled after the repeal of the independence constitution and the declaration of the 1973 state of emergency. Targeted missions were sent to meet almost all the known former members of the NNLC, including Dr. Ambrose Zwane and the faction led by Samketi. 

At an evaluation meeting of the feedback from the various corners of the country, including an advisory view from Mr Albert Shabangu, who was a leader of the banned teachers union, it was decided the best option was to mobilise for the formation of a new political party. 

The most disappointing feedback from the consultation was a statement from Dr. Ambrose Zwane who pointed out that he was waiting for the king to unban his party (Sobhuza was three years dead and buried). Other former NNLC members were frankly too scared to take risks in the face of the brutality of Liqoqo regime. 

Dr. Ambrose Zwane felt somehow compelled to honour an undertaking he made to the late King Sobhuza not to engage in politics as a condition to return home after spending years exiled in Tanzania. This agreement was brokered by the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.

Around June 1983 the informal coordinating structure that was leading the network of activists in the country formally established themselves as the nucleus of the Communist Party of Swaziland under the leadership of Dominic Mngomezulu, a UNISWA law student and a charismatic and deep-rooted Siswati speaker. 

This party was a closely guarded secret within the network of activists and its membership numbered no more than twelve people. The Communist Party of Swaziland was formally introduced to the South African Communist Party leadership at a special meeting in Maputo later that year. 

Whilst Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, and Ronnie Kastrils (all senior leaders of the ANC and its armed wing Umkhonto Wesizwe) congratulated the young lions on the formation of the Party, they schooled the youngsters on the geopolitics of the time and took them back to basics in political mobilization and organisation.  

There was serious concern that the announcement of the formation of the party would give a license to the apartheid security agencies and their friends in the Swaziland security agencies and Liqoqo to close the political space in the country and possible assassinate all the key movers. 

It was after this consultation that the Swaziland Communist Party accelerated the process of engaging the members of the underground network to create a broad-based political movement to be the mouthpiece and face of the struggle of the Swazi people.


Mario Masuku at a rally

The Formal Launch of PUDEMO               

Following this wide consultation, the formal establishment and launching of PUDEMO was done on New Year’s Day of 1985. However, this was backdated to July 6, 1983, when the network of underground activists was originally set in motion. 

Part of the reason to backdate the formation and launch was to correctly account for the groundbreaking political activism which the informal network of activists had been doing in the country as far back as 1983.

When PUDEMO was launched on 1 January 1985, it already had a ‘Working Constitution’, a ‘Programme of Action’, and a ‘People’s Manifesto’. Espousing a social democratic agenda, its founding manifesto stated:

‘As a democratic movement, we are fully dedicated to creating a democratic Swaziland by giving power to the people and to bringing oppression and exploitation, nepotism and political favoritism and the growing fascism to an end.’  (Buhle Dube and Alfred Magagula 2012)

The challenges of starting a mass-based political party under a state of emergency were massive but not impossible. The country’s population had been subjected to over a century of indoctrination against political parties coupled with the dilapidating experience of the 1973 king’s decree on the population plus the humiliation that many who dared challenge the system had suffered under the 60 days detention without trial order. 

Some of the fears were ridiculously stupid yet real. For example, students and youth genuinely believed in the myth of muti and supernatural powers of the king. 

The majority feared reactions of chiefs and possible loss of their land while others feared the loss of employment. Students feared losing scholarships. Significant effort was employed to ensure maximum discipline in the operations of PUDEMO underground networks.

The first big push was to capture colleges, the university, and workplaces as primary production centres of PUDEMO cadres. Conscious efforts were made to unleash multiple systems of re-education and socialization.

In this regard, informal but well-coordinated cells were established to drive specific programs, such as the theater (Kwasa – Kwasa) based at UNISWA which became a powerful tool for mobilizing students while public lectures became an important platform to promote and educate students. 

Student’s representative structures were deliberately targeted and captured in order to direct students’ agendas and maximize their participation and education. 

By the late 80’s underground schools and cells were operating in many parts of the country. Spreading political pamphlets was the spearhead of the national mobilization strategy. 

Pamphlets development and distribution networks were set up in strategic locations around the country and this became the most important vehicle of communicating with the public as a challenge the regime and its surrogates in South Africa. 

The first set of pamphlets did not disclose the name of any organization but this was soon changed to “Insika Yenkhululeko YeMaswati” (the pillar of the nation’s freedom).  

The extensive reach of the pamphlets in all the corners of the country together with regular responses and challenges to the authorities on political issues created the impression of a huge groundswell of an organized challenge to the state.

The appetite for the pamphlets was amazingly high throughout the country. The messages instigating revolt against the corrupt Liqoqo regime spread like wildfire. It was fueled by a popular perception that the regime was involved in widespread corrupt activities and that removing Queen Regent Dzeliwe was driven by a quest for absolute power in order to pursue their selfish interests without the restraints of the law.  

It is believed the scale and broad reach of this campaign exacerbated the divisions within the wrangling royal family forcing intervention by the apartheid regime to persuade their friends in Liqoqo to give up power and install the new king or risk losing the propaganda battle with the underground movements. 

It was clear the fear was permanent damage to the monarch as a system.  The young king subsequently took power in 1986 and maintained the same autocratic and oppressive security infrastructure that had characterized life in Swaziland since the promulgation of the 1973 king’s Decree. 

By 1989, PUDEMO’s resistance was growing by leaps and bounds due to the perceived failure of the young king to return democracy to the Swazis following his coronation. In a 1989 message to the nation, PUDEMO said:

‘PUDEMO… is this year marking its fifth year in the struggle against the oppression of our people by an undemocratic and autocratic monarch. In this regard, it should be well understood that PUDEMO was not born for the sole purpose of fighting the Mfanasibili/Liqoqo regime but to fight all forms of oppression at all levels of our society… the objective conditions, which brought about the founding of our movement remain strong today. The present regime did not only adopt the old forms of oppression and suppression but they inherited the methods and the laws of the notorious Mfanasibili/Liqoqo regime”…… (Buhle Dube and Alfred Magagula 2012)

PUDEMO’s Relationship with the ANC

 PUDEMO was the only organized formation that was in a position to shield ANC comrades and Umkhonto weSizwe cadres through its network of underground structures. It played a pivotal role to limit the damage and exposure of many cadres of the ANC to the onslaught of the combined forces of the apartheid regime and Swazi security forces. 

PUDEMO underground structures were extensive and highly respected by the key leadership of MK, the ANC and the SACP. The movement had an understanding that South Africa’s liberation was the key to the liberation of Swaziland and that the protection of MK cadres was a solemn duty of all Swazis. 

The University of Swaziland and the various colleges were excellent sights of struggle providing useful cover-up as some cadres were able to ‘melt’ into the students’ dormitories while ‘hot’ cadres moved to safe locations outside the focus areas of Mbabane and Manzini. Alternative routes were established to safely move cadres in and out of Swaziland into Mozambique via Mhlume or Steki.

Liqoqo attempt to break PUDEMO’s Powerbase at the University of Swaziland.

Having consolidated power over the state, Liqoqo moved its focus to the University of Swaziland which was seen as ‘the centre of all evil’ in the country. It soon became the focal point of the resistance against Liqoqo and its wicked agenda. 

Mass meetings were regularly held at the university and the various colleges to debate the policies of the Liqoqo regime often leading to the adoption of highly charged resolutions on the state of the country’s socio-political conditions as well as the shameful implication of the authorities in the massacre of ANC cadres in the country. 

In 1984 the students adopted an uncompromising position on the Swaziland Security Pact with apartheid South Africa, choosing instead to align themselves with the position of the front line states in support of the liberation struggle in South Africa. 

This position provided the platform to mobilise all the university students of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland to take a common position on the cross border raids by the South African Special Forces.  The Gaborone Declaration, which was the students’ version of the frontline states, resolved to die with the people of South Africa. 

The ANC was adopted by the university students of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland and became a powerful rallying platform for mobilizing students in the region to stand up and defend the liberation struggle of the black people in South Africa. 

In response to the students’ resolve, Liqoqo financed the formation of an underground counterforce at the university with the aim of taking over the leadership of students in the country and undermine the progressive students. 

This group of students was later dubbed the ‘Kenya 6’ and was working with Liqoqo and the security agencies. At some point, it was feared that they were also spying for the apartheid regime. 

Political activist Mphandlana Shongwe pictured at a rally in the early 90’s

They tried to form a new student’s movement to rival the reach of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) which was active in all the colleges and some high schools but their attempt was stillborn.

The ‘Kenya six’ were eventually unmasked and thrown out of the University by students. It is believed they moved to Wits University on scholarships provided by the apartheid regime.

Following various confrontation between the university student and Liqoqo eventually compelled the closure of the University in 1985. They forced the University Administration to institute a Commission of Enquiry into the student disturbances. 

The commission report read like a classical security report, clearly articulating the State’s view that students’ support for the ANC and its goals constituted a “security threat” and was tantamount to national security.

 It found that there was an ‘unhealthy preoccupation with the philosophies, aims, and objectives of the ANC’, and this was used as grounds for the Liqoqo ordering the expulsion of a total of 21 students leadership from both Luyengo and Kwaluseni. This included two senior staff members, Professor John Daniel being one of them. 

The aim was to break the back of the underground resistance which was believed to have captured the students and the university infrastructure.

PUDEMO’s Policy Position to Liberation Struggle and the ANC

From the early beginnings of the organization, operating just as a network of activists throughout the country, the position was plain and clear that Swaziland’s freedom and development could not be separated from the liberation of the black people in South Africa. 

There was a strong appreciation of the historical commonality of the people of Swaziland and the black people in South Africa dating back to pre-colonisation by white people and the subsequent partition of the borders and boundaries. 

It was strongly believed that the apartheid regime would not permit a truly democratic government to take root in Swaziland. PUDEMO, therefore, adopted a two-pronged strategy; focusing on building the foundations for a strong mass-based underground political organization capable of winning power and building strong relations with the ANC and the SACP.

In practical terms this meant providing ‘on the ground support’ within Swaziland, including the protection of cadres to and from South Africa. 

PUDEMO had a special relationship with the South African Communist Party and was accorded extremely privileged status by the senior leadership of the party, particularly Comrades, Joe Slovo, Chris Hani, and Ronnie Kastrils. 

These comrades also had great respect for the high caliber of organizational leadership and quality of discipline displayed by PUDEMO underground cadres and structures throughout the difficult period of 1982 to 1990. 

PUDEMO also benefited immensely from its association with the party and the ANC, with many comrades receiving advanced training in political schools in Zambia, Tanzania, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, and Cuba during the late 1980s. 

The PUDEMO position of prioritizing the South African struggle over the liberation of Swaziland remained in place until 1990 when the narratives shifted to focus squarely on the Swazi revolution. 

By 1989 the groundswell brought about by a consistent period of grass root mobilization, workplace structures, the strengthening of existing workers organisations and building of new ones where none existed, together with the maturing of students structures at the University, Nurses college, Scot in Mbabane, William Pitcher College in Manzini, Nazarene Nurses Colleges, Ngwane Teacher Training College in Nhlangano, as well as the urban centres of Mbabane and Manzini and the outlying rural areas

Siteki was the first area to announce the establishment of active cells that were members of the Swaziland Communist Party in 1983 under the leadership of Gavin McFadden but later taken over by PUDEMO.

The PUDEMO Treason Trial 1990/1

When in 1990/1 the regime and its security apparatus took a decision to smash the leadership core of the organization, PUDEMO was already well-rooted in the country with strong operational underground structures.

The entire leadership of PUDEMO was rounded up in countrywide early morning raids stretching from Mbabane, Manzini, the university, Big Bend, Luve and locked up at various police stations in the country and probably due to the high-value status of the prisoners, they were all moved to the maximum security section of the Matsapha prison.

The prison security was further reinforced with military units, which clearly demonstrated the fears of the state. The case was eventually moved to the high court and Dominic Mngomezulu was accused number one followed by Mario Masuku, Ray Russon, Mandla Hlatshwayo, Professor Dlamini, Mphandlana Shongwe, Zodwa Mkhonta, Kuseni Dlamini, Maxwell Lukhele, Sabelo Dlamini, Boy Magagula and Kuseni Dlamini (then a High School student  and the youngest person in the history of the country and struggle to be charged with high treason). 

The core of the charges was treason for forming a political party with the stated objective to overthrow the government and the head of state. The second charge was Sedition followed by a string of related charges including an offense of holding meetings at Mawelawela and Mbuluzi river near Sibebe Mountain past Mbabane, the violation of the 1938 sedition act, the 1963 public order act, and the 1973 king’s decree, etc. 

The court appearances in Mbabane became rallying points for PUDEMO cadres and SWAYOCO (informal structures at the time).  The trial judge of was Chief Justice Nicholas Hannah. PUDEMO was represented by Advocates Edna Revelas and Patrick Flynn. Flynn was acting for only one of the accused, Zodwa Mkhonza. Maxwell and Zodwa were discharged at the close of the crown’s case. Others were to acquitted at the end of the trial.

Sabelo Dlamini, Mphandlane Shongwe, Kuseni Dlamini and Mario Masuku were however sentenced to six months’ imprisonment but were released immediately as they had already spent four months in prison. The court granted them one-third remission on their sentence for good conduct. 

Dominic Mngomezulu and Ray Russon were however sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment but on November 2, 1990, they were granted bail and released from custody pending a hearing on their appeal against conviction and sentence. 

As a result of their convictions in this trial, Mario Masuku was dismissed from his job at Barclays Bank, Mphandlane Shongwe was expelled from William Pitcher College, and Sabelo Dlamini was expelled from the university after disciplinary proceedings by the university authorities which sparked protests that are today commemorated as Black Wednesday. 

After losing his prestigious job at the bank Masuku was to throw his lot into the growth of PUDEMO and the mass democratic movement. Indeed, when Masuku retired from the leadership of PUDEMO he had transformed PUDEMO from a loose network of activists into a mass movement that spoke in the voice of thousands.

NB: Mandla Hlathswayo is a founding member of PUDEMO. He writes as part of our alternative history series.


Mandla Hlathwayo

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