A few months ago Swaziland celebrated independence. It fell off the radar to many to analyse what this independence has meant to the nation, 50 years later. Importantly, what this calls for is to revisit the events that led us to be ‘free’ and then to ask if this was not a case of a dream deferred.
It is important to recall that the country’s Independence was celebrated on September 6, 1968 after a delay of well over a year mainly because of the refusal of Sobhuza II and the Swazi National Council to allow control over the land and minerals rights to be passed to the government, cabinet and parliament. The royal aristocracy was determined to reclaim its long lost power over the land and mineral rights. However, at the same time they were quick to assure their white settler and capitalist partners that their interests were secured under the new government and leadership of the king.
Meanwhile, independence created huge excitement and expectations to the nation, particularly amongst the rural poor who had suffered the most under colonial rule. Various celebrations were held throughout the country, whilst others took to the streets to express their excitement and jubilations. There were expectations for a better life, eradication of poverty, return of the stolen land, access to means of development, improved education, health, rural development infrastructure, shared economic development and full participation by all Swazis in the economic, social and political affairs of the country. The redress of grievances around the issues of land for agriculture, animal grazing rights, access to natural resources like water from various rivers, wild life, natural forestry, access to business opportunities, mineral rights all of which had been unjustly and forcefully dispossessed by the colonialists, was foremost in the minds of many communities.
Meanwhile, workers in factory floors, farms fields and mines; wounded by over a century of exploitation, abuse and racial discrimination, had high expectations for better working conditions, restoration of worker rights in the work place, protection from exploitation and abuse in an economy that was dominated by white settlers and white capital.
However, the message was loud and clear as soon as the royal party and Dlamini aristocracy took power that their ideology of subordinating Swazi imaginations and aspirations to some nebulous philosophy of ‘unique Swazi’ (largely represented by the king, chiefs, traditional regiments and ancient customs, many of which totally out of sync with modern society) that in fact independence was more about celebrating the restoration of the political and economic power of the royal aristocracy which had been lost during colonial rule under Mbandzeni than the liberation of the people or their progress.
Havelock Mine opened in the thirties and was the fourth largest asbestos mine in the world at the time. Later it became Bulembu Mine. The mineral rights of the country were to be bestowed to the king after independence.
The Royal Party, Imbokodvo National Movement (INM) took office without any serious agenda to restore the economic rights of the majority, in spite of the fact that the Colonialists had appropriated 66 percent of the country’s land and practically confined the entire nation on the remaining 34 percent. The theme and philosophy of the king and the entire royal aristocracy was to celebrate the “wisdom and super natural powers” of the king who, through peaceful methods, ‘had brought back the land’. There was a deliberate effort to obliterate the memory and heroic role played by the broader Swazi society in fighting and resisting colonialism from as early as 1860s including community rebellions against the colonialists right up to the work place resistance that culminated in the 1963 national general strike for better wages and restoration of the rights of the people. It all now centred on the ‘heroic’ role of the aristocracy in giving the nation independence ‘peacefully’.
In reality, Imbokodvo merely exchanged seats in parliament with the colonialists and continued with the same exclusionary, market policies, oppressive security legislations and exploitative practices that had been the hallmark of colonial rule. The regime not only sought to defend and affirm the vested interest of the white settler community and international capital but fundamentally transformed the feudalistic ruling class into a new vampire capitalist elite of the kingdom. Large multi nationals embarked on a process of accommodating royal business interest by offering shares to the king through Tibiyo or the so called Swazi Nation.
The full intent, ambitions and the vampire character of the royal elite was initially masked by the restraints of the independence constitution with its entrenched provisions which included a full bill of rights, the recognition of political parties and a requirement of a national referendum for any of the provisions to be changed. It was not until the results of the 1972 general elections, where the Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC) won three parliamentary seats on a pro poor agenda, that the true character of the royal aristocracy showed its true colours.
The election victory of the NNLC, though small, constituted an unprecedented challenge to the Dlamini royal aristocrats and was seen as putting at risk the entire customary architecture of the absolute power of the king which was at the heart of the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM). This explains the decision to go all out to remove Thomas Bhekindlela Ngwenya from the country on the grounds that he was South African. When the INM and Swaziland National Council under the direction of Sobhuza II lost the case at the high court they quickly set up a special tribunal to probe Ngwenya’s Citizenship, which proceeded to pronounce him as unSwazi. When the High Court again reversed the decision and declared the tribunal illegally constituted, the king and INM were totally cornered and had their backs against the wall. They faced an unpredictable political future, they were left with no other option but to abandon the constitutional process and take political power by force. It is important to recognize that Ngwenya had participated in the 1967 elections without objections and had earlier been admitted into the Vuvulane out-grower sugar cane scheme which was opened only to Swazis.
King Sobhuza II with Sir Francis Loyd, Queen’s Commissioner to Swaziland, at a ceremony to mark internal self-rule for Swaziland in readiness for full independence in 1968.
On 12 April 1973, in a highly coordinated action, the Imbokodvo National Movement, under its then leader Prime Minister Makhosini Dlamini, moved and adopted an unconstitutional and illegal resolution declaring the national constitution unworkable, therefore appealing for intervention and direction by Sobhuza II. The resolution was adopted despite fierce resistance from the NNLC. The following were the highlights of the resolution;
· The Constitution has failed to provide the machinery for good government
and for the maintenance of peace and order;
· The Constitution is the cause of growing unrest, insecurity, dissatisfaction
with the state of affairs in our country and is an impediment to free and
progressive development in all spheres of life;
· The Constitution has permitted the importation into our country of
highly undesirable political practices alien to, and incompatible with, the way
of life in our society and designed to disrupt and destroy our own peaceful and
constructive and essentially democratic methods of political activity;
increasingly this element engenders hostility, bitterness, and unrest in our peaceful
When Sobhuza II read the April 12, 1973 king’s Proclamation to the Nation repealing the national constitution he did not have any legal instrument upon which his decision was based.
On that day the king declared a state of emergence, banned political parties (including civic organisations), took away all civil liberties and assumed all political, executive, judicial, legislative powers to himself. In other words he effected a coup d’état.
Coincidentally he also announced the formation of Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) and the introduction of the 60 days detention without trial order.
It is clear that the king anticipated that his decision was illegal and would likely be resisted hence he announced that the new army would be placed ‘at strategic sectors of the country’ to monitor any form of resistance.
It must be noted that the Swaziland Sugar industry partly funded the new army through a sugar levy applied on all sugar exported to Europe. The sugar levy had been initially intended to fund developmental projects such as the Mobeni housing scheme in Matsapha and Mbabane. It is precisely due to the change of policy in 1973 that the Mobeni Housing schemes have not been expanded as funding was diverted from social development to securing political control by the king.
In the next issue we are going to dig deep into the events of 1973 and how they have shaped contemporary Swaziland. Sadly our stillborn independence was killed by the 1973 decree hence a need to focus on its influence to this day.
NB: Mandla Hlatshwayo is the former Illovo Chief Executive Officer. He writes as part of our alternative history series.