The Swazi Struggle in the Post-Cold War Period

It is an open historical fact that most of the well-known national political parties were formed during the Cold War period. Some of them, the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) being one example, were formed not only at the height of the cold war era but also during British colonial rule.

It is for that reason that the NNLC got to be called a ‘National Liberatory’ Congress to reflect the political dynamics of the time–to liberate the country from foreign domination. Back then, the world was divided between the capitalist west and socialist east.

These national movements had to align themselves ideologically within the obtaining binary world if they wanted to gain support for their struggle. On the other hand, most of the current political formations, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) being a leading example, were formed in the post-colonial era but within the Cold War dynamics.

This reality did not spare PUDEMO from ideological alignment with the two world politico-economic systems of the time. As a result, the party became more socialist in their ideological leanings and aligned itself with the socialist movement of the era.
The common ideological posture here was the belief in the fall of world capitalism and the triumph of a socialist world order. In the case of Swaziland, the methodology was simple: seize state power, overthrow the semi-feudal rule and then establish a socialist democratic society.

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The author pictured her with another Swazi exile ,Lucky Mthembu, in Moscow, USSR. 

This was to be done either through a popular revolution or armed struggle. The ultimate idea was to contribute to the strengthening of World Socialism. At the time this was one of the most noble cause we ever undertook. In the final analysis, it was a demonstration of our commitment to Internationalist values and solidarity with all toiling masses of the world.

In 2020, however, the world is different. Since the fall of socialism back in 1991 we have seen new political and structural changes the world over. These changes have happened in the most hard core of socialist countries whether in the USSR or Mozambique, Nicaragua or Vietnam and many other others.

If anything, bourgeoisie democracy has taken firm root in contrast to the socialist renewal we all hoped for. The purpose of this article therefore is to ascertain how these political changes in the world have affected (or not affected) the national political parties in our country and their world outlook.

For purposes of this article I intend to focus on the leading opposition party, PUDEMO, because it calls itself the national “premier liberation” movement. For the uninitiated, the party was formed in 1983 and one of its immediate aims was to oppose Liqoqo royal rule with the sole purpose of eventually ending our semi-feudal society.

In other words, the purpose of our struggle was and is to get rid of Tinkhundla or traditional leadership in all spheres of our public institutions and to replace these with a democratic society where transparency and accountability plays a pivotal role in management and running of the state.

As noted above, when PUDEMO was formed the colonial master did not exist and for this reason no need to liberate our country from ‘foreign domination’. It is important to emphasise that the essence of ‘liberation movement’ tag gets its relevance where there is foreign rule in that given country. Without it, I argue, it simply does not make sense other than piling unnecessary pressure to liberate a country that is already liberated.

It is also important to state that back in 1983 our country had no diplomatic links with the socialist bloc and had no bilateral relations with the east. Back then the Prime Minister was a marquess while few people could name or recognise their own Tinkhundla Members of Parliament.

Today, however, contemporary Swaziland is different. Many Swazis are now well educated, live differing lifestyles and have abundance of mass-media outlets hence the time for automatic respect for traditional leadership and whatever socio-cultural processes it represents is all but gone.

The tragedy, therefore, is that our national political movements have failed to transform and adjust to these new structural and political changes. We still conduct the struggle with a tinge of amnesia to the pre 1991 era. Of course, there were benefits then.

For example, some of us were brutally expelled from the University of Swaziland with nowhere to go. However, given the dynamics and support our movement received from Socialist countries, we could pursue our studies abroad for FREE.

Interestingly, when world socialism collapsed in 1991 most of these socialist leaning countries and ruling parties revisited their political programmes. It would, however, take up to 1996 for PUDEMO to ‘unban’ itself and cease  operating clandestinely.

However, politically and ideologically, the party remained stuck to its pre 1996 programs and world outlook. It is for that reason that to this day PUDEMO still calls itself a “premier Liberation movement” aiming to liberate Swaziland from “foreign” autocracy/dictatorship than Royal hegemony/Tinkhundla over all spheres of our public institutions.

Ironically, we also say ‘the liberation of the masses is the business of the masses themselves’. The emancipation of the masses is not automatic and never was. We know this from studying history. Rather, the liberation of nations begins with a clear leadership that can coordinate and transform peoples practical attempts into concrete mass action.

The question then is are we there yet? Not a chance, especially given our current programs and modus operandi. Our programs lack clarity and coherence hence the growing break aways and factions in the progressive camp.

Even PUDEMO’s organisational structures still bear the birthmarks of liberation movement ‘democratic centralism’ rhetoric than democracy itself. The idea of party democracy is that everyone must be heard in full in order to be judged accurately.

However, democratic centralism is the other side of the coin, similar to Monarchial democracy. To borrow from Clement Attlee, the post WW II Labour Prime Minister, “Democracy is government by discussion, but there comes a time to stop people from talking and do the job“‘.

Given this, there is no reason why comrades are not assigned to committees to come up with possible solutions to various national problems that face our communities. Another tragedy is the character or nature of our party leaders.

These are not full time officers but part-timers. Modern opposition movement cannot be successful at the hands of leaders who only come out to vent their opposition because the occasion favours them. They must be full time because party work comes first than any other business.

The point to be stressed here is that as an opposition movement we have lost touch with the people. We lost touch with the essence of our basic purpose of organising and mobilising the masses for a coordinated assault on a ‘dead’ government.

To some we are even seen as a party of protests, some pressure group or elite cult of some sort. To others, we are seen as the movement of the very poor and vulnerable –bogogo and street vendors.

What defines an entity is not necessarily its name, aims and objective rather what it does on a daily basis to live up to same. In a nutshell, what defines an entity is how it cascades the practical aims of the struggle on a daily basis.

Political leaders can only motivate their followers and create more support/capacity for the chosen cause if they lead by example. To do this, one needs self-discipline, self-belief and self-courage.

You not there to warm up the seat but to create a legacy and  capacity to revive and revitalise your movement. Party work comes first and if it does not then  we are  swimming in mediocrity.

Such a tasks will naturally come with enemies. The pragmatic leader is a unifier and pacifier at the same time despite possible opposition and enemies. To be in opposition politics means capacity to provide answers to the country’s failures. That alone means not just capitalising on the failures of this tinkhundla government but also making a case for an alternative to it.

Stating the Case of the Alternative

If we got a bad political system(Tinkhundla), bad ruler(despotic king Mswati) and a bad people(the ‘bayethe’ people), where do we start to initiate change? Change is an internal thing and starts with the very agents of change–at part level.

If we want a democratic re-organisation of society, then as agents of democracy ourselves we must conduct our business in a democratic way. The progressive movement is full of factions bleeding it to death because of decades upon decades of disagreements over our programs and way of conducting struggle.

Transforming society is a huge task but you stand a chance if you the transformer has transformed too. Social transformation of any society only takes shape when large numbers of people are involved and working together around common goals outside of rigid ideologies.

In a modern world, post-cold war era, the guiding ideology cannot be fixed. It has to be open-minded and play a lesser role to the party policy and strategy/tactics. If ideology matters in the struggle than democracy itself, then we should be seeing more and more people sharing that ideology. It is my considered view that ideology in the fight for democracy is diminutive of the essence of democracy.

People on the ground are not asking us how much detail we have about Marxism, Maoism, Trotskyism, Machiavellianism, etc. All they want to know is our stand on the problems they face daily. Is it not then high time we make a case for an alternative society? Is it not time we got rid of old and stale programs in order to garner support to overwhelm the forces of reaction and conservatism?


 PUDEMO leaders pictured at a political rally.

Creating capacity for the Movement

The question to be asked is how do we then create enough capacity for our movement so to silence the forces of reaction and traditional leadership in our country? Two things are crucial: keep our program simple and coherent. Campaigns about democracy are fine but is abstract.

Our opponents (NOT enemy) have managed to convince our people that democracy itself is un-African. However, talk about transparency and accountability is real and cannot be easily dismissed as foreign.

Talk about sovereignty of parliament is realistic. In any successful country, parliament is the cockpit of the nation that holds the government of the day to account.

For example, there is no one to hold the government accountable for the waste of that Nhlangano-sicunusa road yet the very people are paying for it. We must therefore campaign for power to parliament just as the Bolsheviks strove for “power to the Soviets”.

The point here is that there is a political stalemate then all means must be utilised to break it. And that means starting the political assault from somewhere.

We live with hope that in our midst there is a mix of the old and new warriors of our struggle. The old or veterans of our movement are a group of survivors who have learned the lessons of both colonial rule and the disasters of tinkhundla royal hegemony. They must teach the new comrades those lessons to carry the struggle forward.


NB: David Vilakazi is a founding member of PUDEMO. He was part of the 21 students expelled at the University of Swaziland in 1985 for opposing the liqoqo regime. He was exiled in Russia and later Britain. He writes in his personal capacity.

David Vilakazi

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