1967. 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. (Sourced from www.sntc.org.sz)

The Dlaminisation of Swaziland: the rotten legacy of King Sobhuza II

 

Sobhuza started the practice of sending out his sisters to non-Dlamini chiefs. By so doing, he managed to link the Dlamini dynasty to influential families within the emerging Swazi kingdom.

 

According to Chief Mafohla Sukati, chief of Mpembekati and a member of the Ludzidzini inner council, Sobhuza used marriage as a method of gaining closer control of some non-Dlamini chiefdoms by giving out his daughters and sisters to non-Dlamini chiefs.

 

For instance, Sobhuza’s sisters, Sengcabaphi was given to the Nkambeni chief Dinane in the 1920s following the death of her sister, Ntongontongo, in 1918. Ntongontongo was married to Dinane. Mzamose was taken to Vusumuzi Bhembe of Ezikhotheni, and Mnengwase was taken to Mbetsambalo in the Motjane area.

 

Likewise, his daughter Ntombane was given to Manceba in the Dlangeni area, Tfobi was given to Ndabefihlwayo, Ntfombindze was taken to Mathutha, chief of Ekuvinjelweni, Sitsini was taken to KaShiba Ezibondeni, Shiyose was taken to Lovutha Magongo of Elangeni, and Betfusile was taken to chief of KaNgcamphalala in the Lubombo.

 

According to Swazi custom, the princess bears the heir to the chiefship and chiefs had no way of refusing a princess sent to them by the king. This ensured the loyalty of the entire chiefdoms, as a son born by the princess automatically became the heir to the chiefly throne. Kuper notes that out of about twenty-five chiefs she interviewed in 1934, she found that more than half were directly or indirectly related to the king.

 

Sobuza’s wives pictured at a stadium. The late king used the system of placing his brothers and sisters to neutralise the recalcitrant Southern chiefs

The net effect of this was that the notoriously recalcitrant chiefs of the south who were brought under close control by Sobhuza “were much less free and independent than in the old days”.

 

This was made possible by the fact that the 1950 Native Act gave chiefs more powers over their subjects than they had enjoyed in pre-colonial days. The British strengthened the position of chiefs through the policy of ‘indirect rule’.

 

Sobhuza, II for his part, used the support he received from the colonial office in dealing with recalcitrant chiefs. For instance, he was now given the powers to appoint and to dismiss chiefs.

 

He also refused that chiefs be salaried, as he believed that they would shift their allegiance to the colonial officers. Booth notes that in 1957 the colonial administration criminalized acts of disobedience on the part of chiefs to Sobhuza’s decrees, which led to the conviction of chiefs in colonial courts.

 

However, this should not be misunderstood to mean that Swazis were peace-loving is as there was tension between Sobhuza and some local chiefs. In fact, the political structure which Sobhuza attempted to mould lacked a firm foundation because it owed everything to his highly personalised style of rule. This became more evident after his demise as it was difficult for the Dlamini authorities to find a suitable replacement.

 

It was only after Sobhuza’s death that Swazi people realised that he had been a dictator. When it came to placing his brothers and sons, Sobhuza, according to Ben Dlamini, did little. Ben Dlamini argues that members of the royal family criticized Sobhuza for not observing this tradition of placing princes.

 

According to Swazi custom, the kings’ brothers are not allowed to stay at the same palace as the king after their teen years as they might disturb the king by conspiring against him. They should, therefore, be sent away to exercise their powers in areas at some distance from the royal palace.

 

One major exception to this pattern was Prince Makhosikhosi who in 1922 was sent to Prince Sijula Dlamini whom Sobhuza had instructed to apportion to Makhosikhosi part of the area Sijula controlled. It is said Makhosikhosi had quarrelled with a number of his brothers at the royal village and was difficult to control. He was thus made chief of Embelebeleni.

 

Alan Booth pushes the argument further, asserting that Makhosikhosi was the true heir to Mahlokohla’s throne and not Sobhuza II. For instance, he records that “Domestically bitter opposition to Sobhuza’s legitimacy centred in one of his half-brothers, Makhosikhosi Dlamini, whose mother (LaMavimbela) had been regarded at the time of Bhunu’s death as holding the inside track of the office of Indlovukazi.”

 

This may well provide a better explanation of why he was among the tiny number of princes to be placed. Giving him an area to rule was a way of consoling and silencing him.

 

LoMalombo Dlamini, who is a prince himself, only recalls four of Sobhuza’s sons who were sent out as chiefs. Most of these were sent to areas which were previously farms owned by whites as freehold title land and had been without chiefs for a very long time.

 

The local commoners who remained on those farms readily accepted the candidate. This was especially the case with Emahambate, which were former farms owned by white settlers and bought back by the government after independence.

 

It is probable that Sobhuza decided to reserve these areas for purposes of placing his father’s wives, sons, and brothers and no wonder that most of the areas even today still do not have chiefs but only tindvuna.

 

For instance, Davies and his colleagues contend that “while Sobhuza was alive, his position was inviolate and the factional struggles remained to some extent hidden within the complex rituals of royalism.”

 

According to LoMalombo and Mfanasibili; Zinjoli was sent to Zandondo, Mvelaphansi was sent to Mabovini, Matatazela was given Nhlambeni, Mshengu was sent to Mahlangatja, Makhosikhosi was sent to Mbelebeleni and Maguga was sent to Macetjeni, reflecting that he was regarded as Sobhuza’s brother and not his son.

 

The issue of sending Maguga to Macetjeni and Ka-Mkhweli chiefdoms has become a subject of a heated debate involving the people of Macetjeni and the traditional authorities and is the first of its kind to explode into an open revolt in the history of the kingdom.

 

The late King Sobhuza II at the country’s independence celebrations. Writers chronicles how he built the nation around royal interests.

 

According to Dr Ben Dlamini, Sobhuza did not depose chiefs in favour of his sons and brothers because he had great respect for the non- Dlamini chiefs. He is of the opinion that such placings could well have been met with resistance from the chiefs and their followers which Sobhuza was anxious to avoid.

 

This did not mean that chiefs were not deposed in the past but were only on very rare occasions that would be done as for instance, under the charge of murder and witchcraft. Even then, the character of the chief was an important factor. If he was harsh or corrupt, the people would welcome a change and he would be deposed, but if he was good the reverse would be the case.

 

Another reason for Sobhuza not placing a lot of his brothers was that under colonial rule boundaries had been drawn and expeditions for purposes of raiding neighbouring groups had stopped. In this way, there was no new land annexed to that of Swaziland as had been the case with Sobhuza I and Mswati II to which the king’s brothers could be sent to rule.

 

With a view to creating alternative opportunities for his brothers and sons, Sobhuza formed Tibiyo and Tisuka TakaNgwane in 1968 and 1975 respectively, a business venture for the royal family held ‘in trust’ for the Swazi nation in which many of his relatives were employed.

 

Levin claims that through Tibiyo, Sobhuza created a comprador bourgeoisie and that the institution constituted the material basis for the transformation of the entire social structure of Swaziland.

 

Sobhuza II also sent some of his brothers and sons to certain companies to act as liaison officers or his ‘eyes’ (liso leNkhosi) in the late 1960s. They were expected to update him on the activities of both the company management and the workmen.

 

This was the case more especially with the companies in the Lubombo sugar belt which operated with the Tibiyo TakaNgwane as a joint venture on a fifty- per cent basis.

 

The companies paid the princes. Sobhuza also sent his sons and brothers to overseas missions as ambassadors and also appointed them into powerful positions in companies to serve as board members as a way of silencing them.

 

This article has attempted to show how Sobhuza, after his accession to power devised strategies to meet the challenges which had been caused by the disastrous reigns of Mbandzeni Bhunu, and the long regency of Queen Labotsibeni which saw Dlamini central control devolving to the regions.

 

The argument has centred on how Sobhuza II managed to weld together the Swazi state through the manipulation of culture and tradition, through the revival of the regimental system, putting in place measures to counter the corrosive influence of missionary education, and suppression of dissenting voices during the period towards independence and immediately after.

 

NB: This article was sourced from Thabani Thwala’s Master thesis titled  ‘The Politics of Placing Princes in Historical and Contemporary Swaziland.’ This is an abridged and edited version. Read the full thesis 

 

Zakhele Dlamini

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