On the 26th of July this year Swaziland marks exactly 15 years since our country adopted a constitution as the supreme law of the land. This document had long time been coming. Looking back, we can see the carcass of missed opportunities, betrayed promises and careful manipulation of processes for a predetermined outcome.
The constitution was officially introduced to the nation at the Lobamba cattle byre by his Majesty King Mswati III on that sunny Tuesday afternoon back in 2005. Even though to many Swazis it was nothing more than just a dumb squab, to optimists if the constitution was stretched to its limits it could open doors long shut to this nation.
To the rest of the world, however, Swaziland had finally come of age and entered a new constitutional era supposedly underpinned by a bill of rights that carried all manner of promises to a nation long accustomed to royal dictatorship.
But the Swazi constitution was never popular within and outside the royal family. The progressives protested the manner the document was drafted, its flawed provisions and the fact that it did not prune the absolute powers of the king.
To the hard core conservatives within the traditional aristocracy the document attempted a silent putsch and for that people like Prince David could not be forgiven. Nothing best shows this than the many years it took for the document to become law. The ups and down over the years is indicative of a document grudgingly accepted because of international pressure.
Had it not been for the support of the Commonwealth, through its then Secretary Don McKinnon, the constitution drafting process would have stalled a long time ago. McKinnon defied both the conservatives and the progressives and pushed for the document despite its many flaws. He was able to mobilise the international community to support the constitutional making process and through the might of his force Swaziland today has a constitution.
By the time Prince David became the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the constitution drafting process had almost been completed and ready for enactment into law. Suddenly he was to be the public face of the supreme law and new constitutional era. He faced wars from two fronts; the more conservative faction of the traditional aristocrats and the progressives. Both of these groups did not want the constitution for completely different reasons.
Those who know the behind the scenes manoeuvres and intense lobbying within the royal family recall how the clause on the country’s official religion polarized the powers that be.
A majority wanted the constitution to be explicit that Christianity is the official religion but others knew what this meant to the king’s new found friends in the Middle East. It would obviously not look good. Eventually, despite the majority favouring Christianity, the king went the other way.
This was a move applauded by then Theology lecturer Dr Joshua Mzizi in his Weekend Observer column. It was, after all, a normal practise in the civilised world not to constitutionalise one religion over another. To the majority of us, we were left to ask ourselves if a clause on religion polarized the royal family this much how much worse then the bill of rights or even meek reforms of the political system?
15 years later we can only assume what Prince David must have went through in trying to have the constitution become the law of the land. Even better, we have to wonder what he thinks of the constitution and whether it has taken us forward or backwards. After all, he was the man who became the ultimate villain of the document from both ends of the political divide.
We would not know answers to these questions because Prince David is generally a shy man who avoids public attention as much as possible. However, thanks to a leaked cable of his interactions with then USA Ambassador Earl Irvin, we know what Prince David thinks of our political system, the constitution, economic situation and the way to political reforms.
Prince David privately told Ambassador Irving back in 2010 that the economic breakdown in the kingdom would force political reforms. Worsening economic condition like rising unemployment, closures of factories, and the drop on Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) receipts would compel government and royal family to abandon the tinkhundla system, he said.
The Prince, who is today Chairman of the University of Swaziland Council, said King Mswati III is surrounded by “dishonest and uneducated people” who provide him with bad advice. The Prince indicated that the King’s inaction on reforming the Tinkhundla political system would not change even if powerful senior traditional leaders such as the late Prince Mahlaba and Prince Masitsela were to pass on.
He recalled that in 1996 Presidents Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, and Ketumile Masire met with King Mswati III in Pretoria to push the monarch towards democracy but the King stated that he relied on his advisors for political issues and no subsequent change occurred.
Prince David also revealed that when it comes to political reforms former Prime Minister and now Tibiyo TakaNgwane boss Themba Dlamini was an important ally.
“Prince David emphasized that what the King says to foreign leaders cannot be relied upon, because he always deflects and temporizes to bring pressure off himself,” the Prince allegedly said in the leaked cable.
The cable also revealed that the Prince met former PUDEMO President Mario Masuku and then Secretary General of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) Jan Sithole to discuss issues of political reforms.
The Prince indicated to the Ambassador that his advise to civil society leaders such Masuku and Sithole was to work slowly and not be provocative. He believed that civic education and understanding the constitution will eventually lead to political reform. The cable suggests that because of his support for the constitution he has been sidelined politically.
The leaked cable reveals for the first time that the king asked the Prince to step down as Minister because his life was in danger. The king apparently told Prince David that some traditionalists wanted him dead because of the constitution.
If these leaked cables are true then we can imagine the frustration Prince David went through trying to force down a constitution opposed within and outside his family. What we do know, however, is that the Prince worked in a hostile environment and did what was within his powers to reform this country and for that he deserves respect.
As for the constitution, nothing best showed how it was viewed by the powers that be than the fact that His Majesty King Mswati III put it on abeyance for six months, a decision then industrial court President Peter Dunseith found to be illegal.
Today no one supports the constitution, not even the judges who are meant to give it life. They make halfhearted attempts to operationalize its promises. The government just does not care. Prince David must be looking back at all the stress, insults and even threat to his own life trying to modernise and constitutionalise a backward fiefdom and probably murmuring ‘yeka emandla esambane.’