A leaderless struggle: a long walk to freedom

The Swazi struggle has a long and proud history. It dates back to the wars of colonial resistance right up to the emergence of the Ngwane National Liberator Congress (NNLC) and their mobilisation of workers for decent pay. The NNLC irked the then King, Sobhuza II, who saw them as a threat to the status quo owing to their militant politics hence the events that led us to the kind of politics we have today.

April 12, 1973 brought a significant shift in the political dynamic of Swaziland. On this day the country was turned into a fiefdom when the late king usurped all executive, legislative and judiciary powers and made himself the supreme leader of the country. This day marked an end to Swaziland’s four-year old Independence constitution and nascent democracy obtained in 1968. King Sobhuza believed the power to rule was his birthright. Even his successor, the current king, inherited the myth of divine right to rule.

However, the birth of opposition movements in the subsequent years signified a ‘woke’ people suddenly contesting space to influence decision making over their lives. The needs are clear and the end goal clearer but the organization to take us there in shambles. For 32 years, Swaziland was without a legal document guiding its political life.  15 years ago we were dealt another blow when a Constitution tailored to legitimise the Tinkhundla political system was enacted into law. 2005 marked a year in which the ’73 decree was entrenched and institutionalised as a legal guide to politics in Swaziland.

What a historic year 2005 was. The enslavement of Swazis through custom-made Tinkhundla politics was spelt in black and white. This document had one role; to ultimately place the monarchy beyond public reach and scrutiny. More precisely, while the 1973 decree stole our independence the 2005 constitution went a notch up legitimised a 47 year old thievery by the Dlamini family. In all these years the opposition political parties have been mounting an offensive with little success. The question is why?

The Swaziland constitution is 15 years old this year. In effect, the document extended our long wait for freedom. Quite frankly, in the 32 years before the promulgation of the constitution, the royal family was able to organize, assess and invest in a model of governance that protects their interests and those of their cronies. Tinkhundla has therefore built a fortress around the royal family by brainwashing the majority of Swazis through various institutions and then reinforcing it by having a brutal armed force always ready and eager to quash dissent.

It is by design that instead of organizing for change we as a people only just lament. We lament over the plight of our people, the opulence of the royalty, lament about the deepening corruption and whine about the depreciating standards of living in our country. All this is meant to continually frustrate the ordinary Swazi whose hope for a chance to a decent life relies on pleasing their majesties in exchange for a place underneath the royal dining table. The status quo fosters obedience to the slave masters in the most shameful of ways.

The regime has successfully planted mistrust amongst progressives and evidence to that are these endlessly mushrooming splinter political parties, not to mention the existing dysfunctional ones.

Tinkhundla continues to manage Swazi politics well. They know which legislation gullible parliamentarians would pass to calm the waters while they continue the looting, unlawful evictions and demolitions. Talking of demolitions, earlier it was Vuvulane, then Macetjeni and a few days ago it was Mangwaneni residents evicted and structures demolished. Those resisting were assaulted. The question is which land do Swazis have a right to? Hats off, this regime has its repressive arsenal ready to spill blood at the slightest transgression.

The monarchy has learnt to foster obedience, a taught philosophy, to sustain their rule. Kubutseka—a culture of servitude—is to this day prized over schooling. The consequence is that this culture of servitude leads to multitudes of desperate Swazis paying allegiance to the king to feed them.

 

PUDEMO activists posing for a picture

Enter PUDEMO

PUDEMO is a prominent political party proscribed under the Anti Terrorism law.  As a professed leader of the Swazi struggle, we should understand the invaluable losses when we spend time lamenting and not organising. A minute we waste crying, Tinkhundla invests in fortifying their grip on power. PUDEMO where are you really? Poverty and destitution are deepening, our people dying and PUDEMO had disappeared from the scene.

As a people we know that to win this battle we need unity of purpose yet we selfishly form countless breakaway parties antagonistic to each other. Surely the most useless liberation movement the world has ever seen is currently in Swaziland. A fragmented and disorganized democratic movement can never win a political struggle. Is it not Benjamin Franklin who advised that failure to prepare is preparing to fail.  Ours I would argue is a suicide mission.

If PUDEMO is about 37 years into a relentless struggle for freedom in Swaziland then the question is what then is missing link? Tinkhundla as a system has not lasted this long by chance. Now, to self-correct, unity of purpose may be all there is to wage this struggle effectively. This task has historically been served by united democratic fronts, like the United Democratic Front (UDF) in South Africa against Apartheid.

Launched in 1983, the UDF was an anti-Apartheid body comprised of anti-apartheid organizations. Earlier on, a patriotic front party was formed lin1976 in Zimbabwe bringing together ZANU and ZAPU forces to advance one nationalist struggle which saw freedom 4 years later. Unity and has proven more effective in for most liberation movements but in Swaziland we advance the struggle quite in the opposite direction and are surely headed for doom.

Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA), the Swaziland People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) all serve no particular interest to the liberation of the people individually. Only unity shall usher a genesis of a well-coordinated liberation movement.

Our people have perished. That reality is louder now with a deadly virus that feasts on the poor and less fortunate. We are unofficially condemned to death and we know these realities. Foreign governments have made endless monetary and otherwise donations. Where these have gone only the royal family and their lieutenants know. Health care workers do not have protective gear and the government has long told them off unapologetically so.

Death is dawning upon everyone but how do we choose to die? Do we die as sacrificial lambs thanks to COVID-19 or as gallant soldiers fighting for self-determination for our country? Our fight is not COVID but a pandemic of lies and corruption, evil and oppression.

Each day passing a new political party is launched in Swaziland making the liberation calls even more uncoordinated. Too many cooks spoil the broth. In our case, these parties are nothing short of just disgruntled leaders aiming to settle scores often their former political parties.

Our struggle requires one solid liberation movement. A movement invested in organizing, unifying and further strategizing towards a liberation call.

Thabo Dlamini

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