Tinkhundla is the system of organised royal rule which sustains itself through a series of structures, values and institutions developed and reproduced to entrench the power of the royal family.
In other words, it is a means to guarantee and perpetuate royal hegemony and control of power in all spheres of our society. The system was designed by the royal family to be their instrument of self-accumulation, “yindlangayo yemalangeni”, meaning it is the vehicle to enrich and sustain the royal family and their allies.
The following are the key manifestations, defining features and prime indicators of the tinkhundla system and how it functions;
1. Corruption and parasitism; This is a normal feature and entrenched way of life in Swazi society and is in fact a result of royal parasitism, cronyism and the legalised culture of looting of state resources and national wealth.
Swazi phrases have been created to justify and decorate greed and corruption. Examples include words such as “inkhosi iyebelwa”, “sidla tikhutu”, “imali yemuke nemtilane”, “imali idliwe magundvwane”, etc. These are phrases (and practices) that have become so normalised yet are part of the ideological narrative developed by the ruling family to justify and normalise corruption and greed.
This unfortunately extends to all spheres of public life to a point that we now think it is normal and in fact acceptable to bribe or offer monetary favours to royalty and those in power for state appointments, to secure school places or even get access to various postings (including cultural institutions).
At an ideological level, the royal family has created a discourse and set of practices that have eroded all ethical conduct and moral aptitude in public life so that their greed and corruption can be seen as part of Swazi life.
2. Nepotism and favouritism; is the means through which under the Tinkhundla system of governance people are appointed into positions of responsibility both in the public and private sector. This is to ensure that members of the royal family occupy every space and seat of power without regard to their qualifications, competency and suitability.
This deliberately keeps the majority of our people out of real and meaningful participation in structures and positions of influence.
From political office to senior managerial and administrative positions, members of the royal family are littered all over to assert royal power and to reproduce their backward ideas. The idea is to hegemonise the royal family’s set of values and traditions as if they are national values.
This is best done through their placement in strategic positions so that anyone who challenges them can be rooted out. In a sense, the country is a literal fiefdom and private farm of the monarchy and the royal family.
The ultimate plan is to have people who support and defend the system as if they do so out of love yet are in fact an extension of the elaborate patronage network of the royal family deployed in key strategic positions of power in both private and public institutions.
3. Royal hegemony, domination and control; are the tools through which the whole Swazi people are kept in permanent subordination and subjugation in every way and part. In Swaziland, royal interests equal national interests. This actively promotes a culture of passivity and submission and encourages uncritical and “yes boss” attitude towards everything.
The idea is that Swazis must accept without questioning all that comes from the royal family.
The fact the king has a football tournament (ingwenyama cup), a golf tournament, a charity organisation (Philani Maswati), businesses, a church community (on Good Friday), cultural festivals (Bugani) etc is a deliberate strategy to ensure that no facet of Swazi life is not under the direct or indirect influence of the royal family. The idea is to spread royal hegemony and control.
4. Sexism and gender violence against women and children; is rampant and can be regarded as an inevitable outcome of a deeply patriarchal and sexist society that is rooted in structural violence against the most vulnerable—women and children.
In this regard, the girl child is doomed to a future with no hope as she is not human enough without a future tied to men, but also has limited choices where power relations between men and women are highly unequal.
Through the use of radio, in particular backward programs like Khalamdumbadubhane and others, the girl child is perpetually reminded of her place in the hierarchy of power. The girl child is bombarded with indoctrination of patriarchal values cloaked as respect and then justified by tradition and culture.
The woman therefore has to fight triple oppression; at home as a wife or girl child, at work where she is paid and treated differently to the male and at a national level where her social mobility is limited by her gender.
5. Exploitative practices in the name of Swazi culture and tradition; this enhances the inferior status imposed on us by the royal family.
The family subjects us to a total loss of confidence and feeling of victimhood. We are treated as objects of royal pity, exploitation and oppression. That is why when royal family members die the newspapers will run headline of ‘nation mourns’ (notice how Jan Sithole’s death no headline about ‘nation mourning’ him?) death of a royal family member or when royal family members attend events newspapers will write that they ‘grace’ events. This is to plant a psychological idea that these are very important figures to be treated with reverence.
Working in the fields of an individual and family while our children and families suffer from hunger, poverty and destitution is a naked example of a form of slavery and exploitation normalised as culture.
This can be seen from grown men living their families to go stay with the king claiming ‘sagana inkhosi‘. Swazi culture promoted collectivism and working for what is under the common control of the people and belongs to the community as a whole and not to a particular family exclusively.
The people work while the royal family consume with no sweat.
The royal family manipulates culture and tradition to serve their comprador accumulation process and justify this as culture.
6. Lack of accountability, transparency and good governance throughout all spheres of society; this practice deeply reflects the deeply entrenched tinkhundla culture that sadly permeates all sectors of our society.
Refusal to account for actions or responsibilities given is part of Tinkhundla mentality entrenched through the many excuses the royal family employs to justify looting state resources. For example, the naked nepotism of promotions of police officers or even the recruitment thereof is rampant and normalised.
The fact that other football teams are funded privately through the hard toil of ordinary Swazis while others are funded through the state (Buffaloes, Royal Leopard, and Correctional Services) and there is no oversight mechanism to curb this or bring the authorities to account on same has become a defining feature of Swaziland.
Tinkhundla system makes pretences to good governance almost impossible hence the entire civil service will grind to a halt merely because the king is leaving and senior government bureaucrats have to go wave goodbye. This is but the legacy of Tinkhundla governance and this happens at all levels of the state.
7. Lack of visionary leadership and poor management of public resources, institutions and people; which is the key reason for the rot and failure of every part of Swazi society. Nothing works, because nothing is properly organised.
The only time the royal family ever had a national plan was the ill-conceived 2022 dream which itself is a reflection of a king’’ vision influenced by hobnobbing with petro-dollar rich Arab friends without due regard to fiscal realities in Swaziland.
There is no plan about how to integrate Swazi Nation Land into developmental plans of the nation. An important resource like land is surrendered to chiefs and other shady figures who have created disputes everywhere.
The lack of a plan on land has led to arbitrary evictions and lack of service delivery on Swazi Nation Land
8. Imposed and false identity on the people and the abuse of our symbols and language to patronise our being Swazis; which is about the fact that what we call our language and culture are now royal tools of control and subordination. Words such as, “nine bekunene”, ‘leli la Bhuza litakuhlolela”, “tsine sakhuliswa ngenhlonipho”, “live lenkhosi”, “ukhulumisa kwemfati”, etc. are loaded with tinkhundla-rism
and meant to entrench the centrality of the royal family at all levels of our lives. Even at funerals, we are all expected to say ‘Nkhosi’ after umphakatsi speaks, even if that umphakatsi is not Dlamini per se, denoting the dominance of the royal family in our lives.
9. Institutionalised poor performance in public service and lack of a culture of hard work and service delivery to the people; which are deeply embedded in the very ethics of tinkhundla functioning. The people are not at the centre of public institutions and focus, but the royal family is, hence the poor service to the people and superior quality service to the royal family.
9. Appropriation of religious values to sustain royal power and narrow accumulation interests; They have made religion and the belief system to be integrated into the DNA of tinkhundla oppression through a false narrative about the royal family’s proximity to God.
These belief systems entrench royal power and abuse religion to serve the narrow interests of the family in power. The royal family’s careful weaving of evil traditional customs with a hypocritical love for God smacks of their deception and manipulation tactics. It is no mistake that the royal family has kept a tight leash on the indigenous zionist and Jericho faith and religiously holds Good Friday service every year.
This is to play a political role so that the monarch is seen as part of the church or supports it. The fact that the king makes sure to appoint religious leaders like Bishop Nash Shongwe who enjoy substantive following and many other pastors is to ensure that royal control extends very deep in the church. Ordinarily, any true Christian worth his or her conviction would know that that royal family is founded on deep satanic practices that border on witchcraft and other evil spirits completely at odds with God’s teachings.
10. Abuse of education (particularly false history and socialisation of children) to justify and entrench royal values in the name of Swazi culture and tradition, hence the reproduction of royal values as our national pride. Children are being taught royal values and interests as if they are our national pride and interests as a people, thus helping to deepen the ideological stranglehold of the tinkhundla system in perpetuity.
The vulgurisation of our history to reflect one family–the Dlamini royal family– and not the many Swazis who fought for freedom and independence is the worse form of insult to the many clans and Swazis who fought for freedom and continue to do so to this day.
However, the royal version is is reproduced through the school system to pacify Swazis and elevate the Dlamini royal family as the be-it-and all of Swaziland. This has successfully been done by elevating and in fact embellishing the role of Sobhuza and his role in getting Swazis freedom. The royal family rallies on the legacy of Sobhuza that has been sanitised of its brutal and dictatorial persona especially how he treated democracy activists and ruled as a dictator.
11. Flaunting of wealth and glamorous life for the royal family with no care or sensitivity for the massive misery of the people. This results in royal show-offs being seen as normal and necessary, hence the lukewarm attitudes against the glaring inequalities of wasteful greed on the one hand and shocking poverty on the other. The fact that the backward aristocracy and its slew of family members are literally at every part of economic activity leeching dry this nation shows their greed, selfishness and avarice.
They then display and show off the proceeds of our wealth on social media to wide admiration and ululation by our people who seek to be like them or socialise in their circle. The culture of shameful display of designer labels costing Millions by royal children who are not known to have worked a day in their lives has become a source of admiration than revulsion.
12. State terror and coercion in the name of law and order; which results in the ruthlessly oppressive and repressive life throughout Swazi society. This criminalises all forms of political activity and attempts by ordinary people to think freely and independently. All Swazis must think and act as the sacred “royal version of things” so prescribed.
The sad legacy of Tinkhundla mentality is a belief among Swazis that someone else will liberate this country and not their own sacrifices.
That is why even the most progressive of organisations will go to the American Embassy or South African Embassy to whine like spoilt brats asking for foreign intervention instead of encouraging Swazis to face the might of the police and army like all nations who faced oppression and gained their freedom.
13. Vulgurising of the Swazi struggle as confused, hopeless and doomed to fail; through its propaganda machinery Tinkhundla plants the idea that the Swazi struggle is doomed to fail and that the monarchy is too powerful to be overthrown.
Through various means Swazis even begin to use the talking points of the royal family to say anyone who wants change ‘sofuna kufana nabo Mphandlana‘ as a means to discourage people from fighting for democracy or to see the struggle as beneath them. These ideas are the ideological arsenal used to disarm and fight any threats of uprising in Swaziland.
NB: Manqoba Nxumalo is the chairman of the eSwatini Institute of Alternative Ideas (SIAI). He writes in his personal capicity.