How King Mswati tore the social fibre of this country


A word that like no other encompasses the shared identity among Swazis. Or rather, encompassed what it meant to be Swazi before Mswati ripped apart the common fabric we shared.

For generations, we lived under the security blanket that civil war could never break up in Swaziland because we believed we were all related. Maybe we didn't share a common grandparent, or even surname, but there was always something that tied us together. “Uwaka Sibiya? Hhawu! Gogo lotala Make wakaSibiya!” Suddenly that person stopped being a stranger, but they became part of the ties you call family. In less than 90 days those ties unravelled with a click of a gun.

After 400 years of life under the Dlamini royal family, Mswati did what no other King before him could achieve: he tore us apart. He turned brother against brother; daughter against father; husband against wife. In families across the the country people are suddenly seeing their blood relatives in a new light. 

A wife waits for her soldier husband to fall asleep before she can call her friends to tell them how bloody his uniform was; a son writes the petition that will land on his mother’s desk; a sister points a gun at her brother. Worse still, a soldier whips and kills a 'stranger' only to go home to receive news that his own cousin has been killed by another soldier. It's a paradoxical tale of a country gone mad. 

There is no more glaring example than the Mabuza brothers: Bacede Mabuza and his brother Jabulani Mabuza. On the one hand, Minister Mabuza, commonly known as 'Buy Cash', laments the loss of E100million in razed stock after his businesses were set alight across the country yet on the other hand, Bacede languishes in jail on the orders of the government his brother serves.  

Two brothers sit on opposite ends of the political aisle: Buy Cash serving as a Minister in the government that has killed over one hundred Swazis, while Bacede is fighting for those people’s right to not be killed for protesting. This is true across the country. One family member wakes up to go protest and another to go kill the protestors and come back to share a meal in the evening. 


To the uninitiated 'Mkhaya' is more just a casual greeting among Swazis. Mkhaya means more—My home boy. My buddy (from back home). My neighbour--Someone I have shared experiences with. Someone who has seen my humanity. How does that person come back and point a gun at me? Where is their humanity? I know I am not their blood, but we shared a bond. 

From walking to school together, to herding cows to the watering hole, our lives were linked by circumstance, but that doesn’t make those links less valid. Which community are you going to come back to after you've traversed the country shooting boMkhaya balabanye? How are you to come back to your family after a day spent killing the family of others?

Minister and brother to Bacede Mabuza, Jabulani 'Buy Cash' Mabuza

Where is your home? Is it in Mswati, or is it among your people? How glorious it would be for Minister Buy Cash to stand up and say I am not prepared to lose my brother, a flesh of mine, in service of a mad dictator. How beautiful it would be to see a soldier put down his rifle because he recognized the face staring back at him in petrified horror. Then suddenly the soldier remembers the bodies belong to actual people. How powerful would it be for a police officer to raise a placard along with the other marchers?

The buildings and the businesses will be rebuilt—loans will always be available. The investors will come back once the giant leech is gone - after all Swaziland has a lot of things going for it, not least of which is our young population. What cannot be easily be reconstituted is the social fabric that has been torn apart. Children are now afraid of police officers and soldiers - institutions ostensibly formed to protect them. 

We don’t trust government any more. Corruption has become a normal part of society. How we go back and foster those ties is anyone’s guess. Even after Mswati is dead and buried, the din of the bullets he rained on us will continue to ring in our ears. We will see our brothers not as our keepers, but as our killers. How do we build a nation off that?

A cabinet divided?

Here at The Bridge, we can unequivocally say the time for appeals to people’s better angels is fast drawing to a close. “I was following orders,” or “I had nothing to do with the dictate” will not save you when the time comes to answer for crimes against humanity. Consider this the last attempt to appeal to wavering members of cabinet. Ministers like Cruiser Ngcamphalala, who were just policemen with a knack for football before being elevated to the highest chambers of executive power, are not worthy of mentioning. We know that he is one of Mswati’s water boys. Who can forget how he mocked petitioners before the protests began.

Princess Lindiwe, the Minister of Home Affairs, has been ineffectual in her post beyond appealing for churches to be reopened. She is another one for whom appeals are a waste of time. Prince Simelane, he who was not even aware that there was a ministry of housing, set the nation ablaze with his statements to fight fire with fire

To make matters worse, this week he ordered municipalities to stop issuing permits for marches , again illustrating that the constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Princess Sikhanyiso, who issued the order to shut down internet will be handled by The Hague along with her father. This final appeal is not for any of them.

This article is for the educated men and women who were well-to-do even before entering cabinet. These men and women who owe their success to their own work but are now yoked to his chain. A list which might have included Minister Manqoba Khumalo, but he has time and time again gone on international media to lie in defence of his regime, shattering his credibility and any plausible deniability he may have had. 

While MP Mduduzi Gawuzela Simelane has claimed Khumalo has spoken to him privately about concerns about the regime, the time for private conversations and repudiations is over. Short of standing in front of a microphone and speaking out against this entire system, Khumalo is as liable as the others.

This article is an appeal to Ministers who are going about the bureaucratic work, in the false belief that it is important to keep the country running. The country is in flames. To sit and say your ministry is achieving its objectives is to be in deep denial. 

Minister Lizzie Nkosi has done a good job at the vaccine rollout for Covid-19. However, commendable that job is, on Friday the Minister escorted the murderous Mswati through Mbabane Government Hospital and gave him an opportunity to project a return to normalcy. Her hard work will always carry the stain of giving the regime a propaganda coup. The bureaucracy at the ministry can continue without her - the best way to protect her legacy is to hand in her resignation. Cement herself as a profile in courage.

Tourism Minister Moses Vilakati has spent the last few weeks promoting eSwatini to investors and prospective visitors at the Dubai 2021 expo. Nowhere in the promo have there been acknowledgements of what is actually happening on the ground. The Bridge has reported before that Vilakati had spoken up for the rights of protestors to be heard during a cabinet meeting, but the best way to defend the rights of protestors is to hand in his resignation.

We have even seen ministers who are usually under the radar, like Natural Resources minister Bhembe unveiling a new project. The minister, whose face I couldn’t pick out of a crowd, has only ever been in the news to address price hikes and to appoint King Mswati’s daughter Temashayina to the SEC board. It is time for him to actually make news and step down.

Last but not least is Minister Buy Cash Mabuza. A multimillionaire business owner, Mabuza is the erstwhile brother of the incarcerated Bacede. At a press conference this week, the Minister detailed losing over E100 million in the protest burnings of his stores. Beyond that, the family also spoke about not being able to go and support Bacede in his case. The minister did not divulge where he stood on the matter of his brother being charged with terrorism for simply seeking democratic reforms but he need not have.

By staying in Mswati’s cabinet, he is saying that he doesn’t care about the rights of Swazis, or his own brother. This begs the question: is Mswati worth losing not just your business, but your blood? These Ministers may all feel safe in the knowledge that they have never called for the killing of protestors, but as members of cabinet, they are liable for what the government they form does. While it may be true that Mswati is not accepting resignations, per unconfirmed reports that PM Cleopas tried to resign, the ministers have options. Mswati cannot kill us all.

Many Swazis have restarted lives outside of his reach in South Africa, with far less resources than these ministers have. High profile resignations would be the vote of no confidence that inspires those who are on the fence to finally join the democratic movement. Less than running your ministries well, the nation needs you to cut and run.