Swazi State Adopts Three-Pronged Strategy

It should have been clear to everyone that the game is over. When South African President Cyril Ramaphose left South Africa, in the middle of a tightly contested elections, it was clear  he meant business. Within the royal circles, the writing is on the wall and the fightback is on full throttle even if it means playing dirty. 

Having managed to bluff the Jeff Radebe led SADC Troika team into believing any future dialogue in the country would be held under the King's orders and on his terms (read Sibaya and constitution) for Ramaphosa he felt he needed to stamp his authority and whip the Monarch into line.

By taking over the setting of the terms of reference Ramaphosa literally took the carpet beneath the King's feet. The Monarch on the other hand has a solid fight back strategy: divide, isolate and present a sense of normality.

A source from the royal family revealed how the crisis within the royal circled has culminated to a point where the King is no longer in talking terms with some of his own brothers. 

“Look, we are aware that people are accusing us of not calling the King to order and try to reason with him to give in to the people’s demands. What most of people fail to understand is that the royal family as an institution is extinct. It does not exist – there is nothing like that anymore. Let me be more explicit here; in the past we used to have Emalangeni as a structure responsible for reprimanding the king in case he went astray, but I cannot recall a recent meeting in which he has was called upon to account by Emalangeni. He does not want to listen and the trust among ourselves the family members is gone,” said Prince Masango* when The Bridge wanted to know his take regarding the current civil unrest in the country.

He explained that the king wanted to make sure that everything was back to normal. “Cabinet has already been given that mandate. Secondly, the intelligence is currently working on a plan to divide leaders of the pro-democracy movement so that they don’t speak as a united voice; that is why there is an emergence of online page against civil society leaders – the plan is to divide them so that when the time for dialogue comes, we negotiate with a very weak civil society that is not speaking in one voice. Significant amount of resources have already been spent on this project and you are still going to see some serious cracks and divisions among the pro-democracy movement. Thirdly, they have mentioned that after Incwala ceremony things would have cooled down – so at the moment they are busy buying time and managing the situation to eventually cool down. That is the immediate assignment for the army: to clamp down and make sure the momentum dies down, “ continued the Prince.

Standard Bank’s Luju festival and mooted social events scheduled by Swazi Boy play, wittingly and unwittingly, plays into the state’s desperation to bring back normalcy in the country. 

But why all this pressure by the state to quickly adopt this three-pronged strategy? Contrary to ‘street’ speculation that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa came to rescue a ‘friend’ and that nothing meaningful will come out of the dialogue process, this time around the Swazi state is under extreme pressure to democratize and a highly placed source told The Bridge that a global power had called President Ramaphosa informing him that if he does not intervene on eSwatini, they would. 

The South African government is serious about resolving the Swazi political crisis once and for all. Our source brought some insight: “Ask yourself why President Ramaphosa would bother and come to eSwatini in the midst of an election that is not going well for the ANC in South Africa?”

The Bridge has since learnt that the eSwatini government has sent signals that it is ready to offer concessions, but there is no serious intention to dismantle the regime or even tamper with the central tenets of the Tinkhundla system at the moment.

“Expect reforms and some constitutional changes in the next year or two,” revealed a Member of Parliament who spoke to The Bridge on condition of anonymity. 

At the same time, those within the corridors  of power are worried by King Mswati’s attitude towards the pro-democracy movement. In a manner reminiscent of Botha (former apartheid leader) the king is steadfastly refusing to talk with any of the civil society leaders. 

Prince Masango* thinks the king has not come to terms with the reality of losing overwhelming support by the people.

“He still thinks people like him and even when he sees for himself, he thinks few people (like Magawugawu) are deceiving the people and that he will win back the love of his people,” says Prince Masango*.

Dictators come in different shapes and sizes, but they have certain similarities in their way of doing things. In an interview that was shown on BBC’s international news website before his demise, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was quoted to have denied that his people hated him.

Speaking in halting English, he said, "They love me. All my people with me. They love me all. They would die to protect me," He was also in denial about the demonstrations and civil unrest on the streets. To him, all things looked normal. "No demonstrations at all in the streets” He asked, “No one is against us, against me for what?"

In a similar pattern and in response to what he called the "total onslaught" against the apartheid regime in South Africa, Botha followed a "total strategy," which sought to remove the reasons for unrest by providing social relief in order to pacify the anger of the black majority while overlooking their political aspirations and rights. 

In an interview conducted in November 2007, former National Party Chief Negotiator Roelf Meyer revealed that the apartheid regime’s response to the civil unrest pressure was to clamp down the protests using the army. 

“The army was mobilized to help put down the protests in the townships and Botha declared a state of emergency in certain parts of the country. He had a great belief in the primacy of the military ahead of other government institutions and he deployed it to provide the social ‘back-up’ where other government departments failed to deliver services in the black areas,” said Meyer.

In a manner consistent with King Mswati’s style (when he addressed people at Esibayeni recently), apartheid’s Botha dismissed the demands of the people in a speech made a speech in August 1985. In that speech, many people expected Both to announce major reforms in apartheid policies, but in fact he used it to tell the world that his government would not submit to any pressure from inside or outside the country, and would go it alone if necessary. He was still not prepared to open negotiations with those representing the majority of the black community, the same way King Mswati is not prepared to listen to those calling for change.

However, the eSwatini monarch is still reading the mood of the international community and the (external) intelligence is advising him to take the dialogue seriously and to allow for reforms to take place.

Look, we are currently discussing how best to release Mthandeni and Bacede, even if it means allowing them to be released on bail. The state thinks this will ease the pressure and cool down the situation in a way. The King and the government want to return things to normalcy, to cool down the momentum and is scared of Ramaphosa’s decisiveness about dialogue, so they want everything to look okay so that they negotiate or discuss from a position of strength,” said a source who is an Intelligence official.

With the momentum of protest activities dying down, schools opening in a week’s time, Covid-19 restrictions relaxed, festive season approaching and the start of incwala ceremony, the state is looking at managing the country back to normal life so that people start to involve themselves in other social activities Prince Masango* even joked that, “Uma sesiniloyile nitobe nikhuluma lokunye nga-January. Incwala phela yaloko vele,” he jokingly said. But, if you know you know!

*Not his real name