‘Quo Vadis’ Swaziland: Constitutional Monarchy or Republic?

The oftentimes interchangeable use of the parlances ‘Constitutional Multi Party Democracy' and ‘Constitutional Monarchy’ in a society where a vast majority have only known and borne the brunt of the worst of an Executive Monarchy is understandable and not at all unforgivable. 

In equal measure, the conception of Constitutional Monarch to refer only to instances where the monarch is nominal and its role strictly confined to ceremonial duties ought to be understood from our largely situational perspective. After all, context is everything.

If we accept that our ‘Freudian slips’ are negligible then we are forced to acknowledge that our perspectives on what exactly is a Monarchy in its constitutional or executive form is foregrounded by decades of subjugation and suffering at the hands of successive Dlamini kings.

Because the central point of convergence for all advocates of change is the call for the supremacy of the constitution as a starting point to a new democratic order then anything appearing to offer a modicum of constitutionalism unites the forces of change. Discussions around the monarchy, what it is and what form and shape it (should) take are left to the constitutional dictates of the new democratic order.

A Constitution without constitutionalism

In a paper prepared for presentation on ‘Fostering Constitutionalism in Africa’ in Nairobi in 2007, Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Rudolph Maseko makes an interesting point about a 'constitution without constitutionalism'Writes Maseko…The essence of having a written constitution is to inculcate a culture of constitutionalism. But just what is meant by constitutionalism? An old English constitutional lawyer defined constitutionalism as being:

The idea of constitutionalism involves the proposition that the exercise of government powers shall be bound by rules, rules prescribing the procedure according to which legislative and executive acts are to be performed and delimiting their permissible content. Constitutionalism becomes a living reality to the extent that these rules curb arbitrariness of discretion and are in fact observed by the wielders of political power, and to the extent that within the forbidden zones upon which authority may not trespass there is room for the enjoyment of individual liberty…”

In simpler terms, Maseko argues that a constitution is much more than just a set of guidelines but also a moral guardian endowed with necessary powers to whip us all into line, especially those wielding political power at all levels of our society and at any given point in time. And that is everything the current constitution is destitute of.

As if to echo Maseko’s sentiments on constitutionalism, PUDEMO President Mlungisi Calvin Makhanya clarifies that the reason his organisation resolved many years ago on a ‘Constitutional Multi Party’ model was to highlight the supremacy of the constitution.

It is mischievous and disingenuous to pretend that a Constitutional Multi Party model inherently embraces the idea of a Constitutional Monarchy. We have always been alive to the reality that politics are never static and homogenous, for instance given his current atrocities, it is inconceivable to negotiate with King Mswati without legitimizing his carnage. Consequently, any deal with his regime is off the table, and with that any hope for preservation of the monarchy diminishes”, Makhanya says.

It would then stand to reason that given our desperate desire to liberate ourselves from the clutches of an autocratic and executive monarchy, any departure from the status quo is ipso facto understood as progressive.

Ironically, and very tellingly even, we have misconceived what a democratic republic is. It would seem those of us who want a new democratic order have a romantic understanding of what a democratic republic must look like and this view is shared by almost everyone across the political divide.

By political divide, I refer to both the apologists of the current regime and proponents of a republic. When the republican camp point to a society incongruence with any form of hereditary rule the dyed-in-the-wool monarchists see this as a red flag and point to our culture and tradition as standing to be the biggest loser.

But that is exactly the ultimate Canaan and flagship of popular rule for the ‘republicans’.

With all that said, and compounded by the recent and current insolence and lack of good judgement by King Mswati III, the time for this regime, at least in the form of an executive monarchy, is well and truly over. The subsequent question that then begs answers is, ‘Where to from here’? Quo Vadis Swaziland?

PUDEMO President Mlungisi Calvin Makhanya

Monarchy and its vestiges

If there is one thing the past decades compel all of us to acknowledge is that ours is a classical case study of how incompatible an executive monarchy is to modern governance.

In fact, I could go on to argue that even if we were to get a highly judicious and well-learned ‘fit and sober’ monarch at the helm, any semblance of tranquillity would be purely accidental, at least to the extent that it would be a function of the incumbent’s benevolence than a product of a system that whips the occupier of the office into line. 

The very idea of an Executive Monarchy is not without glaring flaws chiefly because it bestows political authority to an individual by virtue of birthright than the conventional popular way. It is just an unworkable template. Given what emaSwati have had to endure for so long, it is indeed a mystery that is beyond comprehension how we survived such an arrangement this long.

For the proponents of retainment of the monarchy (in whatever form) elevating it above politics would be the equivalence of what physicists call ‘Schrodinger’s cat’-- where the case is deemed both alive and dead at the same time. Of course, this would require the institution to shed its most potent powers and remain just as a Ceremonial figure.

This is what we talk of when we talk about a ‘Constitutional Monarchy’. This would leave it with just enough power to ‘oversee’ some cultural ceremonies like iNcwala, uMhlanga etc. Of course, the assumption is that at the centre of the retainment call would be the desire to preserve our identity in the form of culture, customs and traditions under the custodianship of the monarchy.

But it cannot and will not be as simple. There are other appendages like imiphakatsi which are widely regarded as an extension of the institution, under whose leadership are bobabe Tikhulu some of whom have themselves exhibited a knack for arbitrary rule just like their apex figurehead--King Mswati.

What then becomes of the chieftaincies and homage paid to them? Or would it be too technical to suggest that whatever fate befalls the monarchy must also apply mutatis mutandis to the corresponding appendages?


It is worth noting that in the current discourse the call for an election of a Prime Minister is seemingly limited to the Prime Minister enjoying popular vote than a fundamental uprooting of the system in all its manifestation. This may tacitly suggest some degree of comfort with other tenets of Tinkhundla system.

This reformist call seems to be potentially at odds with the other equally prominent call of a total revolution (read Republic). With the understanding of the hitherto unassailable position of the regime, it would be grossly simplistic to treat the two prominent calls as mutually antagonistic.

If anything, it may very well be that it is a tactical strategy not to alienate those who have not reached higher levels of political understanding of what Tinkhundla is. The multiplicity of strategies also surfaces the possibilities of a ‘hybrid’ model where a Constitutional/ Ceremonial monarchy can exist in a constitutional and democratic environment. alongside political parties, among others.

Of late the Republic call has gained traction especially after the murderous rampage of the regime. Flowing from this then are questions on the available and intended means to achieve this end.

It is highly unlikely that such could be a function of a negotiated settlement and therefore one cannot demand a Republic while also calling for a dialogue. There is every likelihood that the regime would just stick to its default position buoyed by all the security apparatus and resources at its disposal.

Equally likely, and stemming from this resistance, would be a war of attraction with the forces of change, which by its very definition, might be protracted. A transition from any form of Monarchy to republic will entail significant altering of the vestiges of the system.

This might mean a total abolishment of the traditional sphere of the dual system of governance, of which the former has unregulated and almost carte Blanche powers. A wholesale change from the current to a republic imposes the responsibility to give a proper analysis and impact of each of the possible destinations.

(This commentary serves as an introductory preamble to a series of ‘Quo Vadis Swaziland’ articles looking at the future of the country, starting next week. – Editor)