The making of a Prime Minister in eSwatini

In his poem, ‘Waiting for the Right Time’, Mickey Dreamer says: "I'm waiting for the right time, whenever it may be, Whether morning, noon, or night, for you see. You cannot rush some things; you just have to wait..."

That's what newly appointed eSwatini Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini had to do when he lost the position to Mandvulo back in 2018. All he had to do was wait for the right time and boy it's been a long and patient waiting game.

Cleopas Dlamini was recently introduced to the nation as the new Prime Minister of the Kingdom of eSwatini. He took over from the country's seventh acting Prime Minister, Senator Themba Nhlanganiso Masuku. Masuku has been holding forte since December 2020 after the death of Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini.

The new Prime Minister ticked all the boxes needed to qualify to be a Prime Minister of a country like eSwatini. Traditionally and historically, all those appointed to the position of Prime Minister under the current Tinkhundla system of government have met specific royal criteria.

Obviously, serving a patriarchal system, you have to be male. To this date, no one has taken the country into confidence as to why the Prime Minister has to be male, leaving it to assumptions that it's purely based on nothing else but the belief that the male sex is superior and must always dominate over the female one.

Even the Traditional Prime Minister (Ludzidzini Indvuna) has never been female. The same applies to all the chairpersons of royal councils; from King's advisory council, Liqoqo, to Ludzidzini council, Border restoration committee, Elections and Boundaries Commission as well as other boards like Land and Agriculture Board -all led by men!

 As do all Swazi male adults, Cleopas effortlessly ticks this box.

Secondly, the Prime Minister must come from the Dlamini clan. This is what the royal family says Swazis want. Right from the first Prime Minister Prince Makhosini to Sotsha, Mbilini, Obed, Barnabas, Themba, Mandvulo and now Cleopas all have been Dlaminis.

Even better, our latest Prime Minister is a polygamist who traditionally wedded two wives after a messy divorce at the High Court. Cleopas ticked this box too, alongside thousands of other Dlamini males occupying strategic positions of power in the private and public sector.

Of late, the monarch has added two more prerequisites for the position. One new requirement is that the right candidate must have a finance background and be a known financial enabler of the king. 

Newly appointed Prime Minister of eSwatini, Cleopas Sipho Dlamini taking oath of office on Monday 19 July. Photo credit: eSwatini government

The fourth and last requirement is to possess a Machiavellian style of governance.  After all, it was the late Barnabas who introduced the king to institutionalised looting of state coffers and showed that Machiavelli had not smoked his socks when he said "it is much safer to be feared than loved because love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails."

If you can give the king money then you are halfway there but if you can do this while having a strong-arm style of rule you in there.

In the case of Cleopas, it goes without saying that any male Dlamini at the helm of the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) in eSwatini would have been considered for the position of Prime Minister.

This is precisely because a person in such a position has a good bargaining point to use public funds to buy favour with the king. After all, who could say no to the king's never ending appetite for money and luxury? If you want to understand the story of how Cleopas came to power then look no further than the fact that, as the CEO of PSPF, he presided over a billion-Emalangeni purse that was used to grease the royal family and in the process enrich the king.

Each time Cleopas was told to bring something down at Ludzidzini he only asked how much. That is why it was easy for him to be lobbied by the late Victor Gamedze – who understood that everyone has a price– to stand ready to be the next Prime Minister. Victor had his selfish reasons why he wanted Cleopas but he knew that him and the king had a common love for money and Cleopas would facilitate this with ease.

To Gamedze it was a matter of anything but Mandvulo. The Bridge has already reported in detail how the late Mandvulo and Gamedze hated each other's guts. Meanwhile, down at Ludzidzini Cleopas was considered to be fairly haughty and 'strong', a necessary attribute in the eyes of the King who still longs for the reincarnation of Barnabas Dlamini lite in government.

Prince Mshayinduku*, a royal insider, narrates why the king preferred Cleopas to Mandvulo then.

“The King ignored Barnabas’ recommendation on who must be his possible successor(s). The late former prime minister was a great admirer of the Secretary to Cabinet Mbuso ‘Banks’ Dlamini. We were convinced the prime minister had successfully put a good word for ‘Banks’. down at Ludziddzini. Considering Barnabas’ blue-eyed boy status with the king, some among us concluded that the King would always reward him for his loyalty, even posthumously, by following his wishes. However, the monarch had other ideas. And his reasons were that ‘Banks’ was too quiet and a backroom strategist which meant, in the king’s reasoning, he was inherently destitute of the desired dose of arrogance. So it came to pass that once a favorite during Barnabas’ time, Mbuso was immediately relegated down the pecking order after the former’s demise.

Another royal insider told The Bridge that the king was right to reject the former prime minister’s advice reasoning that it was in fact a feather in his crown to be versatile.

"As a King, he should never allow himself to be imprisoned by subjective loyalties," said the source. It is the King’s conviction that Mandvulo’s major let down was that he dithered a lot when 'strong' political leadership was required. The recently departed prime minister reminded the king of another ‘good church person’ who lacked the necessary bite and nerve to be a leader.

The king, our source told us, wants someone with the testicular fortitude to bite the bullet and face everyone in the eye and say 'screw you' just to show the lengths you would go in defence of the monarch. 

In 2018 Cleopas was the king's preferred candidate but his name was vetoed chiefly because of Mandvulo’s business acumen which emboldened his profile at a time when ‘investor confidence’ and ‘foreign direct investment were the buzzwords.

However, with the intricacies and ‘other’ considerations in the appointment of a Prime Minister, the king was well endowed and much ready for the debate this time around. Given the recent and current political unrests and turmoil in the country, the King missed and needed a Barnabas reincarnate to ‘help me run the country' as he is wont to say.

The king hates 'softies' and was utterly disappointed at how Themba Masuku handled the recent unrests and by the time the former acting Prime Minister started to show the 'strong' personality the king admires he had lost favour at Ludzidzini.

"Phela Ndvunankhulu ngumfana wenkhosi, the King would remind anyone who cared to listen during consultations. He was basically saying a Prime Minister is literally his eyes and ears and, as such, ought to match his demeanor and be impervious to whatever the obtaining dictates of the time.

That Cleopas ticked all the boxes, coupled with the King’s expletives laden speech and unrepentant posture during the recent Sibaya, says a lot about the new Prime Minister and the direction his government will take.

Asked about the king's recent appointment of people with finance than political background, Prince Mashayinduku told The Bridge how the king genuinely believes that those with a finance background will help to turn the economy around.

"Let me tell you something you didn't know. The financial situation of the country is very bad and we now live from hand to mouth, literally; the eSwatini Revenue Authority has been given some ridiculous targets on weekly basis so that we are able to pay civil servants and run the country, we are struggling to buy essentials such as medication in hospitals and we are owing a number of suppliers. It goes without saying that the most important thing at this point is Finance and the king told us point blank that he needs someone with finance background for that position," Prince Mshayinduku narrated. 

He gave a detailed explanation of how the king thinks before appointing a Prime Minister.

Said the Prince: "Under normal circumstances, he is supposed to do that together with the Queen Mother and through consultation with eMalangeni. Not anymore! Now we are all afraid of telling him anything and, regarding the appointment of Prime Minister, he last told us he needs someone who understands numbers (read finances) hence the trend has been along those lines. Look at the last three Prime Ministers, all of them have a finance background. This is because the king thinks they will transform the country's economy and even repeatedly said so in his speech last week. Look, Barnabas was a Chartered accountant who came from the International Monetary Fund; AT Dlamini came from a similar background, the same with Mandvulo and Cleopas."

Undoubtedly for the King, the vagaries of nature, 'Nkulunkulu nemadloti' have conspired to reveal to him the best person and characters needed to help him lead emaSwati. Each of the two departed premiers represented efficacy of arrogance and decisiveness as ably portrayed by Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini on the one hand, and the indecisive feeble mind represented by Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini.

There’s little if any doubt at all that in these most trying times of his life, the King would want a Barnabas incarnate to quell the fires. In a rather strange dichotomy, who will Cleopas stand with: the King, his children and heirs, or will he stand with The People?

*Not real name to protect source

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