It is often said ‘linceba lendvodza alihlekwa’, an idiom loosely translated to mean never mock someone’s suffering, for whatever reason. Accordingly, this open letter is therefore not meant  to mock anyone, but to use their suffering as a case in point to admonish anyone who would even consider tying their faith to this regime today.

It takes a special kind of greed and lack of self preservation to choose to tie one’s lot in with a tyrannical king just as his regime seems to be drawing to an end. Yet that is what former PSPF FUND CEO Cleopas Dlamini did when he accepted the appointment as Prime Minister. Far be it for me to tell a man as well educated as Dlamini what to do, but in his position (and advanced age), I would have cited some chronic health condition as grounds to avoid the job. Surely nothing is worth the indignities his predecessors have faced.

Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini was a brilliant and well educated man whose career sent him to the highest echelons of the international community. At one point he was even in the directorship of the International Monetary Fund. When Dlamini was called to serve as eSwatini’s PM, he returned home and made some severely unpopular decisions on his principal’s behalf.

He became the face of (mis)governance—despite eSwatini being an absolute monarchy—bearing the brunt of the people’s scorn, while Mswati remained shielded and unscathed. It was not uncommon for people to blame “government,” a vague, anamorphous term that covered the decision makers of the country (often called labadzala as a surreptitious reference to the king), without calling out the final boss.

Even Princess Sikhanyiso lamented the government’s decision in the documentary “Without the King,” saying: “the government has so much money, but they don’t care about the people.” It is almost comical to see, but at age 19 the princess did not seem to realize that the government was her father. Or could it be that the princess was already exhibiting political savviness?

Then came the infamous November 28 statement. Prime Minister Barnabas said government was against the rule of law. Civil rights groups, and those international organizations that cared about a small inconsequential country in the armpit of Africa, reacted with criticism but Barnabas kept his job.

eSwatini’s economy ebbed and flowed due to exogenous factors, but because Barnabas served his role as the nation’s punching bag, his position was safe. Until Mswati decided it wasn’t. In any relationship, etiquette insists that a break up should be in person, and respectful of the other’s feelings. Unfortunately, the King with his harem had never had to deal with such a sticky wicket. Former Minister Hlobsile Ndlovu. Writer says she was fawning for a position

Instead, he deployed his then Attorney General to tell Barnabas his services would no longer be required, via SMS. Barnabas was left without any golden parachute, and returned to his farm in Ekukhanyeni where he had been put out to pasture. 

Perhaps this explains why after his return in 2008 he instituted such lucrative retirement packages for Cabinet in the mould of the infamous Circulars 1 and 2 having experienced life in the wilderness.

However, Barnabas got off lightly compared to the previous PM, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini. Mandvulo had been the Chief Executive of MTN, one of the largest telecommunications companies in Africa. He had a successful career as a banker and was well established in the private sector.

When he was called to serve as PM, it was a matter of settling old royal family debts. Expecting to receive support as being a member of the (extended) royal family, Mandvulo faced scorn in the chambers of Ludzidzini for his perceived elitism. The traditional shoe-shine boys couldn’t accept the banker’s reforms, because Mandvulo couldn’t speak their language. Imagine some were even irritated by his 'Christian’ persona. 

Barnabas was even more elitist than Mandvulo, but being a shrewd fast learner Barney knew politics, and he could always adjust his language to his audience. Mandvulo on the other hand was always speaking the language of Davos. Mandvulo’s temperament was also softer than Barnabas. That did nothing to endear him to the King who has always wanted a harsh response to deter protestors.

Mandvulo suffered many indignities in his time in office, most of which began with the appointment of Princess Sikhanyiso to the Ministry of ICT. The Princess began her political career telling the Times of Swaziland that she wasn’t sure if she would be able to keep morning meetings, and she stayed true to her word.

She was, for lack of a better word, a law unto herself, making deals with nefarious Israeli firms over the PM’s head. Our fragile institutions held on and the deal was revoked, but it was clear that Mandvulo was not in charge of his own cabinet. This was further exacerbated by the Princess going AWOL after her maternity leave, and refusing to return to work for way over the constitutionally permitted time.

Previous PM, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini

The final nail on the coffin (excuse the pun) came when Mandvulo fell ill with covid. Almost a year into the pandemic, it had been established that the best way to deal with the coronavirus was aggressively and as early as possible. Instead, the PM who had had a host of comorbidities, was kept at home and still conducting cabinet business.

It was only after his condition deteriorated that he was moved to the Covid treatment centre at Manzana. His lung collapsed, and they needed to move him to a South African hospital to treat him, but the order to provide a jet was delayed. By the time he got on a plane, a severe storm hit, grounding him on the tarmac for several precious hours.

That he managed to cling to life and make it to SA has been described as a miracle by insiders at the Ministry of Health. Mswati was content to let his Chief Lieutenant die of a virus while he fiddled with one of his shiny watches. Even the subsequent acting Prime Minister, who became the international face of the murderous regime, didn’t get a chance to say a “great job Mandvulo!” before he was replaced.

Carrying water for this regime has no benefit. Even in non-political positions, one can find themselves kicked out into the cold. Sam Mkhombe, who had served as Mswati’s Private Secretary for decades, was fired after trying to revive Imbokodvo National Movement (a defacto ruling political party).

Before Mkhombe is offered membership in the freedom movement, it is worth noting that he remains a monarchist, despite being kicked to the curb. Such is the cult of the Swazi monarchy, that a firing isn’t enough to make one reconsider their allegiance. Lest we think this disloyalty only applies to men, former Minister Hlobsile Ndlovu, who courted controversy during her term, was resoundingly defeated by businessman Buy Cash Mabuza when she ran for re-election.

Instead of receiving an appointment to some useless board or royal trust, the gates at Ludzidzini were closed on her. Her problems culminated in her shouting in the most pathetic if not obsequious servile cry “ngafa yindlala ngwenyama (I am dying of hunger your majesty)” at a public forum. In swazi culture, we are told to cry to the king, our “benevolent father,” and here was one of his ostensible children crying out to him. What did that get her? Nothing but mockery from the public at large.

Which brings me to the two newly appointed ministers, Buthelezi and Maseko. Two indistinguishable men who could not be picked out of a line up. The two loyal stooges will soon come to see how thankless a job they have taken. Replacing ministers who succumbed to covid-19 last year, they too are now part of this murderous regime.

They cannot even claim that they did not know what they were getting into, like some of their colleagues who apparently tried to resign en masse; they can’t pretend to be staying just so they can temper the worst elements of the mad King. These two gentlemen took positions as shoe-shine boys of a King who had to murder his people to return quiet to the street. They surely saw the videos and pictures we all did, but they decided to take positions. It boggles the mind.

I don’t know if there is any saving the people who are already entrenched in the government. Perhaps they are collecting information to barter their safety from the guillotine. Maybe they are truly the last line of defence between us and the bald headed one. What I do know is that one must be a masochist to take a job working for Mswati in this day and age. But, as the Siswati saying goes, siyawubohla manyosi!