The rise and fall of a disgraced former General and why he has 'escaped' to South Africa

Disgraced former Army General Jeffrey Tshabalala has since left the country as he grows fearful for his safety after rumours started circulating that he could face prosecution. Unconfirmed reports are that the former Army General left the country this week to live with his son at an undisclosed location in South Africa.

Tshabalala resigned after the Swaziland News revealed explosive recordings of him confessing state secrets to a police officer who happened to be an undercover source for the publication.

In the recordings, which have since been declassified by the Swaziland News Editor Zweli Martin Dlamini, the former Army General reveals that the monarchy had instructed that the police must arrest the three MP’s at the forefront of the democratic agenda.

The MP’s are Siphoneni Member of Parliament Mduduzi Magawugawu Simelane, Ngwempisi Member of Parliament Mthandeni Dube and Hosea Member of Parliament Bacede Mabuza. Simelane is currently exiled in South Africa while Dube and Mabuza are behind bars after being charged with terrorism. Judge Mumcy Dlamini subsequently denied them bail.

The General also confirms that the king and the security establishment want Swaziland News Editor dead.

The Bridge has been informed that the royal family is accusing the former General of selling out the King and this has made Tshabalala fearful for his life. What has angered royalty, and the king in particular, is what else do the ‘enemies’ of the government know that should have been kept as a state secret by the General.

Things have been made worse by threats that Cece Shongwe, the police officer who resigned after recording the General make such startling confessions, has claimed to be in possession of more evidence that could come handy should international investigators want to probe the monarchy and his army generals for the over 70 army massacre.

Disgraced Army Commander Jeffrey Tshabalala

A whole army General being that careless as to discuss state secrets with civilians? It can never be acceptable in any country. I think he will be charged I am not sure but I would support it. This is akin to high treason. I have spoken to a few people and the king is livid,” said a highly placed source.

The Bridge has uncovered that the dramatic resignation of Tshabalala, and the subsequent appointment of Lieutenant General Mashikilisana Fakudze, has divided an already fractured army. It has also exposed the fissures that have always defined loyalties within the army.

Tshabalala is now being wanted for prosecution and that his resignation was in part to calm down an angry King who feels betrayed. In one of the recordings, the king had pleaded with Tshabalala to protect him as the monarchy is increasingly paranoid and distrustful of many people within his circle.

But Tshabalala's resignation did not surprise many because he was never a favorite within the army anyways. His downfall, and possible prosecution, was always going to be easy because he did not enjoy support from within his own army never mind royalty.

His only solid support came from General Vusimango Dlamini, Prince Masitsela’s son, who provided a buffer within the upper echelons of power within royalty. That too is attributed to Vusimango’s general kindness more than any special affection towards the disgraced General.

In fact, it is this very kindness that has made the king rule him out for any of the top job when many others considered him to be ideal to take over as Army Commander given his royal blood. Then there’s two Star general Thembinkosi Mngometulu who was close to ex Army Commander Sobantu Dlamini. Mngometulu has never hidden his dislike for Tshabalala and has openly contested his authority at the slightest chance.

Another of Tshabalala'S nemesis is two star General Welile Magagula. Magagula and the former army Commander never saw eye to eye and this was known by almost everyone at the army headquarters. If there was any pressure to relieve the General then it must have come from within the army before even the king could endorse it.

Interestingly, the ex Army commander did find himself with a lifeline to entrench his authority especially at the height of the protests. To say the country’s authorities were caught flatfooted by the recent democracy protests is an understatement, but there were also intelligence reports of possible mutiny by some disgruntled soldiers. Because of entrenched factionalism in the senior echelons of the army, disgruntlement is rife and filters down to Captains who are the key people in operations because of their leadership and commanding role at the coal face of operations.

While Army commanders have the ultimate power of issuing commands captains are the ones in charge of the logistics and personnel on the ground. They know the strengths and limitations of every member in their respective platoons. Currently, there is a relatively higher than normal number of captains awaiting and/or expecting promotions, and lobbying for positions is now an open secret in the Army. This goes back to the days of former Army Commander Sobantu.

Army Commander Lieutenant General Mashikilisana Fakudze

Tshabalala therefore inherited this mess especially the high number of disgruntled Captains from the Sobantu regime. Sobantu's philosophy was that for efficacy he must not to be ‘generous’ with the promotions of Captains. What escaped him and his regime was the frustration brewing as a result of non promotion which drove many to the Tshabalala faction, who at the time, was deputy Army Commander and a front runner. To sustain the affinity and loyalty of these key officers, Tshabalala would promise them promotions once he ‘takes over Nokwane’.

A Lieutenant Colonel who was among the first group to be promoted in the Tshabalala era says to a good extent he delivered in his promises and ‘titalabhu takhe betingatsengiswa (he didn’t demand money or any form of payment for promotions)' something that had become common in the Sobantu era. Tshabalala's mistake however was his lack of tactics when undoing Sobantu’s shenanigans.  Transfers and pending disciplinary actions instituted by Sobantu were reversed or fast tracked rather oddly.

Former Army General Sobantu Dlamini 

A corporal in Nhlangano told The Bridge that at the start of the protests their superiors advised them that whatever situation on the ground, they would wait for a word from Tshabalalala and no one else. This was cryptic defiance to some who had already started issuing orders to violently quell the uprising. To his immense credit,  Tshabalala was always wary of the possible fatalities that might result from such orders.

He would confide to his confidants that the King’s analysis of the situation was emotional than realistic. This gave an impression to others that he would consider challenging the king. After all, he had captains and their immediate subordinates, the lieutenants. He also had a healthy number of Majors, some of whom had been promoted by him and therefore owed their loyalty to him.

The ground was fertile. But it took one dressing down by the king to cower Tshabalala. But there were little surprises, he’s known to be weak spined. Even in the leaked audios, Tshabalala reveals the king as a raging bull when angry who refuses advice and acts irrationally. Such revelations, coupled with his hesitancy to issue Command to mow and kill ordinary people in the now famous July massacre, the road was almost paved for him to resign.

Quite interestingly, Tshabalala left a post as a full general. The UEDF has about 4000 members and nowhere else in the world does a full general command 4000 members. Those in the know say it akin to calling a headteacher of a high school a Professor or Vice Chancellor.  The commanding officer of the UEDF should be a Brigadier given the size of the army.

The people who want him prosecuted are more than just those who feel his betrayal would cost them politically but also within the army who never supported his reign anyways.