Dennis Mbingo and King Mswati are case studies on how patriarchy infantilizes men

When I read the story about the shenanigans at FNB published in “The Bridge” on 8th August 2021, where the male CEO at FNB is said to be abusing his position resulting in a toxic workplace environment  because of his numerous romantic and sexual relations with female staff members, I wasn’t really intrigued by the drama that matches storylines but was perturbed by the additional layers of patriarchy being exposed by the story.

This shouldn’t be surprising because Swazi society is unashamedly patriarchal, yet it is surprising because it is not humane and so it should bother us every time we are exposed to it. Exposure of such stories gives opportunity for society to rebuke patriarchy in all its forms and manifestations and to salvage any sustainability, humanity, cohesion and unity in progress as a country.

In its worst forms, patriarchy is a ferocious parasite, just as all forms of discrimination are. The “strong” feed off the “weak” literally, the “master” needs the “slave” in order to feel powerful. The biggest manifestation of patriarchy in Swaziland is the current institution of the Monarch and its close circle that has eroded all pillars of Swazi society. Swazi society is rotting and breaking down at all levels, and the first and last frontier is the family unit that has long been compromised by patriarchy.

We are a nation of damaged and hurt people because of patriarchy. It is no wonder, and it is high time the people rise up against this abnormal way of being that this country has been forced into. Those that are still parasitically living off patriarchal structures, whether through form or idea, should become awake to the fact that as the people are uprising against the parasitic Monarch, all forms of patriarchy will be called to fall too.

When I was growing up in Swaziland in the 1980s and 1990s the family held strong. In this instance I am referring to the extended family not just the nuclear. Those were the times when there were still few who had gone on to study at universities and few were working in urban jobs, working for the government or private corporations. The majority of people still had strong contact with their village, communal origins and extended families.

Even though we already had the phenomenon of migrant workers from the 1960s and earlier already – for example, both my grandfathers on both my mother’s side and my father’s side of the family worked in South African mines and were not prominent daily features when my parents were growing up; the extended nature of family meant that there was always someone to take care of the children and try to do the best to uplift the family. Many of our parents took care of their nephews and nieces, paying their school fees and ensuring that the fields had seeds to be planted, and therefore there was food. It was far from perfect or enabling for everybody, but there was a prevailing sense of buntfu and community.

Now Swazi society is characterized by widespread hunger, and mass poverty, poor education, poor health, and healthcare systems such that there is now a huge orphan problem. There are now thousands of children in Swaziland that have no adult guardians. Even those who have blindly held onto the false ideas of Swazis as a great, peace loving, unified people can see and taste the brokenness that is the reality of many. This gradual degradation of Swazi society is due to patriarchy.

Swaziland is a patriarchal country of first order. Patriarchy permeates all aspects of life, not just those experienced by humans but also the animal and plant kingdoms. It is a paternalistic ideology and system that undervalues everything to do with the feminine and overvalues everything to do with the masculine to the detriment of all in society.

Patriarchy became such a part of Swazi culture that women were and are still in many cases infantilized, with men taking a paternal position from a very young age. The general assumption of patriarchy is that it leads to gender inequality, where women are denied the space, ability and recognition to live their lives on their own terms and equally to men.

This is obvious. On the face of it, patriarchy favours men and they supposedly thrive because of it. But the truth of it, is that patriarchy, like all forms of discrimination, degrades both the master and the slave, so to speak, patriarchy disadvantages both men and women. It is just that the men get to hide their disadvantage behind “big man” posturing as we saw King Mswati did at his address to the country at his Sibaya on Friday 16 July 2021. Swazi culture and society was not always this way, it was not always patriarchal.

Most modern history is a sad reflection of humans using different forms of domination over each other. As human existence has progressed, so did vile forms of discrimination emerge, and patriarchy is one of the longest lasting forms of discrimination as it is supported using many tools in societies across the world including Swaziland.

In Swaziland, patriarchy is supported by culture, religion, education as well as by the modern legal system. So how can we be surprised that “big men” in government and private sector use their positions to manipulate and degrade women?

If men were to do a deep introspection, especially during the conversations amongst themselves when they share stories on how they dominate and control their wives in their homes and dominate and control their mistresses, they would realise that their thirst for female company, sexual relations with women, their need for domination over another, especially their wives, is insatiable. It is insatiable and therefore abnormal.

The majority of adults in Swaziland have witnessed this. This insatiable need to control and dominate another is the leading symptom in one that is not maturing emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Whilst men revel and define their manhood through their ability to keep their women tending to their needs, physical needs mainly, they don’t realise that they infantilise themselves and that pervading sense of loneliness, disconnection deepens and they further seek to fill the void and find further ways to build their “strong and big man” identity through external things leads down the path of addiction to sex, alcohol and drugs.

Patriarchy forces men to deny and shut the feminine side of themselves and so they never heal their emotional and spiritual side and use physical pursuits to define themselves. It is seen to be weak to be human. In human history this had led to the unending wars and cycles seeking domination over others that create more unhappiness and instability. Patriarchy forces men to define themselves outside of themselves, it robs them of true freedom and true peace. So the call to end patriarchy is equally beneficial to men as it is to women.

There is usually a separation between the personal and the public, that is the career and work. Warning bells are sounding louder now that there is widespread spilling over of patriarchal beliefs into the modern workplace. The modern workplace likes to pretend that it is a space of equality, unlike in institutions of Tinkhundla led by Chiefs, who are unreservedly patriarchal and biased against women.

Of course in reality the modern workplace in the form of government departments and private companies is not automatically a space of equality, however pronounced biased beliefs such as nepotism, racism and gender discrimination are generally frowned upon. Yet is Swaziland, the “big men” are bringing this to the workplace, where managers are dating their juniors creating a toxic environment of intimidation caused by the blurring and crossing of lines in a country where the application of the law is subjective, leaving colleagues and co-workers unable to seek remedial action when caught in the cross-fire of unethical bosses and their consorts.

Instead of facing themselves and the demons that irk them, the “big men” take cue from the “big man” in the country who thinks he can own people. When King Mswatii III during his Sibaya address spoke of “the people belonging to the King,” reducing people to subjects with only privileges granted by the King.

It was clear that he was confused, disturbed and angry because that is how he has come to define his worth, by how he controls the people, how he takes from the people without asking and accounting to them. And now that the people are saying that, that is not the way it should be, he is feeling betrayed, lonely and disempowered. People can never be owned.

The leadership and beingness of King Mswati should be a case study for all on how patriarchy only offers false strength and false stature that requires that the incumbent keep finding ways of belittling and taking from others.

Leadership, especially divine leadership, as was bestowed upon Kings, is servant leadership, where leaders understand that they are meant to serve and enable the evolution of those they are guardians over. They lead by permission given to them by the people and lead by example by growing and evolving themselves first and therefore have the ability to guide those that must still go through the initiations of life.

The “big men” who are guardians of institutions such as corporations and government departments should be leading in their homes and workplaces in ways that show they have developed an understanding of what it means to lead and guide themselves. Leadership and guardianship is a verb, not a title.

Swazis at all levels are making it clear that they want to see the Swaziland that was falsely spoken of, the one defined by peace become a reality. Life has been violent for many Swazis. Poverty, lack of opportunities and lack of basic services are violent in experience. Men like the CEO of FNB who thrive on the tenets of patriarchy have no place in this country that is trying to rebuild itself on the basis of Universal Laws where all are equal, and all are seen as inherently worthy.

Men like Dennis Mbingo should be busy using their positions to advance a better Swaziland for all, through advocating for the democratization of the country, because in the very least, democracy is good for the businesses they lead. Mr. Mbingo gets no sympathy from me and I expect that the head office of FNB in South Africa is paying attention and will request the resignation of this man who is tarnishing the bank’s efforts of being a good corporate citizen.

NB: Even though Khathwane is the founding Director of Afro Botanics and owns several businesses, this article represents her personal views and not associated with any of her private businesses.