Why good packaging of essence of struggle is necessary to capture Swazi imagination
The struggle for liberation of eSwatini has historically been about a fundamental shift and transfer of power from the king to the people. That is the starting point and not the end goal. The end goal or objective of the struggle is the socio- economic upliftment of the poor of the poorest and the historically marginalized which, in our case, are (rural) women and children.
Exercising of political power, through the election of a Prime Minister (or President for that matter) with executive powers, only becomes a way in which the people can influence how national resources are dispersed, who exercises power and how institutions of the state service the people as a whole. The demand for the pruning of the executive powers of the king is therefore to allow the Prime Minister to be a servant of the people and not an errand boy for the Monarch and royalty more generally.
Our demand for democracy must therefore be understood not as an end in and of itself but rather as a method to ensure maximum participation of the people in their own socio-economic liberation through electing public representatives whose agenda must, at all material times, be to pursue the end goal of the revolution—the socio-economic upliftment of the poor of the poorest and the historically marginalized.
In this way, regular free and fair elections will ensure that the masses sanction public policy by giving the people the power to approve or disapprove public policy (contained in manifestos). Ultimately, the electorate must ask the fundamental question; does this party (manifesto) move us closer to achieving the end goal of the revolution?
There is a need to insert this narrative back into public discourse because our struggle is starting to be dominated by spectacle and theatrics and not quality and substance. Some now think the struggle is about exchanging political power between elites within the progressive camp and royalty. Others think meaningless slogans, rhetoric and theatrics will win the struggle and usher a new nation.
If we are not careful people will be hypnotised by spectacle to a point of creating cults without regard for alternative policy proposals from all political players. It is precisely because of this that we must guard against force feeding the masses 'democracy' as being equal to change. To us democracy is only meaningful if it qualitatively changes the lives of our people. Change, therefore, must not be about how many street names we have changed or how many democratic elections we have had but how many who didn't have water have it owing to the democratic gains of the revolution.
That is why we must emphasise at all times that the content and political expression of our struggle must take the form of waging a war against gender inequality, patriarchy, underdevelopment, environmental degradation, homelessness, poverty, illiteracy, hunger, poor education, corruption, slave wages, inequality and other socio-economic ills. Democracy must therefore answer the question; how does it relate to these struggles?
In our context, liberal rights like transparency, human rights, free and fair elections are mere modalities that guide us as we manoeuvre the path towards the ultimate goal of the revolution. We must therefore stretch the idea of rights and expand the frontiers of freedom.
Freedom to us is freedom from poverty and underdevelopment. People have a right to shelter, dignity, education, medical health and to affordable housing just as they have a right to free speech, assembly and protest. We must never emphasise one set of rights at the cost of the other. Equally, we must refuse the thumbing down of the struggle to be just a fight for 'democracy'.
This is a very important guiding principle that will ensure that we are in agreement around what is the substance of the change we want beyond electing of Prime Minister. It will also help us clarify what we mean exactly when we say we want dialogue. How do we conceptualize dialogue beyond sitting in the same venue and talking? We must exhibit fluidity, comprehension and readiness for this ‘dialogue’ understanding that the outcome must give meaning to the idea of 'change' or 'democracy'.
This will help guide any progressive organisation or those who will sit at the negotiation table one day, never to lose sight of what the struggle is about. In the end, the test whether we have been able to win anything at the negotiation table will be who exercises economic power.
Political power alone will not be able to transform the lives of the previously disenfranchised, marginalized and poor. If we must uplift our people out of poverty then we must have both economic and political power. After all, we do not struggle to have a democratically poor nation. Our struggle is not for the equal distribution of poverty rather the equal distribution of wealth. Anything other than that is hallow and reactionary.
People do no risk their lives fighting a tyrannical regime only to be force-fed meaningless rights and slogans while remaining poor, illiterate, living in misery, homeless and unable to send their children to school. Was it not Amilcar Cabral who wrote that “people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children...”
It can never be our objective to put our lives on the firing line for meaningless democracy. It is for that reason that we refuse to accept the liberal notion that we are fighting for ‘democracy’ instead we are fighting to change and improve the standards of life of our people using the instruments of the state.
The danger of over emphasising the so called fight for democracy is that many Swazis have seen far poorer yet ‘democratic’ countries all over the continent.
Swazis have seen many ‘democratic’ republics becoming feeding ranches for new elites who use the slogans of revolution to enrich themselves and create far worse parasitic systems to a point that the people even miss the old regimes.
Examples can be found all over Africa. In fact, this is tantamount to replacing this kleptocratic royal aristocracy with a new ‘democratic’ elite without a fundamental change in the people’s material conditions.
A person living in a shack does not care if he or she now has a right to vote or free speech. That person needs to survive and wants the standard of life to improve.
Given the foregoing, It would indeed be a mistake on our part not to put the democratization of the economy and nationalization of Tibiyo and Tisuka as a fundamental none negotiable pillar of any future negotiation.
We must fold Tibiyo and Tisuka back into the democratic ownership of the people as a whole so that we can use the revenue generated by these organizations to uplift the standard of life of our people.
Linked to this is of course taking back land from chiefs and giving it to the people so to undermine the bulwark and cornerstone of royal supremacy and control.
In this regard, we must take the example of China as a torchbearer of what a revolution can achieve when properly executed. The World Bank defines the international poverty threshold as disposable income of USD 1.90 a day (PPP-adjusted).
Under that definition, 88% of the Chinese population lived below the poverty line in early 1981. Thanks to the able leadership of both Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping, that ratio had fallen to just 2% by 2013. To put this into perspective, the Communist Party of China lifted more than 500 million Chinese out of poverty in just 31 years.
This has meant that between 1981–2021 only 24 Million Chinese, in a population of a billion, are still in poverty. That is revolution!!
We take a cue once again from the celebrated Cuban revolution for it showed in practical terms how the standards of life was improved after the revolution. Figures from UNICEF show that Cuba’s youth literacy rate stands at 100%, as does its adult literacy rate.
Compare that with Mexico, where youth literacy is around 98.5%, while adult literacy is at 93.5% or even the Dominican Republic where youth literacy is at 98.1% and adult literacy is at 90%. This, by the way, is a country on economic blockade from the USA and its allied partners.
Many of Cuba’s educational gains were made in the early years of the revolution, not least during the 1961 literacy campaign that saw hundreds of thousands of Cubans, including schoolchildren, mobilising to educate their compatriots.
Perhaps even more vaunted are claims about the standard of Cuba’s healthcare. Cuba dedicates 11.1% of its GDP to health care while the UK 9.1%. This has led to life expectancy being 81 years for women and 77 for men.
In Swaziland, it is a miserable 31 years. While the UK spends $2,475 per capita on healthcare, Cuba spends $3,337. Once again this must be the benchmark with which to measure the success or failures of any revolution, Swaziland included—how has it improved the lives of the people?