One on one with struggle veteran Bongani Masuku on the political stalemate in the country (Part I of II)

The Bridge (TB): Welcome Masuku, it’s been a while since we spoke, never mind see each other. There is no one we wanted to discuss the recent turn of events than you. What do you make of the response of the king to the protest last Friday? Were you surprised?

Bongani Masuku (BM): Without a doubt the last few days were very significant in our history. No one can underplay or doubt the masses’ new resolve and desire for a new Swaziland. However, there are three things that are very important to note at this juncture. The first one is that the balance of power or the balance of forces have not reached a point, both objectively and subjectively, where the King can be forced to give up power. The system was indeed shaken, and decisively so, but not to the point that the king could give up power. It was not at that level. Secondly, the King is not willing to give up power without a real fight. He is not willing to give up his comfort and his juicy and unfettered access to the economy that funds his expensive lifestyle. Lastly, the progressive forces or the leaders of the revolution are not ready to take Swaziland out of this mess. The progressive forces are not at the point where they can decisively lead. But if you look at the masses on the other hand, they were more than willing to make extraordinary sacrifices. That's why the army had difficulty reconfiguring and reclaiming lost ground. Meanwhile, the  political parties leadership was not as hegemonic and solid as it should be. So according to me the three things account for the fact that King Mswati is still in power.

TB: You touch on the issue of leadership which is interesting because it was a running theme in almost every conversation. Everyone was complaining about lack of leadership. How do you, for example, identify the problem of leadership? Is it in terms of action on the ground, messaging, or terms of organizational capacity?

BM: Look, I think Swaziland has not yet reached a stage where it can produce resolute and revolutionary leadership. We have not reached that stage. Remember there are stages in a revolution and no doubt Swaziland has made tremendous progress in that respect and have seen leaders arise and be borne out of the struggle but I think we have not produced tried, tested and proven leadership both in terms of capacity to coordinate, provide strategic and technical thinking and in terms of the development of ideas that clarify in succinct terms what is to be done and how. Here I mean the quality of ideas developed, the quality of strategy and technical detail to anticipate what is next and how to interface with things like TROIKA, media, messaging and pamphleteering that arouses the masses. All this demonstrates that the level of organizations in the country is still very poor. This must not be misunderstood to mean there is no leadership. There are leaders and they did their level best but they were just not at the level required to be able to decisively lead the masses out of Mswati´s yoke.

TB: It's interesting that you say that because there was a lot of confusion around the central pivot or a clear centre of the revolution. I mean on the one hand there were the democracy MPs and then there were the progressives who seem to have been mobilizing people on completely different messaging and also who seem to be differing in terms of what is the strategic goal or how to recognise and respond to strategic moments in the revolution. As one Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) leader said to me jokingly, there is no leadership with sophisticated ideas, strategic foresight and the finesse required to inspire and see beyond the mountain. She said it's just vibes nje, would you agree?

BM: Let me start with the issue of the MP’s. I wish to salute the Members of Parliament. What they did is both unprecedented and historic in Swaziland. They played a decisive role in breaking away and breaking ranks from the womb of the system and to do so openly is commendable. They shook the foundation of the system. I particularly liked the way Magawugawu and his colleagues were able to tailor their message to the base of the masses while also not antagonising the progressives. While they started with wanting to elect our Prime Minister and making demands within the system, and we know the contradiction inherent in this and I am sure they appreciate these contradictions too, but they were able to fit themselves well into the broader  Multi-party narrative and political discourse that calls for the full democratization of Swaziland. But they were let down by the political parties who were not ready to lead. Because it is political parties that must lead. Political parties must determine the future society we want and therefore must have the capacity to pull together all these forces, including the MP's, into a nuanced and very solid message that projects the new Swaziland we all want. But political parties were unable to play this role in a way that threads together all the different ideas into one solid message that inspires not only the constituencies that the MP's are drawn from but the rest of the Swazi society and the international community. That's why I keep saying maybe we have not reached that stage where political parties are ready to take us into the next phase. In all honesty, we can't expect much from the MPs. They played their role within the contradiction of the system. It's the political parties that must lead us into the new Swaziland. They are supposed to be the leaders of society. They are supposed to be the ones who are agitating for the next Swaziland. By the way I include myself in this criticism and I will not be ashamed nor be in denial that we were not ready.

TB: But Masuku, how do you expect the political parties to play that leadership role? Do you want them to play this role individually or collectively through the Political Party Assembly? If I am a party leader I could ask myself what should I do? Should there be a political party that stands out from the rest and commands everyone, how does it work?

BM: That question is answered by leadership. That is exactly the question that advanced leaders must be able to answer. There is no one size fits all. This means the advanced leadership is able to read what is required and is be able to act according to the demands of the obtaining condition. But there is no doubt that there is a need for unity. And by unity I mean not just of political parties but all progressive forces including trade unions and civil society. The need for unity is therefore fundamental and indispensable. How to do that practically is a subject of the quality of leadership you have at the time. So the point I'm making is that with unity at the front and that is able to bring together everybody, the most important thing then becomes the sophistry of being able to clarify yourself to the masses. What was lacking was clarification and capacity to lead to the next stage; where to from here until Mswati came out of his confusion to reclaim lost ground. There was a time when Mswati was totally in confusion and the system didn't know what to do. For two weeks the masses were holding the forte. The MP's were also playing their role. Civil society played their role. Political parties played their role but what was missing was someone outstanding from the rest. Because a leader is someone who emerges from the crowd. If you are equal to the crowd, you're not a leader. You are amongst them. So what was required was someone, whether it's a political party or political parties or whoever that was able to remove him or herself from the crowd, and stand out as the beaming hope and light.There was darkness for two weeks and you needed the light that will be beamed into where we are going and that is where the question of leadership that could not transcend beyond the contradiction was found wanting.

TB: Fair point on the paucity of individual leadership but for me what was disappointing was the lack of organizational capacity of the political parties. For the past few days what was sustaining the momentum was excitement and anger not a well-oiled organisation with the capacity to coordinate and unleash organisational infrastructure in the course of the revolution. Political parties were found wanting in this regard. Come to think of it, for all its weaknesses the ANC was the first political party in Africa and is still standing today. It’s not magic but it is the building of infrastructure in a multi-layered way that sustains its hegemony in society. Strong organisations are able to mask individual failings. So I would like to know if you not unwittingly reducing the failure of organizational capacity to just individuals? I'll give an example here. No political party had a solid message that was consistent and available every day to guide the masses, to clarify to them complex issues around strategy and tactics and to counter state propaganda. It was wishy-washy at best. If anything, the progressives were relying on interviews in South Africa to communicate with the masses. What do you make of the problem of organization versus individual leadership?

BM: The fact that you could have individuals standing out without organisations is a problem. What are you leading when you have a political party that doesn't have infrastructure? You end up going around making noise and speaking anywhere and anyhow without a coordinated message that relates to organization, mandating and accountability. The organisational machinery must speak. So what was clear in the last two weeks is that all the political parties, without exception, had no machinery. They were stretched and exposed. And for this I take full responsibility as a member of a political party. Everyone now knows we have no machinery and to deny this we would be making ourselves fools. It is no longer a secret. What Swaziland needs is an organization that must lead, that has machinery, coordination, with communication systems that are integrated to the organisational system, into mass mobilization, into the strategic and technical thinking and that is able to coordinate  the masses. You will not win a battle as an individual by going around taking photos as if you are a Chuck Norris. A revolutionary means you are leading a machinery that reaches out to the masses, gives them feedback, gives them correct messaging, gives them instructions, provides inspiration and is able to clarify what is the next step. So the biggest problem is that we don't seem to be able to understand what is building a machinery. Mswati is a machinery. Mswati’s Tinkhundla system is a machinery. It was able to drive itself from local level right upwards. When the Tinkhundla machinery failed they had to go and get the final arbiter, which was the army, and crushed the revolution. It seems to me we are unable to understand that there are different levels to the Tinkhundla system and that we won't be able to win the revolution without an organisation layered bottom up too. So all the political parties must go do the ABCs of building infrastructure and organizations and stop being individual Chuck Norrises.

TB: That's an interesting observation because the people, especially on social media, were asking themselves how do you join organization A or B? How do I join your party if I want to contribute? How do people join and throw their skills into political parties? No systems whatsoever. Where do you think perhaps was the biggest of all the other weaknesses?

BM: I think the people who lead political parties need to be experienced in organization building first. Leading a political party is not some social club. It's a historic responsibility of wanting to change society and to change society means you must challenge the existing system. The existing system is rooted in ideas, in machinery, in our lives, in our education system, in our culture, in knowledge creation, basically at every level. You can't challenge such a system when you are a social club or you are a clown. You need to be organized to be powerful. You need a system of ideas that is different. The problem is that some of the political parties don't have membership systems, don't have organizational systems, don't have financial systems, don't have technical capacity or strategic capacity, don't have mass mobilization capacity and don't have infrastructure generally. They exist in the air. You have people who go to the media and they think it's an organization. Some of them, for instance, don't do balance of forces analysis. You need an assessment of the balance of forces. What is the strength of the enemy? What is our strength? Where's the enemy weak? Where are we weak. Balance of forces must be done regularly. If you do balance of forces less than twice a year then you are irrelevant because the evolution of things is so fast that every three or four months you need an assessment of where the balance of forces are to remain relevant. My sense is that I've not seen any of the political parties producing an assessment, a strategy, and a plan. I am open to challenge on this. So my sense is that sometimes we overestimate political parties. They are far less organized than they should be. But this would not mean that they don't exist. They played their role but they need to get serious. We must remove clowns from political parties so that you remain with political parties that can lead society beyond the crisis not those who are part of the problem. We need political parties that are a solution to the problem not part of it.

TB: But won't that encourage the proliferation of many political parties who don't offer anything new, at least in substance?

BM: The solution is the development of leadership. This means it's not the number of political parties that matter but the quality of its leadership and the quality of their ideas, quality of their infrastructure, quality of their organizational capacity and the relationship with the masses. So my sense is that the number doesn't matter what matters is what do you offer the people. Even if you are one political party or two, if you offer the people quality ideas, quality strategy, quality plan, quality message and quality relationship with the community then people will be able to galvanise and rally around you. At this moment the people demonstrated that all the political parties are unable to keep the masses glued to them.

TB: So what then do you make of the leadership that was provided by the MPs? Do you think, therefore, the individualism of the struggle is the solution as seen by the MP’s who were not aligned with any political party and were worshipped cult like? Is that an alternative?

BM: No, get me straight. Organisations or Political parties are very necessary for a democracy. But three people who are angry at Mswati are not a political party. A gathering of socialites is not a political party. A political party is a purposeful gathering of people who offer quality ideas, depth, analysis, relationship with the masses and ability to mobilise. In other words, political parties are very necessary and are the live wire of any democracy but if they are a joke they do not necessarily add any value. But the individuals are also important but they are not going to be the solution to breaking Tinkundla. They are only going to deepen the crisis and sharpen the contradictions. So I salute the brave three MP's. To the other coward MPs who saved their skins I'm very disappointed in them. But equally at this moment political parties could not play the role that they should have played.

TB: So what do you think then of the youth that is now calling for guns and are now calling for a republic. Is that adventurism or is it a new necessary conversation? As a seasoned activist, you must have heard this at some point in your years in struggle. Do you think the youth are correct to call for those things? If not, what message do you have for them?

BM: The future is in the hands of the youth. It is their destiny, they must decide what society they want. We can't keep imposing our views on how their future should be because we will not be there in that future. I was a leader of youth myself, many leaders of PUDEMO tried to tell me how to do things and of course some of them were honestly guiding us but I always emphasized our independence. Some of them, for instance, perhaps driven by their lumpen ideas and backwardness, used to tell me we must fight with guns. I always said don't tell me your backwardness. The system is not just force but there are many things that keep the system in place. It is the ideas of backwardness, chauvinism, patriarchy, sexism, royal supremacy or oppression more generally hence the ideological apparatus is very important in fighting the system. So I was very clear that the most important thing is to fight the ideological war and to clarify the masses, uproot their backwardness and challenge the ideas that keep the system intact. You can use any means at your disposal whether force or what but to me the ideological war is important. You must know what you're fighting against and know what you're fighting for. The biggest problem is that we have a bunch of angry people who don't know what they fighting for or fighting against. If you are not careful we can be Somalia and degenerate the society into a crisis and have no solution. Leaders are not people who know what they don't want but they also know what they want. So in other words, the youth must always be resolute that it will fight against what it doesn't want as much as it will fight for what it wants. The youth must not be misled by people who think this is an emotional game. Emotions are inevitable because people are killed and abused. After all, this is an abusive and violent system but we must fight physically as much as we fight with ideas. So there are those who think we will fight tinkhundla bankruptcy with our bankruptcy. I have interacted with people who call themselves progressive but they are so ideologically bankrupt they are a shame. You would not want such people to be leaders of the future society we want. If you have guns you can fight for good but you can also fight for bad. Mswati has guns if this is only about guns then will turn into another Somalia. Let it be clear all the time, this is an ideological as it is a political battle. We will use any means to fight it. We must be clear who is the enemy. We must be clear on how the enemy is organized and we must be clear who we are. Now, what do we mean when we are progressive? We're progressive because we represent progress. We are those who represent the future. We are separate from the rest because we represent the cream of society. The most advanced.

TB: You raise a lot of important points Masuku and I want to engage you on them but for now let us pose it here we will finish this next week.

BM: That’s fine I am always available