SIBAYA, THE NEW PRIME MINISTER, CABINET AND ANGELS IN THE FOREST
Reading the Times Sunday headline story this week titled “Sibaya concluded the much awaited national dialogue says the government” brought to sharp focus the past few weeks' events and the disdain and relentless lack of respect for the citizens of eSwatini by the authorities.
Starting with the Sibaya meetings culminating in the appointment of yet another Dlamini Prime Minister, a new cabinet at the sole personal discretion of the king, a Senate of princes, princesses and chiefs in total disregard of the concerns of society and the demands for reforms.
The past few weeks spectacle also raises fundamental questions on the appropriateness and suitability of Sibaya as a platform to honestly engage on critical issues of modern governance, meaningful public participation and the attainment of informed national consensus on pressing public policy challenges such as the appointment of a prime minister, the powers of the King, national dialogue, constitutional review, multi-party democracy, service delivery, powers and rights of citizens etc.
Swazis are a respectful nation but are not stupid. They can see through the shenanigans of the ruling elite. The media published powerful pictures depicting throngs of Swazis queuing to enter Sibaya. Their faces were sombre, not exhibiting jubilation and excitement.
They looked more like people searching for a future and solution at a forum that rarely confronts the actual reality of their lives and hard survival challenges. These are poor people whom politicians and the ruling elite play with.
They live in hope and die in despair in broken hospitals with no drugs or equipment; their children are unemployed and without skills, constantly fed with a daily diet of empty promises.
The idea that Sibaya is some supreme national square where the nation can debate and generate ideas to resolve the development aspirations of the nation and serious political governance issues is a utopia. Just like the Greeks outgrew their market square set up before the birth of Jesus Christ, our country must outgrow the idea of Sibaya as a national decision-making platform because it is far from being one.
Sibaya is perhaps more appropriate as a cultural centre and arena for celebrating traditional events. The scenarios that played out during the Sibaya sessions were quite revealing, the biases using Sibaya to obfuscate, muddy or avoid difficult issues with the hope that the advocates for reforms could be drowned out and eventually lose steam and lead to the reform agenda being defeated.
The country’s Political problems are immense and will not disappear because the authorities ignore them. They will only be resolved by deploying hard, honest and formal political processes with defined terms of reference that seek to align the country’s constitutional frameworks with the demands of society and internationally accepted conventions on democratic governance, public accountability and respect for the sovereign rights of citizens to elect a government of their choice.
Countries compete fiercely for development, trade, education, investments, markets and human development opportunities in the modern world. Sibaya and the current tinkhundla model cannot be the platform to run a modern state and an economy to compete with the world.
The Sibaya sessions felt like a royal victory parade with no real purpose other than to allow a few speakers to let off steam and give the impression of a popular democracy. The meetings were controlled like an orchestra singing to the tune of the conductor and grand master of the event.
At their pleasure, the conductors would stop the submissions and insert pre-planned panel discussions fielding promoters and beneficiaries of the system to showcase their ideas and capacity to understand and lead on significant issues facing the country.
Members of the democratic movement at a picket. Writer says issues of democracy issues wont go away.
A speaker who dared to mention the forbidden words--multi-party democracy and the unbanning of political parties--got an extremely rude awakening when the microphone was violently taken away from him.
Sibaya was structured as a showpiece; a marketing stunt for the region and the diplomatic missions to sell the lie that the people were happy with the king and the ways of Tinkhundla. I was not surprised to see a statement from the government spokesperson, Alpheous Nxumalo, stating that Sibaya concluded the issue of a national dialogue before it even started.
I agree with the king’s spokesperson Percy Simelane that the dialogue remains an "angel in the forest" as far as the authorities are concerned. Sibaya is a jungle where the authorities hide and issue orders that cannot be challenged.
I recommend a book to Percy and Alpheous titled "The Jungle Grows Back" by Robert Kegan. The book best describes the growing jungle of power play and state capture that is emerging in the world, eating and wasting the future of nations in the same way that the Swazi system (in the name of the royal commands) and Tinkhundla system of government are doing.
The Swazi jungle is unaccountable, ruthless, and without shame, hides behind the 1973 decree, royal commands, Tinkhundla system of government, Swazi law and customs, Sibaya as the so-called highest decision-making body for the Swazi nation and some cruel connotation of the absolute powers of the royal family endorsement by God over the Swazi Nation.
In the book, Kegan discusses global political and economic trends post World War II. Over the past 70 years, he observes how the values of democracy, International trade, human rights, multilateral global institutions, the United nation’s charter and conventions on human and people’s rights and the rule of law silenced the dark chapters of tyranny, war, backwardness, police states, mafia states, state capture and state gangsterism that dominated previous epochs in Europe and elsewhere.
Tinkundla system and Sibaya are taking the nation back to the dark ages whilst the ruling elite is basking in the glory of a first-world lifestyle. The royal family and the king have resisted political reforms and multi-party democracy since 12 April 1973, entrenching the rule by royal commands, which has stunted the nation’s development over the past four decades.
The Sibaya set up that was termed the final dialogue by the government.
This rule of the jungle has created a political and economic governance environment dominated by the royal family and their proxies. The new prime minister, his cabinet, and parliament cannot set a vision, budget and agenda for development outside of the king's wishes and priorities.
Even the best brains and talents in the cabinet and parliament cannot succeed in delivering durable stability and transformative economic progress for the country without structural political and economic reforms that provide separation of powers, the rule of law, public accountability of all institutions of the state including the king, enforcement of anticorruption measures, direct participation by citizens in the election of a government of their choice.
In our Swazi context, the jungle is not just growing back but fighting to impose and perpetuate the same conditions that created a super-rich, multi-billionaire king ruling with absolute powers over the state and the people.
The Sibaya narrative was that the royal family owned the nation's treasures and must be called out and rebuked. (Lugcwembe ngelwetfu). Even under Swazi law and custom, the king is a king by and for the people. The king is not for himself and his family.
The nation's assets, such as the land, minerals, Tibiyo and Tisuka, would remain the king's private reserves. They would not be accountable to the nation or contribute to national development and the upliftment of the citizens' quality of life.
The economy and the national budget allocations and priorities will continue to reflect the king's absolute powers over the nation's development needs. This has been and will continue to be the jungle that eats the future of every Swazi. It is the essence of the Tinkhundla system of government.
Botswana had the same GDP as Swaziland in 1977. The prudent management of their natural assets and mineral resources ensured that this God-given wealth was well-managed and invested in the country's development.
As a result, Botswana’s GDP is now four times the size of Swaziland and the country employs world-class standards in managing its sovereign funds. This is an example and model that our country should emulate for the benefit of present and future generations.
Member of Parliament Prince Lindani wants several stadiums in the country.
This aligns with the original purpose and vision stated by King Sobhuza II in August 1968 when Tibiyo was founded. King Sobhuza II's Statement is very inciteful (paragraphs 1 and 2): “mindful that it is in the best interest of stability and the promotion of harmonious relations between the different races of his country that the material welfare, standard of living and education of the Swazi people, which is manifestly behind that of other people, should be advanced as rapidly as possible so that the Swazi people become equipped to play their proper role in the development of Swaziland. His Majesty is conscious of the need to preserve, in cooperation with such progressive leadership as is essential to the development of a modern State, the customs and traditional institutions of the Swazi people to prevent the disillusionment and instability which has followed from their rapid breakdown in certain other developing countries in Africa.”
I am sure many Swazis at the time welcomed and praised King Sobhuza's intervention as progressive and patriotic. These goals align with a nationalist agenda and commitment to put people’s needs first in the struggle for national development. This consciousness was somehow abandoned when the 1973 decree came into effect.
Thus setting the scene for the rise of an autocratic mindset in the royal ruling class that is complaisant, hardcore capitalists, inward-looking and self-serving – ignoring even the most basic responsibilities and accountability to the Swazi nation in the running of the country.
Sustainable Development is not a gift and will not be achieved through a royal command. Vision 2022, which promised the country to attain development status by last year, failed and so did the various national development plans due to many factors.
One of them was the overbearing dominance of royal commands in government decisions and priorities, poor conception of projects, wrong priorities, and implementation of projects without proper feasibility and socio-economic impacts.
This situation has contributed to enormous wastage and inefficient use of public resources over the past decades resulting in poor service delivery, poor performance of the economy, unemployment, corruption and high levels of poverty.
The recent call by Prince Lindani for the country to build 50 Royal Villas to complement the multi-billion International Convention and Conference Centre and further build a 30 000 to 50 000 stadium for the sole purpose of hosting the 60th birthday celebration of his majesty the King is the kind of intuitive decision making that has held the country back in its development efforts.
A cabinet meeting.
Without formal constitutional mechanisms of checks and balances, the cabinet and the Tinkhundla parliament cannot resist such demands, particularly if they are elevated to a royal command.
Sibaya, as a platform, is incapable of addressing these deep Tinkhundla faultlines of our system of government. The country needs a formal reform process brokered by either SADC OR the United Nations, which would start with a national dialogue process leading to a negotiated solution.
In the ordinary course of events, the authorities and the Tinkhundla system would not voluntarily submit to reforms without significant societal pressure. In the meantime, the management of the economy, the government and national resources would continue to reside in the jungle and benefit private interests over the nation's development needs.
This has been and will continue to be the jungle that eats away the future of every Swazi. It is the essence of the country’s governance crisis, and no individual member of parliament or member of cabinet can change or challenge this reality.
The former members of Parliament currently languishing in Jail are being punished for daring to cross this line. The signals from Sibaya, as projected by Dr Tambo Gina, are that we must brace ourselves for a government that would rule through the barrel of the gun and not political consensus.
The Mass Democratic Movements have to thus devise tangible strategies to drive a straightforward narrative of a national agenda for reform that connects with the broader consciousness of the society and the marginalised youth.
Let us simplify the goals of the struggle through our public participation processes, initially using existing structures and constituencies such as the branches of the labour movement, the youth, the church, and the unemployed and promoting constructive participation in local communities.
King Mswati and leaders of SADC. Writer says the regional body must mediate the dialogue.
We can’t be national leaders if we are absent in our communities. Let us learn and internalise the language and values of the people. Ordinary Swazis and not our feelings must become the focus and pillar of the struggle.
The focus must be on restoring their historical birth rights as citizens to the resources of the country and the right to participate in the formation of restructuring governance and the economy to serve the people.
The national dialogue must not be about abstract issues of human rights but about tangible reforms required to change the lives of Swazis. We must build a viable alternative vision and future that the youth and the working class must fight for. Our civic education must focus on these basics and empower ordinary people to lead the demands for a fair deal in the reform agenda.
A conscious effort must be made to reduce the petty fights within the mass democratic movement and unify the progressive movement inside and outside the country. Let us declare a truce on the interparty personality-related criticisms and set up backdoor communication channels.
Social media has removed the authorities' monopoly in messaging propaganda and civic education to deal with misunderstandings and disagreements. It is in the interest of the struggle to elevate the quality of our communication and messaging to reinforce the goals of the struggle and break down the jungle of misinformation.
Progressive online media must be supported and strengthened to uphold and sustain the moral high ground of the people's struggles, mindful and consciously balancing the reality that all media inside the country is controlled and works for the state.
Social media must become the progressive media organ that corrects the imbalance that dominates national radio, TV and print media. Development is not a gift and will not be achieved through a royal command.
This situation has contributed to enormous wastage and inefficient use of public resources over the past decades, resulting in poor service delivery, poor performance of the economy, unemployment, corruption and high levels of poverty.