SADC'S PLAN B: HOW KING MSWATI BECAME THE MOST IMPORTANT REGIONAL LEADER AND OUTWITTED THE PROGRESSIVES
When Aljazeera published their investigative docuseries on the gold mafia scandal—a scandal that stretched from Kenya, Dubai, South Africa, Egypt and Zimbabwe—they untangled a complicated and sophisticated web of money laundering, corruption and downright theft.
Even though the investigative docuseries by Aljazeera implicated high-ranking government officials and private businessmen in the region, it was interesting that eSwatini was never mentioned directly or even impliedly by Aljazeera.
The country was, for once, not involved in an international scandal even though many of our sources told us the country’s authorities were as implicated as the rest of those mentioned in the series.
After all, some of the implicated individuals were known to have a cosy relationship with the country’s authorities and were regulars in the country, albeit operating below the radar. It was Zimbabwe and the controversial prophet-turned Zimbabwe’s super diplomat, Uebert Angel, whose hands were found to be in the cooky jar.
Yet, rather inexplicably, the government spokesperson, Alpheous Nxumalo, took an unprecedented step and made a video statement condemning Aljazeera for their investigative series.
The government of eSwatini hardly issues a statement, not least via video, on international issues. So when Nxumalo took the unprecedented step of defending Angel, it was clear there was a link between the controversial prophet and the country’s authorities; all that remained was for time to reveal the extent of the relationship and the ties that bound all the protagonists together.
Zimbabwe super diplomat Uebert Angel posing with Zimbabwe President Emerson Mnangangwa. Angels was recently invited by the King to preach in the country.
The video-recorded statement by Nxumalo was, in the words of Zimbabwean author Tawanda Majoni, merely a “self-serving propaganda attempt to benefit Angel in his individual capacity”.
That came mainly from the fact that the statement was exclusively about Angel and deliberately or inadvertently skipped the broader story on gold and money laundering as reported by Al Jazeera. Instead, Nxumalo chose to focus on absolving Angel as an individual.
The question then was why? Beyond the obvious, as chronicled on the Aljazeera docuseries, sources have told us that the relationship between Angel and the country’s authorities, which culminated in the recent invitation to preach at Mandvulo church service by the King, was indicative of how important the King is in the region.
Back when Robert Mugabe was the leader of Zimbabwe, it was well known within diplomatic circles that he saw the young Monarch as his protégé.
This was not so much political but rather a personal bond between the two leaders as the now late Mugabe saw our Monarch as “a boy who grew right before my eyes” deserving of his protection and tutelage. Within SADC, it was King Mswati and Mugabe who had been in power the longest and therefore had become the literal “big boys” of the regional block.
King Mswati saw Mugabe as the last bastion of support against sporadic pressure exerted by South Africa, Botswana and sometimes Namibia to reform. This was more pronounced during the Nelson Mandela and later Thabo Mbeki years. But with Mugabe by his corner, King Mswati could easily ward off all regional pressures for reform.
The late Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe pictured with King Mswati. The two leaders admired each other.
Mugabe was a regular in the country too, attending most of the monarch’s significant events from the 40/40 celebrations to the King’s traditional Umhlanga ceremony among many other events.
It was known in the region that the relationship between Mugabe and King Mswati was that of father and son. So, when the coup in Zimbabwe happened and catapulted current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa from Deputy President to President, via a brief stay in exile in South Africa, it was well known which side King Mswati was on.
Initially, the relationship between Mnangagwa, now the new leader of Zimbabwe, and King Mswati was frosty at best and hostile at worst. After all, Mnangagwa had removed the King’s beloved mentor. Now enters Angel!
It was Angel who smothered the relationship between the Zimbabwean leader and the Monarch via a slew of controversial businesspeople linked to the elaborate gold mafia networks. Soon relations between Zimbabwe and eSwatini got warmer, cordial and ultimately friendly.
In May this year, King Mswati was invited to attend the Transform Africa Summit (TAS) in Victoria Falls and was later made the guest that officially opened Zimbabwe’s 2023 International Trade (ZITF) in Bulawayo.
King Mswati pictured with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangangwa at a Trade Fair in Zimbababwe.
Significant about this event is that it was not just a state visit between two heads of state but importantly the King was now being accepted within ZANU PF as a legitimate ruler of the country at a time when the focus was on eSwatini following the 2021 failed uprising.
SADC leaders like Cyril Ramaphosa and later Namibian President Hage G. Geingob were intent on forcing a settlement on eSwatini. Summit after summit eSwatini became a headliner and the country obfuscated only to buy time. With Mnangagwa by his corner, King Mswati knew the voices of condemnation were getting thinner within the regional body.
“Zimbabwe has been through turbulent times and yet continues to thrive economically and is peaceful. This is a great demonstration to the world that Africa can find and implement her own solutions to issues and cases that are uniquely African,” said the King while in Zimbabwe. Charmed by the Second Republic’s works and the success of the engagement and re-engagement drive that saw Western countries attending ZITF, the Monarch leader said the country under President Mnangagwa would achieve its objectives.
“I must say that the last time I was here in Bulawayo was in the 90s, 1995 to be precise. That’s when I came to pay a visit and officially open the trade fair. I must confess that the vibe this year is getting stronger and stronger. I say well done to everyone who has made a contribution. You know even when I landed this morning, looking at the infrastructure, compared to the last time, there were totally new structures; new roads, new highways. Hearty congratulations to the people and Government of Zimbabwe,” continued King Mswati III.
It was clear to everyone Zimbabwe had understood what came late to many SADC leaders: you need King Mswati on your side rather than the other way around. And that was the mastery of Angel to the Zimbabwean government.
King Mswati´s master stroke meant that whenever the issue of eSwatini came to the table he had more sympathetic ears as opposed to the opposition who were rumbling from the periphery and stumbling from one disaster to the next. Why is King Mswati important to regional leaders?
"The answer is simple," says Andreus Stevenson, a security analyst from South Africa. “Understand something. All the regional leaders are susceptible to rotation as Presidents. This can happen intra party power dynamics or at a country level where the ruling party can lose an election. So all the regional leaders know they enjoy temporary power but the one leader who is guaranteed to be there come rain or sunshine is King Mswati. So King Mswati never worries if an election will retain or rotate him yet all the other leaders cannot have the same guarantee. Think back to how many SADC leaders have changed in the last 30 years yet King Mswati is still there. This makes the King very important among the regional leaders and very useful too for those with political ambitions pre or post their term of office,” continued Stevenson.
An insider from royalty told The Bridge that in the last couple of years the importance of King Mswati in the region has grown exponentially as more leaders realise they need the King for three principal reasons. “First, you need the King to help shelter you or protect you if you lose an election in your country. In worse cases when something bad happens, be it a coup or anything you can have King Mswati as a rear base to reorganise and plan your political comeback. Secondly, you need the King to fund your elections within the party and in the state. The King has money and most of the leaders know that if you are in his good books he can give you a significant contribution to win an election. Lastly, we are all Africans we know many of these leaders believe in muti. So they sometimes come here hoping some muti will either make them win an election or just be loved back in their countries. So it's your choice, offend the King or work with him,” continued the source who preferred to remain anonymous.
The contemporary history of eSwatini proves this to be true. Back in 2009, former Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana was ousted in a coup. He sought refuge in the country and was sheltered by the King until such time that he was ready to return home and challenge for political office.
It was the King who saved Ravalomanana from being thrown into the dustbin of history.
Former Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana. He was once exiled in eSwatini.
It was his diplomacy that ensured that the former President could return home safely. When former South African President Jacob Zuma had a nasty political fight first with former President Thabo Mbeki, and later with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Zulu born leader became a frequent visitor to the country.
It was here, some allege, that the political strategy, the financial resources and the muti were cooked to plot Zuma´s comeback to power.
And indeed he was successful having won his contest against Mbeki and then his ability to neutralise then ANCYL President Julius Malema who wanted to remove him in order to put former Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Later on, when BBC´s investigative documentary alleged that Billions of Libyan money had mysteriously disappeared when the former Libyan President Muammar Gadaffi (who had housed and militarily trained the King´s son, Prince Scalo) was deposed all paper trail pointed to South Africa, then ruled by Zuma, and subsequently eSwatini.
President Ramaphosa sent countless missions to the country first to try and recover the money and later to bridge the political divide in the country following the failed 2021 uprisings. Both missions failed and only helped to underscore the very hostile relationship between Ramaphosa and King Mswati III.
Even during SADC missions to discuss eSwatini, South Africa got isolated in trying to force King Mswati into a dialogue as countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana (among others) never developed the testicular fortitude to support a compromise with the monarch.
Zuma´s success therefore paved the way for other regional leaders to realise the importance of having good relations with King Mswati III. Zambian President soon cosied up to the Monarch and subsequently ensured that Michello Shakantu’s Inyatsi could have businesses in Zambia and in return, the former head of state could have a decent retirement home and his pockets full enough to plot a political comeback in the future.
When Lungu subsequently lost the elections news started spreading that the Monarch had gifted him a mansion at Nkonyeni and that his relationship with the country had far deeper roots centred on personal enrichment for the former Zambian leader and reciprocal financial benefit from the country´s biggest construction company with royal interests.
Former Zambian President Edgar Lungu at the uMhlanga reed dance.
It later emerged that Zambia´s RDA awarded over E500 million (701 Million Zambian Kwancha) contract to Inyatsi Roads Zambia Limited, a subsidiary of Inyatsi Construction Holdings Ltd of eSwatini in July 2017. The contract was to rehabilitate the Ndola Mufulira Road in Zambia.
On July 28 President Edgar Lungu then visited eSwatini on a two-day working visit.
On August 26th 2017--6 weeks after the project was launched in Zambia-- Zambia´s Copperbelt Minister Bowman Lusambo inspected the site and found that serious works had not commenced. He threatened Inyatsi management with the termination of their contract. He also threatened to report Inyatsi to President Lungu and that he would recommend the termination of the contract.
On 3 September 2017 President Lungu, state house officials and close friends of the president, including press aide Amos Chanda, political advisor Kaizar Zulu and presidential affairs minister Freedom Sikazwe travelled to eSwatini where they also participated in the reed dance ceremony.
The President was in the country for just 5 weeks earlier at the end of July. The President undertook two trips to the country in a space of 5 weeks.
It became clear this visit was to sort out the Inyatsi issues that were threatening Lungu’s political life back at home. In November 2017, Zambia’s Special Assistant to the President for Projects Monitoring Andrew Chellah announced that RDA had awarded a second contract to Inyatsi Roads Zambia Limited to fix the Kafue-Chikankata-Mazabuka Road.
Statehouse instructed the Ministry of Finance to release funds for works to commence according to Chellah. By this time, it was clear that Inyatsi now had a firm footprint in Zambia.
In November 2017, a tender was advertised by Inyatsi Properties and selected architectural firms in eSwatini to submit draft designs for a mansion to be built allegedly for President Edgar Lungu at Nkonyeni Golf Estate in eSwatini. Inyatsi Construction Holdings Ltd is interested in Nkonyeni Golf Estate through a subsidiary called Inyatsi Properties.
This is the same parent company that owns Inyatsi Roads Zambia Ltd. In February 2018, Bowman Lusambo, who five months earlier had a bitter exchange with Inyatsi Roads Zambia Ltd directors and threatened to have their contracts terminated, was transferred from the Copperbelt province to Lusaka province and no reasons were given for his transfer according to Zambian press.
Later on 12th May 2018 a whistle-blower from one of the bidders, a company known as Architects International leaked some of the proposed architectural diagrams of the president’s mansion and went viral on social media.