Monarchical democracy may have been invented in Eswatini, but it will soon find practical expression in South Africa, at least if the ideas espoused by former South African President Jacob Zuma are anything to go by.

This is the view of one expert in an interview with the Swazi Bridge this week. The concept of a monarchical democracy is vague, opaque and confusing, partly because it lacks a philosophical and ideological foundation.

A few years ago, King Mswati sought to redefine Tinkhundla's absolute monarchical rule and introduced the idea of a monarchical democracy into the country's lexicon for the first time. Beyond explaining it as a merger of popular democratic rule with hereditary monarchy, nothing substantial can be deciphered about the essential features of the system, ideology, or philosophy.

Unlike the late Gaddafi's Green Book, which detailed his ideas on social structure, political philosophy, and economic system, the King never expanded on the idea of monarchical democracy. Even ardent supporters of monarchical democracy do little more than use it as a catchphrase with little to no substance beyond the word.

"But the idea of monarchical democracy found an unlikely ally in Zuma and his newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe Party. If you look carefully at how Zuma has reverted back to traditional customs while also embracing Western liberal democracy, one can tell that he is espousing a new political center that borrows from right-wing ideology, such as his views on gays, teenage pregnancy, and certain aspects of the more backward feudalism like bringing back Kings and his idea to scrap Roman-Dutch Law,” Dr Dlamini at the University of Eswatini explained.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma with his new uMkhonto weSizwe Party.

It is difficult to tell how much influence the King had on the ideas of Jacob Zuma or vice versa. However, What is known is that despite his close proximity to King Mswati III, Jacob Zuma spoke candidly and openly about the need for political dialogue in the country shortly after the failed 2021 uprising. This demonstrated to many that he is sympathetic to the calls for political reforms but still celebrates African traditions and customs as represented by Monarchies.

In his previous life in the ANC and the military wing of the party, Zuma identified himself as a communist. Despite this, Zuma is not a fan of an outright Republic as some in the progressive camp chant. But he is also not fully embracing the idea of a Constitutional Monarchy, at least in so far as it is practised in countries like Lesotho, Norway or Britain.

If Zuma's recent utterances are anything to go by, then it is him who is stretching the ideological parameters of monarchical democracy and giving it practical political expression, whatever one understands that to be.

“It is too early to tell what ideology MKP will espouse, partly because the party couldn't campaign on a written manifesto and has not published their policy documents. However, commentators in South Africa attribute his views to be the central tenets of the party's ideology. Zuma seems to want to incorporate strands of African nationalism, cloaked in tribal colours, and King Mswati's monarchical democracy, however way you understand it,” commented an activist in South Africa.

"The MKP party must be understood more as an expression of disillusionment against aspects of liberal democracy that denigrate and undermine African culture and the worse excesses of capitalism that has denied people rights to land, for example.

You can tell that there is a lot of sharing of notes between the Swazi monarch and Jacob Zuma. If you look at Zuma's ideas, you can tell that it is not something new per se but an elaboration of the King's idea of what he thinks Eswatini is," continued Dr Dlamini.

In a recent meeting in KwaZulu Natal, Jacob Zuma insisted on his idea of centering Kings in the political establishment of South Africa. Even though this would require amending the constitution through a two thirds majority, Zuma has continued to chant this monarchy gospel each time he speaks.

The MKP party leader wants a Prime Minister who will be subservient to the King(s). From his speech in a widely circulated clip, Zuma seems to suggest that the Kings would have executive powers, more like in Eswatini, with the power to veto laws or “any craziness that can come with the politicians.”

The MK party seems to be an unrestrained actualization of the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) forces that were unsuccessful at the ANC leadership conference of 2017.

King Mswati with Jacob Zuma. The two are long time friends and relatives through marriage.

The MKP's research must have, at the time, shown that a large number of people have become disenchanted with pluralistic multi-party democracy and that a significant number of people harbour a romantic view of monarchies.

Zuma's utterances during the MK campaign seemed expertly calculated; issues like the reinstatement of corporal punishment, anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes, and removal of Roman-Dutch law are all unique to MK.

It's difficult to ignore the salient Tinkhundla and the so-called monarchical democracy rhetoric within the MK. Zuma has also benefitted from a tribal support base, and a growing Zulu nationalism and more than anything, he has become an unofficial heir to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)´s Mangosuthu Buthelezi legacy.

Zuma has also exploited the turbulence within the Zulu monarch on the one hand and the ANC led Provincial leadership which has been accused of undermining monarchal rule in the Province. With the leadership of Buthelezi gone, Zuma has become the new centre balancing support for the Zulu monarch, its tradition and heritage with the democratic architecture established by a Constitutional republic. This is the role Buthelezi played with military precision over many decades. Zuma has, in the words of political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi, "Umkhonto wama Zulu".

In a recent interview, former ANC Treasurer Mathews Phosa said Zuma has achieved what the late IFP could only dream of. If the influence of the King, or at least his thinking, within the MK party is true, then King Mswati has become a regional mastermind who has reinvented himself anew post the 2021 uprising.

For example, how the Swazi Monarch has managed to slip eSwatini out of the SADC agenda has been a staff of legends. Now the King has a party that is sympathetic to his political rule, said an activist from eSwatini now based in South Africa.

A traditionalist within the rural family told Swazi Bridge that what has been least studied are the King's moves post the 2021 uprising. The traditionalist said the King has become smarter in his political manoeuvres.

"You would have to be extremely stupid to not think that the King didn't know about MK. The next question is to what extent did the King offer financial support to a friend on his political ventures. I will leave that to your speculation," continued the traditionalist who asked not to be named.