Part II: To elect or not to elect a Prime Minister?

Some reflections on what Bacede Mabuza and other members of Parliament’s suggestion that the people elect their own Prime Minister might look like in practical terms.

In recent times, the country has been seized with a rather polarizing proposal by Mduduzi Magawugawu Simelane and Bacede Mabuza on electing our own Prime Minister. There has been a lot of confusion subsequent to this proposal.

The confusion seems to be whether we need to just elect our own Prime Minister under the same Tinkhundla electoral system or to unban political parties as a precondition to any “new” dispensation. Some have even gone to the extent of questioning the need for political parties if we are able to elect our own Prime Minister accountable to “us”.

If one removes the curtains, it becomes apparent that at the centre of the debate is a realisation that while we may collectively agree that something is wrong in our country, what is now abundantly clear is that we hold different views about where exactly is the problem. Linked to this, of course, is our differing ideas on what is the future society we want to build.

This is best demonstrated by the fact that while some call for the removal of the system as a whole, some, like the two MPs, want what is tantamount to a reform of the system. I call it reform because the basic tenets of the system will not be challenged or changed. Instead, what is now being advocated is the opening of a small space for the people to exercise some phoney power that skirts at the fringes of the real problem. Even more disturbing is the unfortunate postulation that by electing our own Prime Minister we would have defeated Tinkhundla.

There are many legal and constitutional issues this proposal brings but, for purposes of this article, let us clarify what we are fighting against in its full political and economic dimensions.

What then is Tinkhundla?

It is important to start by clarifying what Tinkhundla is so that we can properly locate our “fight” and the tactics thereof. By identifying what Tinkhundla is we will be able to evaluate, assuming Bacede and Gawuzela have it their way, if their proposal will take us any closer to the promised land.

In a nutshell, Tinkhundla is the system of organised royal rule and domination which sustains itself through a series of structures, values and institutions developed and reproduced to entrench the power of the royal family. The establishment of Tinkhundla as an electoral system in 1978 was a first and significant step in the total take over of the state and consolidation of royal power over all institutions of the country. Tinkhundla is therefore a system because it is different components of the state, economy, social fabric, ideology and political power all working together as parts of an interconnecting network; a complex whole to advance royal interests.

When the University collapses because Prince David is mismanaging the institution and knows no one has power to remove him, that is royal control and domination. When Prince Sicalo sits as a board member of the Central Bank armed with nothing else but army service history, that is royal domination and control. When Prince Lindani is appointed to senior positions in the state, that is royal domination and control. When Princes and Princesses are paid through our taxes for nothing else but just being royals, that is royal domination.

The emphasis to be made here is that this control extends to all aspects of our lives. Right from the community level – an example being the recent death of Princess Siphiwe at Mbilaneni and residents being told to pay E60 000 as “offering”– right up to the apex of government where a Princess can go on extended maternity leave and a helpless Prime Minister cannot discipline her.

In the economy, this royal control manifests itself through corrupt business partnerships like the one between the king and Shanmuga Rethenam of Salgaocar which, fortunately, had a spectacular fall. Sadly, the taxpayer had to foot the legal bill in the ensuing fights in Canada.

A struggle against way more than the electoral system

There is often a predilection to want to reduce our struggle to be just against the electoral system. To us Tinknundla was just a political means of the royal family to control all aspects of Swazi life be it politically, economically and ideologically. That is why it is dangerous to collapse our demands for ‘change’ to just the right to vote.

Perhaps it is important to also clarify that our problem is not that we are against individual merit as a basis for political office because that is neither new nor undemocratic. In fact, what we understand as Tinkhundla individual merit in the country is known everywhere else as the first-past-the-post (FPTP), sometimes formally called the single-member plurality (SMP) voting electoral system. In this system, just like here at home, voters cast their vote for a candidate in their individual capacity. Many countries (Zimbabwe and South Africa – at the local government level and now will be up to the national level following the recent constitutional court judgement – are perfect examples).

The difference here at home, however, is that we refuse group representation (read political parties) yet in other countries they are allowed to exist side by side with individual merit. This already explains that we are not against the electoral system (call it Tinkhundla if you like), but against the misdirection of the country by the royal family and their control of every aspect of Swazi life. A defeat of royal domination at the political level (through taking over state power) is a significant and important first step that will allow us to roll back this royal control and domination especially in the economy.

That, I argue, is the heart of the battle against Tinkhundla.

Otherwise, with enough pressure the king will not mind giving in to some small tepid reforms as long as they do not threaten his family’s economic interests. In the end, we will be stuck with political power that fails to transform the lives of the poor because the king would have retained economic power through Tibiyo, Tisuka and other business ventures that are a product and sweat of Swazis.

The contest for political power is not to tweak the edges of the system. It is, in the final analysis, a fight to take power from the King and giving it to the people through their representatives in parliament. With this power, we then use it to improve the standards of life of our people. We must emphasise at all times that we do not want power for its own sake but to improve the lives of the people.

We want to roll back the years of misdirection of the country under royal rule. That is why people who think we must change people in parliament or elect our own Prime Minister miss the point. They do not understand that we do not want to rotate different faces to the same problem. We must remove Tinkhundla in its totality so that in its ashes we build a truly humane, prosperous and democratic country.

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