It was in mid-2021 when almost from nowhere, the system found itself on a backfoot from an onslaught of unprecedented intensity and resolve. To say the country came to a standstill would be an understatement. 

So sustained and gravely volatile was the situation that even otherwise far-fetched rumours of the king fleeing the country suddenly became plausible. If not the exciting fantasies of his fleeing, then it was oddly welcomed rumours of his demise after purportedly succumbing to COVID. 

The inordinate silence from the usually bullish king sort of justified all these wishful thinking. But in all honesty, it had been in the making for quite some time. Perhaps the most apparent tell-tale was the new radical and hard-hitting online media publications which not only offered Swazis a new platform to discuss freely, but also disbursed all the stories which ordinarily would not find space in the conventional newspapers. 

 Taking the cue from the trendsetting Swaziland News, The Bridge and others launched amid pomp, excitement and new product in in-depth analysis and fearless reporting and news analysis. The excitement of new possibilities was at fever pitch and a new dawn was beckoning. For prolonged periods, a docile and partial media became an important enabler of the system with which it managed the flow of information and propaganda. Things were changing. And perhaps too fast. 

 A member of The Bridge editorial team wondered how analysis and stories written and published about a year ago still find resonance as relevant ‘throwbacks’ to a point of wondering whether we were born ahead of our time. This is attributable to the fact that we outdone ourselves in the era of hope and new dawn. 

Right from the beginning we saw ourselves as targeting a specific audience that want more than gossip, insults and innuendo. All the while the different political formations and other players—including some members of parliament—displayed utmost unity of purpose. The dream of liberation could not be deferred any longer. Whether coming from the system (parliament) or the progressives outside the structures of the regime Swazis seemed united in wanting change, their platform of activism did not matter. 

 The images of Lubulini Member of Parliament Timothy Myeni singing side by side with PUDEMO’s Mlungisi Makhanya in a van outside the American embassy are still etched on many a Swazi’s mind. Swazis had finally come of age and understood the value of unity of purpose. Sadly, with each passing day, and behind the scenes, the seeds of division were quietly fermenting. After initially exhibiting arrogance, the regime seemed to be relenting after SADC put up a brave face and demanded, albeit vaguely, a dialogue.

It is worth every emphasis that the country was in uncharted waters of paradoxes of hope and despair, of despondency and new resolve. It was only a matter of time that the state’s armed forces cracked and cowered under the response from the People’s defence units who had taken the war to the doorstep of the armed forces who had been on a rampage maiming and killing unarmed citizens with impunity.

Suddenly the hunter was hunted. The emergence of Mangololo eSwatini, a pro regime formation which fashions itself as the first and last line of defence for the regime, illustrated the desperation of the government and its acolytes. Attempts to draw parallels and compare Mangololo with Sive Siynqaba at its inception paled as the former was brazen and lacked any ideological outlook and sophistry that the Sive Siyinqaba of Robert Zombodze Magagula espoused to the point that its character confused both potential friend and foe.

While untrusted by conventional political parties— who at first saw the ‘cultural outfit’ as apologists and later reformists—Sibahle also unsettled some traditionalists and supporters of the regime who suspected it to be a political party in disguise. This led to former Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini famously labelling the Movement as whiskey in a coca cola bottle. That is besides the point. Mangololo was here, brazen and mincing no words. It was a sign of times.

Even the formation of Mduduzi Magawugawu Simelane’s SWALIMO was welcomed as adding yet another arsenal in the fight against the regime. At a glance, it seemed like the Swaziland question was a Tinkhundla or Multiparty elections binary which would, all things equal, point to conformists and revolutionary dichotomy. What we did not anticipate, perhaps naively, was the emergence of multiple entities on either side of the divide especially with blurred, if any at all, ideological or even manifesto that made it difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Yet, political pluralism is also widely celebrated as a sign of maturity and ideal for any democracy for it is said, among other reasons, it offers variety and choices to the electorate. The emergence of SWALIMO did seem to validate the idea of variety and choice judging by the numbers it attracted. Interestingly, the recent fallout between current and erstwhile SWALIMO leaders was first reported to be a function of different leadership styles and preferences.

And this was before the movement could celebrate its first year of existence. As the split became formal, it then transpired that there were ideological differences too. Granted, ideological differences always beget varying outlooks and approaches. With time, it would seem the real battle got narrowed down to either boycotting or participating in the forthcoming general elections. The emergence a SWALIMO splinter a year into formation was also a test of character and tolerance for the party as they had claimed they were subjected to all manner of vulgarities from those before them.

And this sort of captures the dichotomy among the progressives. Occasionally, the appointment and/or election of a Prime Minister would be thrown in as another bone of contention testing the limits of understanding what exactly is revolution and the tactics to be used. There, however, seem to be enough number of entities and individuals in either side of the boycott or participate fault line who have been there and done that with valuable lessons to be shared and lent.

But such a topic only illicit insults not political discussion from two camps aiming for the same goal . On the other end of the pendulum, and even more interestingly, is the imminent split of Mangololo. The pro regime party has been bedevilled by dynamics and divisions of their own and have played themselves out in the media so spectacularly. Perhaps, this absolves the progressives who in some quarters were seen as living with the allegation of positioning themselves in proximity of power and resources. 

 For defenders of an incumbent regime, the expectations are that dynamics would be very minimal if any at all. What then is dividing a close-knit family that Mangololo is supposed to be? Could it be that to be anti-organisational and the refusal to be led is a trait peculiar to us as Swazis? As indicated elsewhere in the article, pluralism ought to be welcomed, celebrated and embraced. It does, most unfortunately attract (sometimes unwarranted) scrutiny if it coincides with the regime gaining ground. 

As things stand, few would have thought that by this time the king would have gone into seclusion virtually untroubled. The divisions we have seen within the progressive camp in recent time must be traced back to those monologues by PUDEMO’s suspended member Bonginkhosi IB Dlamini who was happy to bash his party and his arch nemesis, Mlungisi Mkhanya, much to the admiration of the internet trolls that follow the Swaziland Democratic News platform. 

 The SDN was happy to give a platform to anyone who hated Makhanya, even to a point of legitimising a political prima donna based in the USA whose only claim to fame was making wild claims and infantile ramblings on Facebook. Yet, quite paradoxically, when the same was done by Swaziland News the same people who had cheered on the Makhanya/PUDEMO bashing suddenly got incensed and accused the publication of being a PUDEMO outfit. 

None of the party leaders from both warring factions belled the cat and soon it was open season of insults and slander. The space for sane engagements disappeared. If people Swazis looked up to for direction (given their struggle credentials and experience) would find nothing wrong in bashing their own leaders and engaging in long divisive monologues then what would stop newly found struggle arrivalists like one Thabo Moloi from doing the same? 

 The recent long ramblings of this so called journalists just showed the lows the struggle has gone and how unity will remain evasive. None can stop this childishness anymore and sadly the integrity of the liberation struggle has suffered. Things were made worse by the public fall out between Swaziland News’ Editor Zweli Dlamini and SWALIMO President Mduduzi Simelane. The subsequent negative stories about the party in the Swaziland News no longer became a case of journalist doing his job but to many of the party’s supporters it was a clear case of a vengeful trappings of a scribe gone rogue.

Suddenly all those who had an axe to grind with Dlamini allied, wittingly and unwittingly, with intelligence operatives who are milking the divisions for all its juices. Zwemart’s close proximity to PUDEMO was interpreted as doing the party bidding. In fact others went to the extent of claiming he was the defacto spokesperson for the party and therefore if he was attacked the party needed to suffer the sin of proximity.

Because many of the newly found evangelists for change—who are in the main armed with just data and facebooks—are new in struggle they are unteachable how state intelligence works or how counter revolution creates splits, drive wedges leading to a fifth column in the struggle. It didn't matter any more the truth or otherwise of any reports—The Bridge included—the internet trolls and SWALIMO supporters saw Simelane as a leader being persecuted by what is supposed to be his fellow journey men. It did not help that opposing parties called him a cult and an enabler of the system for calling for joining the elections.

The waters got murky. The struggle became a laughing stock as ‘oksalayo’ began to dominate political engagements. Shielded from the media attention was the infighting within the Swaziland Economic Freedom Fighters where paralysis led to the suspension of founding members and self cannibalism within the party. Even their glorified PR that has captured admiration of onlookers fizzled out as soon as those ‘persecuted’ decided to ‘tsatsa ibhola yabo’.

As a youthful party, the EFFSWA had initially closed the space opened by the then docility of the Swaziland Youth Congress. EFFSWA members were drawn mainly from both the urban youth and student movement plus frustrated members of SWAYOCO. However, as soon as the party faced problems many abandoned it while others, like their founding President Ncamiso Ngcamphalala, rebranded as Mangololo 2.0. But still the party held on, the lack of their initial visibility and good PR notwithstanding.

Mirroring itself as a self styled Swazi version of the EFF South Africa, the party just could not live to their inaugural congress before a seismic split. Perhaps, they had not understood how Malema built his party ground up but the effort was there, admirable even. But over two years since formation they have not gone to congress to agree on foundational documents and policies. And therein lies their problem. Meanwhile, the ructions within SWALIMO saw the emergence of Busie Mayisela’s Swazis First, Democracy First which, at face value, offers nothing different from all the political parties already in existence.

But at this point it is only fair to say time will tell if, like SWALIMO, they will live long enough to see their first congress before a split. But the fact that the party was launched on diametrically opposed ideological outlook to their old political home shows that the fidelity they had with SWALIMO was not to a clear set of ideas but charm and charisma of their leader. If ability to hold an inaugural congress is the yardstick to measure if a party has staying power then the under reported PUDEMO upcoming congress has all the answers. It has already been reported that the party will see PUDEMO founding member and also former Illovo Director Mandla Hlathswayo contest with the more youthful incumbent Mlungisi Makhanya.

Those who want Mandla within the party say they want someone who can dig PUDEMO out of the current organisational malaise and appeal to not just the middle class and international community but also someone who can dwarf the noise currently bedevilling the struggle. But others argue the party is attracting more youthful members that Makhanya appeals to. They contend that to remove him would be to literally sacrifice him especially after being forced to exile and the recent persecution be has faced from the state.

With the party congress postponed for the umpteenth time, the jury is still out if the intense contest and polirisation will not just formalise a split long in the making. This then leads one to ask if in addition to much desired and necessary pluralism, are we also bedevilled by the ‘too many chiefs and not enough Indians’ scourge which compels all of us to lead at all cost?

Only time will tell. What is clear, however, is that the Swazi struggle deserve a leader who will hold the centre, tower above all the pettiness, command the respect across the board and project a vision so blinding we will all follow even across party lines. As things stand, it’s just many chiefs and not enough Indians.