Forget all you have heard, King Mswati is not talking and not going anywhere

Forget it. King Mswati is not going anywhere. Fasten your seatbelt; it is still going to be a long ride. The Bridge has spoken to several sources within royalty and cabinet and the consensus is that the monarch has only just regained confidence after monetarily being shaken by the raging protest of last week. However, he now feels very much in charge and is taking no advice that calls for dialogue. If anything, he is scorned. And indeed beware, hell hath no fury like a king scorned. This is best demonstrated by the government’s posture on the intervention initiated by SADC’s TROIKA organ that visited the country last week.

The renewed confidence of the government of Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku follows a meeting King Mswati III had with Ministers over the past weekend where the government was told to act harshly against all looters, protesters and anyone who associates with the pro-democracy movement. The recent Public Relations offensive by Minister of Finance Neil Rijkenberg and his cabinet colleague Minister of Commerce Manqoba Khumalo, who both availed themselves for a series of interviews with South African media, is only but part of a fightback strategy to sanitise the monarch's imagine and blame everything from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to mercenaries for the recent unrest. The recent appointment of former government spokesperson Percy Simelane as the monarch's spin doctor is a calculated move in the same direction.

A few days ago the government was not this arrogant though. They had been shaken by the protests to a point that in one of the cabinet meetings Minister of Environment Moses Vilakati, one of the sympathisers for democratic reforms, even made a passionate plea inside cabinet for a political solution before the protests begin to target chiefs and descend the country into even worse chaos. At the time the Ministers were frustrated, not knowing what to do. By the time Princess Sikhanyiso made an impassioned plea to the nation to calm down as their issues and concerns were genuine and would be listened to, there was a sense that the issues needed to be managed politically. “Check the response of Sikhanyiso to the BBC interview and to the address to the nation a few days earlier. Two different personalities, two different stories and two different attitudes. The question you must be asking yourself is what changed in those two days? The other is contrite and polite and the other she is defensive and blaming everything else except themselves,” a source within royalty told The Bridge. The Ministers later met the King whose main obsession was the looting and vandalism than the political issues that led to the protests in the first place. At first the attitude of the Ministers was to deal with the issue politically and many of them were genuinely surprised at the extent of the damage to property and general public anger.

They wanted a situation where they could convince the king to dialogue even if just between and among themselves as a start but they were shocked at the attitude of the king. The king had a clear and solid response; this cannot be Swazis. Not the ones he knew. He believes this deeply. That is when the story of mercenaries started to circulate forcefully and became the talking  point for everyone. What is funny is that in one of the meetings he asked  everyone why destroy property if you are genuine in your course. This was more so after widespread report that they were targeting his properties. He couldn't understand that part” continued the highly placed source.

The American embassy is itself exasperated.They have made efforts to initiate dialogue but by Saturday last week they had understood the king was not prepared to even engage. “I just spoke to the embassy staff and they think the man wants to go down with the country. They are just disappointed that the South African government is seized with the Zuma issue hence are unable to give eSwatini the much needed attention. Remember the region moves when South Africa moves. At this point until South Africa takes a decisive position nothing will move,” said another highly placed source in South Africa who is privy to the engagement with the American embassy staff. “But you people were delusional in the first place,” remarks Sipho Dlamini* a member of the royal family who considers himself the ‘liberal faction of the establishment’.

King Mswati III. Picture credit: AFP

He told us the king was at no point threatened by the protests but only shaken. “Huge difference,” Dlamini cautions in between puffs of smoke. “Shaken yes threatened? Now that's a stretch. You think taking over state power is a joke? The man has been in power since he was 18 years old. He knows nothing but absolute rule and you thought one protest would make him leave? That is why I say you were delusional,” says Dlamini matter of factly. He continues: “The problem with you is that you do not understand the psyche of the King. Do not underestimate how much he feels entitled to the country and his limited level of education and little knowledge of politics. The king cannot separate the country from his family. He thinks nifuna kummuka intfo yakubo. How do you engage with a person who thinks like that? To him this is his family’s property and he genuinely believes this. Listen to the speeches he made in 1996 in response to the then Jan Sithole led protests to the one he made in 2008 after the Lozitha bombing incidents. Those were the two incidents where he spoke publicly and showed his true colours when angry. Just listen to the tone of those two speeches and then multiply that by ten to get a picture of how he feels now. Forget it. Just forget it."

He said most people made the mistake of thinking change is all about the king alone. He warns that there is a significant number of people who rely on the king or the establishment more generally who would do everything to keep the status quo. “We had hopes too,” he continues, dejections written all over his face. “We thought this would move him. But think about it, how do you reason with a man who has known all life that ungumlomo longacali manga or who has enjoyed absolute power where his word is law?" However even as the king digs in the noose is tightening, at least if events around him are anything to go by. The SADC Troika team is arriving in the country again on Monday 12 July and it is expected that the monarch will again be persuaded to dialogue. But Dlamini is not optimistic. "Those people won't do anything. If your hope is TROIKA then forget it. I will be here when the dust settles and will ask you what did they achieve? First of all even if the king gives in you think the army that is so deeply divided in loyalty to the various factions of the royal family will accept new entrants into politics as easy like that? Besides, the king does not see this as genuine protests he sees it as criminal vandalism and I cannot see any starting point for engagement," adds Dlamini.

…..Sikhanyiso speech divides royalty

The impassioned speech by Inkhosatana Sikhanyiso calling for calm, acknowledging wrong and promising self-reflection has divided royalty. At the height of the protest last week the Acting Prime Minister addressed the nation and called for stability and order but his words seemed to have been drowned by the fury on the streets until the Princess took it upon herself to speak on behalf of royalty. The Princess appeared contrite in her address and self-reflecting in her tone but this was not how other royal family members felt the matter should be addressed. Already The Bridge had indicated as early as last week that not everyone felt the Princess was the right person to speak on these issues because she was too junior. It didn't help that she spoke after her superior, the Acting Prime Minister, had already spoken. Prince Themba, board Chairman at Maloma mine, later called Prince Masitsela to complain about the Sikhanyiso issue. The Prince is heard in the telephone conversation acknowledging what The Bridge wrote, that the king takes little to no advice from his brothers and sisters.

The King's first born daughter Princess Sikhanyiso

In fact, Prince Themba even revealed that Prince Masitsela has for several times been fined for going against the grain when giving advice to the monarch. However, those in Princess Sikhanyiso’s side argue that the Princess was merely closing a vacuum of leadership as no one from royalty was willing to speak on the volatile situation in the country. But Sikhanyiso herself changed tune soon as the message from the throne was clear that cabinet must fight back with a counter narrative. By the time she had given the BBC interview where she blamed foreign mercenaries, she had been told that the king was angry at the looters and vandalism and was not even willing to listen to anything else. The king even quickly appointed Percy Simelane, the former government spokesperson, to head the monarch’s propaganda strategy at the king’s office. Siphofaneni Member of Parliament Mduduzi ‘Magawugawu' Simelane on other hand says Princess Sikhanyiso is a liar who is playing double standards.

Simelane said the senior Princess was untruthful when she said the over 60 people who were shot and killed by the recently unleashed eSwatini army, were in fact killed by foreign and invading soldiers. “I want to remind you that few days ago we were made to listen to your crocodile tears on our national radio, telling people that ‘niyacolisa sekuvakele’, now you are telling the world that our people who have been killed were killed by people who were hired by those advocating for change and you claim that these hired people were wearing army coloured uniform.” He said this in reaction to a statement made by the princess to the BBC news service where she stated that there was peace in the country until foreign mercenaries invaded and started shooting at people. The Siphofaneni Member of Parliament said Sikhanyiso was condescending and insulting the many innocent Swazis who were being brutalised and killed by the army and police. “I just want to tell you my sister that there is God in heaven who is in charge. Nothing happens under the sun without him seeing. You will not have enough soap to wash the blood of our people as soldiers and state agents are unleashed on them. No matter how far a lie goes, please know that it is always overtaken by the truth. History will not forgive you for this.” He then urged the pro-democracy protestors to remain resolute and focused in the quest for a democratic eSwatini. “It is time we fight till we win what belongs to the people. We need political freedom. The people’s government must govern this country and we cannot be strangers in our own country.

*Not real name to protect source