As protest rages on, shaken King Mswati goes into ‘isolation’.

….Members of the king’s close protection unit barred from using cell phones as king ‘isolates’ at Lugogo sun after his sons get admitted in hospital

What started as a#JusticeForThabani movement has now escalated to a series of protests calling for an elected Prime Minister and down at Ludzidzini the royal establishment is shaken to the core. Making matters worse is that the Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku is not trusted and is often accused as a former member and sympathiser of the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC). The hardcore conservatives within the palace are not satisfied that Masuku can die for the establishment especially after leaked cables quoting former Minister of Justice and now University of Eswatini Council Chairman Prince David identifying him and Tibiyo MD AT Dlamini as some of the people amenable to democratic reforms. The Bridge has it in authority that King Mswati III is shaken by the protests going on all over the country and has been ‘isolating’ at Lugogo where strict security is maintained. In fact, so strict is security that even members of the close protection unit are not allowed to use cellphones around the monarch. The reason the king is isolating is believed to be linked to the recent sickness of both Prince Lindani and Sicalo who are presently bedridden at Manzana clinic. They are suspected to be infected by the coronavirus. However, the monarch’s bodyguards are suspecting there is more to the ‘isolating’ than preventing infection. The fear is that the king may be mistrusting everyone, especially because Masuku is not from the inner core of the royal family. In fact he showed his true colours when he sent packing Members of Parliament who had come to him to try and reverse the vote of no confidence. Masuku’s poor handling of the MP’s showed he could not be trusted to save the system and the result was a reshuffling of him from cabinet to Regional Administrator. However, things conspired in his favour and he eventually ended up becoming an acting Prime Minister upon the death of Mandvulo Dlamini.

[Lawyer Thulani Maseko, he is the behind the scenes player in the protests.]

Politically the country has reached a point of no return and the royal family is running scared. It would seem there is no turning back at this point as the voices of angry and impatient youth become louder and more resolute with each passing day. When the call for the election of Prime Minister was first made in parliament, none would have predicted the direction it would ultimately take.

The government made an attempt to defocus the matter by advising the MPs at the centre of this call to take test the popularity of their call to the Tinkhundla or community level. Little did they know that people would respond with enthusiasm and start petitioning MPs throughout the country. The first to flex his muscle was Hosea Member of Parliament Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza convened a big meeting in his area where he sold the idea of democratic change to everyone. From then on, the government has been losing the battle.

[Hosea MP Bacede Mabuza. He is one o f the MP pushing for an elected Prime Minister]

As expected the government Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku made a public announcement banning the petitions and calling for the police to ensure a clampdown of all protests. Masuku only helped to add petrol to an already volatile situation. The result was that people reacted with much vigour and determination. The past two days have seen protestors shut down parts of the country, blocking the highway, burning trucks and fighting the police. The battle is taking another twist and the government undermined the economic hardships of young people throughout the country who feel they no longer had anything to lose. To these young people there is no going back at this point. They want change and they have demonstrated that they are prepared to sacrifice for it.

Questions are already being asked on whether we could be seeing the crumbling of the royal empire? Others wonder who are the people at the centre of the strategy for the call to have an elected Prime Minister? What is happening behind the scenes and who is where and doing what as the battle for the political direction of the country intensifies.

The call for the election of Prime Minister is not new. It was in fact one of the more important suggestions made during the constitutional drafting processes and Vusela exercises conducted back then. However, the government believed such a call was a ploy to usurp powers from the King and by necessary extension the royal family. The king continued to appoint a Prime Minister in years that followed, buoyed by a constitution that bestowed executive powers and had no legal obligation to explain the qualifications of his choices or limited by the constitutional requirements to appoint from within the (elected) members of both Senate and House of Assembly. It was only recently that the king allowed people to come to the national cattle byre to express their views on the matter. It was here that even leading political activists and business leaders were allowed to ‘campaign’ and tell the nation what they could do if appointed. Mandvulo was one of them. Now, why was this done? The international community was at the time putting pressure on the eSwatini government to introduce small democratic reforms even if just allowing the people to elect their own Prime Minister. This was a position advocated by some within the royal family but a majority were against it. Feeling pressure from the international community, the USA in particular, clandestine discussions within the powers that be began to be made where possible scenarios and modalities on the election of the Prime Minister were contemplated. Too many observers it became a matter of when and how to do it.

Themba Masuku, the country’s Acting Prime Minister, was one of the liberals and moderates who were at the centre of these discussions, from the time when he was the Deputy Prime Minister. Understandably, he had his own ambitions to one day be the Prime Minister but understood that he was not a Dlamini. He supported those advocating for reforms. This is the information that gives people like Hosea MP Bacede Mabuza and Siphofaneni MP Mduduzi Magawugawu Simelane the stamina to push for change knowing they have tacit endorsement from within the system. They know Themba Masuku wants the same himself. When parliament had a caucus on the matter all MPs agreed that the time for change was nigh. Only Maphalaleni MP Mabulala Maseko and Matsanjeni North MP Phila Bhuthelezi stood against the popular call. The two have their eyes set on becoming cabinet members in the current government.

But who else is the support pillar for the ‘Democracy MPs’ and how are they being received by the progressive movement in the country? On Thursday 24 June the Political Party Assembly (PPA) convened a meeting at Summerfields Botanical Gardens. The PPA is an assembly of political party leaders who are calling for democratic change in the country. At first the MPs did not want to attend this meeting but Lawyer Thulani Maseko advised them to attend. Maseko is respected by these MPs and is the behind-the-scenes player together with former TUCOSWA President Barnes Dlamini and Thuli Makama. The Summerfields meeting was interesting in many ways. First, the MPs were not comfortable with the nature of the meeting as there were a lot of discussions about who must chair it. Secondly, the MPs did not agree with the strategy of the PPA on how to go about the democratic changes in the country. For instance, they argued that they are simply calling for an elected Prime Minister and that the PPA is free to implement its own ‘unban political party’ agenda. Some members of the PPA are on record ‘attacking’ the MPs and calling them sellouts because of what they perceive to be a reformist call inconsistent with a full democratic agenda. This culminated in the MPs refusing to have a joint press conference with the PPA. They ultimately had their own and under their own terms. It remains to be seen if there will be some synergy and consolidated efforts on the part of the PPA and the ‘Democracy MPs’ because they do not see eye to eye on a number of issues and their differences are masked only by the need to present a veneer of unity in order not to confuse the masses and fragment the unity being demonstrated in the streets.

The real battle is the modalities of how will the envisaged democratic Prime Minister be elected? Will the PM be elected under the same Tinkhundla system by people at community level or political parties would be unbanned and allowed to field their own candidate as groups? Even more interesting is what of the constitution which is specific on how a Prime Minister is elected. While the government is still struggling to come up with solutions on how to manage the process, those calling for change are also struggling with the ‘how.’ The Bridge has it on record that Lawyer Thulani Maseko has written to the Attorney General calling on him to clarify as to why Themba Masuku has been acting as Prime Minister beyond the time stipulated in the constitution. Also, Themba Masuku is from the House of Senate and not the House of Assembly - the constitution says the PM is appointed from the House of Assembly. We might be seeing a court battle soon. The big question remains: where to from here?

Down as Ludzidzini discussions have begun on how to break the deadlock without losing face. With the death of people like Prince Mahlaba, who was considered by far the biggest stumbling block to any form of change, senior Princes like Masitsela have no faith in the system in its current configuration and have long called for negotiations but were silenced by the then all powerful Prince Mahlaba and his cabal. Fearing losing his own privileges if he continued to antagonise the conservative faction Prince Masitsela decided to go below the radar and stopped being an open proponent for negotiations. Prince Masitsela will be turning 90 and his voice is respected. The American and South African intelligence has picked the scent too and are following the discussions closer but are disappointed at the lack of a formidable leader who represents the future of the country. Sikhanyiso might possibly come out as a significant player that will shake and move things when push comes to shove. She is the one person sure to convince the king should the time comes.It is now all a waiting game.

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