Two things can be true at the same time. Makhosetive Dlamini is an inept leader who fell into Kingship by accident of history and biology. He neither has the intellectual capacity or awareness to lead a country. At the same time, King Mswati III is the latest King in a monarchical institution stretching centuries. The institution has survived the fall of dynasties and regimes. While it’s current head is incapable of adapting, the system behind him is trying to.

The machine behind the King has started shifting tactics. While Mswati bellows and shouts like a mad man in his arrogant speeches, the institution is working behind the scenes to fight the forces of democracy. Royal insiders tell a story we can all see: the King believes that a heavy hand is the only way to stop the forces of democracy.

In his delusions of maintaining power, he thinks that if he were to arrest “bonkhe labantfu labashisako,” then the calls for democracy would die down. It goes to show how little attention the institution pays him now, because they have gone with a different strategy.

On Friday January 14, we saw the first stage of this strategy. Borrowing the playbook of Vladimir Putin of Russia, the institution of the monarch has decided to target single activists. Thembeka Magagula, an independent journalist who has been covering the case of the arrested MPs, was arrested on Friday.

Instead of charging her with terrorism, as was Mswati’s favourite way to silence dissidents, the police arrested her on fake drink driving charges. The institution of the monarchy knew that by painting her arrest as “drink driving,” then the general public would ignore her case, and move on. This is no different to Mr Putin’s opponents who regularly find themselves charged with petty crimes so they cannot stand for election.

This strategy works because it tells activists everywhere that they could be next. They can’t arrest us all, but they will try to harass us into silence. But we should take the example of Thembeka, who walked out of that police station fist raised in defiance.

We must take heart in the knowledge that Mswati is an arrogant fool. There is no strategy there, no second layer. What you saw at Ngabezweni, what you saw at Sibaya, that is who he is. When his advisors tell him about concessions, and envoys from Jeff Radebe to Cyril Ramaphosa admonish him, he cannot comprehend it. 

To him, Swaziland was his birth right. He has lied to himself for so long that he had forgotten he was the son of a maid and a senile king. He believes himself a god. That is why when his advisors, from Cabinet to his less stupid children talk to him about dialogue, he is incapable of hearing any better. To him, his medicine men and rituals will be the determining factor.

While the institution of the monarchy is trying to stop the calls for democracy, they ignore how many Swazis were activated into the struggle by their own actions. They have launched disinformation pages on social media, and have also activated influencers to their cause. What these actions fail to realise is we saw our brothers and sisters shot with our our own eyes. 

We nurse the injuries of the maimed, and care for the children of the murdered. We sit at home, jobless, while Mswati’s children fill office positions they are grossly unqualified for. Hunger is a constant presence in our lives. A twitter page telling us that government is working for Swazis may fool outsiders, but not those of us who know how awful it is to be born Swazi.

When Mswati was dispersing the regiment at Ngabezweni, he channeled the speech he made over two decades ago, when he threatened Swazis, who were protesting for a better standard of living, with violence. 

In 2022, we saw him—a shell of his former self, all bloat and ego —trying to make the same threat. Beyond the crazed statements, you can see a man who truly believes that the country can still bend to his will. And if it can’t, he will bend it with his arms.

So what does all this mean for the struggle? We are faced with a two-pronged enemy. On the one face, we have a delusional King Mswati, who’s hopped up on hallucinogens and god knows what else that his medicine men provide. On the other, we have the institutional monarchy, who are doing their best to maintain the institution. 

At some point in time, the two will collide. The time may soon come when the institution dumps Mswati. But the raving stark King, in all his intellectual ineptitude, is not the sum total of the problem. As can be seen by the institution’s attempts to rehabilitate itself, they are trying to make it so that even if Mswati falls, the monarchy still remains. 

As the struggle continues, it is important to not just dismantle Makhosetive Dlamini, but the entire client system. Otherwise we will wake up in 2032 with Mcwasho saying he wants to revive the monarchy, and that is not something we can allow. We did not get this far, to get this far.