SABELO INTERVIEW: I WORKED AND WALKED IN A DEN OF LIONS
In recent time Sabelo Meadow Simelane shocked the country when he resigned as a police officer to join the struggle for democracy. Simelane had been a thorn on the side of the police force as he openly advocated for democracy and nailed his political affiliation while still a police officer.
A rebel to the end, Simelane had been a trouble maker within the force and irritated the head honchos of the police force leading to numerous attempts to terminate his services. Today The Bridge caught up with him and asked what is next now that he is no longer a police officer.
The Bridge: Meadow how are you my brother. You know it's amazing that we meet today as a 'former' police officer something that I knew was only a matter of when than if it will happen. I remember even when you were still new in the police service I kept wondering how they will react when they realise you are a comrade. Fast forward several years later and we are here today with you as a former cop. Take us back, how exactly did you become an activist?
Sabelo Simelane: First of all thank you very much for this esteemed opportunity of being given a platform in a respectable and impeccable media space like this one. The journalism here makes one feel guilty that we consume it for free. Coming to your question though. I can not really point out a particular period where and when I joined PUDEMO and became an activist because at High School I was doing History and got fascinated at the subject. At a young age I always questioned authority and unlawful orders given to me either by my parents, guardians or even teachers and their response to me was always "yini ngatsi uyi Pudemo wena mfana wena (you behave like a PUDEMO member)?". I never knew what was PUDEMO then because it was not taught at school but I knew that whenever somebody questioned authority they were referred to as PUDEMO. To cut a long story short, I was introduced to PUDEMO/SWAYOCO politics at Kwaluseni UNISWA when I was doing my second Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in 2007 by a very radical and splinter clique of Revolutionaries called "Choir" led by one Pius Vilakati who is now International Secretary of the Communist Party of Swaziland. But I never actually signed a form but I was always on the ground whenever there was a strike at Varsity. I eventually joined Pudemo in 2011 when I was doing my honours degree in Social Sciences at UKZN Howard College. There was what was called the external region of PUDEMO. I felt lonely in a foreign country and my only escape was politics. The people who actually accommodated me and paid attention to my needs financially and socially were PUDEMO members including one Cde Manqoba Nxumalo who made sure I had food and sometimes accommodation since I was self-sponsored as the government had not given me a scholarship. There was also comrade Pinda Mndzebele, Cde Skhura Simelane, Cde Sandile Phakathi but mostly I was taken care of by my then SASCO President and also PUDEMO member Mnikeni Phakathi who held my hand and introduced me to ANC politics where comrades of SASCO and ANCYL took care of me.
TB: You come back from KZN armed with an Honours degree and having now joined PUDEMO, how do you then decide to join the police force?
SD: I joined the Police force on 10 May 2015. To be honest I don't even know what I was doing. I told myself that I am going there to dilute the organization because my belief is that every reactionary organization must have at least one person who is on the side of the democratic movement. It was not a mandate from PUDEMO and it was not even about infiltration but it was all about trying to go there with an aim of quietly gunning for the Natcom position and then change the police force from serving the Monarch to serving the people. I did achieve my first short term goal of being promoted within five years and I became a Sergeant. Within the next five years I aimed to be a Station Commander and next five years become Natcom and then overthrow the Monarch through a coup but then it didn't work as my plans were overtaken by events and the political wheel moved too quickly for me and my affiliation was exposed. The consequence is that soon as my affiliation was exposed I was victimized and eventually pushed out. Yes I did resign but to me, it's not resignation but constructive dismissal as you know I resigned because of political reasons and pressure.
TB: To be honest those of us who knew you as a comrade got concerned when you started to openly nail your colours. We always felt you were much more effective inside the police force but operating underground. Don't you think you would have been helpful in the underground and continue as a police officer?
SS: I am a Revolutionary and revolutionaries don't have the luxury of being tired of explaining so will explain once again. Remember I did this on my own and I had no mandate from PUDEMO. The organization doesn't have a clear mandate about infiltration even though I agree that those in the forces must remain underground but maybe I was not the correct candidate for the task as I'm too vocal. It remains to be seen if I was helpful or not as PUDEMO uses scientific evaluation and not common sense in the appraisal of cadres in their tasks. Let's wait for the NEC to pronounce on this privately. I don't think I will have a readily available answer for now if I was helpful or not. So many things will be revealed when we reach a constitutional multi party democracy.
TB: What were the charges against you and was the process fair?
SS: Eish do you dignify those things as charges? Look I was charged on 10 August 2020 (not 2021) for posting on Facebook that "I am the Sergeant of the People's Movement". By the way, I can now say that I am probably the first person to lose a job because of a Facebook post (chucles). I became too excited as a member of PUDEMO to go against the establishment and rise in the ranks unnoticed but that is where I blew my cover and this did not only upset the exco of the Police but also shook the entire Royal family to the core. The Mbekelweni Royal Kraal told me to never set foot in my Mbekelweni maternal home because I had declared that I was in the movement. I'm not sure if PUDEMO leadership was upset about this because I resigned while fighting the police establishment through Human Rights Lawyer Sibusiso Nhlabatsi who took up my case (still pending in the Supreme Court). In this case I was praying for an Independent Police Service Commission to actually take care of the processes of hiring, firing, promoting and transferring police officers. My lawyer will answer further on this case as it is currently Subjudice
TB: What's your view on policing under Tinkhundla? Wait, let me rephrase that. What is your message to the current police officers still serving under this government?
SD: I think this question is too broad and needs me to be on a platform like Twitter spaces so it can be ventilated properly in all its nuanced ways. But maybe let me cut to the chase and say my take on it is that policing under Tinkhudla is not for the people but it's for one man who thinks all belongs to him. Policing is for the protection of the king and the royal family. There is no rule of law but the rule of a man. For this reason, I have a message for all cops who are still serving under Tinkhundla the struggle has taken a very dangerous turn where you must choose to serve the people or to the King. I chose the people, the correct side of history. It's not too late to choose. Cece decided, Mvubu decided. Let me give you an example here. In the morning parades, they will tell us that we don't have a future in the new democratic Swaziland and the only way to keep our jobs is to shoot to kill those who are against the present establishment. In the new democratic Swaziland, we will welcome you guys and then take you back to training so that you serve the people diligently. We will have a human rights course specifically dedicated to you because we know that you were trained to protect King Mswati and not the people. To be fair it is not your fault. But for now, those who are working as records constables must actually take the Occurrence Books to the nearest political leaders, especially the information that we need is the one of June 25 to July 31 and October 20 specifically the teargas in the bus incident. To my fellow officers, you don't have to resign but leak information so that we can use it against the King when we take him to the International Criminal Court. Don't be scared, Tinkhundla is falling already and it needs your push. I also want to assure you that I won't run away to exile and I will gladly welcome going to prison and anyone who wants to arrest me will find me at Mankayane but he will have to go through the people of Mankayane first and PUDEMO cadres if you want to abduct me. It won't be that easy. I am not a coward, handcuffs for me are chains of the revolution and jail for me is a small unit where freedom fighters are kept. In any event, all of us Swazis live in an open-air prison called Swaziland. Police officers must stop choosing crumbs over freedom. They must choose liberation over meagre salaries, they must choose freedom.
Sabelo Simelane appearing with other comrades at a 2012 PUDEMO conference
TB: Have you received support from PUDEMO and how?
SS: Well I can't count all the blessings that PUDEO gave me but recently when I had legal woes there is one Cde Sibusiso Nhlabatsi who took care of my case against the regime and he is still on it... In the movement, I don't have an attorney but I have a legal team. There are a lot of comrades I consult on a daily basis for free who help keep me grounded. But most of all President Mlungisi Makhanya kept my family at ease with his assurances that 'PUDEMO is Sabelo and Sabelo Is PUDEMO'.
TB: Did you end up resigning and why?
SS: My resignation has been a long time coming and I even informed President Mlungisi Makhanya about it. Even though he didn't approve of it as I was an important resource from within. Obviously, I won't say what I was helping the movement with as those things will be better said on freedom day. I am a professional and I wanted my resignation to be as discrete as possible but police moles leaked my resignation letter. In fact, I wanted it to be published by the only trusted publication, The Swazi Bridge. Sadly it was overtaken by events. I simply resigned because the trajectory of the Police Service had taken was against my Revolutionary conscience. I cannot continue serving a regime that continues to violate basic freedoms and fundamental rights with impunity under the auspices of an order from the throne. The right to political expression, the right to freedom of association, and movement is not respected by this regime. The last straw was when they took away the right to life during the June uprising.
TB: Job opportunities are scarce in eSwatini; What's your plan regarding your career and future?
SS: I can't be exposing everything but I want to assure you that PUDEMO will take care of me and I will stop there chief. I won't go any further. PUDEMO takes care of her people and we will be rolling out a program soon but I won't divulge it for now. Early announcements attract evil spirits. As Jose Mourinho once said, 'I prefer not to speak because if I speak am in trouble.'
TB: Are you prepared to share some of the wrongdoings in the force such as the June massacre if you have any special information?
SS: Again I prefer that I don't speak now, I will speak at the ICC when called upon to do so. So many things will go wrong if I speak now. The struggle needs me alive and if I speak now, I could be six feet under tomorrow...
TB: How about your safety?
SS: That one is not guaranteed. I have my sources in the police force who keep me updated all the time. For example, I wanted to attend the #FreeColane march but I was told that I was going to be arrested on site. Salute to the comrades in the Manzini Intelligence who tipped me of this. Also, I was told to stay put and not go around. My life is no longer normal but I won't run away. There are programs that need me to be in Swaziland and once am done with them and they are consolidated then we will uproot and come back only on freedom day. My battle is not going to be divorced from that of the people. I will continue speaking against this regime without fear and whosoever wants to arrest me will find me in Swaziland with my people because I am the People's Sergeant. Whoever wants me must come I won't run to exile. I am ready for jail. SWAYOCO taught us to be first in Sacrifice, first in commitment and first in Discipline.
TB: Can you tell us a bit about your family. I heard your mother is a Professor and based in South Africa and that it was the knowledge that you would not fall to the floor that made you think of resigning. Others even charge that you have some form of cushion through your family hence could afford to resign. How true is that?
My mother is a Doctor of Philosophy and a staunch member of the ANC KZN and a former member of SNAT. She was a teacher in several schools in the country. I am her firstborn child. We support each other well. She is an academic proper. She sometimes tags me in her research and we sometimes co-author academic journals that she publishes. My father was a teacher as well so I can say I was proudly born of comrades of SNAT. My father died earlier in my formative years but I draw inspiration from him as having been part of the November 1990 Black Wednesday generation. I have very strong family values and everyone in my family is an academic. We are generally top performers and everyone from my mother's side has seen the door of the University and we have the papers to show. Financially my mother has always been there for me and sent me to the best schools the country could offer at the time. I can't say my mother and father were PUDEMO members but I can say they have always been aligned to it looking at their ideological response to the repression of our people. My mother is South African and I am eligible to hold South African citizenship by virtue of my mother's nationality but I don't like the easy way out. I choose to come here in my country of birth and fight with my people. I could go back to UKZN and study for free and finish my Master degree and probably go for PhD because my mother is a staff member at the University and am eligible for remission of tuition fees. However, I choose to come and fight this repressive government side by side with my people. I haven't sought any financial help from my mother for now but yes she is well resourced. So I can say without fear of contradiction that I didn't resign because I have a cushion from my mother. Be that as it may, I will always be my mother's son and she will always pick me up when am down. I love my mom and she loves me more.
TB: Also, how is your wife treating your resignation and activism more generally? I am told she is a medical doctor. How is she reacting to the latest turn of events in your life?
SS: How do you know am married? How do you even know that she is a doctor? You guys must be doing some serious investigative journalism. Ok even though I don't like this question but I will answer it simply because I agreed to this interview. We are not just married but we are also married in community of decision making. My resignation was not a unilateral decision but a bilateral one that was done in the best interest of my family specifically and the struggle in general. Obviously, there will be an unprecedented burden on her now that she is the breadwinner but am not ashamed to be fed, housed and clothed by my wife. Dr Simelane is Sergeant Simelane and Sergeant Simalane is Dr Simelane. In short, my wife is me and I am her. Patriarchal lenses will see me as a "weak" man but we must do everything to liberate the country. She embraces PUDEMO ideas the same way I do. We even have pictures together in PUDEMO T-Shirts because we as a family believe that the only vehicle to Swazi liberation is PUDEMO. My wife and I have been together since 1999 and we have three beautiful kids. We have been married since 2018. Part of the reason I took this thankless job of being a police officer was to supplement the family when she was still doing a Medicine degree at UP. I take care of my own like that and I do anything necessary hence even now I will do anything necessary to liberate the Swazi Subaltern.
TB: I will turn to the more controversial one here: your drinking. Someone was bemoaning to me that you really need to deal with your alcohol abuse as this may hinder your political life. Do you think it’s a fair accusation to say you abuse alcohol too much?
SS: Chief don't do that to me. We must now discuss politics of sobriety? Young people must have fun and have a drink now and then but life is all about balance. For example, my favourite is Amstel but most of the time I drink water because some of the money that Tinkhundla used to pay me had to be donated to the struggle. I won't mention the organizations that I donate to monthly because their accounts could be flagged and I could be arrested for "financing terrorism" but that's ok. The reason why I drink is because I am young and depressed. Mental Health in politics is underrated and a lot of young comrades have turned to alcohol because of unemployment, poverty and patriarchy. As the progressive movement, we need to invest in mental health and debriefing sessions for comrades specifically because we go through a lot. Akudlali kubuswa ngu King Mswati, kubangelana stress and you end up getting out of character. Politically my drinking won't be a problem because I am disciplined. You will never see me, for example, in a PUDEMO T-shirt drinking alcohol. As a parting shot, I won't be drinking that much now because am unemployed and have no income (chuckles).
TB: Do you have a relationship with Cece, the other resigned cop? I am asking this just to see how much of a network of democracy cops are there within the system because we tend to paint them with the same brush
SS: To be honest Chief I don't like it when an interview begins to speak about other people other than me. However, I will humbly address your question and hope Sgt Cebile will agree with me that am the only person she told about her resignation before the time. Not even her parents knew. We hatched the plan of her escape together and we drafted the resignation letter together. I knew long before everyone else knew about the recorded audio where King Mswati was exposed to have given the green light of the arrest of MPs through the former Army Commander infamously known as Sbali welive. I'm her confidante and am her force and source of political clarity. Even if you can ask her now, I'm one of the few she consults for content. On freedom day we shall sit under a tree and discuss all the trials and tribulations we both went through to liberate this country. I remember telling her when she said we must resign that we can't all go at the same time; someone must remain and assess the situation and be on the side of the masses. Now that I have resigned, there are trusted forces which am not going to mention here but will be crowded on liberation day who have taken over the baton from me.
TB: Thank you so much my brother and have a great day
SS: Always my pleasure comrade. The struggle continues!