In his endeavours to decipher the enigmatic Vladimir Putin, Financial Times journalist and author Philip Stephens solicited the insight of a Kremlin insider to  understand the Russian strongman.

“When faced with a crisis, he does what’s normal for him: when he doesn’t know what to do, he does what he knows,” explained the Krelim insider to Stephens.

While sharing a remarkably inferior sense of probity, King Mswati III’s similarities with Putin are not without qualification. The Russian president’s verbiage tells of his shrewdness and alertness yet the monarch’s incoherence betrays his certifiabilty which, somewhat paradoxically, renders him lethally formidable.

When Cyril Ramaphosa indicated his intention to dispatch his special envoy the king first dug into his heels and refused to grant them any audience, even reminding the South African president that he was battling an internal strife in his own country and as such his efforts and resources would be better employed there.

After some behind the scenes diplomatic persuasions, the king relented. But he had an ace up his sleeve: the diplomatic etiquette, high expectations of compelling debates and over analysis by the SADC team was no match for his carefree confidence. It was this confidence that dimmed the line between ignorance and arrogance thereby tempting the SADC team to conclude that they could be at fault by over reading the situation. 

How, they tried to reason among themselves, could a leader accused of such strident callous acts be so calm about everything and have the guts to show off and display the very same arrogance, opulence and grandeur his detractors accuse him of? When they subsequently reported back to Ramaphosa, the chairperson of the Troika organ, he was not chuffed or convinced at all. 

The outcry from ordinary Swazis, business community and other civic organisation was incongruent with the report about the king and his appreciation of the magnitude of the civil crisis.

Ever the smooth operator, Ramaphosa unexpectedly flew in to acquaint himself first hand with the dynamics and ructions obtaining in the country. He personally appraised the king’s commitment to peaceful resolution of whatever problems and to measure his appreciation of the trouble going on in the country. 

Having now met the King, the South African president found an untroubled soul reminiscent of an experienced primary school principal unmoved by the sobbing of a few delinquents and bullies he had just chastised. 

When Ramaphosa questioned the wisdom of stalling everything on account of ‘iNcwala’, the king was too glad to give a brief lecture about the necessity and divinity of this national building ceremony. The king’s confidence grew as an ‘awestruck’ Ramaphosa listened attentively. 

As if to assure the visiting president of his commitment to dialogue, the king undertook to convene Sibaya soon after iNcwala. After another brief lecture on how constitutional a platform Sibaya is, Ramaphosa tried once again to cajole the king into making meaningful commitments by trying to smoke out timelines of the ‘Sibaya Convention’. Upon learning that the earliest possible time could be beginning of March, Ramaphosa’s shoulders and upper torso sagged.

The South African president was left with the unenviable task of communicating to the world the results of his meeting with the king. He had to scribble tentative timelines and employ the very inexplicable iNcwala and Sibaya to save his reputation. He trusted that Swazis and the world would know these were not his ideas but expressly Swazi phenomenon spelt out in the constitution of the Kingdom. 

The fact that the ructions were themselves a result of the very constitution that had enabled autocracy didn’t and couldn’t bother him. It was a constitution at the end of the day, and he was not responsible for it. He had tried, so he thought to himself.

Despite his earlier misgivings about granting audience to both the Special Envoy and Ramaphosa, Mswati was emboldened by the time he proceeded to seclusion marking the beginning of iNcwala. He had done what he knows best. Unlike Putin, his arrogance is almost natural and potently disarming considering that the ignorance behind it is a default setting of his.

SADC’s intervention coupled with the suffused fatigue bought the regime a much needed reprieve and precious space and time to plan for and mount a fight back.

The current increasing proliferation of arms and ammunition and spates of armed robberies could be a strategy to justify security forces heavy handedness. The staging of armed robberies could be done and achieved with the assistance of well known criminals who are in the payroll of the police as part of their failed crime intelligence drive. It is a well known fact that a lot of the ‘business men’ especially in Manzini enjoy some degree of immunity owing to their links with the crime intelligence.

Recent events attest to the growing initiatives of fight back crusade and how petty and paranoid its proponents have become with each passing day. Of late questions have been asked about the loyalties and ‘bona fide’ of seasoned lawyer Mduduzi ‘Tsotsi’ Mabila because of his role in Thabani Nkomonye’s inquest and his visibility and role in cases of ‘enemies of the state’. 

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the onslaught is led by judges of the High Court. The strategy is to pressurise him to openly disassociate himself from anything ‘revolutionary’, thereby weakening the progressive movement by isolating its leaders. There are also fears that being one of the most prolific criminal lawyers in the country, he ought to know some of the criminals in the payroll of the police and this, the proponents argue, is reason good enough why his ‘bona fide’ must be scrutinised.

Advocate ‘Tsotsi’ Mabila.

Worth mentioning too is that not all the ‘fight back’ initiatives are centrally or state initiated and sanctioned. There are also initiatives by long time beneficiaries of the regime for whom its collapse will spell doom. These individuals like celebrated royal hanger-on and the king’s super valet Ncumbi Maziya have appropriated to themselves the task to call and threaten those they know to ‘hate’ the king and remind them how much they love the king and that they would do whatever it takes to protect him (king). 

Maziya and his ilk even go to the extent of alerting their targets that they would ‘sensitize’ the king about their ill discipline and have them removed from work. With government and its parastatals being the biggest employer in the country, the king is virtually the appointing authority.

There is also the issue of safety and security of those targeted for slandering by the regime and its beneficiaries. Very recently, a senior officer at the Ministry of Public Works was attacked and verbally assaulted by someone who accused him of sabotaging government by letting the country’s infrastructure rot. 

Vusi Mabuza, the ministry’s Principal Roads Engineer, found himself in the cross hairs of innuendo after an anonymous article targeting the Chief Roads Engineer, Vincent Dlamini also implicated him. Luckily for Mabuza, the attacker ended up attracting the ire of other onlookers who ended up beating him.

The initiatives may appear uncoordinated and unrelated, but Mabuza and (Tsotsi) Mabila represent the growing number of literati who are being unduly forced to denounce the progressives to make the project look like a motley collection of disgruntled societal nonentities. Vincent, a well known member of the progressive movement, is targeted to set a good example on how brutal the regime can be thereby to dissuade future and potential dissidents.

While there’s no denying that time is unstoppable, equally true is the fact that the regime and its sycophants won’t give up without a fight. As evidenced by the current misinformation peddling, slandering and manipulation of facts, propaganda is at the centre of everything.

And society will have to be alive to that. Once again, we must borrow from the world of Vladimir Putin to aptly capture the relationship between authoritarian regimes and information manipulation. There is an old Soviet joke that captures the propensity of authoritarians to airbrush and temper with history books: “the future is certain; it is only the past that is unpredictable.”

As we recover from the fatigue, let’s do well to remember that the fight back is on. And it’s for real.

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