The Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was formed in July 1983 'to unite and mobilize the people of Swaziland against Tinkhundla oppression and exploitation’. The use of the words 'united' and 'people' are foundational and key to the formation and very existence of PUDEMO.  In fact, the name of the organisation itself says 'people' must be 'united' and this theme is a prominent feature in all of the organisation's documents.

By 'people' the movement refers to every Swazi who is oppressed by the Tinkhundla regime whether they are members of the organisation or not. In essence, the movement—as PUDEMO is most often called—must always represent the 'unity' of the 'people'. But can the movement champion unity of the people if there is no unity of its position on how it relates to its political allies? This article seeks to address this important question.

PUDEMO Strategy and Tactics

According to the PUDEMO Strategy and Tactics document adopted in 2012,  unity within PUDEMO is supposed to be sacrosanct and the basis for the victory of the progressive forces and the Swazi nation as a whole. Reads the Strategy and Tactics in part: "This (unity)  allows the movement to rally the whole nation around the new vision, new strategy and new organization we are projecting. This is important because without unity there can be no progress and without progress, there can be no unity. These are two sides of the same coin and one is a critical condition for the other and none is possible without the other.” 

The document identifies the unity of all forces for change as being the cornerstone to waging the struggle against Tinkhundla. The movement came to this conclusion after acknowledging that the enemy is united in its agenda to oppress the people. Disunity within the progressive movement therefore has the counter effect of defeating the very essence of waging the struggle. If PUDEMO documents are succinctly clear on what the movement represents what then seems to be the problem threatening this unity today? I want to quote the movement Strategy and tactics document again because it is quite elaborative on the ABC of waging a successful revolution.

 Continues the document: “The biggest difficulty is the correct application of an organizations programme, mastering the right tactics at all times and how to apply them in real conditions. Tactics are the most difficult even when we all agree and share the same general strategy. Most often we are all clear about mass mobilization as our general strategy, but we don’t always differentiate what tactics to use in pursuing that very strategy. This results in us disorganizing or alienating people in the name of organizing them. The songs we sing, the language we use, the manner of approach to them often misread their real feelings and conditions, resulting in us doing the opposite of organizing”.  This is a mouthful, clear and straight to the point. What it explains is that the movement must pay sufficient attention to unpacking and clarifying its tactics in practice and being alive to how it interacts with other progressive forces and Swazis in general.

Political activist Mphandlana Shongwe. Writer is unhappy with his article that appeared in the local media attacking some of the  democracy MP's

What are the real issues of disagreement that should not be ignored?

PUDEMO has always called for a constitutional multiparty democratic dispensation and the position has always been the same throughout the years. It has maintained a principled none participation stance in Tinkhundla sponsored and led initiatives hence the withdrawal of Mario Masuku and others from various Tinkhundla commissions, particularly from the royal constitution drafting process. The response of the regime has been the same; continuous arrest, intimidation and slander of pro-democracy activists with the principal targets being PUDEMO and SWAYOCO activists.

PUDEMO was therefore forced to exist under the most hostile condition for years. The movement survived the 1973 decree and is now the sole target of the recent Terrorism Act. This explains the constant arrests and harassment of several PUDEMO members and jailing them for wearing the organisational merchandise. Some are still out on bail to this day.

During this period the regime has invested a lot of resources in propaganda by portraying the movement as a monster that does not represent the aspirations of the people. The consequence of this propaganda campaign has been the creation of a perception of an organization that is “anti-King and anti-Swazi”. This subsequently led to some people viewing PUDEMO negatively.

It is also worth noting that organizations that subsequently joined the call for a democratic Swaziland had ambivalent positions on a future Swaziland we want. At best these positions were inconsistent and at worse apologetic. Some refused to take a principled stand fearing being labelled 'anti-monarchy’. Others looked for quick shortcuts and were impatient with building the mass democratic movement so that the people themselves can rise on their own.  Luckily, the recent political upheavals vindicated the movement and proved that its opposition to the status quo has always been correct. People began to warm up to PUDEMO and view it in a positive light.

The reason other organisations were blowing hot and cold on the correct political posture in relation to struggle are varied.  Others were genuinely afraid of the backlash from the state hence made costly compromises while others were opportunistic and driven by a desire to join the royal dinner table. 

Behind the scenes, some leaders of pro-democracy organizations took a notorious posture that they still want democracy in the country but must avoid aligning with PUDEMO. “kungamane kuhlale tinkhundla kune PUDEMO” are some loose statements made by high profile members of some of these organizations.

PUDEMO Banner. Writer says the organisation needs a deep introspection

Over the years many programs were initiated to fortify the cohesiveness of the democratic forces so they speak in one voice. Towards this end, I mention the United Democratic Front, Political Party Assembly and the Multi-Stakeholder Forum. We must therefore avoid anything that disregards these structures because of the hidden suppositions about the movement.  The question we must contend with is what informs these anti-PUDEMO political postures? Honest political disagreements or opportunism?

Perhaps the starting point is to highlight that there is a surreptitious race to be the first at the dining table. But caution must be exercised here because the struggle to free Swaziland is going to be long and protracted one. All forces involved must be prepared for painful battles. This therefore calls for organizations to build genuine and principled unity on the demand for genuine constitutional multiparty democracy where power has clearly shifted to the people not some cheap integration of opposing forces to window dress the failed Tinknundla system. The dual system of governance between traditional and modern institutions must be resolved decisively. The new people’s government must be in full control of the government and the national budget. That must be the basis of our unity. 

The demand for unity does not mean we won't disagree on tactics and how we envision a new Swaziland but it is important to find each other. Misunderstandings have to be engaged objectively. All forces involved in the fight for democracy should understand that it is in the interests of the regime to spread gossip,  magnify bad attitudes and exaggerate mistrust amongst each other.

The government has invested money and human resource in creating factions and drive wedges among the oppressed. Our people must learn the golden law of struggle that only through principled unity, revolutionary discipline, tactical and political sophistry, resoluteness in action, leadership superiority and clarity of purpose can win a struggle.

We must also be aware that mainstream media, through state manipulation, will magnify our disagreements and must tread with caution on what we do and say publicly. Some of these tactical disagreements are not fundamental fissures hence we must not get bogged down with false or petty conversations. Instead, we must deal decisively with significant political disagreements especially those that can lead to the defeat of the key objectives.

Poor discipline and political decay

It is important for leaders of the mass democratic movement to know that they may not agree on some of the tactics but if they all agree that tinkhundla must go then well and good. That is why it is important that leaders of the different organizations enforce discipline within their ranks and isolate attitudes that undermine the role others are playing and have historically played in this struggle. No organization has an exclusive monopoly to be called an authentic leader of the struggle for democracy in Swaziland.

It is puzzling and disturbing therefore when we see some PUDEMO comrades attempting to position the organization as a regulator and supervisor of the pro-democracy camp. The recent public outbursts by members of PUDEMO that disrespect and undermine the unity of the united democratic forces must be condemned in the strongest possible terms because it does not represent what the movement stands for. We therefore call for PUDEMO to take serious corrective actions to discipline wayward members and align its members with its own policy positions.

Lack of discipline will lead to lack of cohesive action and defeat of the enemy. The genuine PUDEMO we know does not encourage arrogant and disrespectful behaviour. We expect action to be taken against these individuals who have insulted our leaders. Statements alone will not be enough.  PUDEMO must also avoid viewing new entrants to the pro-democracy fold as competitors. This posture is divisive and undermines unity and further perpetuates the negative attitudes toward the organization. Equally, we must be careful not to attribute an individual’s ill-discipline to be the character of the organization.

This is true of both PUDEMO and the other political parties. Some members of the pro-democracy movement have openly complained that PUDEMOs posture is arrogant and bullish and this is a growing perception that must be arrested as in yesterday. These claims look vindicated considering the recent outbursts by comrades Mphandlana Shongwe and Sandile Phakathi. This is un-comradeship and flies against everything PUDEMO stands for.

However, the question as to whether PUDEMO has for a long time been arrogant and bullish in its conduct and attitude towards other members of the pro-democracy movement is a fundamental question that PUDEMO must address through inward-looking and deep introspection. If true, it will prove to be a downfall to the one principled and reliable giant for the liberation of Swaziland. 

Tinkhundla  can only be defeated by a united force of our people pushing the regime to a position where it will request and commit to meaningful negotiations. If there is any external intervention to our situation, we the oppressed must consolidate our position and present a united force that will demand a settlement that addresses our interests. Opportunism seeking to benefit from our internal squabbles must therefore be defeated. 

The way forward on the PUDEMO posture

PUDEMO has shown visible leadership on the ground in the recent uprisings and has well thought out policy documents on how to defeat Tinkhundla and transform our country. The amount of time the organization has spent in the fight for a democratic Swaziland must manifest itself in matured political positions that unites the forces of change in Swaziland. They must also understand that the amount of time spent on the trenches should not make them arrogant and act as big brother who determines who should do what in the battlefield.

The people will always choose their leaders and whoever they choose, MPs etc., it’s all well and good. The incarcerated MPs and exiled Magawugawu have played a tremendous role in advancing our struggle and they deserve respect. PUDEMO on the other hand should discipline its wayward members and humble itself and allow these new forces to complement their work without behaving like a low self esteemed step child.

Perhaps the time has come for many of the real sober PUDEMO to stand up or see their movement go down the disgraced path of oblivion. PUDEMO must learn from the mistakes of the Pan African Congress (PAC) which disappeared in oblivion post the 1994 elections because of failure of adapting its tactics to the changing terrain. Today the once mighty PAC is no more or is just a desk and is not part of the serious forces in the mass democratic movement in South Africa. The role PUDEMO has played up to now is plausible but must refuse to be represented by its weaklings because the movement we know is far better than what we see. 

NB: The writer is a former leader of the Swaziland Youth Congress. He uses a pen name because he is a senior executive in one of the country's top banks. 

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