Having gallantly traversed the institutional might of apartheid state machinery which culminated in victory, the African National Congress was rightfully revered and celebrated when it won the first democratic elections in 1994.

PUDEMO’s earlier modelling around the ANC proved to be both judicious and discerning. After all, the ANC did have a hand in the formation of PUDEMO hence some of the latter’s comrades played prominent roles in the former’s operations and others were even sent for training to as far a country as the then Union Soviet of Socialist Republics and Germany. Accordingly, the genes of the ANC were to be found in the DNA of the Swazi movement for years to come, for better and for worse.

With Swaziland’s political landscape getting poisonous after the 1973 decree that banned political parties in the small kingdom, the situation became even more intricate with the reigning monarch’s relative reverence and affection. It was however the vigilance of mainly university students and lectures that spotted a chance in the political melee that followed the demise of king Sobhuza II almost a decade after the 1973 proclamation.

Following the palace coup orchestrated by the then Liqoqo regime, University students organised themselves into a political movement and began to agitate for far reaching democratic reforms that would undo the devastation caused by the 1973 decree. They organised themselves under the umbrella of PUDEMO and fought to liberate South Africa from Apartheid and to return eSwatini to democratic rule. In 1990 a lot of prominent members and leaders of PUDEMO were rounded up by state security and charged with high treason only to be acquitted in the same year.

The acquittals and resultant buoyancies culminated in the commissioning of Vusela 1 under the chairmanship of senior Prince Masitsela all in an attempt to eat away at PUDEMO's support and to respond to the growing demand for reforms. This Vusela was an effort by the regime to touch base with the ordinary people and consolidate its stranglehold. This was after it became clear from the treason trial and events leading up to it that PUDEMO was making serious inroads in winning the hearts and soul of Swazis. 

When the demands for democratic reforms refused to die down, another Vusela, this time led by Prince Mahlalengangeni, was commissioned. It was to be a precursor to the Constitutional Review Commission chaired by Prince Mangaliso. Professor Sipho Hamilton Simelane opines that when one of PUDEMO’s golden boys, Mandla Hlatjwako, was invited to serve in the Prince Mahlalengangeni II led Vusela exercise in his personal capacity he refused on the account of his movement not being consulted. The CDC and the subsequent appointment of Hlatjwako was as a result of the successful awareness and mobilization led by PUDEMO from amongst others.

In a paper titled ‘Politics Of Change – Swaziland’s future in the balance’, then Oxford University Rhodes Scholar, Kuseni Douglas Dlamini, writes that ‘…the 31 persons Constitution Review Commission initially comprised only four (mainly conservative) women, the president of the banned PUDEMO and the vice president of the Swaziland Federation Of Labour (SFTU) – all appointed as ordinary citizens. Mario Masuku of PUDEMO pulled out in January 1997 arguing that ‘it will be a treasonable offence to the people of Swaziland and the international democratic society if we are seen to be part of a process that is nothing but a miscarriage of democracy. The terms of reference for the CRC, provide, among other things, that no one may represent anyone or be represented in any capacity while making submissions to the commission …’

Ironically, Dlamini was a Rhodes Scholar at the prestigious Oxford University when he wrote the above quoted paper. He was also among the youngest PUDEMO treason trialist in 1990. He had started a journey of much needed personal development which, unfortunately, also started the haemorrhaging of prospective superstars and geniuses of the movement. 

The quality, maturity, political discipline and foresightedness of the earlier generation of PUDEMO made it a force that could not be ignored. Corporates and other state institutions from both Swaziland and South Africa wanted a piece of the jewels PUDEMO was unleashing hence people like Mandla Hlatjwako went to lead Illovo as its Managing Director, Mario Masuku rose as a banker, Dominic Mngomezulu and Dr Ray Russon went on to teach at the University of Swaziland, Maxwell  Lukhele went on to lead as Tax Commissioner. The list is just endless.

 Kuseni on the other hand went on to conquer the business world in South Africa and became a testament to the quality of the cadreship in PUDEMO. Meanwhile, others left for exile and never looked back after acquiring academic qualifications or pursuing other careers and interests in life. They are today leading figures in the ANC led government and others like Godfrey Mbingo, for example, went on to lead Vodacom and is now MTN South Africa CEO. 

Like Kuseni Dlamini’s academic excellence and stardom in the business world, young PUDEMO and SWAYOCO comrades conquered South African student politics with ease. Philemon Lukhele went on to be president of SRC at Wits University while current (PUDEMO) president, Mlungisi Makhanya became the go to guy at the University of Johannesburg after which he was absorbed into ANCYL politics. Skhumbuzo Phakathi's brief sojourn at the University of Cape Town saw him lead the ANC's branch there while Sandile Phakathi reached perhaps the highest echelons of students politics in Kwazulu Natal.

To his immense credit,  Makhanya decided to come back to the burdensome Swazi struggle in spite of having established himself as a successful businessman and a budding political career in a free South Africa.  Almost all generations of the movement suffered the same fate of exile and subsequent dissipation from the struggle or some disillusionment of sorts.

It didn’t help either that some departed to the greater beyond at a time when the movement was banned. In any event, conditions of banishment made building proper political structures for the day to day running of the movement and the implementation and monitoring of its programs very difficult as very few wanted to overtly associate with the the party because it was in essence career limiting. 

This meant that leadership became a function of availability as opposed to capacity. But somehow the movement stood still, organising meetings and conferences outside the country, itself proving to be a great challenge. 

It is in these conferences that the goodwill of the movement would shine as, in acknowledgement of richness of diverse opinion, the movement would invite other organizations, civic and political, from inside and outside the country to share notes.

Lawyer Muzi Masuku.

In its Policy Conference in Tonga in 2006 for instance, the movement’s deliberations and policy outlook were enriched by a presentation of lawyer Muzi Masuku who splendidly demonstrated how much of a ruse the constitution of the Kingdom is. 

So compelling was Masuku’s presentation that PUDEMO trailblazer, Dr. Ray Russon, ended up not presenting his prepared paper which, it later transpired, sought to point out that the country’s constitution could be exploited in furtherance of the democratic project.

While the movement was not in any way the sole player on the theatre of the struggle, its prominence was aided by its temerity and well grounded preparatory school for cadres in the student politics. The focus of using the University as a recruitment base made it to stand head and shoulders above the rest. 

But the regime always had an antidote to the radical PUDEMO infused student politics, the ace card being that after student life one needed to be absorbed into the barely sufficient working life, an arena on which the regime had and still has a firm grip and express preserve.

By the time PUDEMO was proscribed as a terrorist organisation in 2008, it was already battling with subjective challenges ranging from glaring indiscipline and arrogance among its ranks. While not exactly explicable, some of this indiscipline had factional manifestations that transcended generations. 

As part of this indiscipline, some members—owing to their longevity in the movement or proximity to some founders—grew bigger than the movement and at times presented themselves as alternatives to it.

With all these subjective challenges, it was beginning to be difficult for the centre to hold in the leadership of the organisation. Perhaps, at the risk negating the subjectivity of these failures, it would be remiss not to mention the added pressure of being the target of the regime’s wrath for protracted periods. A proper analysis of the different sections of those who are condemning the unacceptable behaviour of some PUDEMO leading figures in recent time must be done.

They can be separated into three sections:

1. Honestly concerned and troubled Swazis who are interested in helping the movement self-correct.

2. Those who come from other political formations who see the decline of PUDEMO as an opportunity for them to raise their fortunes.

3. Counter-revolutionary elements that are largely coordinated and sponsored by the supporters of the regime. These elements do not see this decline of discipline in PUDEMO just as an opportunity to collapse it but an opportunity to rubbish the entire National Democratic Revolution. It uses it to paint the entire call for democracy as confused, led by immature airheads battling juvenile delinquency.

The miraculous ability to withstand and fend off the state’s might has proved to be a poisoned chalice in that the relative exclusivity enjoyed by the movement began to register to some in its ranks as having the struggle blue print and monopoly of political opinion. The intolerance,  impatience, veiled arrogance and general condescending tone, (real or imagined) towards other political players, including some civic organizations, began to rare its ugly head and irritated some and alienated many.

Soon, PUDEMO was a common enemy to many formations. And yet it remained a permanent and primary target of the regime. Sensing this hostility from everywhere, and coupled with inability to organise effectively owing to sustained victimization by the state, banishment, proscription, the rest of the movement went on tenterhooks as Mario Masuku and a few remaining movers and shakers were stretched to the limit.

Miraculously, the movement held on. The ethos, historical objectives, strategy and tactics remain relevant today and, most strikingly, are embraced by other formations that, on the other side of the same coin, have a problem with PUDEMO because of its perceived superiority complex.

Events and utterances of the past weeks attributed to PUDEMO personnel are therefore nothing of an ‘aha moment’. They are a cumulative effect of fermenting attitude by some cadres of the movement and counter attitudes from those formations and individuals who feel they have been ‘otherized’ by PUDEMO as some auxiliary players in the broader theatre of the Swazi struggle.

It is said that one founding member of the movement with a knack of defining himself outside the movement once suggested that even the name PUDEMO should be dropped in favour of a new one, reasoning that the current name has ‘ too much baggage’.

Having won many battles and exhibited resilience on many instances, the movement should do well to be a bit ‘philosophical’ as it looks into the petulant conduct of some it's cadres of late. In doing so, while correctly exhibiting maturity by apologising, it should welcome that the worst would have been for Sandile Phakathi to give a sterling presentation and for Mphandlana not to conduct that ill timed interview for that would have blinded the movement and made it perpetually oblivious of the charges of arrogance against it, real or imagined.

Because we all need each other in the grand plan to liberate the country, every player should pick lessons from the seemingly unnecessary mistakes, but very necessary lessons of the past week. Let all players learn that as an organization grows bigger, the possibilities of internal differences multiply. It would also be a good lesson to take that it’s easy to be distracted, confused and frustrated when battling the state with all its might.

For its part, PUDEMO should do well to learn from the mistakes of the once gigantic ANC it so sought to emulate. It should learn that with might, power and numbers comes the responsibility to be modest and considerate.

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