Game theory assumes that leaders act rationally: to gain the best possible outcome. Yet in the game of politics, we have seen time and again that leaders are anything but rational. They engage in costly wars, like the US did in Iraq and Afghanistan; they fire military leaders who have the power to remove them from their position, as we saw in Zimbabwe; they even gamble their people’s pensions away on Bitcoin, as is happening in El Salvador. Leaders are anything but rational. But let us assume for one moment that Mswati is a rational actor.

Yes, I know that is a push. After all, this is the same man who bought over a dozen Rolls Royce sedans in one go. But that’s about his largesse and spending habits. Let us assume that when it comes to protecting his regime, he is nothing but logical in his thinking. What course of action do you see him taking right now?

Nearly a year ago, Mswati was faced with civil action the likes of which he had never seen in his 35 year reign. Swazis were petitioning their legislators for change. Not a regime change, or even culling of the King’s powers, no. They just wanted an incremental change: the ability to elect their own Prime Minister. Delivering their petitions, Swazis didn’t accost MPs at their homes, or storm the House of Parliament. They simply scheduled meetings with legislators, and delivered papers. 

In response to this, senior MPs and Members of Cabinet ridiculed them, and ignored their petitions, some even refusing to accept them. This led to an explosion of frustration, which culminated in the largest protest action ever seen in Swaziland. The country was in flames. Any other leader, sensing this threat to his legitimacy, would have said something to quell the storm. Instead, Mswati sent his forces to shoot to kill. Swazis protested, and they were met with brutality sanctioned by His Majesty.

A threat he was in a position to minimize, he chose to push back on in the most violent manner. That is the leader we are dealing with. That may not be the rational choice to you and me, dear reader. But to King Mswati III, the only way to deal with a threat is by fire.

Which brings us to where we are today. After a year where Swazis have made their voices crystal clear: “asisamfuni hulumende weTinkhundla”, the political movement started by pro-democracy MP Mduduzi Gawzela Simelane has said they will stand for elections. The decision to stand or not to stand is of course at the discretion of the party congress. MP Simelane has sacrificed in the face of the struggle, having to go into exile. But what of the Swazis who died and were maimed on the street? What of the other 2 MPs who fought for democracy, Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube? They have been imprisoned for 300 days and counting.

While in that jail, subjected to indignities and abuse, they have not wavered from their position: the system has to change. What exactly have Swazis been fighting for if we still want to drink of the same poisoned chalice that is Tinkhundla? I ask Gawzela to remember the power-sharing agreement between Zanu-PF and the MDC. Morgan Tsvangirai, who had won the election, was made a figurehead in Mugabe’s government. Everything Zimbabweans had fought for was paid lip service and fell by the wayside, until Mugabe was removed in a military coup.

Which brings us back to Mswati III. Now that we have seen how brutal and clinical he can be, we can rest assured the SWALIMO candidates will not see parliament. Mswati is both judge, jury and executioner. Mthandeni and Bacede’s prolonged unjust sentence are testimony. There is no way he will allow more pro-democratic forces in his parliament. He will let them run, so as to show the international community that he has made concessions.

But those elections will not be legitimate. If they want, they can choose to stuff ballots, or just create their own vote totals. Swaziland is not a democracy where you can sue to retrieve ballots. We do not even have a say as to how election standards are set, or who sits on the EBC. The mass “losses” will be used as propaganda to say Swazis don’t want democracy. They voted so.

Maybe they realise how outrageous that would look, and maybe they have some shame about it. They will pick two or three pro-democracy candidates and allow them to win. When they get to parliament, they will be sidelined and ostracized. If they remain resolute, they will only end up in a cell next to Bacede and Mthandeni, or in exile if they make it over the border. The Tinkhundla system is not designed to be changed from within, because power is centralized in one figure. 

Even if you can get enough MPs to force a vote of no confidence, Mswati can just ignore it, as he did with Barnabas. Under the current system of government, Mswati gets appointments to the House and Senate, and handpicks his Cabinet. Even if the Houses of Parliament were to pass Legislation he did not like, he still has his handpicked judiciary, who can strike it down. And that’s only if he feels like putting up appearances.

The Tinkhundla system has been fortified to be resistant to change - both internally and externally. The only way to change Tinkhundla is to change from Tinkhundla: rip up the system and start anew. All running in Mswati’s elections will do is help him sell his lie.