SAM MKHOMBE: THE DEMOCRACT WHO FOUGHT FROM WITHIN AND PAID DEARLY FOR IT
As the country gets embroiled in polarised debates on the wisdom of ‘fighting from within’, none walked the talk and emerged with his dignity still intact like the recently departed former Prive Secretary of the King and also Sive Siyinqaba stalwart, Sam Mkhombe.
Mkhombe’s recent death comes as a blow to those who intend to follow his footsteps and ‘fight from within’ because his was an oasis of knowledge that could have provided valuable insights on the inner machinations of the system. He didn't philosophise trying to change the system from within, he did it; proving both the limitations and success of the strategy. Having lived inside the belly of the beast for so many years Mkhombe never lost his true political bearings and embraced plural democracy to the very end.
Shortly after being fired from the palace for holding meetings to discuss reviving Imbokodvo National Movement (INM) Mkhombe conducted several interviews with the country’s local media where is quoted to have said ‘Swaziland can no longer hold on to old and unworkable ideologies’ and that the country needed to return to multi-party democracy.
The more Mkhombe served ‘king and country’ the more he got increasingly convinced we needed a change of political system and for this he was to pay dearly. His attempt at reviving the Imbokodvo party—a royal family political party disbanded after the banning of political parties in 1973–cut short his political career. He was subsequently hounded out of the royal court and paraded like a common thief. His was a milder example of how the monarch deals with those who so much as threaten his grip on power. As a democrat, Mkhombe died with his boots on but as a trusted aide of the monarch, he died a traitor.
He was to suffer under the vengeful leadership of the late Barnabas Dlamini who blocked his employment in one of the private universities and vetoed his board appointment to one of the parastatals. Several years later those who copied his strategy to ‘fight from within' were to get the wooded end of the stick when they were locked in jail after the June 2021 uprising. In hindsight, he must have died satisfied that on the one hand he got away lightly for trying to change Tinkhundla and on the other his life long values of democracy had been embraced by the larger population. It would not be excessive fawning to mention him alongside distinguished Swazis who sacrificed their valuable and lucrative positions for their political beliefs; Mario Masuku at Barclays Bank, Mandla Hlatjwayo at Illovo and recently the three MP’s Mthandeni Dube, Mduduzi simelane and Bacede Mabuza. A former General Manager of the Swaziland Royal Insurance Corporation and author, Mkhombe’s life stretched from the civil service, private sector and even foreign service.
Mkhombe was born in 1954 at Nsongweni in Shiselwni to a polygamous family. He was eventually ‘adopted’ by the Evangelical church after family disputes and spent his early childhood under the care of the church. Later he became among the first blacks to be enrolled at Evelyn Baring when it started to accept black students. He subsequently studied political science at the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) before joining the civil service. He was no jimmy come lately in the democratic camp as his history dates back to his time when he helped revive the Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants together with Dr Ray Russon, Maxwell Lukhele and many others. He emerged as the first Secretary General of the organisation. He was also one of the founding members of the country’s first ever Human Rights Association of Swaziland (HUMARAS) together with lawyer Zweli Jele, the late Dr. Joshua Mzizi and Dr. Jerry Gule and former South Africa’s Resident Representative to the UN, Vika Khumalo.
From 1981 to 1982, he went to Ghana where he did a Postgraduate Diploma in Record Management. He further went to the London School of Economics where he did his Masters in Industrial Relations. A little known fact about Mkhombe is that he was an author. His book Siphashaphasha was awarded one of the best Siwati classic in the category of African languages by the South African government. Siphashaphasha is a story about a schoolgirl named Dorothy. Dorothy was a very religious girl and smart. In Dorothy's time, it was very difficult because the community and the schools did not allow the girl to have boyfriends. Dorothy falls in love with a boy who did not study and her University friends tease her about it.
Although she did not care about her friends but she felt good encouraging her boyfriend to go to study where the older people were. Dorothy and her boyfriend finally got married. The book was taught in school.
When Mkhombe eventually emerged as a member of Sive Siyinqaba it became clear that the party must never be underestimated in its support base within the establishment but also their own attempt at ‘fighting from within’.