About two days ago Elias Masilela hosted his annual KwaMagogo events in the country. Ironically, he did so on a month that is remembered by many Swazis as the time when the King went rogue and killed so many innocent people of our country. What died in this month last year is not just over 80 Swazis but fear too. Whoever fraternises with a king who has spilled blood for the first time in the history of our country is guilty by association. 

It was indeed upsetting that the Masilela event provided a platform for the Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini to insult people like Julius Malema who have helped amplify the voice of desperate Swazis calling for change. We cannot therefore separate Masilela from the utterances of the Prime Minister and duly find him guilty of insulting the democratic struggle by both commission and omission. Dear reader if the headline today appeared too harsh let us justify every word on it so that we can all locate Masilela as the royal pet dog  that is guilty of allowing his family legacy to be used to cozy up to the king at the expense of what the ANC stands for.

 Elias Masilela

Granted, Elias Masilela is an accomplished economist with an unblemished record in his professional career stretching from eSwatini to South Africa. To be fair, this Salesian boy has earned his stripes, so to say. Who can argue with the Executive Chairman of DNA Economics, Commissioner of the 1st & 2nd National Planning Commission, holder of a Degree Social Science from the University of Swaziland, MSc in Economic Policy and Analysis with Addis Ababa University plus a board member in more organisations than King Mswati’s wives. The list of his accomplishments, to be honest, goes on and on.

In fact, you can throw in his Havard certificate here and there and you have a man celebrated by many as an epitome of excellence. But that is not the full story of Masilela. Before he was recruited by then South African finance Minister Trevor Manual from being a junior economist at the Central Bank of Swaziland to join the treasury in South Africa, no one knew who he was. In fact, his was really an accident of history if not luck. After all South Africa had a paucity of ‘clever blacks’ to take over a democratic South Africa and Masilela happened to have been at the right place at the right time for Manuel to notice and recruit him. Before then he had done nothing that made him stand out from the crowd. This is important if we are to understand the latter day Elias Masilela who has invented himself as an ANC cadre born from a ‘struggle family’ with a story to tell. Before he wrote his book ‘Number 43 Trelawney part: KwaMagogo’, aptly described by The Nation Editor Bheki Makhubu as a dumb squib, no one cared about Masilela or his family.

He was, as he should be, a political upstart. He invited us to his life the day he took the unenviable job of reinventing history and sanitising the royal family’s complicity during apartheid. Embellishing the role of his family in the struggle to free South Africa is one thing but allowing yourself to clean up the image of the royal family is where we must as a nation draw the line. This is exactly what is at issue today and this is what must be contested with all the might we have.


Of all the words that best describe Ellias Masilela spineless fits like hand on glove. Here is a man who was already at the University of eSwatini (old enough to see and know things) when Swazi students were actively fighting and opposing apartheid but no one from his generation can remember him even throwing a stone never mind fighting with the ANC activists who were under direct attack from both the Swazi and South African state. Masilela didn't need to be convinced why it was morally right to oppose apartheid not just in silent murmurs or language of circumlocutions but actively so because he had lived in a family where the ANC had found safe refuge. Perhaps this explains why he never hear him tell his own story instead tells the story of his parents. What did he do to fight apartheid? What is his record to the brave university students who protected the ANC and fought both liqoqo and apartheid?

In fact his contemporaries laugh at the mere mention of his name. They see him as a staff rider on the mucky ANC train who opportunistically positions himself using the name of his family with no struggle credentials of his own. What is even more unforgivable is that Masilela associates himself with an ANC that believes in freedom, democracy and human rights but comes to Swaziland to cuddle the balls of a king who is a complete anti thesis to all and everything that he should ordinarily stand for. But Masilela sees nothing wrong with this. For a man who owes his prosperous life to a liberation movement that stands for freedom Masilela should be the first in the picket lines in South Africa or Swaziland calling for the same democracy his family stood with the ANC for in the country. If not to continue his family legacy he could do it to make up for the lost opportunity of NEVER supporting the South African struggle when he had a chance to do so. It is indeed a shame that South Africans like Amos Mbezi can even die in jail for Swazi democracy when people like Masilela, who have enjoyed all the fruits of South African freedom, can never be bothered about. His, it would seem, is to reap the fruits of South Africans who to this day still pay for the years of sacrifice they made for their country. It is indeed a stuff of legends how he manages to marry his own support for the ANC and the royal aristocracy and balance itself up so perfectly. It takes a truly spineless man with no principles of his own to live in peace with two incongruous ideas and have no shame about it. Perhaps this qualifies him as a public face of the Swazi middle class in both South Africa and Swaziland who have no shame condemning this or that in South Africa’s thriving democracy but are mute on the malaise at home. 

Royal pet dog

It is one thing to create an event where you position yourself and your friends on business opportunities in the country but it is totally different thing altogether to actively sanitize a royal regime not only dripping with the blood of so many ANC freedom fighters but also a regime now standing accused of killing so many Swazis last year. Every sensible person in the world added their voice to either meekly call for peace and dialogue or just condemn the Swazi regime for the massacre last year. We have not heard Elias Masilela’s voice, at least loud enough. Why would he when he is just a cute little royal poodle who uses his Kwamagogo annual event to provide a platform for the regime to insult democracy activists like the Prime Minister did recently. All his events he makes sure to invite the royal family from Prince Masitsela, King Mswati’s daughter Sikhanyiso, Tibiyo MD Themba Dlamini and now Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini.

He has maintained the same line that the Kwamagogo events are for the royal family and the ruling regime more generally. Masilela could have used the Kwamagogo project to surface the many Swazis fighting for the very things his family ostensibly stood for. Instead he has allowed himself to be a royal pet dog doing the king’s bidding. He brings his acolaytes in the country to mingle with the country’s royals and in the process reinvents the royal family’s role in the South African liberation struggle. He even makes it awkward for the country’s authorities to be guest speakers in an event where the running theme should be freedom, democracy and human rights, the very things that his own mother shielded ANC activists for. Masilela cannot reconcile himself with these contradictions because he has no principles of his own.

Selling the ANC to king

The story that Masilela wants to sell is that the ANC must be an ally of the king, screw the true historical events. He has conveniently forgotten that the Swazi state was hostile to the ANC. Many historians have written extensively about the relationship between the ANC and the Swazi state and perhaps the most authoritative one is  Richard Levin whose body of work illuminate the challenges ANC activists faced in the country. What Levin and many others acknowledge is that historically, the Swazi monarchy had supported the ANC. For example, during its formative years, King Sobhuza’s mother, Queen Lomawa, provided the ANC with material support. However, the ANC’s close ties with the Eastern bloc countries became cause for concern for the Swazi ruling class: We will remove the spider webs in Masilela’s memory a bit using Levin’s body of work. First we must understand that the Swazi regime was anti communist in its political outlook. 

King Sobhuza himself made this clear: “When a man has to reprimand his wife, often there will be found an ill mentioned man who will come to the wife and say ‘how sorry I feel for you because your husband always scolds you and treat you badly and I would do something better for you’. Such a man is a bad man. And we feel that such a man in the political world is Russia and other like her.” In the late1970 Swaziland began to realign itself internationally in response to the shifting balance of power in the region. This was stimulated by the independence of Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe, bringing its foreign policies more in line with those of the OAU and the ‘Frontline States’ of Southern Africa. Swaziland joined the then Southern African Development Coordinating Conference (SADCC) and the spurned South African overtures to join its abortive Constellation of Southern African States (CONSAS). 

Levin writes that the same time, Prime Minister Mabandla improved relations with Mozambique: in early 1980, President Samora Machel visited Swaziland and shortly thereafter the Swazi expelled suspected Renamo organizers believed to have been recruiting Mozambicans working in Swaziland for the war against Frelimo in Mozambique. In April 1981 Prince Mabandla hosted a meeting of President Machel, Botswana’s President Masire and Lesotho’s Prime Minister Jonathan which issued a unique communiqué from Swaziland’s standpoint, criticizing South African destablisation of its neighboring countries. These developments were accompanied by fluctuating relations with the ANC. In the wake of a meeting with the ANC President, Oliver Tambo, in 1977, King Sobhuza allowed the ANC a low key, but official diplomatic presence in Swaziland and ANC guerillas began moving through Swaziland for military training further north, and using Swaziland as a conduit on returning to South Africa.

By 1979 South African eastern front—Mozambique and Swaziland—was the most traversed crossing point for ANC guerrillas, facilitating some of Umkhonto Wesizwe most successful armed actions—the attacks on SASOL and the Voortrekkerhoogte military base. This front was central in the ANC’s development of internal infrastructure within South Africa. South African military began complaining that the eastern front was ‘leaking like a sieve’. Swazi officials were deeply concerned by these activities. Action was first taken, however against the PAC. In 1978 about fifty PAC members were rounded up and deported, for allegedly having provided military training to recruits in Swaziland. This left only the ANC in the arena. Despite the cordial 1977 meeting between King Sobhuza and ANC President Tambo, the Swazi government began applying pressure on the ANC in 1978. Two activists, Joseph Mdluli and Cleophas Ndlovu, were forcibly abducted from Swaziland to South African where they were tried for ‘terrorism’. In the same year an ANC activist was held in Swazi jail for admitting he had gone under military training in the Soviet Union. Shortly after this, three ANC guerillas were arrested near the Oshoek border post and charged with possession of arms. This trend intensified over the years, and in June 1980—in response to the spectacular ANC attack on the SASOL oil-from-coal conversion plant—South Africa agent blew up two houses in Manzini killing two people including an exiled South African youth. In February 1981 an exiled teacher, ANC member, Dayan Pillay, was kidnapped from school near Manzini and taken to South Africa for interrogation, before being returned to Swaziland. 

In December the same year, a car containing a Swazi and South African refugee was ambushed near Oshoek border post and both occupants were shot dead. This incident was sequel to the interception by Swazi soldiers of a large band of ANC guerrillas who had crossed into the country from Mozambique. During the resultant class, two ANC men were wounded and at least one arrested. These events formed part of South Africa’s strategy of destabilization in Southern Africa, this mounted into a ‘carrot-and stick’ campaign to coerce the region into subordination. This ‘big stick’ involved South African economic coercion and military intervention. 

In addition to the ‘tick’, a ‘carrot’ in the form of an offer to transfer to Swazi jurisdiction land claimed by the Swazi monarchy, was used with great success. The Swazis presented the issue in historical terms of ‘unification’, arguing that the borders of Swaziland were never ‘properly settled by colonial powers’: “ There are no internationally accepted boundaries between Swaziland the Republic of South Africa and therefore the question of ‘colonial boundaries’ does not arise because Swaziland has never her boundaries completely drawn either by the Colonial Office or any other ruler. Both the British and the Republic of South Africa governments have recognized the necessity of drawing proper boundaries between South Africa and Swaziland, these facts are recorded in the Diplomatic Notes of 1961 and 1966 between Pretoria and the British Embassy prior to the independence of Swaziland”. 

Perhaps we must also jostle Masilela’s memory to a time when the Swazi Deputy Police Chief, Petros Shiba, was gunned down in Mbabane and the ANC was blamed for the killing. Despite ANC denials, Police Commissioner Majaji Simelane claimed that the ANC had a hit list of Swazi policemen who were to be ‘eliminated’ and that the ANC had declared war on Swazis as their number one enemy’. As the search for Shiba’s killers intensified, a man and women were arrested while Simelane said he had to tell Swazi nation about the ‘ANC war’. He warned that Swazis giving shelter to ANC members were ‘placing their own lives in danger. They may be hit in a cross fire during operations if they are near them’. On December 18 Andreas Sono Ngcobo of Soweto was cornered and shot dead by Swazi police. Two passengers, one of them a twelve year old boy, were killed in the cross fire. A further series of expulsions followed, including the deportation of the ANC’s Chief Representative at the same time, Bafana Duma, who had spent the last twenty years of his life in Swaziland. In 1985 Swaziland’s ruling class began to openly identify with the apartheid regime. Addressing the meeting of the Southern African Development Coordinating Council (SADCC) council in Mbabane in January, the Swazi Prime Minister defended his government’s close relationship with South Africa, and seemed to indicate that attacks against the ANC would continue, asserting that ‘every letter of agreements made with our neighbors’ would be respected. 

At the official ceremony of the South African Trade Mission on February 25, Swazi Foreign Minister Mhambi Mnisi declaired that: “We are part of OAU members in good standing, and if they try to mix trade with politics then I will say to blazes with them. It is my duty to make sure that tummies are filled with food, not with political talk. The OAU must not poke its nose into a place where it is not wanted.” In March high level security talks, monitored by OAU, were held between ANC and the government but failed to restore harmony. The ANC was forced to accept its presence in Swaziland was no longer desired. At the same time, the Swazi government became outspoken in its criticism of the intensified campaign of sanctions and disinvestment against South Africa. 

Mnisi Appealed to the world to ‘give South Africa a chance to sort its problems. We have been really impressed by what South Africa has been doing for the last years to improve conditions in this part of the world…(South Africa) is on the right track as far as we are concerned’. At the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference in Nassau in September, Swaziland was the only member state to side publicly with British Prime Minister Thatcher’s opposition to sanctions. Not even Malawi associated itself with the Swazi position. In December, residents in Southern Swaziland described to news reporters how troops of the South African Defence Force (SADF) had crossed the border and threatened local villagers with reprisals if they did not expel ANC guerrillas from their area. The first half of 1986 saw a decline in the conflict, and the ANC absence at the coronation of King Mswati II was as conspicuous as the Southern African State President Botha’s presence. 

This is not a story that fits Masilela’s narrative. This is too inconvenient for his desperation to be noticed by the Swazi monarch. His attempt to sell the ANC to the King was largely undermined by the fight by some in the ANC to oppose Jacob Zuma’s own personal relationship with the royal family. Now that Jacob Zuma is gone the Kwamagogo project has shrunk into irrelevance and Masilela is left alone to nurse it into its slow death. The door however remains open for Masilela to change his ways and be on the right side of history. Time is ticking.