A Letfu-Sonkhe analysis of the King's speech at the opening of Parliament, read together with the budget speech by Finance Minister Neal Rijkernberg.


The king’s speech served as an example of how the now entrenched culture of walking on eggshells, of unnecessary politeness and praise-singing has produced a king, who not only believes the fluff of his greatness fed to him by his fawning acolytes but is also deaf and mute to the daily suffering of citizens of the country that he leads. His biggest downfall of cause has become that he now constantly gives the energy that he is rich and powerful he only wants to engage people who are rich. His recent speech echoed this attitude when he expressed the desire for eSwatini to produce billionaires. Such rhetoric pushes the blame of poverty to the people who are poor in the country.

The following are the most glaring failures of the King’s speech:

1. Lack in Clear Leadership

The speech portrayed lack of reflection, imagination, leadership or ability to grasp the enormity of the winds of change raging in the country as well as the cause and effect of poverty. The events of the past 8 months have transformed society, radicalised the youth and elevated the urgency for political and constitutional reforms. The dam walls of tolerance for lies, deceit, mediocrity and arrogance has been burst open and exposed. Swazis are now telling it as it is. You just have to see the dialogue on social media, the street talks and the energy of the mass action programs of the youth under their various formations. Even school children have made the connection between the quality of their education and the grim prospects of their future under the Tinkundla system and the billionaire King, if nothing changes.

2. Failure To Provide A Clear Path To Peace And Development

The King has on numerous occasions, since the June 2021 protests, dismally failed to capture the sombre mood of the country in the aftermath of the protests. He has also failed to recognise that the social and economic conditions that a majority of citizens have to bear every day, put together with the suppressive political system, are the primary reasons that brought the county to the brink of civil war.

Instead, in the post June 2021 period, the King has never missed characterising the protesting masses as his enemies, perhaps to cover the killing spree that his military committed in desperate efforts to maintain his hold to power. The latest occasion wherein the king failed to capture the moment and take the country on a journey of national reconciliation and political reforms was in parliament when he performed his duties of officially opening parliament on 4th February 2022. Instead of using the occasion to charge parliament with the responsibility of ensuring the full utilisation of their constitutionally bestowed powers to bring the necessary constitutional changes that the citizens are calling for, the King continued to insist that the country should go to Sibaya to dialogue about the changes that must take place in the country.

The King stood up in Parliament to profess his commitment only to Sibaya, rebuking the protests, asking the nation to put the country first, essentially appealing for mass defence to his absolute rule and abuse of power. The King wants Sibaya dialogue because of the traditional controls and other advantages it affords him as the assumed chairman of the whole process.

The author Malcolm Gladwell published research in a book titled Tipping Point which illustrated the power of ideas and “movements”; how efforts and ideas cascade and cross a threshold or tipping point and cause big waves or changes. The King is facing one such phenomenon, a convergence of forces led by civil society, political parties and the millennium generation. Sibaya will not withstand this force.

3. Failure of Vision 2022

The promulgation of the National Developmental Strategy (NDS) in 1997 was supposed to be a momentous occasion wherein the country would have pledged to follow a comprehensive development path politically, socially and economically. Unfortunately, from the onset, the NDS was sabotaged by the King and his disciples, fearful of the prospects of political reforms suggested in the report. Instead, he imposed vision 2022 as his dream for attaining national development.

From then it became clear that Vision 2022 was not going to achieve transformative change in the structure of the economy or disturb the autocratic political superstructure upon which the Tinkundla system of government and the King thrive. This concept had been transplanted from Malaysia following the King’s participation in the Langkawi Smart Partnership Conference in 1995.

Instead of adopting a compressive development plan that leaves no one behind, the past 25 years have seen the rise of the King’s share of the national budget, the deterioration of public services i.e. health, education, tertiary institutions, the welfare of the elderly, the militarisation of the security cluster, the rise in violations of human rights, the evictions of poor communities from their land on the command of the King, the emergence of the King and head of state as multi-billionaire (Forbes Magazine), the investment by the government into multibillion capital projects that have little or no discernible contribution to the up-liftment of the poor from poverty, the break down in the rule of law, the collapse of the independence of the judiciary, police torture and abuse of human rights etc. The security cluster budget is now the largest after the education budget.

This wasteful expenditure and abuse of power has become a major crisis in society and a heavy burden on the tax payers, the poor and the middle class. This has been the country's experience of vision 2022.

4. The Dominance and Control of Tibiyo by the King is the Key Structural Challenge in the Economy – Denying the Swazi Society and the Poor Crucial Means for Development

Source (Tibiyo Annual Report 2018)

It is not realistic to table a national budget without giving context on the role and contribution of Tibiyo in the National Development. According to the founding statement by Sobhuza II, Tibiyo is the property of the Swazi Nation and was set up in order to assist the government in the development of the country. Tibiyo is the largest player in the economy. The companies listed above pay dividends to Tibiyo in the name of the Swazi Nation. In 2021 Eswatini Royal Sugar Corporation paid E130M to Tibiyo as dividends. Similarly, Illovo Sugar in Big Bend would have paid an equally large dividend since both companies are in the same sugar market. If we work backwards over the past 25 years, Tibiyo should have accumulated billions of Emalangeni on behalf of the Swazi Nation. These funds should be contributing to national development and broadening the funding base for the provision of critical services in the country, as well as leading the diversification efforts from the sugar sector into other commercial crops and agro-processing opportunities.

Browsing through the 2018 annual financial reports of Tibiyo, it would seem that the organisation is more of a shell than a holder of the country’s sovereign wealth. This calls for accountability and public disclosure of the role of Tibiyo. The US Department of state 2017 report points out the obvious that Tibiyo was set up as the country’s wealth fund and yet is run as a private equity investment fund for the benefit of the King and the royal family. It is time that the authorities and Parliament inform the nation as to where the Tibiyo billions are?

5. Industries Established on Swazi Nation Land and the Host Communities

Sugar and Forestry are the dominant sectors that have displaced poor Swazis who were settled on land attractive for these investments. Some of this land is leased to large multinational corporations and at premium prices and the money is remitted directly to the King. A transparent and accountable King and government would disclose this income.

To illustrate the importance of these transactions, we must look at the case of Eswatini Royal Sugar Corporation. In the early 1980s, the government forcefully evicted tens of thousands of people around Simunye, Mbuluzi and Ngomane, in order to make available 16000 hectares of land. This land was then leased to the company by King Sobhuza II, acting on behalf of the Swazi Nation. The communities were resettled in various areas such as Mafucula, Lomahasha etc. Eswatini Royal Sugar Corporation pays an annual fee which according to the published accounts of the company runs into tens of millions. The same situation is obtained in the forestry industry stretching from Shiselweni all the way to Piggs Peak. The majority of the communities who were evicted from their lands are occupying very marginal soils and deserve to receive a reasonable income from the fees paid by the companies using their land. This is more than an issue of social responsibility; it is a matter of inherent rights of the indigenous communities. The budget should recognise and support the livelihoods of these communities out of the fees derived from the businesses operating on their land.

NB: Mandla Hlathswako is the Chairman of Letfu Sonkhe Institute of Strategic Thinking and Development