Last week the Swaziland Youth Congres (SWAYOCO) held its 12th elective conference in Bela Bela in Limpopo where prominent former student activists were elected as office bearers to the organisation. Even though most of them come from the University of Swaziland, the newly elected President, Sakhile Nxumalo, is a third year student at SANU and alumni of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology. Nxumalo shot to national prominence when he led the marches that demanded justice for Thabani Nkomonye who had been killed allegedly by Swazi police.

Nxumalo was part of the leadership collective that mobilised students under the banner of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) to demand justice for Thabani at the Matsapha police station. In fact, Nxumalo was one of the most prominent leaders in the frontline of the marches to most of the Tinkhundla centres last year pre and after the uprising, coordinating students from other institutions and helping those who were injured by the resulting police brutality that followed the uprising. He assumes the role of SWAYOCO President having led the students movement during his time at Limkokwing, first at a branch level as SNUS chairperson and then at national level as National Political Educator. 

Coincidentally, not only did they go to the same school with his Secretary General Mciniseli Vilakati but they also happen to stay together in Fairview under Manzini North Inkhundla and currently attend the same University at SANU in Manzini.

When the country erupted into an uprising around June last year, it presented a perfect opportunity to launch Nxumalo as a national leader as he became a familliar face in most marches whether these were happening in the various Tinkhundla centres or quite recently at the High Court supporting the jailed MPs Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube. Nxumalo is a son of a security guard but was raised by his grandparents after the death of his father in 2002.

New SWAYOCO President Sakhile Nxumalo

I did my primary school at eKukhanyeni Primary School and I also finished my secondary education at eKukhanyeni High School. Later on I enrolled at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and got myself an Associate Degree in Architectural Technology. I am currently am doing my final year at the Southern African Nazarene University  (SANU) doing Leadership Management and Inclusive Studies,” Nxumalo says of his early upbringing.

He traces his consciousness to a land dispute in his area that happened while he was doing form 2. The local traditional leadership alleged that his grandfather was a witch and mobilised the community to harm them. He was so infuriated with such allegations, so much so that he says had they done anything to his grand parents, he would have retaliated violently and probably took a life.

I still remember one day the same clan called a community meeting where my grandfather was supposed to burn alive. Fortunately, they ended up not doing that. It was back in form 4 when I began to understand the Swazi situation fully. Sadly, we had no possibilities to have a student organisation like the Swaziland Association of Students (SAS) at Kukhanyeni ,” continued Nxumalo.

It was at Limkokwing that Nxumalo's political life took a firm direction especially when he joined SNUS. He subsequently came to be acknowledged as central player in the planning and coordination of protests last year. He is highly regarded within SWAYOCO as a ‘ground’ activist hence was elected unopposed at congress.

Vilakati on the other hand recalls how they worked tirelessly to ensure that the death of Nkomonye does not just end up being reduced to police brutality without linking it to the national crisis and the failures of the Tinkhundla government.

But the death of Thabani could have ended up just a case of police brutality as the nation was taking it to the direction of black lives matter as championed in the USA and we were frustrated as SWAYOCO activists. In one caucus, we decided to inject political issues to transform the national anger into political anger, not just about police brutality but about a myriad of socio-economic issues,” Vilakati explains of his involvement in last year’s uprising.

Vilakati says together with the Institute of Alternative Ideas they wrote a pamphlet that circulated online, especially on Facebook, to mobilise society to demand more than an enquiry into Thabani’s death. He said their idea of taking petitions to Tinkhundla was carefully engineered in response to the MPs rejecting the issues that had been raised by the democracy MPs inside parliament.

Vilakati argues that by taking their protests at the different Tinkhundla centres they wanted to expose the fallacy of government preaching using Tinkhundla as a centre for national politics. Their strategy, he reveals, was to ensure that they do not wear PUDEMO colours in these protests ³because they feared the state would respond violently but also they wanted to ensure that Swazis own the protest and not see them as driven by an individual party.

The youth caught up the wave and ran with it and ours was just to provide strategic support to a momentum that had already been given fuel by the arrested MPs Mthandeni Dube, Bacede Mabuza and exiled Siphofaneni MP Mdududzi Magawugawu Simelane inside parliament. It is by no mistake that the defiance against the banning of petition delivery started at Msunduza. But the issue is not about our involvement but about how the fire caught on and Swazis in their different political formations and individual capacities joined and made last year possible. Ours was to creatively think of ways to start the wave and let others join it that is why now it is also our duty as SWAYOCO to again pioneer new frontiers of engaging in the next gear towards liberation,” Vilkati says.

Even though Vilakati says they pioneered the delivery of petitions at the Tinkhundla centres as part of ‘sharpening the contradictions’ his activism predates the national consciousness that climaxed last year. Born in Mhlangeni in Bhunya, Vilakati says he was politicised when he went to study at Limkokwing.

“I started my activism at tertiary where I was later elected into the Limkokwing SRC as the Vice Secretary General 2014/15. I also formed part of the first branch executive of SNUS where I was elected the branch Secretary uncontested. I'm a brave young person who's been brewed and nurtured by the trenches of the people's struggles and I wasn't born a leader but my activism work has made me one,” he adds. Asked what he thinks are the immediate tasks of the revolution he says it is to dismantle the status quo and bring the struggle into its logical conclusion.

New SWAYOCO Secretary General Mciniseli Vilakati

On his plans for SWAYOCO, Vilakati says the organisation requires a lot of recruitment and organisational building so they can provide the people of Swaziland a well-oiled machinery that does not rely on individual brilliance or sacrifice. “Part of practical things that we will do is to come up with a program of action that is rooted in various youth community struggles; we are taking SWAYOCO back to its rightful owners: the unemployed youth, the youth that is ravaged by poverty, drugs, depression and many other horrible condition our young people are subjected to under the oppressive government of Mswati III,” he says matter of factly.

The SWAYOCO leadership is drawn predominantly from SNUS and most of the leaders have led at both local and national level of the organisation. They have already been well received in the country and will be expected to hit the ground running.