Just before his death, lawyer Leo Gama had disclosed a secret he had probably kept to himself for decades; he knew the people behind the 1998 Deputy Prime Mnister’s office bombing. Gama, a seasoned lawyer and activist, did not reveal the actual names of the people save to say that the state was never going to find them no matter what they tried.

His reasoning was simple; the police were always looking in the wrong direction. “First, the people don't fit the profile they (police) expect; some are today very senior in the private and public sector. Secondly, these were extremely disciplined comrades that come from the underground where the political traditions are about strict confidentiality,” Gama had told one of his comrades.

For the uninitiated, back in November 1998 the country was rocked by a bomb blast that hit the Deputy Prime Minister’s offices in Mbabane. A security guard was killed. Even though the state descended its military might mainly to members of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) they never managed to catch the operatives behind the attacks. The case went cold even though the state dangled E250 000 reward for information leading to the arrests. 

 As Gama was to later confirm, the people who were responsible for the bomb blast had come to him in his capacity as an attorney to discuss the bombing and map scenarios should the police come for them. What Gama was emphasising was not so much to boast about knowing people the state had hunted for decades but how the country had always been engaged in low-intensity war, only taking different turns at different epochs of the democratic struggle. Gama argued, with the advantage of hindsight, that it was only a matter of time before this low intensity war erupts into an open conflict. 

Human rights lawyer Leo Gama

Back then, a group calling itself ‘The Tigers’ was to later call the Times of Swaziland offices to claim responsibility for the 1998 blast. They charged that the bomb blast was in part to force the government to engage in political dialogue. Even though a few activists, including the current PUDEMO President, were forced to flee the country in the aftermath of the attacks, the state’s investigations failed to yield any results. The case went cold and Mlungisi Makhanya returned in the country quietly. A year later, another powerful bomb hit Mahlanya constituency offices, five kilometres from the traditional headquarters of the Ludzizini royal residence.

Again here, the police could not find the suspects. The blast, which coincided with the first anniversary of a similar explosion at the deputy prime minister's offices the previous year, was interpreted as a political message to the country’s authorities. In the years to follow, sporadic attacks against police and other government structures were to be associated with ‘Emashekeshe People’s Army’, an underground group closely associated with SWAYOCO.

Not much is known about ‘Emashekeshe’, save for the fact that it was assumed to be training people in neighbouring South Africa. The most systematic and coordinated attacks against the state was to occur several years later, in 2005 to be exact, with the wave of petrol bomb attacks that targeted Tinkhundla centres and later the then government spokesperson Percy Simelane’s homestead. Even though the state was to later round up about 15 suspects, no conviction could be obtained from those arrests.

In fact, so poor was the evidence that the state never brought the suspects to trial. To this day, most of them are still out on bail with only one, Sipho Jele, dead. Interesting though was the profile of the suspects: two employees of UNICEF Swaziland, a University student, a teacher, a former Human Resources Manager at one of the country’s sugar mills and a former Spur Manager from among many other suspects. They were all members of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). Instead of wide scale condemnation, the 2005 attacks attracted a lot of sympathy from pro-democracy groups in and outside the country. 

Shortly after that South Africa’s Star newspaper reported of a secret military group that was training in South Africa. Reports claimed highly mobile units of up to three were being trained by Commandos from both South Africa and Kenya. Even though such reports shook parliament nothing of substance came of it.

But the real untold story of the ever escalating low intensity war is to be found in the tragically ended life of Musa ‘MJ’ Dlamini. Dlamini was an attorney by training and a founder member of the Swaziland Association of Students (SAS) and a prominent member of SWAYOCO.

'MJ’ was, for the most part of his life, operating from Big Bend where he had established strong roots and working with underground members of the banned PUDEMO. Apparently, he had been identified very early in his political life as a ‘military man’ and assigned the responsibility to build the military underground. Even though he shot to prominence after the hunger strike at the University of eSwatini he kept a low profile, only to emerge as a controversial lawyer that had become infamous for scamming businessman John Ndzabadzaba of thousands of Emalangeni. Ndzabandzaba, once a heavyweight at his prime, had been defrauded of his property allegedly by Dlamini after suffering a car accident that incapacitated him mentally and otherwise.

He previously owned two upmarket houses and 11 mini buses that enjoyed lucrative staff transportation contracts with three big corporations. Ndzabandzaba blamed Dlamini for his fall from a glamorous life to poverty. Dlamini was then an attorney practising under Vilakati, Dlamini and Associates. He was at the time Ndzabandzaba’s lawyer responsible for selling his properties.

While some of his comrades got disturbed that Dlamini could be linked to such a heavy scam, unbeknown to many was what was brewing under MJ’s wing, at least according to police sources. An interesting version of Dlamini’s life is therefore told by a retired police officer who investigated a number of robberies that rocked the country in the mid 2000s.

According to this officer, name deliberately withheld to protect his identity, ‘MJ’, as Dlamini was affectionately known, pinged in their radar when his name kept popping up in many of the daring robberies. “Remember the Texray robbery of E500 000? Remember the Moses Motsa robbery? You know the thread that runs in all those robberies? It is the name of ‘MJ’ Dlamini. He was for all intent and purposes the mastermind. It never registered to us what was happening. We treated it purely as a criminal matter and that MJ was just the puppet Master. It never occurred to us what was happening. We only understood what ‘MJ’ was up to several years later when we investigated the Lozitha bombing,” said the officer.

Back in 2004, September 25 to be exact, the country woke up to reports that Siteki businessman Moses Motsa had been robbed of E2 Million. Police subsequently arrested ‘Tsotso’ Zikalala, Mandla Makhanya, Nkosinathi Mcanyana Mahlinza, Ishmael Mabuza, Sipho Gumedze, Nompumelelo Vilane, Bheki Shongwe, Makhenzi Nxumalo. Striking in the eventual suspects was the name of Human Rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze. What shocked many about the arrest was that Gumedze was a man his friends describe as someone ‘who could not even hurt a straying fly’.

Gumedze had grown under the political tutelage of ‘MJ’ as a member of SWAYOCO at the University of Swaziland. After the daring robbery Gumedze was shocked to learn that a bag containing guns used for the robbery had been left at his place. When police found the weapons he was linked to the crime and arrested. However, Judge Qinisile Mabuza found Gumedze not guilty and acquitted him of all charges. The Moses Motsa suspects were ultimately linked to several other robberies in the country. Police identified ‘MJ’ as the central figure behind everything. This forced him to escape to exile in South Africa. Swazi intelligence could not pick what was happening. They were treating this as a purely criminal case, our sources say. 

 “You know we don't have intelligence in the country. They didn't know what was happening. They probably don’t know what is happening even now. What we were dealing with was a fundraising drive. We feel stupid that we never figured it out then. These were sophisticated operations more like how the Umkhonto Wesizwe operated in the early 80’s,” said the officer. The version of the police could not be independently verified as most of MJ’s friends refused to associate him with any criminal enterprise. 

Once in South Africa, ‘MJ’ was to use the money he had managed to collect over the years to traverse the entire continent seeking military training and eventually settling in South Sudan where he linked with the Sudanese Liberation Army.

The Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its military wing Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) subsequently signed a Memorandum of Solidarity with MJ’s organisation and promised to support him and his political ambitions. The plan, according to sources, was that Dlamini was going to run businesses in Southern Sudan where the SPLM had control as a form of revenue generation for the Swazi struggle. He was also taken through military training there.

Musa MJ Dlamini sandwiched by Amos Mbedzi and the late David Malada aka General Peter Dambuza.

They gave us a huge peace of land along the Nile Rive to develop a housing project as a form of immediate cash flow,” reads communication seen by The Bridge between the late MJ with one of the liberation council members who operated from Swaziland. Together with Jack Govendor, a South African former Member of uMkhonto Wesizwe, Dlamini clandestinely entered the country to establish sleeper cells of military recruits mainly in rural communities.The two established Umbane as a military wing of the democratic movement. The organisation set up a structure made of a liberation council, a Command hierarchy and a strict code of discipline and operations. Among its structures was a Commander in Chief, Commander, Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Head of Operations, Logistics and many other portfolios.

Reads minutes of Umbane documents showed to this publication: “Our armed struggle is a continuation of our political struggle by means that include armed force. The political leadership has primacy over the military. Our military line derives from our political line. Every commander, commissar, instructor and combatant must therefore be dearly acquainted with the policy with regard to all combat tasks and missions. All of us must know dearly who the enemy is, and for what we are fighting. Thus UMBANE cadres are not only military units, they are also organizers of our people.

The Bridge was also shown classified minutes of a meeting attended by senior progressive members where operations of Umbane were discussed. Among other things discussed in this meeting was the training of 40 specializing units on raising funds for the Swazi struggle.

There was also a debate whether to train people in South Africa or Mozambique. The Council felt that Mozambique is expensive and it is better in South Africa but there must be an operational plan developed to protect South African Government from being perceived as a launching ground for an attack on Swaziland. The operations which was developed by the Chief of staff was that recruits will be put in a truck which does not have outside view, the people will assemble in Johannesburg and driven as if there are going to Nelspruit, then it will then go straight to Messina,” continues the minutes now seen by The Bridge.

The death of MJ and Govendor, two of the senior members of Umbane, crushed what was a nascent liberation army. One of the unit leaders of Umbane was a businessman who had gone completely unnoticed and escaped the radar of the police intelligence. In fact this businessman he had been so successful that he was even given a contract to instal security cameras within the Lozitha palace.

Unknown to the state, the businessman, name known but deliberately removed, had grown up a member of SWAYOCO having joined the organisation at the University of Swaziland. He was one of the operatives working with ‘MJ’. Police claim it was him who had provided the intelligence on the palace and the movement of the Monarch. The businessman quietly left the country to avoid prosecution and is today operating his business in Mpumalanga South Africa. 

To appreciate the full scale of MJ’s operations in the country one has to read the summary of evidence the state brought against Amos Mbedzi. Not only did police investigation find ‘MJ’ had created a wide network within the country but had also managed to raise as much as E4 Million that was to be used for a company that was meant to fund the struggle.

We were shocked. The man had outplayed all of us. The level of secrecy that was employed was never seen before. Had it not been for the fact that we were able to retrieve a lot of his sms messages we would be none the wiser to this day,” remarked the former cop. The judgement issued by Chief Justice Bheki Maphalala showed that MJ communicated with many high ranking officials from royalty and Swazi business but only assigned code names to their messages. Save for the fact that police could link the number that communicated with him to a name on the communication most of everything was in special code language understood by his inner circle.

A friend of MJ from the University of Swaziland told this publication that he has always felt bitter that Dlamini’s legacy had not been appreciated as someone who went to extra ordinary lengths to free this country from royal bondage.

The country lost one of the finest sons of the revolution, a man who was prepared to lose everything for the revolution. It was painful seeing his name being smeared in the media. He never even gave his side of the story on the Ndzabandzaba case yet all manner of opinions were made about his professional conduct. The MJ that we know that we worked with was a soldier par excellence. The lengths he went to help us free our country will be celebrated by generations to come. From Mozambique to Sudan, to Europe MJ did everything,” said the friend who asked not to be identified. 

Many of the sleeper cells created then were forced into hibernation with others going back to mainstream politics having been previously  advised to ‘remain underground’ during the formative years of Umbane. The operations of Umbane were indefinitely postponed as most of their members were exiled while others forced even deeper underground. The state struggled to understand  Umbane or figure out how deep their penetration was in the country.

The closest they ever came to was a defecting member of PUDEMO that had claimed to know Umbane’s Command structures and operations plans. Sithembiso Shongwe was fished from his jail cell where he was facing charges of raping a 12 years old girl and asked to testify against Mario Masuku and link him with Umbane. Shongwe claimed he had left the country for Tonga in Mpumalanga where he was recruited into a unit that was to be formalised into Umbane.

However, Shongwe’s story was so incoherent and frivolous that Judge Mbutfo Mamba dismissed the charges at the close of the state’s case without even needing to hear Masuku’s side of the story. In the years that followed the military intelligence took interest in the development of Umbane as a form of augmenting the efforts of the police. Fast forward to 2022 and we have the Swaziland International Solidarity Forces (SISF), a completely new outfit with no clear links with any of the political players of yesteryears.

The Solidarity forces have announced themselves dramatically by engaging in a spate of bombings meant to avenge the death of over 100 civilians killed after the failed uprising in 2021. The Solidarity Forces are a mysterious group that has been operating clandestinely targeting police officers, government officials and other functionaries of the state. The Solidarity Forces have already issued a statement that reads more like a manifesto detailing their modus operadi.

A picture of slain Smiso  Mkhwanazi.

Reads their statement in part: “the SISF welcomes the support it receives from reputable business players in Swaziland and call on more business people to do likewise. The safety of all businesses whose owners have not heeded the call to materially support the mass democratic movement is not guaranteed. The SISF also thanks top and low ranking police and army officers within Swaziland who continue to support its activities in a variety of ways. The same gratitude is also extended to some senior members of the Royal Family who provide practical support to SISF. Through the support received, locally and internationally, the SISF is continuing to bolster its forces (including its network of informers), stocks of arms and ammunition, as well as its intelligence and operational capability.” As one of the Commanders of the organisation was to tell The Bridge, “We looked at the picture of Msimisi and Lungelo Vilakati and we knew we need to avenge this.”

The Bridge has been told that one of the botched operations of the group was a break in at the Matsapha Prison to release Amos Mbedzi and democracy MP’s Mthandeni Dube and Bacede Mabuza. This publication understands that a high level meeting held in South Africa resolved that it would be a risky operation that would involve the exchange of gunfire and possible loss of life. The fact that Mbedzi was in no state to walk and run on his own led to the abandonment of the operation. It was also felt that it would also compromise the MP’s should anything happen to them.

The mission was abandoned even though everything that been set up. Up until recently, the International Solidarity forces have been targeting Tinkhundla centres and individual businesses of the supporters and functionaries of the state. By far the most daring recent attack has been the torching of an MP Scorpion Nxumalo’s house and that of Prince Sicalo’s property.

For a while now we have avoided hurting anyone. We had a chance to harm the MP’s family but we are disciplined, we will not be provoked into taking a human life. We will not allow the criminal response of the state who are now engaged in revenge attacks of our leaders to make us descend to terrible lows. But what we will definitely do is intensify this struggle. We see the torching of Ngomyayona’s car, Wandile’s car and the attempt at Panuel’s homestead as an invitation to escalate the offensive,” said one of the Commanders of the Solidarity Forces.

The Commander reminded this publication of the long history of attacks of democracy activists where the state has used criminal ways to kill off the struggle and demobilise forces for change. 

You think we will sit and allow the recent torture of young girls at Zulwini who had gone to support our MP’s? You think we won't act when they burn the cars of our leaders and harass our trade union leaders? What we promised ourselves is to avenge the death of Msimisi Mkhwanazi, Lungelo Khumalo and all those who died in the failed uprising. Just go look at the pictures of Msimisi. Who does that to innocent young kid?” continued the Commander.

“ The fact that the state has responded by revenge attacks means we must make a good example that will distinguish us from those amateurs. We see what they are doing. They are trying to create a public narrative that the stupid revenge attacks are done by us in order to drive a wedge between pro-democracy organisations. We will now hit high profile targets going forward because we have the intelligence on their families and hang out spots,” continued the Commander.

The remains of the homestead of the MP's after the torching by International Solidarity Forces.  

It seems this is not an empty threat. According to the statement the organisation issued on March 31, even Judges who are linked to the royal family and their families were not safe. Continues the statement, "All protagonists of King Mswati’s criminal regime are legitimate targets. Batobhala “HALLELUJAH”. Timphaka tingafika noma kunini. The SISF is also keenly monitoring the activities and rulings of Mswati’s judges and they (including their families) are warned that they are by no means out of reach. We already know those who have sold their souls to Ludzidzini and those who remain determined to do the right thing – intelligence collection in this regard is in full swing. We urge them to choose hope over fear, the future over the past, justice over injustice, the people over Makhosetive."

But to trace back exactly why we are here we must wind back the clock to that infamous speech by Minister Prince Simalane and King Mswati’s ‘everything here is mine’. The arrogance of both the statements ignited hatred across the country. . Last year before the outbreak of the failed uprising Minister of Housing had arrogantly said that his government would fight fire with fire. 

Recently parliamentarians tried to have him withdraw such an irresponsible statement and he refused. The prince, who is the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, was put on the spot by Members of Parliament during the portfolio committee debate of the ministry’s annual performance report for 2021.

The minister invited the wrath of the MPs when claimed he believed in a democracy which focused on engaging the people and not the one that involved political parties. The prince emphasised that consulting the people was a true democracy, which was what the Tinkhundla System of Government was all about. The Prince’s sentiments follow the overall petulant response to the call for democracy which has been more arrogant than contrite. If anything, the king has repeatedly said everything in the country belonged to him. 

 “That's the arrogance we want to fight and end in this country,” remarked the Commander of the Solidarity Forces when asked what irks them the most about the response of the state.

NB: The interview with the Solidarity Forces was done via a questionnaire sent to the officials of the organisation.