AROMAS OF WAR: THE IMMINENCE OF A BLOWN CIVIL STRIFE
Almost all of a sudden, the Swazi revolution has shifted gears. And the change to the new tempo is itself manifestly seismic. Considering the relatively very small population and the inherent interrelatedness—a (hitherto) time-honored ‘bogeyman’ to all thoughts of civil strife—the sudden embrace and celebration of violence and destruction of infrastructure is both very telling and instructive.
For many years now, the mooted interrelatedness has been employed to infer that we almost all have a relative, distant or close, employed in the armed forces in the country. The fact that this dissuasion may not entirely have been factual or scientific may neither be here nor there. In any case, the weight of an argument in our political discourse has not always been its factual veracity. Instead, it is the rate of prevalence of that perception.
So, whatever its limitations, this dissuasion has amongst other varying reasons been a tacit acknowledgement that should a civil conflict erupt the likelihood is that the personnel of the armed forces apparatus will ineluctably be targeted. In a country like ours, where it is a norm to call on prison warders to compliment police and soldiers during protests or mass action of any kind, this means increased chances of confrontation between relatives and friends, thus fortifying the interrelatedness theory punted by some. Never mind that another scrutiny, and as if to highlight the complexity of the Swazi struggle for democracy, produces a different perspective.
This is if you consider the nepotistic recruitment process in the armed forces which gives priority to royal siblings, relatives of the king’s wives, royal hangers-on, and top brass’ children thus rendering the armed forces more of an extended uniformed wing of the royal family.
One key attribute for one to qualify as head of the security establishment is to have traces of royal blood or be a descendant of warriors deemed to have been loyal to the king and his heirs. For purposes of this article let us call them secondary royalty. Oftentimes, this secondary royalty is reserved for those clans responsible for certain rituals performed by the king or for certain traditional ceremonies. The most common cadreship and the minimum requirement is kubutseka as a declaration of utmost loyalty and allegiance to the king and his heirs.
This is because, of late, when announcing appointments of heads of the armed forces, the king makes sure he calls them by their regiment names or opts to use Siswati names where possible and at times- for good measure, even talks about the brief heroic history of the appointee's family. Tsintsibala and Gubhuzumlambo (former Army Commander) among others are living examples of this. Regiment names signifying the centrality in the corridors of royal power. The composition of the security apparatus' top leadership emboldens the king’s mental fortress on his invincibility. This explains his arrogance as manifested by utterances and rejection of any meaningful dialogue.
Fair enough, there are quite a lot of commoners in the forces. Tellingly, these commoners are usually confined to and only good enough for the coalface that the frontline operations are. This is evidenced by the identities and societal statuses of a recently deceased soldier and two police officers. When the king and his administration flare up tempers in the manner that they do, they are playing Russian roulette with the lives of the men and women in the firing line of retaliation.
The regime knowingly set the lowly personnel in the armed forces against the rest of the citizens by using them in the strikingly high number of extra-judicial killings over years. Perhaps the most damning indictment is the downplaying of attempts to raise whatever discontentment people have with the police and army using lethal force against ordinary citizens that are unjustified and disproportionate. This has persisted with all the administrations.
All the while the law of reciprocity has been slowly and gradually finding fertile ground and resonance with ease. This was aided of course by seething anger caused by hunger, unemployment, and other forms of misrule. In a rather rare exhibition of resilience and goodwill, the country’s progressive readied and availed themselves for any form of talks or dialogue after last year’s inexplicable massacre. This was despite the king’s insensitive utterances. Soon it was clear to all and sundry that not only were the king and his men regrouping and getting emboldened, but the talks about s dialogue were themselves superficial.
Naturally civil, anti-violent, and respectful, even the most ordinary Swazi’s patience had worn out and that which is now happening is, arguably, a culmination of untold suffering over many decades of ‘nothingness’. To the thousands of Swazis out there, another thirty-something years of indifference is becoming too much to endure.
TWO WRONGS DON’T MAKE ONE RIGHT
In an ideal society that is inimical to arbitrary rule and espouses all the proper infrastructure of democracy, the will of the people thrives because it is respected. The attendant equality before the law presupposes such platforms and instruments of (legal) recourse as the accessibility thereof.
Protests and other forms of mass actions and demonstrations are not frowned upon but celebrated as manifestations of the inalienable right to hold different political views amongst others. In a nutshell, accountability and tolerance are seen as virtues necessary for harmonious coexistence. With all the attributes of a just world, it becomes unreasonable and immoral to reciprocate any wrong meted whether real or imagined.
Unfortunately, it is all the above attributes that have been elusive in our country, the absence of which compounded the misery and anger because the violent subjugation has been continuing relentlessly. That said, it should then be appreciated that the doctrine of 'two wrongs don't make a right' is not without context, that it must be wrong and unreasonable to reciprocate a wrong. But this is not the case here.
The trend has been that sooner rather than later an unprecedented implosion was just imminent. Evidently, with each passing day, the king has been growing more complacent and emboldened as he was coming of age himself while entrenching himself on the throne. The appointment of Bheki Maphalala as Chief Justice, together with the arrogant Majahenkhaba Dlamini, is one indication that the authorities give no damn about what we think anymore.
The Chief Justice is just tactless and brazen in his disdain for the rule of law whose custodian he is supposed to be. If the conduct of his predecessor Michael Ramodibedi, the downward spiral was indeed set in motion systematically. The less said about the choice of the incumbent Attorney General the better. The chief is a serious joke. There were times when the courts embraced some modicum of judicial decorum thereby inducing some illusion of being the last bastion of hope of some sort.
With the last hope that the courts were, amid the never-ending subjugation, the polarization was quickly reaching boiling point. The massacres of last year and the resultant strident non-repentance by the authorities was the most daring challenge thrown at our collective face. There and then, the die was cast.
That there is a war on the horizon is now a common cause. It is an unnecessary war started by the ruling family. Princes Scalo, Majaha and Lindani are officers in the army. Princess Skhanyiso is something senior in the police. But very sadly, they have the bodies of our people, the commoners, to use as human shields. That is exactly what has the potential to prolong this conflict.
The ever skyrocketing rate of unemployment, cost of living adjustment unjustifiably on permanent abeyance, disease and famine contrasted with the apparent royal plundering of state funds and the resultant theatrical display of opulence, only serve to fortify the already sad societal fissures. And with each passing day, the imminence of a justified people’s war beckons like a dawning sun.
We must mince no words in saying that the royal family and the government of the day are guilty of the death of ordinary Swazis on either side of the divide who are losing their lives in the ongoing political conflict. The regime's enablers and all other beneficiaries are equally culpable. Of course, the state of volatility is also compounded by the abandonment by the international society which, for once and for all, exposes the business-like 'tit-for-tat' as the true objective for intervening or not.
In his book ‘When Victims Become Killers’, Professor Mahmood Mamdami correctly observes complicity of international society through its silence and conspicuous inaction in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The title of the book itself captures the cumulative misery and suffering of a helpless people.
Soon- and God forbid, the killings will be a norm, that’s if the Rwandan genocide stats are anything to go by. Clearly, something must be done.
But who will bell the cat?