WHAT IS THE POLITICAL ENDGAME IN ESWATINI?
Even for the most hardened cynics, the recently postponed extra ordinary summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ Troika was heavily anticipated and, for once, most welcome.
Hosted by South Africa as the outgoing Chair and triggered by the unprecedented political upheavals in the Kingdom of eSwatini (Swaziland), such expectations were not surprising. With Swaziland being the only agenda, hope was alive that something of substance was going to be discussed pertaining to the political crisis in the Kingdom.
When Mbabane, for some intelligible reason, withdrew its participation on virtually the eleventh hour, it forced the postponement or cancellation of the summit. In its official communique regarding the cancellation, the SADC Secretariat cited the withdrawal of Swaziland as the major reason. This validated the assertion that the political crisis in eSwatini was the sole agenda item for the summit.
Long branded a weakling whose meetings and decisions are inconsequential, the regional body has never had many admirers in the country and abroad. From King Mswati's days as Chairman of either its Organ Troika or the mother body itself (as part of rotated leadership), the eSwatini’s King knows the limitations of the body as evidenced by his authoritative public lecturing that there was no reason to be excited with SADC's 2021 ‘finding fact mission’.
In fact, as the king spoke on the day, he gave cryptic indications that he is viewed with some degree of admiration by some leaders within the regional bloc. In fact as far back as 2016 the king took the entire SADC for a merry-go-round when he proposed a SADC University to be hosted in the kingdom. Lo and behold, the proposal was approved without much scrutiny and due diligence in a subsequent SADC sitting in Namibia in 2017.
Cyril Ramaphosa and King Mswati III
The issue of eSwatini is a regional hot potato suffering far more from exogenous factors than principle. First is the issue of Botswana's 'fight' with South Africa. It is well known that President Cyril Ramaphosa does not have cordial relations with his Botswana counterpart, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, emanating from an elaborate conspiracy that links President Ramaphosa, Jeff Radebe, his wife Bridgette and Patrice Motsepe to clandestine attempts to undermine President Masisi using former Botswana President Ian Khama as a cog in a machine.
When Botswana was head of SADC Troika organ and initiated the first SADC visit to the Kingdom their report was completed after Cyril had taken over the rotational chair. He dismissed the report compiled by Botswana as weak and not capable of assisting the regional body to resolve the issues in eSwatini. Instead, Ramaphosa initiated his own team to visit eSwatini headed by Jeff Radebe and then augmented by his own visit. This did not go down well with Botswana who felt they had 'wasted' time on a report that was never going to be used by Ramaphosa.
This felt like this was part of the systematic undermining of President Masisi by Ramaphosa and therefore makes Botswana to take opposing positions to South Africa on many strategic issues, eSwatini being one. Also complicating matters is that Mozambique is also not happy with South Africa after some South African officials were caught collecting intelligence in Mozambique following the armed conflict without following due processes. This has also made Mozambique unhappy and led to them being hostile to South Africa. For his part, Ramaphosa, is keen to make the eSwatini case a high priority for the region. SADC is now divided on the question of eSwatini not out of principle but because of the hostility between South Africa and other regional countries that King Mswati milks for his own ends.
Knowing the impotence of the regional block what then could have possibly led to a last-minute withdrawal other than the possible humiliation by purposeful demonstrating and picketing by the pro-democracy formations and their fraternal friends in South Africa? Sometime last year, the king made commitments to a National Dialogue of some kind, knowing very well that there were no intentions whatsoever to honour it. He even committed to tentative timelines.
Botswana President Masisi
Whatever the circumstances, it doesn’t look like the king was deterred by the possibility of having to account for the unkept promises and commitment to whatever form of dialogue. The most feasible reason and given the authorities’ skewed priorities and the king’s concern about how the international society views him and his leadership, is the mobilisation by the local political formations and their fraternal friends. The mobilisation was made in readiness for the summit before which the plan was to picket thereby draw the attention of the region, the continent and the globe to the injustices and atrocities suffered by Swazis. It is this resolve that led the ruling party in South Africa, the African National Congress, to give serious consideration to meaningful mediation in the country.
Speaking on the sidelines of the recently ended ANC Policy Conference, the Chairperson of the International Relations subcommittee, Lindiwe Zulu, hinted about calls to employ SACU as some form of carrot and stick to coerce the country’s authorities to agree to talks. This would not have been far-fetched a proposal. In 2011 when the country needed a bailout South Africa used the offer of a loan to demand wide-ranging fiscal reforms that led to the establishment of the eSwatini Revenue Authority from among many 'confidence buildings measures' as the then Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan called it then. Of course, the ANC has always had some lackadaisical resolution on Swaziland whose only tangible expression has been the routine appearance in a paragraph speaking purposefully on Palestine, Western Sahara and, of late, the insurgency in Mozambique.
All things equal- the established impotence of SADC notwithstanding, the unprecedented anticipation of the summit was very telling. From last year’s state sponsored killings, to the king’s celebration thereof, to his continued indifference at best and insolence at worst, to non-committal to any form of dialogue a few months before the next Incwala, the progressive movement’s response has been measured and considerate. Relative to the regime’s war talk and relentless misrule, the progressives’ reaction is still largely considerate and disciplined. Speaking to The Bridge, the MSF Spokesperson Mary Pais Da Silva said it's either the path to peace and stability through meaningful dialogue processes or the violence we have been witnessing since June 2021 escalates. "But currently, the question is whether the dialogue will take place or not. Even then, we all must understand that a dialogue is not an end, but the start of a process.“The country is at crossroads," she continued.
Lawyer Mary Da Silva
It is the king and his regime’s continued brutality juxtaposed with the new resilience of the side of the people that depicts a well-defined stalemate begging the question, ‘what is the endgame?’ Against all reasoning, the king has stubbornly dug his heels in and continues to unleash spirited war talk and violence. This is against the backdrop of an ever increasing poverty whose perpetuation spurs the citizens to fight to the bitter end.
Blindsided by the huge turnouts during the recent security forces recruitment, the king continues to misread any manifestation of poverty and unemployment as a possible fodder with which to consolidate his support. After all, for decades now he has treated the security forces like his personal army. For their part and to a good extent, the personnel in the forces have validated, even if only sort of, the king's warped thinking until very recently of course. What has escaped the king and his ilk is the complex picture depicted by the same huge turnouts in the armed forces’ recruitment despite the well-coordinated attacks on the fpeople. Hidden from the king’s eyes is the part of this picture that speaks of a people whose collective system has been desensitized by suffering and systematic disenfranchisement.
Put simply, this demonstrable indifference to real danger and impending death means not even he, the king, is safe from a people who have lost all dignity. Meanwhile, the protracted acts of defiance and sometimes reciprocal initiatives by the people means the pendulum could be tilting. A new era is upon us and gone is the diplomatic and ‘turn-the-other-chick’ approach which almost turned the progressive movement into a laughing stock of indecisiveness. Having employed every trick in the book for many decades, the liberation forces have justifiably shifted gears. In his corner, the king seems to have a Barnabas reincarnate in the form of current Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini whose sadistic arrogance renders him a perfect substitute for the late Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini, a very formidable henchman lof the king.
With no ‘endgame’ in sight, the protagonists seem to be in for a bruising battle. The arrival of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the international arena also signifies the shifting of the ground, even if only symbolically given the limited role of international solidarity and fraternal friends. Still, the EFF’s demonstrated radical and programmatic solidarity has been an impetus of note against the ANC led alliance’s consistent but mild support. Unpacking what a meaningful dialogue must entail, Da Silva mentions that it shouldn’t be one of those staged royal projects, noting some unnegotiable pillars as:
• It should be credible and mediated by a neutral party according to regional or international standards
• It should have a common agenda reached by consensus by all relevant stakeholders
• It should have implementable recommendations.
She concluded by calling on the government to begin with the peace building process to enable and allow for talks to begin by “creating a peaceful environment for every citizen to have their voice heard.” When reached for comment, the government, through its Spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo, did not respond. Perhaps it is this lack of response on topical and very critical matters of national importance and security that best captures the attitude of our government.
Most worryingly, though, is the regime’s oblivion to the changing times as spearheaded by the Swaziland International Solidarity Forces. Clearly, the government’s plan and endgame is to unleash more brutality and suffering which will, accordingly, only attract reciprocity at best, or as is indicated, a more superior military operation executed with surgical precision.