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Analysis: Tinkhundla political experiment has failed dismally!

Even the defenders of the can now admit that this system has been a spectacular failure. What’s more is that it is now destroying its most loyal servants. Everything seems to be falling apart in this country. The centre can no longer hold. The drop in Sacu receipts has exposed the weaknesses of this political system once dubbed unique to the world.
Pic of Amabutfo at a meeting on TinkhundlaDR SIKELELA DLAMINI reports.

Any experiment that is undertaken over a generational period of 38 years must be inherently flawed. If not, then it qualifies for Guinness Book of Records recognition. But that is to speak in metaphors when we could just as equally be blunt. Tinkhundla was never an experiment. The system’s royal architects knew that Tinkhundla was an imposed amor- phous political ideology and wittingly assigned to it a calculated misnomer and euphemism in order to couch their sinister intentions. I seek to point out eruptive cracks that reveal a hitherto latent fissure in this life-long lie that is the Tinkhundla system of governance. And I do intend to be as brutal in my exposition as Tinkhundla has been in its sail-against-the-tide offensive for self-sustenance. Buckle up!

Liqoqo legacy

First off, the tumultuous Liqoqo era of Prince Mfanasibili in the interregnum between King Sobhuza II’s demise and the accession to the Swazi throne of King Mswati III demonstrated uncertainty regarding succession. The ensuing power wrangle, whose ripples haven’t quite died down to this day, threatened to put an abrupt end to monarchical rule had the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) not fortuitously emerged to salvage what was left of this once revered Swazi institution. Let’s face it contested succession effectively calls an institution such as the hereditary Swazi throne to question. That, in and of itself, would be unSwazi if it weren’t equally a demeaning affront.

Ordinarily, succession, normally a rare occurrence, is a neat and quiet inner royal courtyard affair about which the nation is kept largely mystified until the crown prince and his coronation date are announced. That King Mswati III’s coronation was preceded by perceptible contestation speaks to a poisoned chalice, which perhaps prefaced a potentially turbulent reign. The Tinkhundla ship has never steadied since either. I guess we should have been warned. Adequately for that!

No rule of law

One of the most telling own-goals ever scored by the Tinkhundla system of governance has to be the Macetjeni/KaM khweli saga around the turn of the millennium. Scores of families were banished follow ing their defiant refusal to recognize the now late Prince Maguga as their newly imposed chief. The High Court ruled against the evictions. When the evictions were still enforced by royal command, that act alone clarified once and for all the supremacy of Swazi Law and Custom (SLC) and disregard for the rule of law. We are still struggling to extricate the country from the judicial crisis that occasioned the resignation en-masse of the then Court of Appeal judges. Judicial independence remains a matter for serious concern. This is more so as judges are still appointed by the King who has audibly grumbled when certain judgments haven’t gone his way (e.g., PUDEMO’s Mario Masuku’s acquittal). The King’s overtly confrontational attitude toward political dissent is concerning insofar as tolerance for divergent political views and the constitutional principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty are concerned. The rule of law remains seriously contingent, tenuous, and tarnished under Tinkhundla.

Dodgy constitution-making exercise

The exclusionary constitution-making process tightened Tinkhundla’s clamp down on free political activity. It also re-affirmed absolute monarchical powers, resulting in continued absence of parliamentary oversight. The electoral “Individual merit” mumbo-jumbo rendered elections pointless and absolutely meaningless as elected members of parliament (MPs) represent their own interests and account only to the King. The outcomes were predictable rampant corruption, bad fiscal management, and eventual collapse of the economy.

In a recent radio broadcast, Elections and Boundaries Commission Vice Chairman, Mzwandile Fakudze, absent-mindedly advised would-be election candidates to start familiarizing themselves with gov ernment programmes. He reasoned that this would prevent them from making empty promises to their constituencies during election cam paigns, only to fail to deliver on them be cause government already had other plans come 2013. The man in effect admitted that the Tinkhundla vote counts for and changes nothing because the elected MP can influence neither government programme nor its implementPic of Musa Hlopeation. He was dead right, even if it was an obvious slip of the tongue.

There were those rapidly diminishing statesmen like Musa Hlophe of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Or ganizations (SCCCO) who warned that the dishonesty and hypocrisy brazenly displayed during the making of the con stitution would, like the National Devel opment Strategy (NDS), come back to haunt us. Being the patriot that he is, he cannot boast that he told us so. But it must pain him to live to see the devastation of that constitutional lie that was promulgated into law back in fateful 2005.

The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) of 2008

Perhaps Tinkhundla’s worst own-goal yet is that of Sipho Jele’s suspicious death while in police custody. Jele, a worker and trade unionist, was arrested for attending the 2010 May Day celebration clad in a PUDEMO t/shirt; an offence under the nebulous STA. We still await the outcome of a govern ment-appointed coroner’s inquest to-date. The international community, in particular the International Labour Organization (ILO), has never stopped harping on Swaziland’s need to scrap the STA and its 1973 Decree adopted cousin.

This is to say nothing of the Public Service Bill of 2009, which expressly takes away workers’ constitutional right to political association and assembly. You just wonder how on earth the King of Swaziland can even fantasize about First World status in such a stifling political environment. It is an undisputed fact that the internationally condemned STA has effectively criminalized political activity of all forms and transformed Swaziland into a pariah state or, worse still, the skunk of modern civilization; exemplified by unprovoked police brutality during the SDC’s Global Week of Action on Swaziland (GWoAS) protest marches late last year. The negative publicity around these events had a lot to do with Swaziland’s subsequent failure to secure budget assist ance from the West in recent times.

Careless treatment of Tinkhundla’s own

The Tinkhundla establishment has in fact been its own worst enemy. Reason? You simply do not treat your sworn allies with such disrespect and carelessness and still hope to sustain yourself. It’s called self-destruction. A perfect place to start is an ill-advised witch-hunt which resulted in the brief suspension of the incumbent Army spokesperson, Khanya Dlamini. Elementary intelligence tells you that it is suicidal to fool with top army officials. For God’s sake, you’ve shown them all national secrets and even taught them how to kill. Never mess with them for no good rea son. If you do, make sure they never live to see your other weaknesses.

Pic of former PM AT DlaminiI am yet to be convinced that Tibiyo Taka Ngwane Managing Director, Themba Absalom Dlamini, was entirely cool with being harassed in yo-yo-like fashion when King Mswati III suddenly decided to shockingly resurrect Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini’s political career at the former’s expense in 2008. Sheepish “A.T.” may not have so much as winced beyond acquiescing “Bayethe”; but can anyone tell me for sure that the man never minded the humiliation that inevitably comes with such demotion?

I need not say any thing about the ill treatment meted out to former Prime Minister, Sotja Dlamini, who at one point became a laughable security officer after falling from grace. Once again, you can’t do that to a former PM; unless they are as astoundingly ‘loyal’ as the unbreakable deposed democratically elected Speaker of the 7th Parliamentary House of Assembly, one Mgabhi Dlamini.

It will certainly come as no shock that I include former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Ndumiso Mamba’s disgraceful sacking. It had absolutely no connection to his public duties, as we must always remember. Wherever he may be licking his wounds, Ndumiso is potentially potent keg for enemy firepower for the monarchy and this country. Given his entrenched royal connections and overarching influence, he should have been treated with better tact than we were made to witness. Hitherto, one would have thought that if cabinet monsters were vulnerable, then at least Tinkhundla praise singers were less of an endangered species. Qhawe Mamba’s exit proved all of us wrong. He was an unflinching self-appointed mouthpiece for Tinkhundla and the monarchy in every literal sense. The elite Mamba clan was, not so long ago, believed to be untouchable. Look who’s running for dear life now! I recently ran into a pitiable Qhawe in the East Rand. He looked extremely ordinary. How quickly things change in Tinkhundla circles!

It would be remiss of me not to mention the sudden plight of traditional Prime Minister, Jim Gama’s, degenerating health and the state’s initial distant interest in his predicament; only to pinch itself when his situation bordered on national embarrassment. A few months ago, would any ordinary Swazi have even imagined that Lutfo Dlamini and Phesheya Dlamini would be out in the cold; even if briefly? No! For Tinkhundla, the adage “the bigger they come the harder they fall” is personified. In October last year, Lutfo frothed at the mouth, defending Tinkhundla democracy in a live BBC radio interview. Lutfo typically arrogantly wondered what lack of democracy the likes of Manqoba Nxumalo of the Times of Swaziland and I (we were among the panellists) were telling the world about because he, as Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation Minister, was a perfect example of a democratically elected Tinkhundla MP. I have this to ask humbled Lutfo today: where is Tinkhundla democracy now? For the record, like Ndumiso Mamba, Lutfo’s fall from grace had next to nothing to do with the work of the Tinkhundla public office he occupied.

At least Mathendele Dlamini and Sam Mkhombe were accused of misdirecting themselves in the line of duty. But the message is crystal: no one is safe when the Tinkhundla axe decides to swing. You could be next whoever and how big you may have been made to feel. The Tinkhundla onslaught assumes rabid heights the moment you factor in ongoing Murambatsvina-style demolitions and/or evictions across the country. Ultimately no one is immune to Tink hundla injustice anymore. Even scarier is the fact that the King’s name features in almost all these evil deeds of constant wanton harassment of the poor and defenceless Swazi citizen.

Hoodwinking is see-through

The largely rehearsed religious frenzy akin to George Orwell’s Animal Farm’s vanity motif (biblical verbiage pulled over eyes to hoodwink gullible citizens) of the kind witnessed at a recent national prayer is demonic to say the least. This at a time when astute leadership is the answer. I swear I will not shed a tear when this country’s current leadership is kicked to one side. Since when is religion the panacea for all, especially man-made, occurrences? For this reason, you don’t pray for unemployment to end; you provide a conducive investment environment to create jobs. In the same vein, you don’t pray for corruption to miraculously disappear; you institutionalize effective instruments to punish the perpetrators and in the process deter wannabes. Not all Tinkhundla allies are convinced, though. Recent media reports are to the effect that the influential middleclass, most of whom amassed their fortune through corrupt means, are packing all their loot and increasingly investing it in offshore banks instead. They would not be doing so if their ‘investment’ were still safe. Certainly not if they see a chance for the revival of the sinking Tinkhundla titan. The ever-shrinking Southern African Customs Union (SACU) receipts aren’t helping people’s diminishing confidence either. Surely, our beloved Swaziland is fast degenerating into a sorry failed state; thanks to decades of Tinkhundla dictatorship and mismanagement! The sad hard cold fact is that the centre cannot hold anymore. And when no one feels safe, self-preservation becomes eve ryone’s fixation. For instance, while Tinkhundla has ensured that Mphandlana has nothing to lose whatever happens, it has equally made it The Nation clear to its allies that their tenures and privileges are always tenuous and finite after all. Budlabha ke lobo (it’s self-destruc tiveness).

Looming civil unrest

Students  ba vusa umgwaja (paved the way) through the scholarship policy protest march in February. Wait until workers and civil society decisively join the fray. I can already smell another Tunisia/Egypt right here! All the necessary fodder is now in place. We just await the spark that will ignite change. Can I get a witness, please!!!

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