Today we present an interview with a Swazi living in exile, political exile to be clear. Yes, there are Swazis who have been fighting for what they believe every Swazi citizen deserves, even if Swazis themselves don't know it yet. This interview does not represent the views of the SDP or the Blogger, it aims to highlight one of many Swazis living in the Diaspora that will be profiled on this site.
Mr. Bongani Masuku is a Swazi that has lived as a political exile in South Africa for over a decade. He is the International Secretary in COSATU, meaning that he represents COSATU on all international platforms. He is currently attending COP17 as a COSATU representative, advancing the agenda of developing countries in the fight for action to curb climate change. He recently lost his mother, and could not attend her funeral, as he did not attend the funerals of his father and brother who passed away a few years ago; due to a warrant of his arrest should he enter Swaziland.
1. How and why did you come to consider yourself an exile? (what are the circumstances that led to you leaving Swaziland and seeking refuge in a foreign country?)
According to the UN and international law, an exile is a person whose circumstances have been proven to be life-threatening in his or her country of origin. The duty of proving it does not lie in the person him/herself, but in both the receiving country’s government and the UN system itself. In this regard, being an exile is not determined either by myself (in this particular case) or the Swaziland Government, but the country of destination or what is called the receiving country, South Africa in this case, together with UN agencies. That is why some Swazis (and other nationalities) who were trying to apply have been refused the status, on the basis that their cases wouldn’t fit the criteria set by the UN and the receiving government on what constitutes a life-threatening condition.
I am unable to divulge the exact circumstances surrounding my departure, as some are security related, but will simply say, I left SD in 1998 November following PUDEMO’s internal processes. You will recall that at that time there was the intense battle after the failed tinkhundla elections and the subsequent bombing of the Tinkhundla HQ in Mbabane where one person died. I was the President of SWAYOCO Then and as expected , SWAYOCO had played a key role in the dismal outcomes of the tinkhundla elections, which yielded a mere 13% turnout and by international standards, unrepresentative of the will of the Swazi people. The events and the bombings led the state to believe SWAYOCO was responsible and they were so desperate and eager to revenge. Let me be honest, when I was first told that I am supposed to leave for the info brought before me then, I resisted and said how dare I leav the principal theatre of struggle and go out of the country, but the facts and the events gave me no choice and I was forced to leave. It was one of the most traumatic and painful experience, because it correspond to the reality one is facing today where I cant bury the most special person in my life, my Mother.
Just ask yourself one question. Do you think Sipho Jele would still be alive if he went to exile or not? Who doubts that he was killed for his activities as a member of PUDEMO and SWAYOCO?
2. What has been the impact of your exile status on your personal and political life?
The impact has been enormous, both from the negative and positive viewpoints. Not being able to visit my country, my home, and my people is naturally a painful thing to anyone. Not being able to directly assist my mother during her difficult days, but relying on people inside Swaziland is pain enough. What if the fact that I couldn’t bury my two brothers, my beloved father and now my mother, the person I couldn’t compare to anyone in life. Its stressful, traumatic and demanding of your courage and strength. Politically, it raised international eye brows about the reality of the situation in Swaziland. It made people challenge and ask deeper questions about the myth of a “peaceful and stable” Swaziland. It made people ask if forced silence can be equated to peace and stability or if they also mean democracy or good governance on their own. However, there is one thing critical about this situation, it is the learning from the experiences of other people all over the world, you begin to understand the world and society in a more profound way than would normally be the case. I have no doubt from the wealth of experience and knowledge gained over the years of my international work, my contribution to the development of my country would be many times over. As you encounter different parts of the world and different people, they make you appreciate what works and what doesn’t work in making a successful society. But it also develops all your mental faculties or general orientation to major issues facing humanity. I am many times different than when I left the country and have no doubt that am now better equipped to comprehend and engage with the crisis facing our country better than I was then.