Read a lecture that explains how the many came to be ruled by the few. It's a lecture delivered at a Swazi Diaspora event by Dr. Nhlanhla Dlamini - Lecturer in History at the University of Swaziland at Wits University September 2011.
Swaziland in historical perspective
In this lecture we intend focusing on the evolution of the Swazi monarchy during three distinct periods namely the pre- colonial, colonial and post- colonial. The monarchy will be considered alongside the Swazi nation and state. As the subject will be considered from a historical perspective our major focus will be on how the monarchy has developed and adapted itself to various historical processes during the periods under consideration. It should be however, be pointed out from the onset that it will not be easy to present or represent a history of slightly approximately two centuries during a short time. However, we will endeavor to focus on those issues that will allow us to provide a sketchy but comprehensive synopsis to enable our audience to pick up some of the major developments in the history of Swaziland. Other details and controversies surrounding this history will be ignored for our present purposes.
The Swazi can be defined as a Bantu – speaking people of the Nguni group. As a distinct political and social unit they have existed only since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It generally accepted by scholars however, that the Swazi have occupied their present home for approximately two centuries. The original nucleus of what later developed to be the Swazi nation consisted of the Dlamini royal clan and their followers. The Dlamini had been one of the groups of the Bantu – speaking migrants who had moved from Central to the South Eastern Africa during the latter part of the fifteenth century. They lived in Tembeland in the vicinity of Delagoa Bay in present day Mozambique for over two centuries until a series of clashes with neighboring chiefdoms forced them to move. In light of this development the Dlamini undertook to expand westwards towards the Lubombo mountains. As herders and farmers the Dlamini wanted to settle on land that could promote both these resources of livelihood. It had by now become common practice for expanding groups to strengthen their military organizations so that any obstructions, like chiefdoms, which lay on their way, could be subdued and incorporated. The Dlamini began to assert their hegemony in the southern part of Swaziland, at Shiselweni I, present day Lavumisa. The period under consideration is distinctly characterized by the isolation of chiefdoms in the area. Most of these chiefdoms were very small to the extent that the population of each is estimated at 40 people. Such isolated chiefdoms enabled the intruders to conquer them without much ado, because there was lack of cooperation among them. Under Ngwane II (died c. 1870), the first Swazi king remembered in Swazi ritual, the Swazi (probably known as the Ngwane by this time) eventually settled in the area of modern south eastern Swaziland. Through conquest, Ngwane II, his son Ndvungunye (1780 – 1815) and grandson Sobhuza I began the process of asserting the Dlamini’s hegemony over other minor clans they encountered in the region. However, the emergence of the Swazi state was very much tied up with the mfecane. It is in this regard that Manelisi Genge has observed that the modern Swazi state emerged from the socio-economic and political upheavals of the nineteenth century that brought mass migrations, refashioning of nation – states. After these upheavals the Swazi state became identified with an individual king, Mswati II who ruled from 1826 to 1865. Mswati survived various attempts by his elder brothers and other groups to subvert his power and by the end of his rule in 1868 he had molded his followers into one large political unit that may be described as the ‘Swazi nation’. Mswati has therefore been deservedly credited for consolidating the Swazi state.
From Sobhuza I’s time onward the Swazi political structure was presided over by the king and queen mother who shared the highest political office in the land. Then there was the Liqoqo or an Inner Council composed of a small number of the “wisest men” of the nation, the chiefs, tindvuna (headman) and the tindvuna of royal villages and some commoners. Over the years a Swaziland National Council or Libandla laka Ngwane developed whose members were chiefs, headmen, some men of common rank and some members of the Inner Council, princes and grandsons of the king who were honorary members. The king communicated with the public through the Swazi National Council which met once or twice a year. This political structure was the basis of the Swazi patriarchy and its offices were hereditary.
Thus the central government in the nineteenth century Swaziland revolved around the institution of kinship. The king Ngwenyama was the focus of the nation and the symbol of its unity. The nation itself was defined as consisting of all those who paid allegiance to the king. While the king shared power with his mother, the Queen Mother, Indlovukazi, the latter was expected to exercise a restraining influence over his son; a national council faced with a recalcitrant king could appeal to her to persuade him to change his attitude. Although she enjoyed no executive powers she was usually informed of events of importance that transpired in her son’s office. The two lived apart. The king’s residence was the administrative headquarters while the Queen Mother’s village was the ceremonial and religious centre of the nation.
The land and mineral concessions which led to the influx of Europeans intensified from 1882 to 1889. In addition to grazing pastures and mineral concessions Swaziland also attracted interests and elicited mutual jealousy for the Transvaal Boer and British governments because of its strategic position next to Delagoa Bay on the Indian Ocean.
During the Anglo – Boer competition over the control of Swaziland the country was under the leadership of king Mbandzeni from 1875 to 1889. He was Gwamile Labotsibeni Mdluli’s husband. When Mbandzeni died in 1889 Tibati Madvolofisha Nkambule became Queen Regent and Labotsibeni became Queen Mother. It was during the leadership of the two women that the Transvaal Boer and British governments attempted to impose their colonial rule upon Swaziland. Both women resisted the imposition of colonial rule until the death of La Nkambule’s death in 1895. Thereafter, Labotsibeni became the main voice which led the Swazi resistance against colonial rule until she handed the reins of power to her grandson, Sobhuza II in 1921.
Soon after his installation as Paramount Chief in 1921 Sobhuza protested, among other issues the manner in which British rule interfered with the powers of the traditional rulers and the transfer of land ownership to whites and the state. This was pursued through a series of delegations to London including a legal case in 1926 through which he sought to regain lost land. Though Sobhuza finally lost the case, a combination of change in wartime colonial policy and a petition that he presented to the British in 1941 resulted in some considerable amount of crown land being allocated for use by the Swazi between 1930 and 1950.
Nationalists and Modernizers
Swazi protests from the 1920s were also inspired by the emergence of modern association, and by the example of the ANC in South Africa. The nascent group of educated Swazi, under the auspices of the Swaziland Progressive Association (SPA) formed in 1929, had begun to protest racial discrimination in Swaziland. Though the SPA made its representation directly to the colonial government, it frequently experienced opposition from the Swazi traditional leadership, the “royalties,” who considered themselves as the authentic voice of the Swazi people.
For much of its existence, the SPA confined itself to the submission of petitions to the colonial government. Occasionally the SPA’s struggle had contradictory overtones, and oscillated between themes that addressed discrimination and those that celebrated positive relations between blacks and whites. It also appears that the SPA lacked coordination strategies, as it tended to speak of groups that were not apparently aware of its activities. This may be attributed to its elitist approach, with the SPA perceiving itself as the educated “mouthpiece” of the masses. It lacked a strategy to translate its concerns into a national campaign, and ultimately failed in protesting racial discrimination in Swaziland.
The start of the 1960s saw parties like the Swaziland Progressive Party (SPP) emerge and compete; there was growing protest and increasingly vocal calls for a return of Swazi self-determination. These developments coincided with the labor protests of 1962-3 when rising worker consciousness was manifested in a series of strikes in industrial and urban centers. This long overdue labor unrest was an outlet for deep-seated grievances concerning poor working and living conditions, which were inextricably, linked to the prevalent discriminatory workplace policies. From the point of view of the workers and political activists who rose to articulate these grievances, and to mobilize labor, these conditions were the results of colonial domination; hence the underlying anti-colonial gestures and sentiments during the strike.
The period also saw constitutional negotiations with the colonial power, which served as bargaining forums for a new political order. While the newly formed political parties favored change along the principles of liberal democracy, the royalists advocated a political dispensation in which power was transferred to the Swazi monarchy. One key area of contention was land, which the royalties regarded as the property of the monarchy, administered on behalf of the people by the chiefs. When it became apparent that the British would not hand over power to the monarchy without the evidence of support from the Swazi people, the monarchy formed the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM)to contest the elections.
Ultimately, conditions swung in favor of the Swazi monarchy, as witnessed in its major victories in the Legislative Council elections in 1964 and the pre-independence elections in 1967. The monarchy and its supporters also secured the support of most conservative whites in Swaziland. It was able to present the radical nationalism of groups like Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) – a 1964 split off the SPP, headed by Zwane – as a foreign ideology, contrary to Swazi traditions. The INM formed the first government of independent Swaziland in 1968, with Samuel Thornton Msindazwe Sukati as Speaker.
Soon after the first post-independence elections in 1972, Sobhuza II abrogated the constitution and decreed the banning of political partied in the country, subsequently instituting a system of limited “non-partisan” elections based on Tinkhundla, or local constituencies. The parties had begun showing signs of being a credible threat to the royalist bloc. The NNLC backed the figures like Kwane Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere, for instance, had won four seats, mainly in the working-class constituencies of the Mpumalanga sugar plantations. From the banning of political parties, opposition parties operated from under-ground, key figures like Zwane were repeatedly arrested or driven into exile, and trade unions provided a major vehicle for public protest. A new constitution was promulgated in 1978, but not formally presented.
Under the Tinkhundla Regime
Supported by students, teachers staged a general strike in 1977 to protest low wages. The action resulted in serious disturbances in many parts of the country. The period following Sobhuza II’s demise in 1982, just prior to the coronation of Mswati III in 1986, was characterized by political vacuum and serious infighting in the ruling elite, s section of which seems to have favored a republican state. University students took to the streets in 1983 to protest the dethronement of Dzeliwe Shongwe as Queen Regent.
The underground People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), now the main opposition grouping was formed on the University of Swaziland the same year. In 1990 university students at the main university campus, Kwaluseni, engaged in class boycotts to protest, among other issues, the shortage of lecturers and to demand the release from jail of a student detained in connection with political activity. The protest was forcefully terminated through army and police intervention. Throughout the 1990s students’ grievances at the university received the sympathy of the labor movement and political activists. The Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) was formed in 1991.
Squatter evictions from farms in the different parts of the country since the 1980s inspired protests well into the early 2000s. In an unrelated case, dissident chiefs Mliba Fakudze and Mtfuso Dlamini were evicted from the KaMkhweli and Macetjeni chiefdoms in 2000 in favor of Prince Maguga. This was condemned by some union leaders, as well as by women from these chiefdoms, who showed their naked buttocks in public as a “gift” to the now deceased prince.
Parallel to students’ protests were various strikes, which at times brought the economy of the country to a halt. A small underground Swaziland Communist Party was formed in 1994. In the mid-1990s, Swazi unions were amongst the most rapidly growing in the world. They forged close ties with formations like the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), which, along with the South African Communist Party (SACP), provides support to Swazi political exiles and had organized several blockades of Swazi border posts. In 1994, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) held a two-day general strike for political and economic reforms. The strength of the labor movement was again dramatically demonstrated when the SFTU staged a country wide strike in March 1996 that brought the country to a standstill for 28 days, despite the arrest of union leaders. Through this strike the SFTU was applying pressure for the improvement of working conditions as well as demanding certain political reforms and a new constitutional dispensation. Several more general strikes took place in 1997.
Such struggles forced some concessions; most of the political reforms since the start of the 1900s can be traced to protests by pro-democracy groups and labor. An ongoing review of the constitution saw Mswati III announce in 2001 that the existing system would be retained, and even extended. By July 2006, protests had led to a new constitution being put in place (not long after the arrest of a number of PUDEMO and SWAYOCO activists for high treason after a spate of firebomb attacks). The new constitution has, however, generally been heavily criticized by civil society for its disappointing provisions and its strong continuities with the political status quo.
Discontent with the constitution, the repression of political parties, and worker-unfriendly policies led to unions and prominent political formations jointly organizing successful protest marches on July 24 and 25, 2007 in Manzini and Mbabane respectively. At the same time, there have been major protests at the University of Swaziland against curriculum restructuring; political parties saw this as a favorable climate for their activities ahead of the 2008 elections. The protests have involved, inter alia, the burning down of university buildings, leading to the closure of the University in 2007. In 2008, the university administration resolved to postpone examinations indefinitely. Students appealed to the courts, and a final verdict interdicting the university from implementing its new curriculum was issued April 10, 2008. In November 2008 the state promulgated the Act Terrorism Act to suppress open political activity. With the recent economic challenges faced by the country the possibility for multi – party democracy has become a topical issue.