Professor Rooney’s blog , Swazi-media, recently referred to a topic that has eluded public understanding for a long time; the making of a Swazi king. Despite the many rumours that have been spread about the legitimacy of Makhosetive to be on the throne, many Swazis have actually accepted him as the chosen one and take it for granted that things can go awfully wrong in the process of succession from one king to another.
THE CULTURE, THE TRADITION
What are the real guidelines for succession? In other words, how is a king chosen? Who makes the final decision? The answers to these questions vary. It always depends on who is asking and why. However, prior to the demise of king Sobhuza, a trend which had been somewhat unbroken existed. The crown prince was always chosen by the Queen Regent. Queen-regents are not ordinary wives. Traditionally they are not supposed to bear children and this is because they are expected to be the ones who coronate the future king. If they have children of their own, it is feared that they might decide to make one of them king instead of the real heir. Of course many, if not all of them, eventually had children. This is historically documented. Queen-regent Gwamile was the regent prior to King Sobhuza’s reign. An anecdote is told of how she almost crowned her own son instead and it took the intervention of a regiment of warriors to bring her to order. Whatever the truth of that anecdote, the fact is that Gwamile officially crowned Sobhuza eventually, the same way in which Sobhuza’s father was also crowned by a queen-regent.
LESSONS FROM JFK (THE MOVIE)
The greatest story ever told on film is the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the subsequent cover-up by the most powerful forces on earth of the truth behind the assassination. In the movie itself, there is a scene where the man that sought to expose the scandal was receiving information from a top C.I.A. official on the truth of his investigation. He summed it up thus “The real question is WHY. Everything else becomes oblivious when you answer that question”. In other words, who benefited from the assassination? It is truly unfortunate that most Swazis have never really asked themselves about the truth behind the “palace-coup” that saw the queen-regent removed from the throne because understanding that event allows one to have a deeper understanding of today’s politics.
An even lesser understood fact about Swazi politics is the cause for the wave of political unrest that followed Sobhuza’s demise. The country’s most radical pro-democracy movement was born during those trying times. Prior to that epoch most politically-minded Swazis were moderates. What provoked them towards a radical stance was the manner in which the Liqoqo supreme council of state had flaunted the very traditions that gave it power. That served as the last straw that made them completely disillusioned with the status quo. Bearing witness to what constituted a crime against tradition itself; they saw no other way forward but full and complete democratic forms. The real reasons for the removal of the Queen Regent from the throne were never made public. This was quite odd especially when considering the fact that any regime that comes into power effectively controls all the channels of communication with the population. Hence, it can spread any propaganda that justifies its ascendancy to power. If the Queen-regent had in-fact violated a very important traditional rite then that would have been made public and she would have been arrested. A retired soldier once publicly stated that he, and a couple of other soldiers, had been given the order to assassinate the queen-regent if she did not comply with the plans for regime-change. As would be expected of an ageing, and largely uneducated matriarch who was surrounded by hostile factions all vying for power, she surrendered her authority silently.
THE BENEFICIARIES …
Reference ought to be made once again to that beautiful film, JFK. “Who stood to benefit”, and “What were the major shifts in policy immediately after the coup? The answers to these questions are best understood when the wider context of international politics is taken into consideration. This is true of most, if not all, coups. Coup-de-tats in Africa, in particular, are rarely ever the result internal struggles for power. Most of them, as the coup in that put Mobuthu Sese Seko into power in Congo for example showed, are orchestrated by other countries who stand to benefit from them. The maxim that states that the fortunes of less powerful countries are determined by their more powerful counterparts best states this fact.
The Southern-African context in the year 1982 can be best described as extremely- unstable. Part of the policy-shift envisaged by B.J. Voster was that South Africa ought to pursue an expansionist strategy. Rather than isolate itself from its African-ruled neighbors and risk the possibility of being surrounded by hostile-states that were hell-bent on seeing majority-rule become a reality in South Africa, Pretoria interfered in the affairs of her neighboring states. In military-terms that would be called preemptive action. Lesotho was perhaps the most strategically located country for anti-apartheid missions. It was not a mere coincidence therefore that the late seventies and the early eighties witnessed so many coup-de-tats in that country and that all of them eventually led to the expulsion of ANC cadres. Moreover, a contra-military-force (RENAMO) was created by Dr Wervoed and Ian Smith for the purposes of destabilizing Mozambique. Mozambique was to later suffer further losses when their president, Samora Machel, was assassinated by South African forces.
Swaziland, on the other hand, as the second most important piece of land for launching insurgent-missions against the apartheid regime was always under the surveillance of the apartheid machinery. Sobhuza’s only true legacy was his clandestine support for the A.N.C. As a founder-member of the organization he was always of service to its members. His role was to shelter them and ensure that they received safe passage between their bases in Mozambique and South Africa. Indeed many terrorist attacks in the latter country were made possible by arms and explosives smuggled through Swaziland. The transit point for the terrorists after their missions was also the kingdom. The apartheid-state knew about these movements but never made overt attempts to curtail them while Sobhuza was alive because of the mutual-agreements that had been made between the two countries. This policy of clandestine support for the A.N.C. was supposed to last until the end of apartheid regardless of the succession to the throne. If Sobhuza wished to terminate it then he would have done so while he was still alive. The fact that this policy was not followed is perhaps the most compelling evidence that the legitimate succession was derailed. Sobhuza died at the age of 93, a lonely but revered figure who had lost his political acumen to old age. The mere thought of leaving behind his plans for succession to a fragile old woman at a time when the political landscape was so volatile indicates that the man had all but lost his very senses.
From the very moment that Sobhuza shut his eyes for the last time, the political battles within the royal-family had already started. Within the boundaries of national politics itself, the issue was who, within the Liqoqo regime, would be the ultimate authority. Internationally, however, the key beneficiary was already waiting for the opportunity to rid the country of all A.N.C. cadres. After Sobhuza’s demise the borders between Swaziland and South Africa thus became obsolete. Apartheid forces could come into Swaziland at any time and dispose off their targets. It was not only a case of the liqoqo regime turning a blind eye to what was going on. Swazi authorities went as far as aiding apartheid forces in their hunts for A.N.C. cadres. A prominent police commissioner was so deeply involved that the A.N.C. had to assassinate him in order to survive because his post as police-commissioner gave him enough power to dispose-off A.N.C. combatants under false charges. Apartheid forces were dangerous enough, however with the help of a police-force that had the respect of the locals, their destructive force was magnified. This continued until the A.N.C. eventually relocated to Mozambique. To disqualify the notion that liqoqo was a regime backed-and probably created by Pretoria requires one to pretend that South Africa’s foreign-policy towards its immediate neighbours was one of total non-interference, and that perhaps the continued existence of A.N.C. operatives in Swaziland posed no threat to Apartheid.
The Liqoqo regime meanwhile was caught up in infighting. This power struggle eventually led to some of its prominent members being arrested and charged with high-treason. To ease the fears of the population which, as stated earlier, had begun to sense that they were living in a state run by a military-backed royal-junta, they decided to go ahead with plans of installing a new figure-head that the country would loyally revere as their new king even as they ran the country’s affairs. Many people who study this period go completely off the mark when they claim that Mswati pardoned the prisoners after assuming power. Mswati was young and totally powerless at the time. What they ought to say therefore is that the winning faction eventually released its opponents when it deemed that they no longer posed a threat to their ambitions.
AND THE COVER-UP
“A king is a king because of his people”. This is another true maxim. Kings are not born. Whoever that the king-makers decide to make a king eventually becomes accepted by the people as a king. Propaganda machinery, whether it operates in Nazi Germany, Congo or Swaziland, will always succeed in swaying public opinion to eventually thinking that their leaders are legitimate. Any street-urchin can become the king of Swaziland if the authorities that have power choose that it is in their interests to make him one.
Who was Ntfombi Tfwala? What criteria were used in installing her as the new Queen-mother? This is perhaps the heart of the story. As that story goes, Ntfombi Tfwala was never married to king Sobhuza. She was in-fact a maid to one of his senior wives. Apparently impregnated his wife’s maid. This illegitimacy is in-fact what makes Mswati’s kingship controversial. He is a bastard. A power-hungry royal junta would never have willingly handed power over to a legitimate heir to the throne because doing so would have left them without any bargaining-chips for power. Thus for as long as they lived they have always had authority over the boy-king and his mother because they know what the rest of the population did not; which is that Mswati is not a legitimate king.
From the day of his coronation and the subsequent birthday-parties, Mswati’s legitimacy has been fed to the public. The initial version of his kingship was that even Sobhuza did not know that Mswati would be heir. The official explanation was that the heir to the throne is chosen by the Liqoqo council of state. Recently, the official line has changed and the latest version claims that Sobhuza picked Mswati to be his heir to the throne. Of course photographs were released by the media showing a young Mswati walking besides his father (or so we are made to believe he is) as if to say that he was always close to his father because he was the heir apparent. It s public knowledge, however, that the king always has boys around him. Even Mswati does, and none of them are his own children.
A more acceptable theory is that Sobhuza left the name of the heir-apparent with the Queen-regent because as a man of tradition knows well, that is the person that had the authority to coronate the new king. That name was carried by the queen-regent to her grave while Mswati’s appointers ruled the country.
A LASTING REGIME
As prince Mfanasibili has pointed out repeatedly, Mswati has never had authority in the country. He is always told what to do by the people who put him in power. He is only the face of a large junta composed mainly of his elder siblings. If this is still the case at his current age, it was obviously worse when he was younger. Mswati’s first years as a king were largely spent fulfilling his ceremonial duties while his brothers, aunts and uncles made political decisions that he only had to sign. He was not forced to sign; he was merely obliged to do so because as stated, those that placed him in power knew very well that he could be successfully dethroned very easily.
HISTORY AS TOLD BY THE VICTORS
Such a story is difficult to keep secret. However, history as - one ought to remember - is “told by the victors”. As a result, the official non-seditious version of the succession-story is that which is told by those who succeeded in installing their man onto the throne. Those powerful people, unfortunately are implicated by the story hence it will remain a secret until that fateful day when the last of them will either lose grip on power or pass-on.