Since attaining independence 52 years ago, the position of Prime Minister eSwatini has been the preserve of the ruling royal family. But now, following the death of Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, the feeling is growing that appointing from other clans would be a perfect start for opening the political space, writes VUYISILE HLATSHWAYO
In a famous exchange in Bertolt Brecht’s play The Life of Galileo, Andrea says, “Unhappy the land that has no heroes”, and Galileo replies, “No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.”
Andrea’s words aptly echo many a patriotic and peace-loving liSwati commoner’s deeply felt-need for a non-Dlamini prime minister or Ndvunankhulu in their own native country. The popular belief is that this may be the first step towards opening up the political space and ending monocracy in the long run.
There is brewing discontent among emaSwati progressives and traditionalists at the royal apartheid-like Dlamini supremacy. Since the dawn of independence, all prime ministers have come from the Dlamini clan and it is not just any Dlamini but only members of the extended royal family household. Since the tumultuous times of Prime Minister, Mbilini Jameson Dlamini, the economy has been in a free fall under their watch.
Remarks by ageing senior Prince Masitsela and King’s Advisory Council member, Indvuna Themba Ginindza, who is also a senator, about the royal Dlaminis’ divine right to rule over emaSwati have fuelled the simmering tension. Not to mention the late Ludzidzini Governor Timothy Velabo Mtsetfwa labelling emaSwati commoners timfucuta meaning the good-for-nothings during Sibaya four years ago.
Prince Masitsela, who holds the ‘royalty closer to God’ belief, has often told emaSwati that the royal Dlaminis have a divine right to rule over them as a God-chosen clan. Speaking in April 2019 at the late premier’s thanksgiving ceremony at eNhlanhleni, he said: “I believe that your appointment, prime minister, is a sign that God has taken over the country. I encourage you to continue fearing and putting God first. Those who will try to bewitch you will perish.”
Following the PM’s Covid-19-related death, emaSwati are waiting with bated breath to see the family background and credentials of his successor. This is going to be a litmus test of King Mswati III’s willingness to stem a tide of anti-Dlaminism posing a serious threat to peace and unity.
Since 1967, the prime minister position has been a preserve of the royal Dlaminis. Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini (2018-2020), the second premier after Prince Maphevu to die in office, was the descendant of Prince Malunge. His great-grandfather was an uncle to King Sobhuza II. His corporate experience did not help the situation as he had left the economy on its knees.
His predecessor Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini (1996-2003, 2008-2013 & 2013-2018) descended from Prince Somcuba, the son of King Somhlolo. He was recalled from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to head government. He left the economy in tatters as he chose to be a king’s lightning arrestor rather than arresting the economic crisis as a first liSwati-born chartered accountant.
His successor, Absalom Themba Dlamini (2003-2008), is a progeny of Prince Manyakatane. The latter was the son of Prince Fata of Ntondozi. A consummate business leader, Dlamini, who is currently Tibiyo Taka Ngwane managing director, stirred the hornet’s nest when he talked about the separation of powers in parliament found in the Constitution.
Prince Mbilini Dlamini (1993-1996), was a descendant of Prince Heleba, a son of King Mbandzeni. His was a two-year tumultuous tenure as eSwatini lurched from one protest action to the other. He was relieved of the post after his famous bunkhosi betfu, which translates to our kingship statement. He revealed the reason for recycling PMs with a royal lineage.
Obed Mfanyana Dlamini (1989-1993) descended from Prince Malambule, the son of King Somhlolo. He was a member of the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC). Highly respected for his pacifist attitude, he tolerated parties and unionists to the chagrin of the conservatives. This led to his fallout with the royal coterie. He was not re-appointed.
Sotsha Ernest Dlamini (1986-1988) was a progeny of Prince Sidubelo who was a brother to Prince Malambule of King Somhlolo. A former Criminal Intelligence (CID) chief, he jailed the ousters of Regent Dzeliwe. He did not spare Princess Mnengwase, the sister to King Sobhuza II and senior member of the royal household, princes and princesses on charges of treason. The king sacked him to avoid a royal rebellion.
Bhekimpi Alpheus Dlamini (1983-1986) was a descendant of Soshangane, a brother to Prince Jokovu of Nyakeni. His father, Prince Mnisi was known for his community development initiatives. A WW II veteran, his premiership straddled across the interregnum and installation of the King Mswati III. He was later sent to the ‘blue sky’ – as he infamously referred to jail – for high treason.
Mabandla Fred Dlamini (1979-1983) descended from Prince Magudvulela, a senior Prince of King Mswati II. He held the reins of government in the twilight years of King Sobhuza II. Due to his zero-tolerance of corruption, he was toppled by the power-hungry Liqoqo. He had to flee the country to seek political asylum in the homeland of Bophutswana.
Major General Maphevu Dlamini (1976-1979) was a progeny of Prince Ndwandwa of King Mswati I. Scared of military coups endemic in Africa, Sobhuza was sure of Maphevu’s loyalty. He realized that the idle armed soldiers might be a national danger. He was the right candidate because of his integrity, seriousness and absence of interest in intrigue. He died in office while undergoing treatment in SA after his involvement in a car accident in Switzerland.
Makhosini Jaheso Dlamini (1967-1976)was a descendant of Prince Fipha, the son of King Ndvungunye. He was the first prime minister and Imbokodvo National Movement (INM) stalwart who earned his political spurs in the liberation struggle. He advised King Sobhuza II to repeal the Westminster Independence Constitution. He told him that the 1968 Constitution was divisive and unworkable.
The depths to which the institution of government has sunk and the reputational damage suffered as a consequence of its descent are just an indictment to the Dlamini dynasty. Unlike under the colonial administration where qualifications like education, experience and promotion were key, appointments are now guided by loyalty, nepotism and cronyism.
With the demise of the prime minister, Inhlase makes an inquiry about emaSwati’s political aspirations. Political commentator, Vusi Sibisi, who is also a Times of Eswatini columnist, calls for complete overhaul of the apartheid-like tinkhundla system. He describes any political change that falls short of opening up the political space piecemeal and cosmetic.
“The solution to our country’s political problem does not lie in having a non-Dlamini prime minister. But it lies in ending the concentration of power in one centre. It’s very wrong to think that in the 52 years of independence, emaSwati are not yet ready to elect a government of their choice,” he argues, adding: “There’s need for levelling the political playing field so that people can contest political power fairly.”
Coordinating Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (Cango) Emmanuel Ndlangamandla shared his sentiments. He criticizes the powers-that-be for the systematic alienation of emaSwati citizens over the years. He laments that the public office remains a preserve of the royal Dlaminis.
“It is unfair to base government appointments on one’s family background and royal connections. This promotes nepotism and cronyism which breeds corruption and poor service delivery. We’ve many bright and competent emaSwati who can do better and contribute to national development,” he says.
People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) secretary general Wandile Dludlu bemoans the collapse of the entire government system due to the culture of rewarding mediocrity, not meritocracy. He blames it on the non-recognition of the suitably qualified and capable citizens by the appointing authority.
He cites the example of the appointment of inexperienced Prince Sicalo as principal secretary in ministry of defence. He wonders what qualifies him to hold a chief executive officer position in such a critical ministry other than his blue blood.
Dludlu reiterates the Pudemo’s multiparty politics stance for a constitutional monarchy. He puts the blame of endemic economic crisis at the door of the no-party tinkhundla government. He says lack of accountability and transparency makes it the fertile ground for corruption. Without an opposition, he says, there are no checks and balances in government.
“The negative economic growth is a result of poor governance and rampant corruption. We need a democratic government accountable to the people to turnaround the economy. This cannot happen where there is a dominant group that believes that political power is its preserve. It’s high time that the political space is open so that all emaSwati can contribute to national life,” he says.
As emaSwati blame rampant corruption on the dominance of the Dlamini clan aka Dlaminism in the institution of government, only time will tell how long the centre will hold.