Demands for democracy and Tinkhundla tinkerings (1986-1999)

Updated August 2008

Stability was not restored with the investure of Prince Makhosetive as King Mswati III on 25 April 1986, for infighting within the ruling elite rather shifted to manoeuvring for positions close to him (Levin 1997, 181). Nevertheless, he moved to establish his authority speedily, disbanding the Liqoqo in May, reshuffling the cabinet and appointing Sotsha Dlamini as the first Prime Minister not of royal blood in October (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 182). Queen Dzeliwe was rehabilitated and those involved in deposing her were arrested, charged with treason and sentenced to prison, though some were subsequently pardoned (Levin 1997, 183-186). The heavy handedness of Mswati's governing style has often been noted by commentators, such as Khabele Matlosa (1998, 322): "Under King Mswati, the traditionalist forces stamped their hegemony over the Swazi policy with more coercion, and less diplomacy which was associated with King Sobhuza".

In September 1987 Mswati prematurely dissolved Parliament and called new elections after a series of scandals involving corruption and misappropriation of funds in the public sector and the cabinet had severely damaged public confidence (Levin 1997, 187-189; Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156). The elections were marked a very low turnout that indicated growing dissatisfaction with Mswati and feelings of alienation from the tinkhundla parliamentary system (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 212, 213. See Tinkhundla elections, 1978-1993 for more information). Questioning of the tinkhundla system emerged from within the establishment itself, with the Senate passing a motion calling for a review of it in 1988 (Levin 1997, 213; Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156). Research by academics at the University of Swaziland found that only 25% of respondents supported retaining the system, while 45% wished for members of parliament to be elected directly and 30% were uncertain (Levin 1997, 213). In 1989 forty chiefs attending a workshop on the system called for it to be scrapped and replaced with direct elections (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 214). As a result of this pressure the Prime Minister advised Mswati to review the system (Levin 1997, 214).

The economy continued to grow, posting average annual GNP growth rates of 3.3% between 1985 and 1993 and 3.7% from 1992 to 1999, so that GNP increased by 72% between 1983 and 1994 (Matlosa 1998, 323; Dlamini 2005, 68). Population growth in the 1980s was estimated at between 3-4 % per year and 2.9% from 1992 to 1999, while real per capita income between 1980 and 1994 increased by 3% annually, slowing to 0.5% thereafter (McLoughlin & Mehra 1988, 661; Matlosa 1998, 323, 324; IMF 2008, 24). Low economic growth rates and rising population levels led to increased unemployment, especially amongst the youth; in 1988 it was estimated that only a third of primary-school leavers were able to find wage-earning jobs in the formal sector of the economy and the situation would worsen in the years to come (McLoughlin & Mehra 1988, 670, 671). In 1985 agriculture, at 23.8%, remained the largest generator of national income, followed by manufacturing at 21.9%, and government services at 18.4% (McLoughlin & Mehra 1988, 662). Export income was heavily dependent on sugar (31.9%) and wood pulp and wood products (18.9%) (McLoughlin & Mehra 1988, 665). The economy remained heavily dependent on and integrated with South Africa's, with 90% of imports coming from South Africa and 37% of exports going there (Dikotla & Verhoef 2002, 19). State revenue was heavily dependent on Customs Union remittances, which fluctuated between a low of 48.3% in 1981-82 and a high of 67.1% in 1983-84 between 1981 and 1987 (Dikotla & Verhoef 2002, 22).

Relations with South Africa deteriorated rapidly in 1986 as South Africa launched a series of raids, murders and kidnappings in the second half of the year, leading to public indignation in Swaziland and condemnations from the Swazi government (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1160; Levin 1997, 175, 176). However, the government also clamped down on the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa with jailings and deportations in February 1987 and May 1988 (Levin 1997, 176). Nevertheless, South African intrusions continued well into 1989 (Levin 1997, 177). Only with the unbanning of the ANC in South Africa in February 1990 did relations with South Africa begin to normalise, but the royal family's public standing suffered greatly in the eyes of Swazis as the result of government collaboration with the South African Apartheid government (Levin 1997, 178).

Financial scandals involving the Prime Minister, the military and cabinet ministers erupted in 1988, adding fuel to public discontent (Levin 1997, 189, 190). Mounting labour unrest in the banking and transport sectors led to the dismissal of Sotja Dlamini as Prime Minister on 12 July 1989 and his replacement with a former Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) secretary-general, Obed Dlamini; however, Obed Dlamini was viewed with suspicion in the trade union movement and the move did little to quell growing labour militancy (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 204). The country was rocked by a series of labour conflicts: In August 1988 seasonal workers at the Tambuti Citrus Estates were dismissed after striking for overtime pay, while unrest re-emerged among railway workers; in October over 300 striking Manzini Council workers were fired; in November Havelock Asbestos Mine workers rioted when wage negotiations broke down and workers went on strike at Swaziland Plantations and Swaziland Breweries (Levin 1997, 204, 205). A dispute over back pay for teachers and civil servant in 1989 led to student organised mass meetings across the country, which were banned and riot police were deployed to enforce the ban (Levin 1997, 190, 191). The government undertook to meet the demands and a strike scheduled for November was cancelled, but the King countermanded the deal accusing the teachers of "holding the government to random" and undermining Swaziland's attractiveness to foreign investors (Levin 1997, 191).

It is against this background that the first open signs of political dissent emerged, since the 1973 revocation of the Constitution by King Sobhuza III. In late 1989 pamphlets published by the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) criticising the Liqoqo were circulated in the urban areas (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156). These turned to attacks on corruption in ruling circles, calls for democratisation and even denouncements of the King's extravagant lifestyle (Levin 1997, 193, 215; Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156). The unbanning of the ANC in South Africa in 1990 and the spread of multi-party democracy in the region in the 1990s encouraged the ground swell for democracy in Swaziland, while the end of the Cold War led to increasing pressure from the United States and other donor countries for reform (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1159; Matlosa 1998, 323). However, in the words of Matlosa (1998, 324, 325), "Swaziland's traditional aristocracy failed to read the writing on the wall... Swaziland remained an island of aristocratic autocracy in a sea of democratic transitions".

PUDEMO members set to work to broaden and organise resistance through the creation of grass roots civic organisations (Levin 1997, 205). In May 1990 the government responded by launching a police investigation into the origin of the seditions pamphlets in circulation and at the end of the month rounded up subversives, including PUDEMO members, trade unionists, student leaders, leaders of civic organisations and members of the Nelson Mandela Reception Committee (Levin 1997, 205, 206). The launch of the Swaziland National Association of Unemployed People (SNAUP) was banned at the last moment and riot police were deployed to disperse those who had gathered, unaware of the ban (Levin 1997, 208). The arrests culminated in charges of high treason, sedition, conspiring to form a political party and organising unlawful meetings against 12 people, academics, professionals, student leaders and PUDEMO leaders, though in the end only seven people stood trial (Levin 1997, 206). On the 25 October 1990 all the accused were acquitted of high treason, but six were found guilty of organising or attending a political meeting and were sentenced to jail terms of between six and 12 months (Levin 1997, 209).

The immediate result of this judicial debacle was that PUDEMO and its cause was publicised to the Swazi people and the international community (Levin 1997, 209). Victimisation of leaders in the struggle for democracy followed, with job losses and expulsions from institutions of higher learning; the latter led to class boycotts and unrest at a teacher training college and the University of Swaziland in November, which were suppressed through the arrest and repeated detention of student leaders and mass expulsions with students being violently evicted (Levin 1997, 210). Relations between PUDEMO and the SFTU, already strained, deteriorated when SFTU general secretary of the SFTU, Jan Sithole, distanced SFTU from PUDEMO and the democracy movement before the trial (Levin 1997, 206). The groundswell of public support for PUDEMO in the urban areas led to the formation of popular grass roots organisations such as the Swaziland Youth Congress (SAYOCO), the Human Rights Association of Swaziland and a plethora of civic organisations (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156).

In June 1991 King Mswati responded to the widespread and popular groundswell for political reform by establishing a commission to review the tinkhundla system, chaired by Prince Matisela and packed with "old guard" politicians; it was dubbed the 'Vusele (=greeting) Committee' because its brief required it to travel the country collecting submissions (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 216, 217). Given its composition, and because of its narrow brief, the process was rejected by PUDEMO; it called instead for the lifting of the state of emergency imposed in 1973, a national convention that included political parties to formulate a democratisation process, an interim government to oversee the process, a referendum on whether the 1968 constitution should be revived and a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution if the 1968 one was rejected by the electorate (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 216, 217). Also in June, after a barrage of news reports of government corruption, attempts were made by the government to censor media reports, but this had little success and accounts of corruption and nepotism continued to appear (Levin 1997, 192, 193).

The Vusele process met its critics every expectation, so that early on the Prime Minister was forced to appeal to the Vusele Committee not to victimise or detain people who vocalised criticism of the government or set forth the case for multi-party democracy, but instead a blanket ban was imposed on press coverage of the Committee's hearings by the Minister of the Interior (Levin 1997, 217). In Manzini on 2 November 1991 the Committee was greeted by PUDEMO demonstrations and the hearings were cancelled, while the demonstrations were broken up by police and 19 people were arrested (Levin 1997, 218, 219). Several youth led demonstrations by Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) followed in Manzini and Mbabane in late 1991 through to mid-1992 (Levin 1997, 218, 219). Levin (1997, 219) observed: "In the end, the vusela committee visited all the tinkhundla, and the system was given an overwhelming vote of no confidence by the majority of the people who attended the meetings". Emboldened by its success, in February 1992, after a secret Second National Congress held in Soweto, South Africa, PUDEMO announced that it was unbanning itself, and that it would operate openly in Swaziland in the future (Levin 1997, 221).

Undaunted by the failure of the Vusele process, Mswati created a second review committee, promptly dubbed Vusele II, and included three critics of the tinkhundla system along with the nine conservative members, namely PUDEMO's organising secretary, the president of the Swaziland Human Rights Association and Senator Arthur Khoza; the PUDEMO representative pulled out of the committee almost immediately (Levin 1997, 222, 223; Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156).

On 9 October 1992 the Vusele II report was published, which recommended that the system remain largely unchanged except that the tinkhundla system be reformed (Levin 1997, 226). House of Assembly elections would be conducted by an independent authority and be by secret ballot in a two stage process: In the "primary elections" individual chiefdoms within each inkhundla would chose candidates and in the secondary stage elections would be held at the level of the tinkhundla where 55 members of the House of Assembly would be directly elected by universal adult franchise (Levin 1997, 226). The Senate would be replaced with a 30 member House of Chiefs comprised of members of the aristocracy (Levin 1997, 227). The executive power of the King would remain untrammeled and political parties would remain banned (Levin 1997, 226, 227). Vusele II also called for the lifting of the state of emergency and the abolition of detention without trial (Levin 1997, 227). Mswati approved these proposals, but they were rejected by opposition groups with PUDEMO reiterating its call for a national conference to chart the way forwarded to constitutional reform (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156). Nevertheless the King pressed on, abolished detention without trial, and in late 1993 elections were held in accordance with the new system, following which the conservative Prince Mbilini Dlamini was made Prime Minister (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156. See Tinkhundla elections, 1978-1993).

In a move that demonstrated growing international awareness amongst trade unionists of the struggle that was taking place in Swaziland, the Congress of South African Trade Unions mounted a blockade of two major border posts on 3 March 1993; it signaled the beginning of active and continuing support for the democracy movement in Swaziland (Matlosa 1998, 336). SFTUs position shifted towards support for the democracy movement and in 1994 called two general strikes, the second of which cost over R100 million (Matlosa 1998, 335). In 1995 property of the state and of public functionaries were subjected to a spate of arson (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156). In March 1995 another general strike was called by SFTU that brought the country to a halt and cost the economy over R100 000 (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 239). In November 1995 PUDEMA, SAYOCO, SFTU and allied organisations held a conference at which the King Mswati was called on to go into exile while the country underwent a transition to multiparty democracy (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156). PUDEMO followed this up with a campaign of civil disobedience in January 1996, while SFTU announced an indefinite national strike demanding the repeal of the 1995 Industrial Relations Act and the unbanning of political parties (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Levin 1997, 239). The strike was widely heeded, lasted for nine days and was the most costly to date, however clashes between with the police led SFTU to suspend the strike (Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156).

Mswati rejected the demands made, saying 'nobody tells Mswati what to do' (cited in Matlosa 1998, 333). The situation in Swaziland attracted the attention and concern of the Southern African Development Community, and a meeting was convened in July 1996 in Maputo to discuss the situation, but the King did not attend (Matlosa 1998, 334). Instead, to relieve some of the pressure he appointed yet a third body, the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), with 31 unilaterally appointed members, chaired by a member of the royal family and including a wider range of interests and views than hitherto (Matlosa 1998, 333, 334; Macmillan & Levin 2007, 1156; Dlamini 2005, 42). Despite the presence of pro-democracy activists, the manner of its appointment, the overwhelming dominance of conservatives and it marginalisation of democracy advocates led to its rejection by pro-democracy groups (Dlamini 2005, 42; Matlosa 1998, 334). An activist lawyer withdrew because he refused to be used as "window dressing", PUDEMO's Mario Masuko withdrew in January 1997 and SFTU's Themba Msibi was suspended after failing to withdraw when instructed to do so (Dlamini 2005, 42; Matlosa 1998, 334). The CRC spent five years research and writing its report in condition so untransparent that they verged on secrecy (Dlamini 2005, 39). In the meanwhile yet another tinkhundla election was held in 1998 (See Fifth Tinkhundla general elections, 1998).

In 1998 bomb blasts took place apparently aimed at assassinations of public figures, including the King; an unknown group calling itself the "Tigers" took responsibility (Institute for Security Studies 2002). In April 1999 SFTU, PUDEMA and other pro-democracy groups formed the Swaziland Democratic Alliance (SDA) to coordinate their activities (Institute for Security Studies 2002).


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