Manqoba Nxumalo
Manqoba Nxumalo

Will SADC let Swaziland descend into war?

Last week Wednesday Swaziland woke up to shocking news of a 28-year-old activist who was sentenced to 85 years in prison after confessing to a spree of petrol bomb attacks that targeted mainly police officers and government officials.

We all missed the story because Swaziland only makes headlines when King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has added a new virgin to his harem. But last week’s events are historic if not profound for the small landlocked kingdom: they mark a new era in the political landscape.

In case you just landed from space let me bring you up to speed. Thantaza Silolo, a defecting member of Swaziland’s banned opposition party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), was sentenced to 85 years in prison after confessing to the petrol bomb attacks.

After three years on the run he surrendered himself and provided the perfect succour to a frustrated local police battling with growing attacks of this nature. Over a period of 10 years Swaziland witnessed acts of sabotage that no one had claimed responsibility for.

After a detailed confession Silolo was found guilty on all 11 charges and sentenced to 85 years in prison. However, he will serve only 20 years as his sentences will run concurrently.

Silolo alleged that he was part group of Swazis trained in Mpumalanga for a military insurrection in Swaziland. His case followed a similar strong sentence meted to a member of South African Communist Party, Amos Mbedzi, who is serving an 80-year sentence for terrorism. Pudemo’s youth league president, Bheki Dlamini, and Zonke Dlamini are both on their third year in jail facing similar charges.

I am giving this background to demonstrate a salient point of a low-intensity war going on in Swaziland. While the allegations of terrorism as admitted by Silolo have been denied by his organisation it does seem like there is an increasing number of frustrated young people who see violence as the only means through which they can end the dictatorship in the country.

During the national elections in 2008 Swaziland witnessed one of its greatest security tests when a bomb exploded under a bridge the king was to use for an international trip on the same day. A Swazi lawyer and South African former member of Umkhonto weSizwe, Jack Govender, died at the spot while Mbedzi was arrested for the incident.

Swaziland continues to be a rogue state with the dubious title of being the last absolute monarchy in Africa and one of four countries on the continent without multiparty democracy. It also has the highest HIV rate in the world and lowest life expectancy. The monarch is rated by Forbes magazine as the 15th richest monarch in the world with a net worth of $100 million. It is not difficult to understand the frustrations of these young people but surely violence is not the way to go.

The struggle for democracy in Swaziland has been under-reported and for a long time. Swaziland has escaped the world’s human-rights radar such that King Mswati has acted with impunity, no one cares about a country of less than 1.2 million people. History will prove that there are probably more Swazis in South Africa and various parts of the world escaping from the archaic and medieval system of King Mswati’s rule.

In fact to believe that King Mswati rules Swaziland like his fiefdom would be an understatement. He has created himself as the alpha and omega of Swazi politics and holds huge stakes in monopoly companies in the private sector with MTN standing out like a sore thumb. The educated and liberal middle class is leaving Swaziland and in the process robbing the country of its important intellectual arsenal while the poor are mounting an increasing resistance to King Mswati’s misrule.

But with a conspicuously silent SADC and a “run with the hares and hunting with the hounds” ANC, Swaziland is fast descending into the abyss of conflict that could have serious repercussions for the region’s fight for stability and peace. We should have all heeded the warnings as early as 1998 when a bomb exploded at the deputy prime minister’s office leading to the death of one person. Activists were forced into exile as police intensified their investigations. Is SADC ready to save Swaziland from war?

Tags: , , , ,

  • Swazi court strikes the balance between protecting freedom of expression and national security
  • Swazis deserve to know why controversial judge Ramodibedi got away
  • Under fire SADC media must build alliances with citizens
  • Ahead of the Bushfire Festival: Five things you might not know about Swaziland
    • GrahamJ

      Why isn’t sauce for the goose (world sanctions on SA pre ’94) good enough as sauce for the gander (Swaziland)?

      What makes Swaziland different from pre ’94 SA? There’s no logic here.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Swaziland was one of the British Homeland Protectorates, like Lesotho and Botswana. ALL of them were supposed to hold the land COMMUNALLY for the people, not for any Royal Family.

    • Laura Norder

      Mr Nxumalo is a well known Swazi activist who styles himself after the recently deceased Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. I do not think that he puts credible evidence before us that there are any Swazi forces capable of sustaining a descent into the abyss of conflict that would destabilise the region. The facts, even as he tells them, are that there was one bomb in 2008 that exploded killing or injuring the team that was sent to plant it, and there was a one man campaign of petrol bombs a few years ago, many of which failed to ignite. Is that really evidence of an oncoming ‘war’? This sort of overblown rhetoric is common in the more radical elements of the Swazi opposition movement but it shows a lack of historical or international perspective that is surprising in the M&G.

      Of course, Swaziland is a political embarrassment and an economic drain on the region. It is a democratic disgrace and an abuser of human rights. It is time that SADC, South Africa and others helped the Swazi pro-democracy forces to mobilise for a peaceful transition to multi-party democracy.

      In spite of the bluster of the Swazi government it is what the ordinary people of Swaziland want.

    • Heinrich

      It is a shame how our ANC government props up this mswati guy against the Swazi people. Giving him money – millions – while he lets his people suffer.

      SA should not allow this king thing into our country – should block off all roads and airways to and from Swaziland so mswati can go no-where. And then we should demand all our money back – now.

    • Manqoba Nxumalo

      Dear Laura Norder

      I think that that you are digressing and bringing irrelevant personal information that do not add value to the debate. From my vintage point it is a tad red herring.
      But let us engage on the content of my submission. I challenge you to dispute the facts below.

      1. Just before the national elections in 1998 there was a bomb blast that killed a security guard at the Deputy Prime Minister’s office. A number of activists were forced to exile after this attack.

      2. Early to that, in 1996, during the funeral of SWAYOCO President, Benedict Didiza Tsabedze, parliament was burned down, albeit at a small scale.

      3. Sometime later there was a bomb blast at Lusushwana bridge that prematurely exploded. Notably, the king was to travel on the same day. I seem to forget the year.

      4. In 2001, at the height of the Macetjeni royal evictions, an attempt was made on the king’s brother, the late Prince Maguga.

      5. In 2006 there was a number of petrol bomb attacks that targeted a number of Tinkhundla centres. I could record at least 40 of such petrol bombs attacks all happening at night Amongst some of the people attacked was government spokesperson and senior police officers. 16 PUDEMO activists were subsequently charged with High Treason but their case became a none starter to this day. (

    • Manqoba Nxumalo

      …………….Continued dearest Laura.

      6. In 2008 there was a bomb blast at Lozitha bridge that killed lawyer Musa MJ Dlamini and Jack Govendor. Even this time the king was to use the same bridge on the same night. (

      7. In 2008 there was a petrol bomb attacks that burned down the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service and led to it going off air temporarily. A similar attempt was made on the Swaziland Television authority but it impacted very little. (
      8. In 2009 an MTN satellite was bombed. In the same year there were widespread petrol bomb attacks targeting police officers and Members of Parliament leading to the arrest of Bheki Dlamini and Zonke Dlamini.

      9. There were also petrol bomb attacks at the Mbabane and Manzini Magistrate Courts.

      10. There were petrol bomb attacks at the university of Swaziland in 2008 and recently at Limkokwin University in 2010 (

      11. In 2006 the Star newspaper reported that a group of Swazis were training in Mpumalanga to overthrow the king (,+Michael+Schmidt,+Saturday+Star)

      12. During the trial of Mario Masuku, a defecting member of PUDEMO claimed to have been part of a secret military group in Swaziland.
      These attacks have not been captured and are, as argued, under reported. That is…

    • Laura Norder

      Dear Mr Nxumalo

      I do not dispute dispute any of the facts in your article, or the notes above. My point is that these facts do not support your conclusions that Swaziland is on the verge of “war” or that it “could have serious repercussions for the region’s fight for stability and peace”

      The evidence you cite in the article and the notes can be summed up as this.

      In the fourteen years from 1996 to 2010 there have been three proper bombs detonated, at least two of which exploded prematurely. Over the same time there have also been ten sporadic incidents of petrol filled bottles being thrown that are remarkable for the incompetence by which they fail to ignite or damage their targets.

      You have not offered any further activity since 2010.

      Regarding the political support for your argument.

      The Star article that you quote in point 11 states that “At no stage did the Saturday Star state the dissident’s claims of a nascent guerrilla force were proven”

      The evidence that you quote in point 12 is from the trial of Mario Masuku. It was thrown out of the Swazi court as unbelievable.

      Considering the recent histories of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and even KZN, I think that your conclusion that this Swazi level of politically motivated violence is enough to threaten the stability of the region is, simply, overstated.

      Swaziland’s pro-democracy movement needs international help. But to get that support its arguments need to be credible, practical,…

    • MrK

      ” Swaziland continues to be a rogue state with the dubious title of being the last absolute monarchy in Africa and one of four countries on the continent without multiparty democracy. ”

      Relevant information: Since 1904, the government of Swaziland depended on it’s income (upto 60% in recent years), on the Southern Africa Customs Union or SACU.

      In the name of ‘free trade’, SACU’s rules were re-written. Since then, the Swaziland government has been in a cash crisis, and the IMF/World Bank pressure, of course, has been on the reduction of local subsidies, civil service pay, the size of the army, etc.

      Everything to make it easier for the transnational corporations to loot their natural resources.

      That’s all. And the HIV/AIDS scam, is a scam in Swaziland too. It is known how they get the high national infection data, through extremely flawed and inaccurate antenatal clinic surveys.

      On the cause of Swaziland’s financial woes, I quote rom the Mail & Guardian:

      “pressure to devalue is growing as the country faces a fiscal crisis brought on by a 60% drop last year in revenues from a regional customs union, the government’s main source of income.”


      Neoliberal Free Trade is what is at the core of Swaziland’s problems.

    • http://http// Paul Whelan

      The King and his supporters are no doubt making hay while the sun shines. But ‘action’ by SADC or SA – it amounts to the same thing because SA is committed to multilateralism – is not going to happen anymore than it has happened on Zim and for the same reason: the overriding consideration is regional stability. This may be of interest:

    • Gary van Staden

      Swaziland is indeed a rogue state and an embarrassment to the international community. However, it is a long way from even a major uprising let alone a war. The argument posted by Manqoba Nxumalo makes the common mistake of confusing the demands and actions of a small group of urbanised, intellectual, educated, unionised, student and activist people with a majority opinion that remains largely untested.

      Some 80% of Swaziland’s tiny population liven in rural areas where traditional beliefs may (it cannot be stated any stronger because it is untested) be largely supportive of the monarchy and so far have remained passive over its actions and behaviour. While such a significant majority of Swazis live where they do and remain largely politically passive there is no prospect of any major political uprising in Swaziland and no need for the King to consider any reforms. If the activists determined to pursue a democratic agenda in Swaziland want to make progress then rural populations must be mobilised and that will not be a simple task.

      There is too much an element of intellectual “Coffee Shop Revolutionaries” about Swaziland political activism and success is not going to come about via media mobilisation but by mass mobilisation of people in parts of Swaziland where the activist’s seldom set foot. As a great man once said, there is no easy walk to freedom.

      Gary van Staden, Senior Africa Political Risk Analyst, NKC Independent Economists.

    • Brian Ntshangase

      Laurer Nauder

      I fail to understand why your argument has to be first based on the nickname of the author. I am just trying to figure out on how your knowledge of him renders him unable to figure out on what seems to be a recipe for a war. Or maybe you are trying to stigmatise the author?

      Secondly, i would like your enlightenment on what you would consider a recipe for war and what gives you the sole right to assume that you hold the patent to such an analysis. I would have suggested that the author request you for your war barometer, but please do pass it on to me because i am dying of curiosity.

      As a person that has lived in Swaziland for most of his life, i would very much concur with the author’s sentiments on a rage that might just catch us unaware if we continue with the outsourcing of the analysis. And it is a fact that this anger that engulfs the nation does show itself in the violent actions of the youth. As to the extent that a war in Swaziland would affect the region is contained in the expression ‘i am because you are.”

      As much as i would have liked to please you, i must disappoint you that my nickname is not Idi Amin, so when you respond to my comment you will have to base it on the content of my comment and not on the nickname.

    • Brian Ntshangase

      Dear Gary Van Staden

      First i would like to know what you base your analysis on. I would like to know where you get such reliable information that you should come to the conclusion you articulate. I would assume that you have been to Swaziland to touch base with 80% you claim to be so timid. Would you have predicted that Tunisia was as close to an uprising as it was just before the beginning of the Arab spring?

      recently i happened to attend a planning meeting where most of Swaziland was represented. there were political parties and civic organisations, a number of which were rural organisations.
      My gripe is that i have come across a number of these analysis and i find them to be devoid of current narrative. Actually in most cases i recognise a number of propaganda ‘truths’ distributed by the regime for the sole purpose of misleading. So to me at the moment the person with a better chance of a more correct analysis is one that interacts with the narrative as it writes itself. Being a senior political analyst does not help really if all you have is propaganda to analyse.

      Is there anything that can be labelled as a ‘coffee shop political analyst?’

      My take on the situation in Swaziland is that the discontent has been growing from as far back as i can remember. So regardless of the time frame, if it grows that means one day it must birth. So to say it is not around the corner so i must relax is a luxury i cannot afford. Or maybe we need to define ‘war’.

    • MrK

      This is the squeeze that is being put on the Swaziland government – and it is the whole predictable World Bank bag of tricks. Eliminating current sources of income from customs. Then, claiming a shortfall of government income, demanding a currency devaluation and budget cuts to make up the difference. And for the ‘property rights’ crowd, remember that currency devaluation is the stealing of the purchasing power of people’s savings and raising the cost of imported goods.

      This is followed by unrest that is so predictable, that former lead World Bank economist Paul Stiglitz even coined a name for it – The IMF Riots.

      I quote from the Mail & Guardian, “Swaziland must get its house in order, warns World Bank”, 22 May 2011, by Jinty Jackson:

      ” The government’s moves to slash its wage bill sparked large protests in April that were forcefully put down by King Mswati III’s regime. Police beat, detained and tear-gassed protesters, drawing condemnation from *international human rights groups.* ”

      These ‘human rights groups’ of course are captured as well, and there is a revolving door between Human Rights Watch and the US State Department.

      Then, there is the assault on national identity, which is what makes Swazis stand together instead of hating eachother for petty reasons. This is what the relentless attack on the Swazi King is all about.

      This is all so standard that it is completely predictable.

      Solution: reinstate SACU and the revenues that came…

    • Laura Norder


      For a war to be successfully waged in Swaziland you would need

      (i) an organisation capable of waging it
      (ii) popular local political support for it
      (iii) international political and financial support for the purchase of weapons etc.
      (iv) the support of SA or Mozambique governments to allow supply lines to be set up.

      Is there any reliable evidence in the article (or anywhere else) of even one of these?

      Mentioning Nxumalo’s political background was not a personal attack but an attempt to put some context on his perspective. As you know, there is a tendency for some of the more radical members of the Swazi pro-democratic movement to make unfounded predictions, and overstate their capability. In April 2012, you were the one who criticised “these self-professed revolutionaries – most of whom are apparently based in South Africa – and the rhetoric of the democratic movement. Especially as the predictions, that promise “a hundred thousand people on the streets” and a subsequent “revolution” turn out to be pretty far from the truth.”

      My argument now is the same as yours then when you also said “neither the masses nor the democratic movement at large seems to be buying it” to that I would add the regional and international political and diplomatic communities.

      For me, Nxumalo’s article simply fails to convince. And that is a shame, given that one of his complaints is the underreporting of Swaziland by the international media.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The SADC and ANC will prop up the Swazi monarchy just like they propped up Mugabe in Zimbabwe, the people can do nothing except get themselves killed.

    • MrK

      Solution: re-instate SACU.

      Am I talking too fast?

    • Laura Norder

      Mr K

      SACU is still in existence and accounts for up to 60% of the income of the Swazi government.

      This means that the ordinary SA taxpayer is supporting the lavishness of the King, his palaces, his fleet of luxury cars, the private jet, the trips for the wives to shop across the world. SACU is part of the problem not the solution. It absolves Swazi government from fiscal responsibility or democratic oversight and hides the reality that Swaziland is a state that lives far beyond its means.

    • MrK

      Hi Laura Norder,

      You are right, just over half state revenues in Swaziland still come from SACU, however where it now receives R1.9 billion (38%), it used to receive R5bn (100%) before ‘free trade’. More…

      Swaziland: A Gift for a King
      26 January 2012

      ” The R7 billion (US$879 million) Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) payout to Swaziland for the 2012-13 financial year could keep King Mswati III’s tottering government afloat for much of this year.

      ” It will cover approximately half the national budget and, crucially, will enable him to continue paying the R366-million monthly wage bill – pacifying the powerful public sector unions which provide the muscle to Swaziland’s resurgent pro-democracy movement.

      ” Sacu revenues are crucial for Swaziland. *Last year a change in the formula of Sacu disbursements to the customs union’s five members slashed Swaziland’s share by 62%,* to R1,9-billion, precipitating an economic crisis that fuelled opposition militancy and threatened to topple Mswati’s rule. ”


      In other words, changing SACU rules back to where they were, will roll back the economic crisis that this new reduction in the name of ‘free trade’ caused.

    • Pingback: Former Activist for Banned Political Party in Swaziland Jailed for Bombings | OccuWorld()

    • Laura Norder

      Mr K,

      The figures you quote show that Swaziland is getting 7 Bn from SACU not 1.9 Bn. The 2011 figure was reduced because of an overpayment in 2009 which had to be returned.

      The SACU formula is not transparent and an element of it is down to political discretion.

      Propping up an obscenely lavish royal family and a corrupt and oppressive government with SA taxpayers money without proper oversight or accountability is not a sustainable or a just thing to do.

    • MrK

      ” The figures you quote show that Swaziland is getting 7 Bn from SACU not 1.9 Bn. The 2011 figure was reduced because of an overpayment in 2009 which had to be returned. ”

      With conditionalities attached, and in tranches to ensure that the conditionalities are met.

      Ask the people of Greece what that results in.

      ” The SACU formula is not transparent and an element of it is down to political discretion. ”

      However it was unchanged until the ‘free trade’ agreement came into the picture.

      ” Propping up an obscenely lavish royal family and a corrupt and oppressive government with SA taxpayers money without proper oversight or accountability is not a sustainable or a just thing to do. ”

      It is also not the issue at hand.

      What we are seeing in Swaziland, are the usual cultural issues used to create a smokescreen for what Naomi Klein has labeled “The Shock Doctrine”,

      Which has an excellent chapter on what happened in South Africa, by the way, in Part 4, chapter 10 – ‘Democracy born in chains: South Africa’s Constricted Freedom’.