I was in prison 6 September 2018 doing time for Terrorism and Public Order Acts charges when King Mswati III changed Swaziland’s name to eSwatini, a name we have always known and used to refer to our country but have only always used it informally because Swaziland was the real name of the country and eSwatini a nickname. 

Prior to the fateful day all inmates across the country’s prisons were hoping for the king’s pardon and early release because the country was celebrating 50 years of independence and the king was celebrating his 50th birthday. Little did we know that in the king’s mindset there was no plan of festivities for inmates but only making a decree about the country’s name. As he concluded his speech, I could see the gloomy and hopeless faces of young and old inmates. “The king has missed the mark for the first time,” they said. The king had lost his people’s confidence.

The king has, for many years, been regarded as a father-figure by many Swazis and international figures. He was regarded as a good and caring shepherd. All across the country and in all walks of life he was seen as a champion for the good life and peace Swazis were enjoying. Even in prison you couldn’t speak bad about the king without being opposed by most inmates and warders. He was the king of all and the darling of the people of Swaziland. Political prisoners would have a hard time around wardens and inmates who were so obsessed about their darling, Mswati III. No one ever imagined that the people would see their king as he really is. A dictator.

I remember that I would mention to some wardens and inmates in a hushed tone that Swaziland would eventually be free and they would ask how. Three years ago, no one could predict that there was a wave of change coming. Political activists in the country can attest that it has been very tough because we were pushing the call for freedom without any pointers towards success. It was always commitment versus hardship. Being an activist under the Mswati regime has been difficult for any activist residing in Swaziland. I can’t spell out what happened to change this but something did happen. Some MPs started spelling out the need for the king to be stripped of some of the powers he has, which delay or derail the country’s development, and attach them to an executive prime minister elected by the people.

It seemed like the MPs were being crazy or suicidal. It has always been known that parliament is King Mswati’s footstool. It was shocking therefore to see these MPs speaking so loud against the king and his powers with courage and fearlessness. Prior to these MPs, Thulani Maseko, an attorney, had been busy at the high court arguing that the king lacked the power to change the country’s name without consulting the people of Swaziland. Up to date no ruling has been made on the matter even though it is known that many people were affected by the name changing of the country. We won’t forget that under Mswati’s rule the courts are there to do his bidding. What the king won’t support, the courts will not warrant. 

King Mswati has recently demonstrated a strong desire to be a state capturer. The name change is believed to be the king’s idea alone. He did not consult society, parliament or any known body about his desire to change the country’s name. The confusion with him is that he believes Swaziland belongs to him personally and all the country’s resources belong to him. That surely has been planted over the years as he continues to pick and eat as he likes from the country’s wealth. The rates of poverty engulfing this country’s population and the lack of proper equipment and medication in hospitals and clinics tell us that money that ought to develop the field of medicine in the country goes to the king. That is why for serious medical operations we jump to South Africa. Swaziland lacks everything, yet the king has everything. 

King Mswati failed so dismally to see that his popularity was shifting over the years. He continued to believe that he is loved by all, yet people are seeking alternatives to him. Political parties and their leaders are becoming more famous with the public and the MPs are supporting the call for change and democracy. Everyone who seeks to portray Mswati as good quickly becomes an enemy of the masses. Mswati is now being preyed on by the very people he fooled for years. No single person can say they could see this coming. We were all hoping for the better but the best is happening now. We are fast-pacing to democracy. This generation seems to have forgotten who King Mswati is. This is as a result of the fact that the king’s police and army kill our people; they are on the streets every day calling for freedom and democracy. All are saying in one voice that “Mswati must fall”. No one among the population is confident any longer to say we love the king. We are hurting. We want change. State capture cannot continue. The people are watching. They want their freedom and they so much want to rid themselves of this parasitic Mswati regime. He changed the country’s name to eSwatini without consulting the nation and now this eSwatini country of his is doing something that Swaziland never did to him. I think he just needed to pardon inmates and move on that day. Maybe he wouldn’t be feeling this heat. He messed with the wrong generation.

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Thantaza N Silolo

Thantaza N Silolo is a political activist and president of the People's Front in Eswatini

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