Times of Eswatini
Political parties’ wins at Sibaya 2012
There is nothing wrong with going to Sibaya to make your views heard. If I was not held up at work I would have gone there myself. I was pleased to note that some comrades went there to demand multiparties. Our role at Sibaya is to sharpen contradictions and show clearly the political route to be taken.” Manqoba Mabuza, a political activist, said these words as published by the Times of Eswatini daily newspaper on August 30, 2012, This was during a debate that was facilitated by another renowned political activist and Leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement ( PUDEMO) Mphandlana Shongwe. The debate was held at Caritas Centre in Manzini under the banner of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, which Shongwe led.
Another PUDEMO member, Maxwell Dlamini, who at the time was President of the Swaziland National Union of Students ( SNUS), moderated the debate. The deliberations were some form of a post- mortem to the Sibaya Dialogue, also referred to as People’s Parliament, which had been held at Ludzidzini Royal Residence, as commissioned by His Majesty the King, from August 7 to August 11, 2012.
That Sibaya Dialo gue could arguably be described as the most vibrant that the country has held in recent times. It was held at a time when there was tension in the country after over 100 teachers were fired by government for participating in a strike action that was known as ‘ waya waya’. There was also national concern that politicians were enriching themselves through the infamous Circular No. 1 of 2010, which gave them huge allowances during and after their term of office.
Also pertinent was the increasing calls for a change to the country’s system of government. There was the National General Elections that were scheduled for 2013 and some wanted political parties to be allowed to contest. The King, in his opening address at Sibaya, said the people should decide on how the elections should be conducted. “Next year is election year, so it is important to hear contributions of Sibaya.
Sibaya has to make suggestions about the direction to be taken in next year’s elections,” the King said.
When the King commissioned the People’s Parliament, therefore, even members of political parties who were always known to shun such platforms, turned up in numbers. Clearly, they had lobbied and encouraged each other to flock the Sibaya in numbers to make their voices heard. As one of the journalists who was covering the deliberations there, I remember how we discussed with other colleagues how the pro- multiparty voices appeared to be sounding louder than those in favour of the status quo. I still recall how those in favour of the status quo had to engage in impromptu discussions to devise ways to counter the growing numbers of those in support of changing the system of government. Their discussions seemed to have yielded the desired results because soon there was an increase in the number of submissions that supported the Tinkhundla System of Government. Even though at the conclusion of the Sibaya Dialogue, a report that was read by National Secretary Nhlanhla Dlamini said a majority of people who made submissions were in support of the status quo, a loud statement was made by the pro- multiparty voices.
Former Times Columnist Burns Dlamini wrote the following regarding the ‘ multipartism or pluralism’ subject as submitted within the Sibaya Dialogue: “While proponents of this ideology spoke until they frothed at the mouth, it was clear from the authorities that this was not a favourite topic because they appeared satisfied with the status quo. His Majesty for his part, in his summing- up the proceedings, appeared to have omitted pronouncing himself on this topic. Be that as it may, it does seem to me that the calls for this are getting louder by the day, meaning that the nation cannot continue to ignore this call. I fancy the idea of having opposition in Parliament, and it seems to me that having the Tinkhundla candidates split into Conservative and Progressive camps would not be a bad idea after all.” Burns couldn’t have said it any better. It was probably on this basis that the debate at Caritas Centre was held. In their deliberations, the pro- multiparty members of political parties said their involvement in the People’s Parliament was tactically planned to sharpen contradictions and influence public opinion on the need for the introduction of political parties.
They said their going to the Sibaya Dialogue was not a deviation from their previously conceived tendency to boycott the forum. However, they all agreed that Sibaya Dialogue was not a proper forum to address issues, in that people were given only five minutes to speak. The issue of the allocation of time was indeed a cause for worry as it raised the question of equality. As Burns put it, the way the then Ludzidzini Governor, Timothy Velabo Mtsetfwa, conducted the sessions was evidence that the class structure in the country continued to be upheld. Mtsetfwa was accused of giving more time to a certain class of speakers, while insisting on the allocated time limits for the ordinary people. Burns said what was glaringly clear, however, at the People’s Parliament was the fact that people were equal, but some were ‘ more equal than others’. That is probably one of the issues that have to be addressed in future dialogues of this nature so as to make it more meaningful and accommodating mo matter a person’s social class.
No matter the challenges that Sibaya presents, what happened in 2012 was testimony that an impact could still be achieved by those calling for political change. Political parties, in all fairness, did score small but significant wins during that dialogue. The late Jan Sithole sent the Royal Cattle Byre into a climax when he got the chance to make submissions. He tore the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini into sh reds, much to the applause of the emaSwati. Sithole spoke his mind and the approval he received from the crowd compelled the Ludzidzini Governor to allocate more time to him. After his submissions, some people scrambled to shake Sithole’s hands and applauded him for a good speech. President of the Ngwane National Liberatory Con gr ess(NN LC) Sibongile Mazibuko also made submissions and, at that time, she was President of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers ( SNAT). Mazibuko, who is known to always speak her mind, submitted that those close to the King were proponents of political parties. She said these people pretended to support the King, yet the opposite was true because they had already sold His Majesty out. “We’re tired of sell- outs. If we could investigate as to who is behind the formation of political parties, you will find that all those around the King are involved. The King would be left alone just like what happened to Jesus Christ when his disciples were nowhere to be seen and just like what happened to Saddam Hussein who found out that all those around him had run away to join the opposition,” Mazibuko told Sibaya. Her words, if you look at what is happening today, were right on the money. She warned that those around the King did not care about him, but only wanted the benefits that came with being in that proximity. What Mazibuko said resonated with many and such has since played itself out. The leaders and members of political parties who made submissions at Sibaya had certainly made an impact and people were taking note. Sibongile Mmema, the then SNAT executive member, also had a say and called for the introduction of multiparty democracy, which he said could co- exist with the monarch. She said this had been seen in countries such as the United Kingdom and was working perfectly.
I t was no wonder t hat t he l ate Prince Mahlaba, who was a senior member of the royal family, could not sit down and just watch but also took to the queue to make his submissions. The prince spoke as though his life depended on what he had to say. He expressed strong opinion against the introduction of multiparty democracy. He said the monarch and political parties could not co- exist, i nstead, t he nation should choose to have only one of the two. He said the statement by political parties that they would allow the monarch to exist, should they be allowed to govern, was not true because they would be corrupted by power and then begin to demand even the King’s authority.
“If we are not careful, the 2013 elections will confuse us. it is up to us to decide whether we want the King or multiparties. If you choose political parties, then it is finished for the King, there will be no more Sibaya. So, we should be careful of what we choose. Those who say there will be the King alongside multiparties are lying. There won’t be political parties and the King at the same time. It’s either the King or multiparties,” the Prince said. At the end of the Sibaya, the nation’s consensus, as said by the national secretary as he read his report, was to maintain the status quo, but that was highly questioned. It is in that re gard that in September 2013, SNAT’s Mmema went to court to seek that the report by the national secretary be made public. She wanted to be allowed to register for the elections as candidates of political parties. That application failed. Be that as it may, the voice of political parties was heard during that Sibaya Dialogue.
Were these groups to engage inanesca lated lobbying ahead of the proposed Sibaya Dialogue, which government insists will be the route to betaken as part of the country’s Constitution, the small wins that were made in 2012 could be turned into significant victories. As Shongwe ( Mphandlana) said during the Caritas debate, the manifesto of PUDEMO espouses traditional authorities, but sees the need to make them comply with democratic principles. That could be achieved at Sibaya.