Mbabane: Sometimes smart people are extremely dangerous. Blinded by their own brightness, they can’t see what is right in front of them. That’s the lesson of Job—as in Job of Bible fame. He was so talented, smart and good that he couldn’t see he was guilty of one of the most dangerous sins of all—self-righteousness.
As you read this, our country’s crisis is continuing to descend into violent conflict, with the bombing of state institutions and attacks against security forces on the rise. At the same time, brutal repression of protests and apparent abductions of civil society members continue.
At the end of it, there will no winners in this. The country is in difficult situation. Last year in November 2021, in his wisdom, King Mswati III promised President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa that the country will hold a national dialogue once done with the incwala ceremony.
Fast forward to today, almost a year later, the national dialogue is not insight, with poor justification from government that it will hold dialogue once the environment is conducive.
First of all, His Majesty King Mswati III with his pool of advisers were not supposed to commit to the dialogue if they were not ready. The statement from the monarchy about dialogue was not only directed to SADC Chair of TROIKA Cyril Ramaphosa but to the whole global community.
What’s the meaning of conducive in government’s dictionary
The question of the environment being not conducive is neither-here-nor there. In 2012, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), a union of teachers led by their then President Sibongile Mazibuko (NNLC President) held a strike that lasted about 28 days. The country was in turmoil and other sectors including other formations joined the strike. The then Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini ordered the Ministry of Education under the leadership of Minister Wilson Makhalemphi Ntshangase to fire all the teachers who absent from schools.
When nurses at the Mbabane government hospital attempted to start a march from the building, police in riot gear blocked them. The nurses in response, danced in the parking lot and sang protest songs. In late July, a group of several dozen parents of children attending the abandoned schools attempted to deliver a petition to Parliament, demanding a raise for teachers, but police blocked them. They gathered in a nearby field and sang protest songs.
On 19 July, the country’s industrial court ruled the strike illegal and the government won an interdict against the strike. Following the strike ban, the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SDNU) nurses returned to work but engaged in a go-slow protest. The large majority of teachers continued to strike despite the court ruling as the strike came to represent larger demands of a government held accountable by the people.
On 24 July, the government issued a mandate for teachers to return to work. Many teachers returned to the classroom but did not teach. The next day, nearly 3,000 teachers marched in the two towns of Siteki and Manzini. Swaziland’s Teaching Service Commission (TSC) fired all teachers participating in or planning to join the strike. Starting on 01 August, the TSC began firing hundreds of teachers, including all SNAT executives, who temporarily suspended the strike to reconvene and discuss tactics for moving forward.
The majority of Swazis supported the teacher strike and thought that teachers should be reinstated and given the pay increase. The king allowed for a three day Sibaya (People’s Parliament) meeting to commence on 7 August.
Following popular uproar at the meeting over the dismissal of teachers, King Mswati ordered their reinstatement during the last week of August. However, he did not grant the pay raise for teachers.
What danger is the country then facing now that it’s refusing to hold a national dialogue. What is different now than in 2012. Is government afraid of Facebook? What else is new in 2022.
The Cabinet should agree that the ground is more fertile now than it was in 2012 for mass protest action. If so, why government is not engaging in its own reforms.
Is the unrest pushed by Minority?
The government spokesperson was quoted having said that the country can’t and will not be pushed to dialogue at gun point. He said there was a small element driven by a minority with outside funding to topple a constitutional government.
The Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini also joined Alpheus Nxumalo’s outburst in his first interview with CNN, one of the most watched news channels in the world, he said the people who were protesting in the country are less than 10 percent of the population.
The biggest question then is that, if the agenda for the national dialogue is pushed by a minority, why then is the majority not given the promised dialogue so that they can map the future of their country forward.
The country is faced with so many challenges, including corruption, jobs, lack of satisfactory education and a deteri0rating health system amongst others. All these problems need the nation to come together at a round table.
The hospital hill has never mentioned, since the new PM was appointed in July last year how they want to solve the country’s problems post covid. The young people who by the way are majority of this country are jobless. The health system in this country can’t afford a pain killer. Then we have a whole cabinet saying all this important discussion should wait because someone somewhere is sending a voice note. Really?
Protesters are not saints
We all know who are biggest losers in this violence. The poor people in the rural communities who cannot afford three meals a day. A security guard who relies on government for his son’s tertiary scholarship will the looser. The majority of the masses will be the losers in this violence.
A recent Institute for Security Studies closed webinar showed that the lack of consensus in the situation, including among political parties and civil society in Eswatini, is a major stumbling block to talks.
Protesters are becoming more militant, and the emergence of the Swaziland International Solidarity Forces further complicates the crisis. The group claimed responsibility for the January bombing that killed a police officer. Political parties also seem to be gravitating towards violence.
Calls by the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) President in July for the party’s ground forces to be vigilant and attack key state institutions added fuel to the fire.
Like Job, we are all talented, smart and good but we cannot see that we are all guilty of one of the most dangerous sins of all—self-righteousness.