Call for solidarity with the Swazi masses
On the 17th May 2021 the death of student, Thabani Nkomonye, at the hands of the Swazi police, sparked a revolutionary uprising that is still sweeping across Swaziland. By the 28th June the hated King Mswati III fled the country. The masses are demanding an end to the monarchy and for democracy and an end to unemployment and hunger.
Background to the revolution
According to D Hugh Gillis’s book, The Kingdom of Swaziland, the country used to be 10 times bigger than what it currently is today. If it was not for land grabs by the Boer republics and British imperialism, Swaziland would have included parts of Mpumalanga and KwazuluNatal provinces of South Africa.
The story of Swaziland is the story of Africa. By 1880 imperialism only controlled 10% of Africa. By 1913 it controlled 90%. It gained control by force, by lies, by subterfuge, by blatant robbery. The land had to be converted to capital; the masses had to be dispossessed and there had to be a creation of a reserve army of labour, a proletariat. That the different imperialist powers gained total control of the world by 1913 laid the basis for the fundamental decline of capitalism as the only way further expansion could now take place was through direct inter-imperialist war. This laid the basis for the first and second world imperialist wars that killed hundreds of millions of the masses. The epoch of war also laid the basis for civil wars and revolutions as the masses are not passive players in history.
The Boer republics claimed to have documents signed by Mswati II and his main leadership that traded most of Swaziland for 170 head of cattle. The documents are disputed as there is no record of the agreement being put to the broader tribal council. Irrespective of this, in 1881, after the defeat of the British at Majuba Hill, the imperialists signed an agreement with Pretoria, the head of the SA Boer Republic, that enforced the dispossession of most of the land of the Swazis. By 1902 the British had defeated the Free State and SA Republic (Transvaal) and thereafter enforced a European Swaziland (incorporated into the Union of SA) and the native reserve, where Swaziland currently is. European Swazi land had gold mines and best agricultural land.
The Swazi monarchs had a history of collaboration with British imperialism, supplying their subjects as cheap labour on the mines and farms and in the earlier period as well as military support against the Pedi and Zulu resistance.
The pre-colonial Swazi chiefdoms already had class divisions among them in that the army was already rising as a force above the tribal councils, the role of women were already that of being subjugated to male domination. The army was developing as a force separate from the councils in that the spoils of war were being increasingly used to expand the royal establishment. There is evidence of 200 000 years of human occupation of the region, ie from the stone age. There were period of intermingling of the San and later the Khoi, with the Swazi and Nguni gens.
The 1917 February and October Russian revolutions, the 1949 Chinese revolution, the 1959 Cuban revolution and other uprisings against colonialism forced imperialism to think of a new form of rule. They were forced to grant formal political independence while maintaining economic and indirect political control, rather than risk losing everything through revolutionary uprisings. From the 1950’s then, a period of neo-colonialism opened up.
In 1968 Swaziland was granted formal political independence on a capitalist basis. By 1973 Sobhuza II imposed an absolute monarchy, suppressing the few democratic rights won by the masses.
The role of imperialism in supporting the absolute monarchy and the suppression of the democratic aspirations of the Swazi masses
As imperialism has done throughout Africa when a coup occurs or suppression of democratic aspirations occurs, they support such measures as it means the suppression of independent indigenous capital or bringing its development under its control as an instrument of total domination of the masses. Imperialism has often instigated coups and certainly supported the rise of the absolute monarchy in Swaziland.
If imperialism willed it they could have suppressed the monarch. They didn’t. They propped up its reactionary tribal base as a means of control.
The rule of the Queen Shangwe in 1982 and the Queen mother, Ntfombi Tfwala, in 1984 did not break the rule of imperialism nor advance women’s rights. The coronation of Mswati III in 1986 continued imperialist control. In 2005, under pressure from the masses a new Constitution was introduced with the tinkundla system just another form of rule by the tribal chiefs in 55 rural constituencies and with a further 12 urban councils, which are all still dominated by the monarch who appoints 20 of the 30 Senate seats as well as 10 members of parliament. Thus an increased stake for the middle class was the price paid for continued imperialist domination.
The impoverishment of the rural peasantry, the creation of a reserve army of labour and the conversion of the land into capital was achieved by various means:
- In the land formerly part of Swaziland, the Afrikaner Boers usurped the land, and in partnership with British imperialism, created bantustan reserves, which supplied semi-feudal slaves for the rising commercial farms as well as labour for the mines. The African masses were also forcibly removed to make way for gold and other mines for British imperialism.
- In the Swaziland native reserve, the monarch controlled 60% of the land and acting as a capitalist, leased the best parts of it to imperialist operations for mines and sugar plantations, forestry and textile manufacturing. Where there were peasants living on the land they were forcibly removed by the state. Where there was independent production elsewhere, many forced removals also were conducted by the state. Where there were too few workers for the capitalist sugar plantations the state offered land to peasant families to farm, provided the produce went to the state and from there to the imperialist corporation. Such families were often promised the land but after the term expired the state went back on its word.
The case of the Royal Swazi Sugar corporation is very instructive:
Coca Cola has a sugar concentrate factory in Swaziland which supplies its operations throughout Southern Africa. Thus, although it only has a 2% stake in the Royal Swazi Sugar Corporation, it has decisive control over it. Thus the percentage stake in a firm does not determine control; the operations agreement struck behind the scenes is decisive. The Royal Swazi Sugar Corporation directly controls 15 607 hectares of land of sugar cane and a further 5018 hectares of small farmers that are totally tied to it. The state provides the ready supply of wage slaves and small peasants to ensure imperialist operations are continuous.
The Royal Swazi Sugar Corporation produces 3.6 million tons of cane per season. The shareholder structure is quite revealing:
53,1% owned by Mswati III
10% Govt of Nigeria
7% Govt of Swaziland
26,3% TSB Sugar International
Thus the R322 million of annual declared profits, which could have gone to health care and job creation are being pocketed by individual capitalists and the political elite.
Mswati III takes shares in every company operating in Swaziland. All the capitalist companies operating in Swaziland accept that and are complicit in the brutal dictatorship. TSB International has among other shareholders: Remgro (of the Rupert family) , Imbewu Consortium and Ikamva Labantu Empowerment Trust. Thus, monopolies of Afrikaner capital and the new black elite from SA have a stake in propping up the monarchy in Swaziland. The true meaning of the rainbow nation is the total subjugation of the African masses under exploitation by imperialism, for a few coins of silver for the black elite. This once again proves that the African middle class cannot be relied on for any democratic gain and shows that only the working class, independently organised, can advance the struggle for basic democratic demands.
Time and again the monarchy, like other capitalist regimes throughout Africa, have implimented the neo-colonial agenda of imperialism, by advancing the privatization programme of state assets as proposed by the IMF. The entry of MTN and Vodacom into the telecoms in Swaziland is evidence of this and their shutting of the internet in support of Mswati shows that they are interested in profits and not the democratic aspirations of the masses. Ironically, one of the biggest shareholders in MTN is the Government Employees Pension Fund of South Africa. Cosatu played a major role in the establishment and building up of MTN but sits with folded hands while MTN tramples on the Swazi masses.
The deliberate collapse of the health care system while massive profits are being extracted by imperialism shows that the HIV crisis is used as a tool to destabilise the revolutionary Swazi proletariat. 26% of the population is HIV +. This could have been prevented through having a functioning health care system which does not have to re-use needles and medical equipment.
Towards a programme of action
The uprising in Lesotho post 1994 shows that the biggest danger is from armed intervention from the SA state. Swaziland has highly advanced industrialised sectors together with a declining peasantry and huge rural proletariat. We support the calls of the CPS for a total break with the monarchy. No compromise. To this end we call for consideration of the following:
- The immediate setting up of workers’ councils in all major industrial sectors: sugar, textile, forestry, and in banking
- Such delegates should be elected by their general meetings of workers and be subject to instant recall;
- These workers’ councils should be combined with delegates from community councils, also subject to instant recall.
- These urban and rural workers councils should immediately set up an interim revolutionary government which should include representatives of democratic and workers organizations but exclude the monarchy and tribal chiefs. The immediate arrest of the monarch, his appointees and heads of the army and the police.
- These workers councils should set up militias that are under its control and they should campaign for the rank and file of the army to send delegates.
- The officer cast in the army must be abolished and all positions of leadership must be elected, be it in the army or the judiciary.
- No leader should get a salary more than the wage of a skilled worker.
- Workers control over the sugar, forestry, mines, textile, banks and other large industries. Immediate nationalization of the land and in particular the land of the monarch, to be placed under worker and small farmer control. An immediate end to land evictions and reversal thereof. Immediate seizure of all imperialist assets and for them to be placed under workers’ control.
- All assets of the monarchy must be seized and placed under workers control; immediate workers control over the banks and all foreign transactions.
- The interim government should open the way for a Constituent Assembly without preconditions, where 1 delegate per 1000 or part thereof is elected to draft a new constitution and to implement a democratic programme. All organizations of poor peasants, if they exist, should be encouraged to send delegates to the Constituent Assembly to ensure their views and demands are heard;
- For a consultation and referendum among all the masses in the areas of South Africa that were in former Swaziland, on the way forward, be it reincorporation or establishment of a federation.
- For a federation of workers socialist states in Southern Africa, towards a Union of workers socialist states of Africa.
- For immediate solidarity or food, medicines, and other forms of solidarity actions in support of the revolutionary masses in Swaziland. All workers organizations such as Saftu, Cosatu, Nactu, SRWP, etc, should be encouraged to give real solidarity to the Swazi masses.
- We note that the Swazi masses reject the name Eswatini; The question of the name should be determined by the Constituent Assembly.
- For the immediate enacting of democratic demands such as freeing of all political prisoners; unbanning of all organizations; allowing all exiles to return; for immediate freedom of the press; freedom of association, etc.
Issued by Workers International Vanguard League
5 July 2021
- Listed and unlisted companies in Africa 2020, produced by Who Owns Whom, 40th Edition (print).