Friday, October 11, 2013


Twice the youth of koNtshingila have marched in protest against an injustice to be denied the right to be ruled by their own chief. They even had to climb a mountain to reach Hlatikhulu town where some of theirs had been incarcerated by the police for the protest. Apparently the youth were made aware that police were blocking the entrance routes to Hlatikhulu, hence the choice of using the less travelled paths.

A protest in London against Human Rights abuses in
Now that a few of the dissenters have been charged with Sedition, it is unclear who the ringleaders are. Knowing the judicial system of Swaziland it is doubtful if this case’s conclusion would have fingered the real “perpetrators”.

It has almost become common practice that police investigators must use torture as a means of probing a case, especially cases of the sedition that have become a default charge for whoever disapproves or complains about the authorities. It is doubtful if motive will form part of the argument for Tinkhundla regime, because “confession statements” have become the gold standard within the Swazi Judicial system.

This case is likely to drag for a few more months, and there is a high possibility that the evidence brought in court will be so flimsy that it will boil down to the magistrate giving the alleged seditionists a sentence for arson and the censored publications selling the final story as nothing but a bunch of disgruntled youth who set the grass on fire.

The first appropriate question would pertain to ascertaining what the youth of koNtshingila stand to gain from the protest. Judging from their number one demand of wanting the enthronement of their own chief, it becomes clear that they would not be the prime benefactors of the spoils of the protest. They might find favour with the newly enthroned chief, but their benefits would more or less be restricted to being borrowed more pieces of land and being the starring-extras in a feast prepared by the chief in honour of the “protest heroes”. The rest of the bounty would be enjoyed by the chief with family and friends.

Normally spoils of chiefdom are a stretch of land that the chief can borrow to whoever they find worthy to be a resident of the chiefdom. Together with the right of apportioning the land, the chief also earns the right to extract tribute from the subjects, and crimes that fall under local jurisdiction also come with fines in the form of cows, goats and cash, which also form part of the Chief’s accumulation structure, which is outside of the special tribute extracted strictly to be surrendered to the king.  

It is doubtful that the youth of koNtshingila could be the chief architects of the protest in the light that they stand to gain so little from a favourable aftermath. But their bravery and resilience is proof enough that the ringleaders correctly identified a youth in need of an answer. Arming the youth with the wrong question, the ring leaders must have watched in amusement as the youth eagerly earned themselves prison time while they (ringleaders) earned themselves the audience of the royal family to again raise a discussion that seemed to have been dying a permanent death through neglect.

The second appropriate question would pertain to ascertaining if the youth will receive a fair trial, or maybe that the whole affair will be dismissed with a superficial explanation that, a traditionally oriented group of young people who defied the norm of questioning their elders and by default committed a taboo of infuriating the “ancestors”, will be found guilty for a simplistic offence as calling for an allegedly overdue enthronement of a chief. 

As things stand, a traditional matter is being tried through modern courts, while at the same time being mediated at a traditional level. Once again progress will be stalled as two governing systems compete for authority. It is almost a given that this will also end up twenty one shades of indecision as modern law tries to accommodate traditional norms that are stubborn to conform to the norm of human rights and a modern law that has now and again not been adhered to by traditional authorities because Swazi customary law still holds sway over an authority at pains to justify and maintain a system that has served as a perfect camouflage for illegal accumulation.

With little chance of forcing surrogacy of the youth’s “delinquency” onto the pro-democracy camp by the Tinkhundla regime, as has always has been the practice, it then opens up an opportunity for it (the Tinkhundla regime) to finally concede that what has been asserted by pro-democratic organisations for all these years is in effect true; that there is a an overwhelming element of counter productiveness with these contradicting governing systems, and that maybe to look for an alternative coherent system would be the best solution.

A case of striking teachers where the king intervened without consulting with the executive and the judicial arms of the government remains to this day unresolved and is an enduring ticking time bomb because of the disjointedness of these two systems.
In a 2013 discussion paper on Justice Sector and the Rule of Law, Maxine Langwenya observes that, “Inconsistencies between Swazi law and international human rights standards also exist with regard to the right to a fair trial. There are many other statutory and customary laws which are currently in force in Swaziland, despite being inconsistent with international norms on human rights, the rule of law and the delivery of justice.”

Almost ten years earlier when the IBA (International Bar Association) sent a mission to Swaziland in January 2003, led by Dr Phillip Tahmindjis, IBA Programme Lawyer, one of their recommendations was that, “There should be a clear constitutional or statutory provision acknowledging and clarifying the relationship between, and the status of, Roman-Dutch common law and customary law in Swaziland.”

It seems like once again the two judicial authorities are heading for another convenient clash where the collateral will be the youth  or the "citizens" of koNtshingila. It is doubtful if the youth will even taste the scraps of victory considering that the no-nonsense Gelani accused of being an acting chief for more than two decades enjoys connections in the highest of places.

It is not obvious if the Tinkhundla judicial system will use the youth of koNtshingila as an example to aspiring “revolutionaries” who want to stage uprisings within the feudal system, that such will be met with stiff sentences equal to those of the “terrorists” that are presently languishing in jail without being given decent trials, or maybe that it might sell it as a case of a bunch of delinquent youth who smoked one too many joints of the home-grown, and dismiss the youth’s uprising as, Buntfwana (Childishness). 

The regime can also choose to be forward thinking and use this case as a landmark case to stop and think of the orientation of the population’s support; to really ascertain if the winds of change are not nippy enough to initiate meaningful change other than a constitution authored in the royal court.

Cases like these cannot be sold as “unSwazi” influence of the pro-democratic movement. These youth have shown that there is discontent as strong as a raging grass fire within the population.  The statistics are that, around 80% of the eligible voters - according to government figures and estimations of pro-democracy observer missions - either boycotted the election or were uninterested. Those that voted inexplicably signified the need for change as they voted for an almost entirely new House of Assembly, while giving an effective vote of no confidence to some of the individuals that were evidently favoured by the system during their time in office.

 But again with the system having acquired the bad habit of laughing in the face of inevitable change, the king confidently decided he was not going to complement even the overwhelming vote of the minority, but by sticking to mostly family members when appointing the rest of the unelected legislators. In his way he again braved nature and its inevitable change, and once more he has had another laugh at the expense of the inevitable in continuation with the perpetration of nepotism.

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