Saturday, November 16, 2013


welfare-state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life.

Transportation in Norway
Modern welfare states include the Nordic countries, such as IcelandSwedenNorwayDenmark, and Finland which employ a system known as the Nordic model.

A friend recently asked me how “workable” is the idea of a welfare state because in his understanding you can’t empower anybody by giving him the fish. Since he is a believer in the “fishing rod” way of doing things, I told him that what welfare states do is to avail a huge fishing boat that hauls in thousands of fish at a time. In the meanwhile the state keeps giving the individual the fish with the knowledge that sooner rather than later s/he will jump in the boat to go fishing because the temptation of enjoying the fruits of the boat load are much more compelling than the incentives of sitting around and enjoying the benefits of rationed fish. The boat in this instance signifying the high quality education and all the social well-being benefits offered in Nordic welfare states which rank as one of the best in the world.

Vito Laterza in his article written for Al Jazeera argues that the indigenous economies and social systems of Southern Africa in general and Swaziland in particular haven’t been given enough space and time to prove their case as tangible economies and social structures that could actually serve as alternative economies especially for the areas in question. He later argues in a Blog that such suppression of the local way of doing things is partly due to the democracy imported from the north. He further argues that the reason that people in Swaziland are not decisively calling for multi-party democracy is because they have seen the unworkability of the system and they feel safer with the, “old time religion”.

The structuring of democratic institutions might differ and also it might be a product of academia, but democracy in its essence is contained within the idea of fairness, so it is not unequivocally true that it can be imported. The fact that the call for multi-party democracy has been long in coming is because there has been a state sponsored campaign since the time of king Sobhuza II, which has worked day and night to demonise plurality, the schools have been used as propaganda institutions, and all the media in Swaziland is state controlled. So to say Swazis have not been heeding the call for democracy because they see value in the present Tinkhundla system is not an honest assertion.

However much I have tried to look at it, I have never really understood the concept of, “African solutions for African problems”. But such a statement has come to enjoy more legitimacy as the witch-hunt for the “imperialist” intensifies, and multinational corporations are trotting the globe under the protection of sovereign flags. We have been divided and ruled so many times that we too advocate for division as a way of dealing with the colonial post traumatic side effects that present themselves as hate rhetoric that is sold as self-assertion when in reality it is the lessons that  we have learned from master that, “the only way to gain control is by setting up, racial, religious, national, continental, and sexual groups”, which can then be asserted as exceptional entities thereafter the philosophy  that hold one man superior and another inferior rages like wild fire. When will we ever identify and assert ourselves as purely human beings and not the schisms that we have limited ourselves to? We have been hijacked and exploited by the global industrial complex and our search and rescue efforts have been almost exclusively focused on Western governments and not the multinational corporations that, in ignorant support we have - on our way to the witch hunt - bought one commodity or the other sold by one or the other of their myriad appendages.

The article by Vito Laterza seems to suggest that there must be, “Swazi solutions for Swazi problem”.  Not to isolate the article because there are those who believe that Swaziland will be liberated in a bubble, oblivious of the global context, some of which being well-meaning political activists. I am sure that Vito enjoys the security of a title deed or the comfort of a lease agreement wherever he is dwelling, but he then suggests that such comfort should not be enjoyed by Swazi people but that the latter should be grateful for the privilege of occupying space at a “minimal” fee.  It is clear that this twisted “freedom for the Nobles” and “freedom for the commoners” still lays latent within collective thought, and now and again it presents itself as the, “more equal, and less equal”, commodity that it is.

The article, at arriving at this “gratitude” that Swazis should feel, bypasses an integral part of the debate, which is that of Swazis being given back the land they were disposed of by the royal family, the colonial administration and foreign capital. As there is no credible documentation of who was disposed of what, that an equal redistribution of certain portions of land to those willing to work the land should be the first order of business. After such redress and an informed stocktaking, after which it is then that the issue of welfare and the extent thereof can be debated. The misconception has always been the assumption that throwing wholesale charity at the problem will solve it. Well, it has been done from the sixties by the West and clearly it is not working so the idea that direct involvement in the economy must be the solution must be a correct one because the throwing of the scraps in the direction of “the poor” is obviously having an opposite effect of the desired result.

Having commented on the article previously, I’m again compelled - by the author’s blog which still maintains  the claim that kukhonta (land tenure where the chief gives of land in exchange for a lifetime of unquestioning loyal indenture) has legitimacy in the future of Swaziland. To argue that kukhonta system is not only not similar to a welfare-state system but that it is an antithesis of the system, especially the Nordic Model.

Even though the article goes a long way into outlining the state of affairs in Swaziland, it falls short of selling its thrust point which is that of presenting the kukhonta tenure system as some form of welfare-state system. What the article misses is that the welfare state system ‘s main selling point is not grounded in charity but providing means to fall back onto before, in between, and after productive involvement in the economy of any given individual and how the social structures ensures that such an individual does not disintegrate into a statistic. The fact that the kukhonta system with its allocation of limited land barely addresses sustenance production which is not even a whisper of the real welfare-state system which goes beyond the economical need and addresses the myriad aspects of social well-being.

Actually to insinuate that any aspect of the Tinkhundla system somehow resembles a welfare-state system, especially the Nordic Model, comes across as an insult to real welfare if we consider that even the meagre elderly grant was historically founded as a tool to enforce loyalty and not a genuine means to address the plight of the elderly, which is evidenced in uncaring manner in which the initiative has been handled by the Tinkhundla regime where the initial value of the grant has drastically decreased even after an increase of 10%.

In my opinion Finland is one of the countries that serve as an example of a welfare system gone fantastically right, or rather a welfare state system that has been excellently managed and administered. The Finns make sure that all children get fed by providing free meals at school. They subsidize student travel, which they feel is a major part of the education process. 93% of Finns graduate from high school. All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized. The United Nations World Happiness Report 2013 shows that the happiest nations are concentrated in Northern Europe, with Denmark topping the list. The Nordics ranked highest on the metrics of real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity.

For the author of the article to put the Tinkhundla regime and the word “welfare” in one sentence took me aback, and for him to further rally on a claim he hasn’t conclusively argued, is in my opinion irresponsible because the reality is that we are dealing with the livelihoods of people who on a daily basis have to undergo one of the most poor living conditions seen on the globe today. It is my hope that the author of the article can write a paper that conclusively argues the claim that the kukhonta system carries any qualities of a welfare system or retract his claims. Having grown up under the system and having endured the nuances of its cruelty,  it is my opinion that his claims that the kukhonta system resembles a welfare-state system are unfounded and cannot be substantiated but as debate is such a free commodity, the author is more than welcome to argue his beliefs.

Just to state the obvious that if the article written by Vito for Al Jazeera was to be written by a Swazi activist and if such an activist were to find himself at arm’s length of the Royal Swaziland Police, surely that wretched soul would be strapped with handcuffs, slapped with a sedition charge and thrown into a filthy holding cell; and that is a fact which is a regular occurrence in Swaziland, and the only “welfare” given in Swazi prisons is meagre food rations, intimidation and torture.

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