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Swaziland: Liberation without Nationalism?

Historically there were close links between the ANC and Swazi elites and even workers. The Swazi monarchy took part in the founding of the ANC in 1912, and Queen Regent Labotsibeni provided the capital for the launching of Congress' newspaper, Abantu-Batho. Congress leaders were part of a Swaziland delegation to England.104 What I would like to examine is the relationship between Swazi workers and the current Swazi [national] liberation movement, PUDEMO. Richard Levin argues that competing forms of nationalism developed in a decolonising Swaziland: a more "tribalised" conservative form, and a (Pan-) African nationalism with links to workers' struggles. The Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), formed in 1963, with a Nkrumahist and vaguely-socialist policy took a prominent role in large-scale strikes by sugar, wood, asbestos and other workers, stimulated by rising unemployment and the freezing of wages, that took place on the eve of independence, in defiance of King Sobhuza, prompting the authorities to call on British troops. In 1972 elections three opposition victories in working-class electorates were construed as anti-Royalism, and effectively annulled by the imposition of a Royal State of Emergency, which saw the banning of meetings and dissolution of trade unions__the radical National Union of Teachers was banned. The NNLC "appealed to the workers," according to Joshua Mugyenyi, who characterises it as petty bourgeois and their brief alliance with workers as "the nearest to a popular alliance Swaziland has ever had," but with a narrow base that foundered on a peasantry submissive to state control through land.105 Similarly Levin suggests that in contrast to worker protests, the lack of peasant mobilisation is based on the achievement of ruling class hegemony on the land question. Laurel Rose's work on the harmonising of land disputes, and Paul Bowen's thesis on local rural politics and the role of "traditional" ideology make a similar point.106 Like the period after the banning of the ANC in South Africa, a political vacuum occurred in the opposition, although worker-nationalist links made may have endured underground. The death of Sobhuza II in 1982, and the gradual inauguration of his successor, Prince Makhosetive, ushered in not only a dynastic power struggle, but a more prominent opposition, including student protests and the distribution of opposition leaflets in rural areas in 1983, inducing a partial boycott of the 1983 election. South African pressure, seen in the armed raid against the ANC in Lesotho in December 1982, and increasingly violent Swazi government repression of the ANC and internal opposition at this time and after Nkomati, in concert with Pretoria, made opposition difficult.107

80% of the Swazi Nation is dependent in some way on wages, especially migrant labour. Manipulation of land interests and traditional-National images by the monarchy and the allied Tibiyo structure, including the use of the Tinkundla councils, has encouraged corruption and opportunism, making class alliances amongst exploited classes more difficult. Margo Russell notes that in a 1978 survey 82% of rural homesteads had at least some members in wage labour, 32.75% of adults were in paid employment, with 76% of absentees working inside the country.108 Workers were compelled to rely on works councils, which management chaired, and which provided no form of national union protection, and Ndabazabantu, an official linking modern and traditional hierarchies. Worker dissent was partly quelled by the institution of a minimum wage board, but unions were effectively smashed. By 1985 the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions was functioning as a state-aligned body which discouraged strikes. Deputy Prime Minister Zonke Khumalo [recently arrested by Mozambican intelligence for allegedly trying to set up hit-squads with MNR expertise] reacted to a mining strike by stating that "trade unionism is a foreign ideology to the Swazis. All workers in this kingdom are his majesty's regiments."109

Mugyenyi stresses the role of the state in crushing both labour and liberation movements, an embryonic alliance of workers and middle classes, in the 1960-80's, but shows that the accumulation of capital in Swaziland has generated increased proletarianisation and a burgeoning middle class, re-creating the structural basis for such an alliance, whilst unemployment, land hunger and political instability of the Royal succession, have weakened the state. Some peasants have been evicted from the land because of their rejection of chiefly hegemony, and under pressure for privatisation of communal land.110 Funnell found that buried under a barrage of propaganda about the homogeneous Swazi Nation, rural social stratification was indeed increasing.111 Rural worker/peasants, many with some access to land, though this is shrinking, are entangled with all sorts of monarchical tributes112 and obligations that any [national] liberation movement must confront: confront and not try and embody the African heritage, an entirely different situation to that in South Africa. Population, land hunger, and unemployment is increasing, and with prospects of some firms likely to re-locate to South Africa, class tensions could be expected to rise.

Faced with this situation what has been the response of workers and the "liberation" movement? Swazi electric dam workers struck in June 1982, appealing to police to employ "the Swazi way" in dealing with them. There were strikes of other workers in 1987 and 1989-90. The king has continued to view strikes as "un-Swa:zi" and whilst no longer banning unions, has opted to encourage class harmony. Arrests of members of the People's United Democratic Movement, PUDEMO, have taken place. Funnell notes the appearance of PUDEMO "represents a revival of many of the political issues of the 1960's, awakening calls for a more democratic style of government." In April 1992 PUDEMO "unbanned" itself, and began working openly for change. What links are there between PUDEMO and peasants/workers. Mugyenyi in 1987 felt that popular alliances had not yet matured, but that just as the regime relied on Pretoria, change in South Africa could ignite a strong movement for democracy in Swaziland.113 Now that this is happening in South Africa, is there an effect in the tiny kingdom?

Slogans and leaflets from PUDEMO, or Insika Yenkhululeko Yemawati in 1989 led to a police crack-down. Political organisation without police permission under the Sedition Act makes one liable to 20 years prison. The SACP characterised the movement as a "broad nationalist organisation that draws inspiration from the Mass Democratic Movement in South Africa," noting its first internal conference drew worker, peasant, student and a few small business delegates.114 Against this background I introduce Jabulane Matsebula, a founder and executive member of PUDEMO, one of the least-known liberation movements in Africa. His mother works a small farm, and he became a teacher. Forced to leave the country after torture, he was accepted as a political refugee by Australia. An interview115 with him reveals a number of salient points:

"PUDEMO was formed in 1984 as a result of popular opinion to the undemocratic rule of the minority royal family . . . to ensure and restore the constitutional and Parliamentary, multi-party democratic government with popular participation and respect of majority rule. . .[and] advance the social, economic and political interests of our people. . .[it sees itself as] "a people's organisation. . .a broad based organisation that encompasses all sectors of the community. Its main commitment is to liberate the Swazi nation from traditional bondage. In fact it was formed by young people, and the membership is mainly young people and the workers. . .we had factory workers; the Vice-President was a lecturer at the University; the President is. . .working for a bank.""

Asked about PUDEMO's image and support amongst workers and farmers, he noted

"we have been forced to operate underground. . . So it has been quite difficult for the movement to put forward its ideas to the masses. However we have done a lot. . .by. . .organising underground meetings . . . [and] a lot of underground structures. One. . .quite effective. . .is the Swaziland Youth Congress. . .we felt it was important to first mobilise the people with a bit of understanding. . .in schools, in the cities. . . However we are moving to the rural areas as we want things to start on the grassroots level. . . Many of the working class. . .are migrant workers, and when they return home, having experienced a lot of union activity, they bring back the idea of unionism, in that way it creates a lot of awareness. Most workers are now aware of their rights. . . The unions have not been been operating legally for very long. They are now operating under the ruling regime. . . What we want now is to divert it from being a government-linked union organisation to be an independent union organisation. . . Since the birth of PUDEMO we have been doing a lot to create unions. . . Another area has not been attended to__women in Swaziland are really subjected to all sorts of harassment, ranging from sexual harassment at places of work and in any environment. . .the King is abusing women's rights. Most men. . .are abusing women's rights because they think it is being done at the top. She loses all her basic rights."116

It was in a discussion of his own life and views that the complexity of the worker-liberation link really emerged. His path to activism was through friendship with more political students, as there had been no stimulation of critical thought at school, and invoking of "the Swazi Way" was used to discourage critical thought:

"The curriculum is geared to respecting the monarchy and all that sort of thing. There is nothing that is taught in the schools that is related to politics. . . So actually it was even taboo to mention the ANC in the teaching of South African history. . . Under the state of emergency the people's minds were filled with fear and intimidation. . . The "Swazi Way" is quite a popular term used by those in power. . .to suppress the people or to create an atmosphere of fear. . . So whenever they feel that we are challenging the monarchy. . .they say it is un-Swazi, this is not the "Swazi Way" of living. It is a popular term used by those in power to silence the people."

In this environment political mobilisation was constrained, as in the rural areas

"It is very difficult because most of the people are illiterate. . . So we are using other means now to. . .put forward to them that they are. . .living under traditional bondage. . . There is a need for a foot bridge so we organise the community, we bring the materials, and say, okay, lets come together to build the bridge, because we need the bridge and the government is not taking care of [it]. We are doing practical things. While we are having that project we will be talking to those people. . . When a family is being evicted we contact them to assist and tell them them look, this is how the government is protecting the people. So most people understand now that PUDEMO is bringing some solution. . . That way we have actually drawn a lot of support from within the rural people, the workers, and the youth especially. . . At times it is very difficult for some of the people in the rural areas, because . . . they can't afford to buy a radio, a newspaper, so its hard for them to know what is happening. . .[but] as times go on as we get deeper they know we belong to the movement."

But interestingly PUDEMO rejects nationalism, even as a counter-weapon, probably due to the monarchical overkill of Swazi Way propaganda. This is best revealed in a fuller interview version:

How do you view the relationship of workers and the liberation movement?
In fact, PUDEMO was established by workers, so we have a working class ideology, and the members of PUDEMO are the working class people. It was actually inspired by the continued exploitation of the working class and the domination of the entire nation. . . So we actually link ourselves mostly with the working people.
But you see yourselves as a liberation movement?
Yes, we see ourselves as a liberation movement because we actually commit ourselves to emancipate the people from the traditional bondage.
Are you a national liberation movement?Do you see nationatism as an issue? What about this concept of "tribal nationalism" that Richard Levin used?
Well the fascinating thing is that there are no tribes in Swaziland.
Maybe what he means is "conservative" or "traditional" nationalism?
Yeah. Perhaps that's what he meant, because there are no tribes in Swaziland, it's just one nation.
But nationalism would be strong, because of what the king has done? Its use of the past, the Swazi Way, was nationalism? The ANC, for instance, has its symbols and traditions.
Yes, that's why we are moving away from it. . . We are trying to avoid those kind of things.117 People have got to have the right to think and to communicate their opinions without any fear of being intimidated. . . The only tool we are using is the fist__sibhakela__a symbol of PUDEMO, as the killer punch, trying to eliminate all form of domination by the minority rule, so the punch itself is destroying all the repression.
Were there parallels between the NLLC and PUDEMO regarding relationships with worker and liberation movements, such as existed in other countries like Namibia and South Africa?
Yes there is a similar thing, especially when you compare NLLC and PUDEMO, because NLLC too was influenced by working class ideology, it had a lot of support from the working people__that's why the monarchy threatened it, because they were looking at the basic interests of the working people.
Some critics see ZANU, SWAPO, perhaps the ANC118 as sell outs? Ministers driving around in Meedes?
I think we are learning quite a lot from other liberation movements. . .and we are trying to avoid those sort of things. . . I argued with my comrades at home, because in the composition of the National Executive there were only intellectuals, there was no farmer, no shop steward; I said this cannot be a movement addressing the core issues. . . We need to have a farmer, we need to have a shop steward, we need to have women, m the NEC.
How did that happen, because you said it was formed by workers? Was it because workers stopped being workers, or was it because they were still working and didn't have time for committees?
Yes, most of the workers didn't want to involve themselves into leadership positions, but they helped to form it.

I hope this indicates some of the similarities and differences between the largest and smallest liberation movements in Southern Africa. Recent changes in South Africa, meanwhile, have not basically altered Swaziland's dependence on South Africa. But it is possible events there put pressure on the king to agree to a series of rather controlled open-air public meetings (the Masitsela Commission) in late 1991, and to a vague New Year amnesty

saying that political exiles should come back home. But we were quite upset that the country continued to be ruled under royal command. . .there is no written guarantee for safe passage of the returnees119. . . We had hoped that when de Klerk took some steps. . .Swaziland would have followed suit. . . In fact the fear of a recurrence of South African-style hit-squads is growing in Swaziland. . . The Swaziland Justice Minister, Zonke Khumalo, has been placed at the centre of the. . .controversy following his arrest by Mozambican intelligence forces, apparently whilst trying to set up hit-squads, probably with MNR bandit forces. Secondly, there were attempts to steal mini-buses of visiting students at the inter-varsity sports held in Swaziland. Police failed to respond to the attempted thefts, and when thieves fatally shot a student, police again failed to investigate, fuelling suspicions of collusion with the attempt. Thirdly an unsuccessful attempt was made to abduct the prominent democratic opposition leader, Ray Russon, Vice-President of. . .PUDEMO, which has responded to the threats by unbanning itself, although this holds grave threats for the safety of its members."120

PUDEMO's current demands show a strong concern with democratic rights but also the need to challenge state economic power. They include "the dissolution of the Parliament and the convening of a National Assembly. . .setting up an Interim Government. . .to facilitate a peaceful transition process to a new democratic Swazi society; the dismantling of the Tinkhundla machinery and the transfer of political and economic power to the democratic majority; the lifting of the State of Emergency and withdrawal of all repressive legislation. . .an immediate end to state corruption, misuse of public funds and nepotism which bred corruption; liquidation of all royal family controlled state and private enterprises. . .which continue to loot the national wealth"121 There is a clear difference here, and in other statements between PUDEMO and "opposition" MPs. PUDEMO reject a nationalist approach, although even they are forced into constant references to the people and the Swazi nation. The MPs, however, cling to respect for the King, evoking memories of how an earlier NLLC opposition leader, Ambrose Zwane, was lured back from exile merely by a delegation from Sobhuza. At a meeting organised by the Human Rights Association of Swaziland at the Mbabane Town Council, MP Philip Dzingalive Dlamini charged that Swaziland had a brutal system of government, evidenced by evictions of families, dismissal of people from jobs, and vicious attacks on students. But his criticism was carefully couched:

. . .authorities here have always continued to deliberately confuse political issues with Swazi culture. 'It is now time they were told that they are not the only ones qualified to tell us what is Swati and what is not Swazi. We are totally loyal to our King but reject the idea of political devils hiding behind him. . . Mr. Dlarnini suggested that the Tinkhundla system of government did not originate from Swaziland but was the brain-child of the evil Verwoerd doctrine of bantustanism. . .[he] also attacked a statement made by the chairman of the Tinkhundia Vusela Committee, Prince Masitsela who said the Dlaminis are the only ones closer to 'God.'"

At another Human Rights Day meeting in the Ezulwini Valley, Deputy President of the Senate Arthur Khoza called for political change and stated that "'These days if we disagree over something I will say you are un-Swazi'. . . He charged that in Swaziland rights are abused in the name of culture." Significanfly the MP's claimed parliamentary privilege.122

Because of repression it is difficult to chart precise links between workers and opposition forces, but some basic connections seem evident from the scanty information presented. The situation is made more complicated by movements to South Africa by landless and jobless Swazi. Matsebula confirms that some Swaz:i working in South Africa are indeed choosing to remain in that country. Whether some future [ANC?] government chooses to slam the door on this "solution" to Swazi population and employment problems may depend on the sort of relations forged between workers and nationalists. Although there has been a good degree of solidarity amongst "comrades against apartheid," there are no formal links between PUDEMO and the ANC.123

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The Past in the Future

Can nationalisms now shorn of their socialist trappings maintain a coherent relationship with trade unions and workers? The answer is possibly yes, but more likely in those communities in which socialist ideology or its equivalents have not taken some root. In the urban areas of South Africa and Zimbabwe, like Zambia, workers and unions are becoming more intolerant of unproductive rhetoric. A de-politicising of workers is also a possibility, particularly in places such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, where the media is sufficiently controlled. The example of Namibia has also shown that a nationalist movement can form intimate links with workers, indeed a SWAPO initiative established the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW),124 and although worker dissatisfaction since independence has occurred, some worker rights have been included in the constitution.125 African nationalism has a myriad of bonds, historic, cultural, and structural, and in the absence of viable optional models and prerequisites for social transformation126 is likely to retain some vestige of such links.

This paper has concentrated largely on organised workers, but the links or lack of links with unorganised workers requires comparative research, as are the issues of nationalism and its relations to labour bureaucracy and land reform. There has been a tendency to highlight nationalist movements/governments as bureaucratic, and counter-pose unions merely as the undeconstructed defenders of worker rights. There has been some acknowledgment of bureaucracy in the ZCTU, especially before 1985 when there was the rise a more militant leadership, in the government-controlled unions in Swaziland, and in research on SACTU and some other unions in South Africa. Mark Leier notes that recent studies on "labour aristocracy" tend to blur distinctions between officials and rank and file, especially with regard to shared ideology. Instead, he suggests it is more fruitful to look at the power relationship between the two, to study the bureaucrats rather than the ideology.127 In Southern Africa, where black workers receive so little, it seems almost sacrilegious to talk of a black labour aristocracy, although it would resonate with an earlier debate over African workers as a labour aristocracy. It is more likely that, like all black strata were compressed by apartheid, all black working strata will be compressed by scarcity.

Zimbabwe and Swaziland unions have been too weak to be able to resist the funnelling down of nationalism from government. In Namibia, despite disappointment at the rate of progress since 1990, unions and workers are giving SWAPO, with whom they have enjoyed closer ties, more time to deliver. The situation is more evenly balanced in South Africa, with a more two-way interaction, workers influencing the ANC and vice versa, made more complex by the fact that the worker is often an African nationalist. A future ANC/democratic government in South Africa would be equipped ideologically to exploit African nationalism in the building of a New South Africa. But its relationship with black workers would depend on the power of and support from below of the unions. Paraphrasing Carl Levy, anti-apartheid struggles allowed the ANC and SACP to colonise popular nationalism. Whether a New South Africa succeeds in colonising the ANC may well be decided by the level of worker influence inside Congress. 128

Land reform is on the agenda of all African nationalist movements in the region, being a(the) basic cause for their existence, and is again prominent in Zimbabwe. If workers continue to maintain their links to the land, then the resolution of land reform (or at least its promise) in their favour is crucial to a harmonious relationship with nationalists. Ironically, the more successful they are in this regard, the less they are likely to develop worker power as such. Indeed, as Basil Sansom has shown with regard to the Pedi, migrant labour can simply be an avenue to invest in an old age rooted in tradition.129 Internal migration and farm duties leave little time for unionising. Which brings us full circle back to seeing the intimate links between the two movements.

How is all this influenced by the crisis in regional "socialist-orientation?" It is as unsatisfactory to reduce the jettisoning of "socialism" as merely "nationalist betrayal" stressing its "petty bourgeois character" as a primeval flaw, as to have characterised its adoption as importation of "foreign ideology," as Thandika Mkandawire has noted, claiming that

"the frustration of the liberal and the left with the nationalist movements post-independence posture is due to a reading of both the[ir] agenda and the structure. . .[that] tended to underestimate the historical import of national independence and. . .unity in the eyes of the nationalist leadership. Other additions to the agenda. . .were always on uncertain grounds. . . The point here is that if other items. . .are to be placed back on the agenda. . .it will be through the birth of new social movements based on new coalitions."130

In conclusion, reasons for the probable continuation of nationalist-worker links are firstly cultural, in the continued appropriation of history and culture by parties__from the Chimurenga to the ANC's Spear of the Nation__and secondly structural. In the countries discussed many workers retain some links with the land, and given the lack of viable alternatives such workers will probably continue to support nationalist governments - in fact alternative rulers are likely to present themselves as nationalists. However the defeat of Kaunda in Zambia, being replaced by an ex-trade unionist, and the strong showing in urban areas of opposition parties in Zimbabwe, should be a warning to these nationalisms that fail to heed messages "from below."

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