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By Vusi Sibisi - SWAZI TIMES-03-Mar-2010

The decision by government to expunge from the country’s history books the legacy and history of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Liqoqo,

The decision by government to expunge from the country’s history books the legacy and history of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Liqoqo, the then Supreme Council of State that usurped political power shortly after the demise of King Sobhuza II in 1982, smacks of a grand plan by the ruling elite to unleash Orwellian Big Brother to control the hearts and minds of the people to ensure perpetual servitude to the obtaining political status quo.

Recently the nation woke up to newspaper headlines pronouncing that Cabinet had decided to deny high school pupils the opportunity of learning about PUDEMO and the former Liqoqo in the newly localised Swaziland General Certificate of Secondary Education (SGCSE) syllabus.

This will be effective from 2011, the newspapers quoted Pat Muir, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training, as having said. Muir is reported to have further gone on to explain that the inclusion of PUDEMO in the syllabus “was an oversight on their part” ostensibly because the organisation did not have any material on its evolution and history that could be used by teachers and students. The underlying rationale being that this was causing confusion to both pupils and teachers.

You have to wonder if there would have ever been anything such as history if the expectations were that each piece of a historical epoch were to be left to the subject matter to author. This appears to be the rationale behind the decision to expunge PUDEMO and Liqoqo, and God knows whatever else that might not necessarily be appealing to the ruling regime, from the country’s history.

Academic

While not trying to be exhaustive, any discerning academic need not necessarily stumble on the evolution and history of PUDEMO if they knew where to look. PUDEMO was formed by students from the University of Swaziland somewhere around 1983 at the height of political strife following a bloodless palace coup by the then Liqoqo, which successfully deposed Queen Regent Dzeliwe who had taken over the throne after the demise of King Sobhuza II. Although not successful in its defence of Queen Regent Dzeliwe who was succeeded by the Queen Mother Indlovukazi Ntombi, the movement was successful in establishing itself as a permanent political and historical landmark on the political firmament of the country not just as a student movement but as a broad political church for the politically disenfranchised. At the time all dissenting political formations had been silenced by the King’s Proclamation to the Nation of April 12, 1973.

In the meantime after its successful ouster of Queen Regent Dzeliwe, Liqoqo presided over a regime that reigned terror on its opponents who included senior and prominent members of royalty who were subsequently imprisoned en masse along with their supporters. The Liqoqo political reign of terror came to an end with the enthronement of Crown Prince Makhosetive as King Mswati III in 1986 at which point some surviving members of the then Supreme Council of State were tried by a special tribunal sitting in camera at Nkhanini and some convicted for treason. Amongst these was Prince Mfanasibili who received a royal pardon after serving time in prison, the highlight of which was allegedly an abortive diabolical escape plan involving one Mozambican Armando Lekula. Upon his release from prison Prince Mfanasibili vowed to spill the beans, claiming that among some of the senior princes occupying prominent positions in the current political establishment and apparent confidantes of the king were those who plotted against the then heir to the throne, Crown Prince Makhosetive, and his mother the Indlovukazi.

As I see it, expunging PUDEMO and Liqoqo will leave a black hole in arguably the most turbulent contemporary history of the modern Kingdom of eSwatini. The excuses for this apparent raping and possible manipulation of the contemporary history of the country are far from convincing. The only logical explanation for rubbing off PUDEMO and Liqoqo, apparently political forces that were diametrically opposed, from the history books can only be political and self-serving to the obtaining political oligarchy.

As I see it whether you like or hate PUDEMO, the organisation did leave and indelible mark on the history of the country. For one, the movement ushered in student politics that had not been witnessed since the 1977 student strike triggered by boycotting teachers. Since the emergence of PUDEMO in the early 1980s student politics have engendered itself in most of the tertiary institutions across the country. This is to the extent that hardly a year passes by without protests and boycotts interrupting learning as students take their grievances to the streets in what the political establishment interprets as polarization of tertiary institutions by external political forces. Often these disturbances have led to temporary closures of affected institutions and in particular the University of Swaziland, which is often in the forefront of the now annual skirmishes with the political establishment.

Milestone

Yet another milestone PUDEMO can lay claim to is the new constitutional order. For while the ruling elite is at pains to acknowledge the role the movement played in pressurising the establishment to introduce constitutionalism, there is little doubt that PUDEMO was in the forefront in mobilising the international community to exert pressure on government for fundamental political changes, inclusive of a constitutional dispensation. That Mario Masuku, the PUDEMO president, was roped into the Constitutional Review Commission led by Prince Mangaliso supposedly to gather views of the nation on the kind of constitution it wanted was adequate an admission by the obtaining political hegemony of the important role the movement played in this regard even though he refused to participate unless chosen and seconded by his organisation.

On the other hand the erstwhile Liqoqo breezed into political power typical of the Zamqolo downpour that paralysed the entire country almost at the same time that the former was brewing a political tsunami. For a good three to four years the nation was in suspense about the future leadership of the country even though Liqoqo had connived to legitimize its hold on power by introducing Prince Makhosetive as the Crown Prince before he was whisked to an English school amid in-fighting within the inner sanctums of the ruling royal family. And while the Crown Prince was studying in England the nation was never spared the melodramatics of political power play, which culminated in the ouster of Queen Regent Dzeliwe and subsequent imprisonment of a handful of senior royal family members.

As earlier alluded to, it was Liqoqo that precipitated the birth of PUDEMO ostensibly because the entire citizenry was gripped by such fear of the unknown that it was paralyzed into inaction and silence. What with the Prime Minister of the day Prince Bhekimpi issuing an ominous warning about buhhihhihhi, that is people talking in hushed tones in enclaves out of the public eye about the political happenings of the day because of the fear of the unknown, and threatening hellfire on anyone should they be found out. And within the civil service the message was succinct and crystal, anyone found to be dissenting to the obtaining Liqoqo hegemony would be sent home, ekhaya, if not alternatively dealt with.

It was also during this period of political unpredictability of the future path this country might take that germinated the formation of other political formations and the voluntary unbanning of others some years later. Thus to pretend that this period never existed in the history of this country as has been decided will be a crime against the people. As it were this would be akin to denying that this country emerged from an era that threatened its very psyche and its very existence.

For what happened then could only happen in this the Kingdom of eSwatini and nowhere else in the modern world. And if there are no lessons to be learned from that period then perhaps it is justifiable to pretend that that part of history never happened so that we may continue to live forever after in blissful ignorance. But God forbids!

Independence

As I see it that scenario would be better than living the lie that after 41 years of independence this country is lacking in educated sons and daughters who can capture what happened from 1982 to 1986 when Crown Prince Makhosetive ascended the throne or even to date. That is inconceivable considering the amount of news coverage the events of the time attracted that can easily be accessed in libraries across the nation and the national archives if this country was ever serious about its contemporary history. In fact to even suggest that one body is responsible for authoring its own evolution and history, as has been suggested by the Ministry of Education and Training is befuddling as it is ludicrous.

As I see it the real reason that attempts are being made to erase the contemporary history of the era in perspective is simply because it is not alluring to the ruling elite who would rather the nation was spared the embarrassment. After all it is not everyday that a country experiences a bloodless coup d’etat with a nation hardly being roused from slumber land, as the case was here.

They must manufacture other convincing excurses for having decided to expunge PUDEMO and Liqoqo from the country’s history. And what about pretending every one of us alive at the time was in deep slumber and, therefore, none of us can recollect and remember what exactly happened. After all we have long mastered the art of living a lie and this one would be an addition to a long list.


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