Percy Simelane is a snake oil salesman peddling falsehoods in desperate defence of a dictatorship!
The Peter Principle posits that an employee in an organization can rise through the hierarchy until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence. This principle can be used to better explain the eSwatini/Swaziland Press Secretary Percy Simelane – a man with an instinctive flair for failing upwards! Plucked from relative prominence as a radio DJ and voice actor at Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service where he earned the unflattering nickname Mbakadza. Later promoted to station director before his appointment as Government Press Secretary then making a boomerang move back at SBIS before returning as Press Secretary. Evidently this promotion thrust him into a position beyond his competence, taking over from the rumbustious Meshack Shongwe (now late). The bar was already ground-scraping low!
Percy Simelane, the despairingly dull eSwatini/Swaziland Government Press Secretary is a man out of his depth – who makes up with bluster and hubris what he lacks in substance! He has his work cut out for him. After all, defending dictatorships is a job only the truly desperate or psychopathic take up. Simelane does his with a stunning flavour of glee! But drill beneath the childish name calling and bluster which have defined his evidence free press conferences and media interviews and one discovers a combination of Comical Ali and Borat with a flavour of Sean Spicer/Sarah Sanders combo. His interviews are – for the audience, frustratingly torturous events delivered to devastatingly overwhelm with bare faced lies. We never learn anything of substance since the eSwatini/Swaziland government actively conceals information from the public with brazen arrogance.
Public accountability is an alien concept to the government – a hallmark of dictatorship. Percy Simelane is the personified indictment of the eSwatini/Swaziland political madness! Looting of state coffers is brazenly pursued by King Mswati III and his parasitic family, corruption is endemic and operating at industrial scale, proper democratic checks and balances are woefully absent - where the media is a shambolic extension of the Royal family – staffed by royal sycophants and flunkies. Percy Simelane is utterly blind to all this. Deliberately so. It’s part of the well-oiled mechanism of deception funded by the long-suffering Swazi taxpayer.
In a January 2019 interview with the Swaziland News, Percy Simelane – responding to a question on King Mswati’s lavish lifestyle and human rights issues in eSwatini/Swaziland, posed by Sifiso Dlamini (Swaziland Human Rights Network UK Coordinator), Simelane responded in typical glib - “It is difficult to respond to human rights issues raised in poorly informed anger that is rooted in low cost politics. Eswatini is yet to experience human rights issues experienced by other countries such as mass graves, torture cells, displacement, child soldiers and genocides”.
Percy Simelane’s response is typically facile and intended to deflect attention from the glaring failures of the eSwatini/Swaziland government and King Mswati III on socio-political and economic issues. Percy always plays for a low-information audience – a dwindling demographic since the revolution of the internet.
In Percy’s warped world just because other countries experience different shades of problems, then ipso facto there are no problems in eSwatini/Swaziland. Objective evidence from reputable international sources such as the United States State Department, European Union, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, African Union, Action for Southern Africa, Local Political Parties and many others, suggests that eSwatini/Swaziland remains a floundering dictatorship with terrible a human rights record, endemic corruption by the Royal family led by King Mswati III, an economy in free fall, the absence of an economic mechanism of checks and balances, heavy reliance on International donations and a national health service not fit for purpose, and other indicators of a country in turmoil.
The eSwatini/Swaziland government desperately pretends these problems do not exist and enablers like Percy Simelane help to perpetrate this moral deception. The fact is, no amount of denial can mask the fact the eSwatini/Swaziland nation can see through this deception and is now woke to the reality of their situation. The internet has brought about an information revolution that the government cannot contain. Not for lack of trying mind you – not long ago the government was planning for an internet clampdown to protect King Mswati III – as it happens in dictatorships everywhere! The fast flow of information has rendered people like Percy Simelane anachronistic.
In the same interview Percy riffed, saying “My experience is that we are in most cases, victims of cheque book politics whereby our critics are paid for a mileage which is neither here nor there. We will continue to prove the opposite as a Nation. We are proud that eSwatini has no refugee in any refugee anywhere in the world”. Percy doesn’t bother providing anything resembling evidence with any of his wild claims. Because there isn’t any. His toolbox of deception consists of denial denial denial as the default. If that doesn’t fly, he resorts desperately to trying to discredit whoever is questioning the eSwatini/Swaziland government’s record. Always with pompous self-regard. Talk about burying your head in the sand. Just like his equally ridiculous erstwhile counterpart in Iraq – Comical Ali, Percy’s riffing and denials do not stand up to scrutiny. His lies crumble like a house of cards when confronted by facts. Percy Simelane, in his role as eSwatini/Swaziland Press Secretary has been weighed and found wanting. He now needs to take a look outside his window, to realize that Rome isn’t burning – it’s burnt!
Goodwill Mathonsi is former Coordinator and current Secretary of the Swaziland Human Rights Network UK.
Government Press Secretary Percy "Mbakadza" Simelane
"After all, defending dictatorships is a job only the truly desperate or psychopathic take up. Simelane does his with a stunning flavour of glee!"
By Goodwill Mathonsi
Swaziland’s 2018 national elections: Injustice, yet again
By Sunit Bagree
"Incisive analysts fully understand that SADC has a very poor track record when it comes to tackling flawed elections and authoritarianism more broadly"
On 19th April 2018, King Mswati III announced that Swaziland was to be officially known as the ‘Kingdom of eSwatini’. The King said that the change of name was to mark 50 years of
the country’s independence from the UK. However, 19 th April was not the anniversary of the end of British rule. Rather 6 th September is Swaziland’s Independence Day. The reason that Africa’s last absolute monarch chose to make this announcement on 19th April is because that is his birthday. Everything has to be about him. It has been argued that Mswati III made this announcement to deflect attention from growing controversy regarding his ever-increasing expenditure on luxury items. If this is the case, the King failed to foresee that some Swazis would quickly realise that the change of name will likely have significant cost implications. Nevertheless, it is clear that the King believes that he has the right to do what he wants, whenever he wants. The wishes of the Swazi people are, for him, completely irrelevant.
The same applies to broader political affairs in the country. Swaziland is due to hold national elections later this year, probably in September, though the date has not yet been confirmed by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (which is headed by the Mswati III’s half-brother). However, as Action for Southern Africa has argued, Swaziland’s polity is fundamentally undemocratic. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and many political activists are labelled ‘terrorists’ under the hated Suppression of Terrorism Act. Local chiefs - who report to Mswati III - have enormous influence over elections to the House of Assembly, and the King directly appoints two-thirds of the Senate. Moreover, the King appoints the Prime Minister and he can veto legislation. If anyone criticises the King then they are breaking the law.
It is therefore unsurprising that the 2013 national elections were condemned by international observers. For example, the Commonwealth Observer Mission recommended that the constitution should be revisited ‘through a fully inclusive, consultative process with all Swazi political organisations and civil society to harmonise provisions which are in conflict … to ensure that Swaziland’s commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal’. Similarly, the European Union (EU) Election Experts Mission highlighted numerous breaches of Swaziland’s international obligations and identified a ‘fundamental problem [with] the system of government and the respect for the principles of separation of power, rule of law and independence of the judiciary’.
Sadly, the Commonwealth and the EU have done little more than this. In fact, it is fair to say that they have actually undermined the work of their election observers. The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, has only used warm words when meeting with Mswati III. Incredibly, the EU’s Ambassador to Swaziland, Esmeralda Hernandez Aragones, has gone as far as to praise the King’s ‘wise and strong leadership’. Whenever criticised, both the Commonwealth and the EU are quick to point out that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is highly reluctant to take action on Swaziland. It is true that SADC has failed to hold Swaziland to account for its violations of the SADC Treaty. Indeed, Swaziland’s absolute monarch was actually the Chairperson of SADC for one year from August 2016, during which time he even had the gall to urge the
regional organisation’s leaders ‘to remain committed to the ideals and principles of the SADC Treaty’.
Incisive analysts fully understand that SADC has a very poor track record when it comes to tackling flawed elections and authoritarianism more broadly. Yet this is no excuse for democratic countries (such as the UK and US) or multilateral organisations that have democracy at the heart of their mandates (such as the Commonwealth and the EU) to ignore human rights abuses, autocracy and corruption. Instead, the leaders and representatives of these countries and organisations should be doing all they can to act as a shining example to the likes of SADC. That they are not acting in such a manner is a stain on all of their reputations. Is simply not enough to note that elections in Swaziland are flawed. The international community must apply strong, consistent and public pressure on Mswati III using a variety of diplomatic and economic levers. Only then will the King accept the need to work with all Swazis, including his political opponents, so that the country develops a democratic constitution and becomes governed by those who are properly elected and truly
accountable. And only then will the citizens of Swaziland have a government that is committed to rights, equality and development for all.
Sunit Bagree is Senior Campaigns Officer at Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA)
"elections in Swaziland have been highly controversial and divisive amongst individuals, the banned political parties, trade unions and the broader pro-movement"
Tinkhundla’s undemocratic elections of 2018
by Bheki Dlamini
The people of Swaziland will go to the polls this year in a date yet to be announced to elect Members of Parliament. The election is taking place at a time when the hopes to hold them under a constitutional multi-party dispensation have completely evaporated. The elections will be held under the current oppressive and undemocratic Tinkhundla system which outlaw’s political parties from participating. The Tinkhundla elections have been continuously criticized by election observer missions; SADC, African Union, EU, Commonwealth. The anomaly of Tinkhundla elections is that it does not change anything in the distribution of power. The people nor their elected representatives do not decide who forms the government. The formation of government is a preserve of the Prime Minister who is elected buy the king. Effectively the King forms the government. So why the fuss and have elections? The answer is clear to hoodwink the gullible public and seek to legitimize the dictatorship.
It is paramount to bring these elections into the context of political developments in Swaziland. Hardly five years into independence the then King Sobhuza who is the father of the current King Mswati abrogated the independence constitution in 1973, subsequently assuming all legislative, judicial and executive powers unto the himself. The taking over of the throne by an eighteen (18) year old crown Prince, Makhosetive (King Mswati) in 1986 dashed hopes for those who believed Swaziland would revert to constitutional multi-party rule. In his inauguration speech Mswati promised no change. Today, thirty-two (32) years into the throne Mswati has not changed an inch, political parties remain banned and his rule has been able to squash any form of resistance against his rule using coercion and co-option.
The elections in Swaziland have been highly controversial and divisive amongst individuals, the banned political parties, trade unions and the broader pro-movement. History has shown that there would never be consensus amongst the pro-democracy movement about the strategy to deal with these elections. Some organizations have been consistent in calling for the boycott of the elections. Some organizations have openly not supported a boycott but fielded some of their candidates in the constituencies to contest and some were elected into parliament. SWANAFRO, Sibahle sinje (Sive Siyincaba), Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and most recently SWADEPA have all tried this route. It is important to note that NNLC changed its tune as it boycotted the last elections held in 2013. PUDEMO on the other hand has been consistent in its call for the boycott, however, because of lack of discipline amongst some of its members, some have gone against the party to contest for elections, unfortunately these individuals did not win.
Fast forward into 2018, the discussion of the Tinkhundla elections has popped up again in pro-democracy organizations doing more harm than good as it tears them apart and further fragments them. The discussion around participation in these undemocratic elections is not honest as it avoids out fundamental questions, that are critical in crafting any strategy to bring about meaningful democratic change in Swaziland. The biggest challenge in Swaziland is not that Swaziland has a weak parliament which is failing to hold the executive accountable. The real challenge is that Swaziland is a dictatorship with no separation of powers. All power is concentrated around the monarchy whose head is King Mswati. Parliament is subservient to the executive led by the king and, or his appointee the Prime Minister.
As individuals and some political formations grapple with these issues a few months before the elections it is significant to remember the plight of the people. The Swazi economy is in tatters and this has been a trend for decades, the cost of maintaining the bloated royal family is totally unsustainable and costly to the slim margin of taxpayers. The level of corruption and looting of the people’s resources which is
overseen by the monarchy is an insult to the struggling majority. Mswati’s rule has failed to address key issues with regards to rural development. The poor land management policy and the failure to amicably solve chieftaincy disputes by Mswati’s regime hits hard on the rural poor. The state of the education is a disgrace, from primary to tertiary education. Young people are in a perpetual battle of finding jobs which are not there as the economy is stagnant. Those who are lucky enough to be employed are bitterly struggling to improve their working conditions as the regime does not care about worker’s rights the list of failure of the government cannot be exhausted here. These are the key issues that should be in the hearts and minds of those who are feuding now whether to boycott or not to boycott elections.
Boycotting elections or not boycotting elections is not be a means to itself, the ultimate is the democratization of Swaziland. Ultimately, the current power structure must be dismantled and allow a competitive process whereby people can choose their representatives who shall be responsive in addressing the socio-economic challenges the faced by most people. The individuals who are either for a boycott or those against the boycott should ask themselves; what is it that they would contribute with towards the democratization process post these elections?
I would be crucial to reflect and learn from history; What have those who have participated in previous elections, since 1993 achieved for the ordinary? Are they not equally guilty for joining the bandwagon of the monarchy that has played with people’s feelings? To make a simple example, in the past we have seen members of parliament sanctioning the most ludicrous salary increment for themselves and other politicians yet the budget for the ordinary taxpayer was dwindling. What would be different this time around with so called progressive members making it into parliament? These questions must be clarified to the electorate, if individuals are going in for the lucrative allowances that involve are linked to Members of Parliament the electorate deserves to know. I am yet to see any of those individuals who claim to be have an idea of using parliament as a site of struggle taking a salary cut as the salaries politicians are relatively ridiculously high. I do not expect much from those who are going into the next parliament.
The most significant thing to do for those who are part of the boycott movement is to engage in more rigorous mass based mobilization against the regime. Currently, the voice calling for change in Swaziland is not loud enough, strangely it is seemingly fading, yet the material conditions facing the majority are fertile for mobilization. The movement needs new energy, new ideas, young people must take charge of the movement. The old and senior comrades have done their part. It is time to let the younger generation take the struggle for democracy to its logical conclusion. The time for political bickering, fragmentation and the casual approach towards our freedom is over. The leaders of the movement owe it to the majority of the suffering people who have waited for decades for total freedom. A democratic Swaziland is achievable in our lifetime and it shall not be delivered by the upcoming elections but by the path that is drawn with a focus beyond the upcoming elections.
Bheki Dlamini is an exiled political activist and former political prisoner