“Pluralistic democracy can only function if a multiplicity of opinions from civil society is articulated in the political opinion-forming and decision making process. The open comprtition of of ideas is the healthiest approach to finding the best solutions….” SA-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The words quoted above just about capture the ‘groove’ currently sweeping over the Southern African region characterised by an important force for political reform especially in Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
They were originally used during a gathering of stakeholders in the renewable energy industry in Southern Africa and Germany, but they resonate well with the political developments currently at play in the region.
Whilst a new window has been opened in the Zimbabwe constitutional process, giving an opportunity for the people to chart a future way forward from a past marred by political upheaval and economic stress, the same cannot be said of Swaziland which seems to be digressing rapidly in both fronts.
Events in the two countries will undoubtedly have a telling effect on the transformation agenda of the region, putting pressure of South Africa, its resources and plans.
This is because South Africa remains the region’s economic powerhouse and bears the ‘responsibility’ of lending its weight to the vision for seamless trade and economic integration, especially in SADC.
Transform SA spoke to COSATU’s Bongani Masuku (International Relations Secretary), a leading political activist and commentator about transformation issues. The interview went as follows:
What are your views on transformation in the context of the constitutional development processes in Zimbabwe and Swaziland?
Transformation means an on-going and protracted process of fundamental social change. The constitution drafting processes in Zimbabwe and the constitutional confusion in Swaziland are linked to, and must be understood as part of an on-going and serious process of seeking to change the balance of power towards the poor and struggling masses.
These two provide examples of how a constitution process should be a platform and basis for launching an offensive towards the profound changing of society and how power is organised.
Please elaborate, whilst highlighting lessons from the struggle for change in these countries.
A constitution-making process is but one site of struggle and terrain of engagement. In waging a struggle, you always balance every one part with the whole picture of how far it will shift the balance of forces in favour of the poor and struggling masses or vice-versa.
Certainly, Zimbabwe and Swaziland are two different sites of struggle and countries whose history, geo-political landscape and balance of class forces, provide peculiar conditions, within the universal context of democratic struggle.
In Zimbabwe, they are at the point where they are contesting whether the constitution that is about to be subjected to a referendum is the ideal one for the country and progress. In Swaziland, it’s still where to be a member of PUDEMO is a crime in law and practice, let alone considering democratic elections – only the royalty has monopoly over all processes.
In this regard, I don’t want to risk equating or imposing a ‘one size fits all’ for both situations. However, I can admit that in any struggle you don’t win all that you want, but the issue is when and what concessions can you make.
This is where the clear line between principle and tactics is crucial. While being firm on principle, lessons from struggle teach us that we must be flexible on tactics. These two anchor principles of social change are key in understanding how we play our games properly.
They are not equivalent to betrayal and selling out the masses. Once we sacrifice principle, we are betraying and selling out the masses.
As is the case with the opportunists in Swaziland who pretend as if they are infiltrating the system by going to tinkhundla elections, meanwhile, they are looking for ways to be appointed by the king and therefore ascend to power for their own selves.
These opportunists, they know the truth that you can’t cut down a tree on which you climbed upwards. We have seen examples of these opportunists in Swaziland who poised themselves as having the ability to change the system from within.
Some went to parliament; another even made it to cabinet whilst another is still trying to worm himself into the leadership positions by groveling to the powers that be. They all lied that they are going to change the system from within and are now the greatest defenders of the system.
We’re sure South Africa also had a shade of such elements.
Indeed, history shows that even in South Africa, there were such elements. This was especially evident in the run up to the new democratic dispensation.
You will recall that in South Africa, there were examples of such elements. Inkatha and other collaborators with apartheid who tried to fool the people about what their real intentions were in flirting with apartheid.
These agents are alive in Swaziland and must be exposed by those who represent genuine progress, called the progressives.
In relation to Zimbabwe, what can you say about the process of a referendum as the country approaches the polls?
In Zimbabwe, the referendum is a fierce site of struggle too and the progressive forces there must be able to identify and weigh their options.
They should apply their minds on whether this process is to be used to launch a sustained offensive as the best way. Or on the other, explore ways how best can the struggle be taken forward in a manner that unites, consolidates and strengthens the genuine forces of democracy and progress.
These are challenges of transforming from the old to the new under conditions not of our own choosing, but being burdened by both history and the realities we find ourselves in.
We must also be alert who are the real leaders of the people, because not all that glitters is gold, as we have seen in Swaziland, not all who say Lord, Lord shall see the kingdom of God.
Interview by: Musa Ndlangamandla – Transform SA Ad Sales/Editorial Executive.
Musa is a senior journalist from Swaziland and until January 2012 he was Chief Editor of The Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers. He is a former advisor and speech writer to King Mswati III. Musa studied Law and holds a number of certificates from leading schools of Journalism. He has travelled to over 35 countries on assignment. He also writes as a freelancer for various leading publications.