Subject: Possible Civil War

CC: South Africa, The International Community, The UN, Anyone?

Dear Your Majesty, 

I hope this finds you and yours well. 

I’m reaching out because I saw on Twitter that your acting prime minister, Mr Themba Masuku, said that all concerned people of eSwatini should send their complaints to a newly created government email address. 

What a splendid initiative, I thought, opening up the civic space in such a warm and welcoming way. I could imagine some of those pesky democracy activists, currently out on the streets calling for your head on a plate, typing away on their imitation iPhones as they dodge the bullets from your army. “Hey guys, forget about the revolution, viva the complaints email address!”

For full disclosure, Your Majesty, I must confess that I’m not one of your Swazi subjects. But, at the pleasure of your good self, I did live in your Kingdom for a few years not so long ago. I was there working at a small organisation that supported journalists and defended free speech. Not the easiest of jobs, as you can imagine, since you’re not big on the whole freedom-of-expression thing. I also wrote a few columns in the Times of Swaziland. Perhaps you read one or two of them? I’m the white guy called Bill. 

And I realise that my email here might not carry the same weight as an email sent by a Swati, but I do hope, amid the pressing business of trying to prevent a revolution, you might have a moment to read my plea. 

Your Majesty, I know you’re bunkering down somewhere as we speak. And I get that. Maybe you’re in one of your palaces or in some underground army hideout. And you would have seen the reports that you fled to South Africa in your private jet. 

That bloody jet! It’s caused you a lot of headaches, hasn’t it? And did you hear the rumour, too, that you’d escaped to London? Well, I am here as we speak and I can’t see you anywhere so I’ll take it that you’re not in London. 

All bullshit aside, though, Your Majesty, where are you? And why haven’t you spoken to the nation yet? A civil war might be on the way and the people haven’t heard from you. With respect, you’re the King, for God’s sake. Speaking of God, I know you like him, and you look up to him. What would He say? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus avoid a civil war if he could? 

Now, Your Majesty, I don’t write any of this to alarm you. I simply write to express my concern and, crucially, to inform. I just don’t know how much accurate information you are getting right now. 

Are you aware of the dead bodies in your streets and in the rural areas? The blood that is beginning to clog up the gutters and stain the fields? Are you aware of the resentment and anger that grows with every passing second – a feeling of contempt toward you and your family that will be internalised by the child who has lost his mom or dad to your army’s bullets? 

I just don’t know how surrounded you are by yes-men, who will keep telling you what you want to hear until, perhaps, it’s all too late. I know you’re not Hitler – he was much, much, much worse – but Adolf had a similar problem. Too many yes-men around him. And it didn’t end up so well for old mate Adolf. 

And, yes, granted, you’d be correct in detecting a hint of sarcastic piss-taking in this email of mine. I employ such literary devices, Your Majesty, in order to cut through the waffle and get through to you. Because I’m pretty sure, wherever you are, you’re not reading those earnest tweets or those worthy statements from human rights organisations. And I’m quite sure you’re not reading those cookie-cutter news reports about yours being the last absolute monarchy in Africa, and how most people in your kingdom live on $1 a day while you and the family live it up. If I read one more article that goes on about your 15 wives (is it 15?) all having their own palace, I may vomit. Boring. 

For all I know, right now you might be having the time of your life, smoking some Swazi Gold, snuggling with one of the wifeys. I wouldn’t blame you. You’ve got a lot on your plate. 

Also, has your neighbour Cyril got in touch yet? If so, what did he say? I know you and the family will want South Africa’s support as you steer the kingdom through this attempted revolution – so I’m just wondering if President Cyril has a plan? I know many of the Swati pro-democracy people are urging him to support their cause. And it won’t surprise you that I agree with them. 

Cyril, Mr President, if you’re listening, I know your hands are full. You’ve got an awful third wave of Covid cutting a swathe through your country. Rolling blackouts are annoying the shit out of people who would at least like a few minutes of electricity a day. And on top of that, your predecessor has just been sentenced to 15 months in jail but he seems to have got lost on his way to the prison. 

But, President Ramaphosa, if I may humbly, truly, plead with you to cast your mind back to 11 February1990, when you stood on those steps in Cape Town, next to Madiba, holding the microphone for him just after he’d been released from prison – and remember that feeling. Remember what that feeling and that moment led to. That is all the people of Swaziland are asking for. The freedom to choose their leaders and the freedom to choose how they are governed. Indeed, freedom from a medieval form of government. They are yearning for that natural human urge to be heard. Dignity. That’s what this is all about.

Before I conclude, Your Majesty, I know you’re scared. I know you’re reluctant to give up power. I know a lot of people depend on you. But if you are indeed the father of the nation, now is the time, more than ever, when your nation needs you. I suspect that if you humble yourself and usher the country into freedom and democracy, with grace and honesty, you may lose the power but you might gain the glory. 

How do you want to be remembered? The king who killed his people so he could hold onto his power and wealth? Or as the king who gave up some power and allowed freedom to reign, and in doing so preserved the monarchy and prevented a civil war? 

That seems to be your choice at the moment. I don’t envy you. The other possibility, of course, is if you continue to hide away and bury your head in the pillow, until it’s all too late, you may one day find yourself in a dock in the Netherlands, trying to answer for your actions, or lack thereof. 

Before I leave you in peace, I’ve just thought of one possible email that might be sent to your complaint’s inbox. It might read something like: “Dear Sir, I have just been shot by a member of the army. I was only on the street calling for democracy. I am bleeding really bad. I can’t breathe. I am dying. Please use your power for good. Yours, Swati citizen.”

I wish you all the best in the coming days. 

With regards,

Bill Snaddon

This piece was published by South African newspaper The Mail & Guardian on 7 July 2021