Are PUDEMO and the NNLC ready to join hands?

For a long time the democratic movement in Swaziland has been split along party lines – between the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the People’s Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). And while political pluralism is indispensable in any democracy, in a dictatorship such as Swaziland political pluralism in the democratic opposition must, to a degree anyway, give way to unity regarding overall themes of democratisation and financial redistribution.

The formation of the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) in 2008 was an attempt to cast the differences of the political parties aside and form a coalition of all the democratic forces in Swaziland, especially since the differences between the NNLC and PUDEMO are relatively minor compared to the issues both parties have towards King Mswati III’s regime.Both the NNLC and PUDEMO are left wing, although the NNLC is more moderately so than PUDEMO which is strategically more revolutionary and militant. The NNLC withdrew from the SUDF, however, precisely because it believed that fringe segments of PUDEMO were too militant and “violent” and because it felt its queries to the SUDF leadership regarding this were not taken seriously, although it was clear that there were internal disagreements as whether to leave the SUDF in the first place. “Within the SUDF, we agree on the political issues but disagree on the strategy”, as the NNLC’s secretary general Thami Hlatshwayo stated to the author of this article. At a recent meeting, however, it was announced that the NNLC had rejoined the SUDF. Solving what Swaziland Democracy Campaign spokesperson Sikelela Dlamini has termed “the ongoing bickering within the ranks of the pro-democracy movement” in the August edition of The Nation magazine is therefore now to be “put to the test”.

To fully understand the dynamics of Swazi politics, it is important to look at the history of both parties and the relation of this history to various important events in the political history Swaziland.


The NNLC was founded in 1963 as a centre-left, Pan-Africanist party with links to Nkrumah‘s Ghana. According to its manifesto, the role of the NNLC is amongst other things to “liberate the citizens of Swaziland from a mentality that accepts the status quo, docility, and abuse of the people in the name of culture and traditions” and to “restore a multi-party democratic political dispensation”. The party wishes to create a democratic Swaziland under a constituted monarch, with social justice for all and open markets.

Already from its inception, the NNLC was involved in pro-active activities in calling a general strike in 1963 that was only broken with the help of the colonial military. As was to become the strategy of the monarchy after independence in 1968, the colonial administration arrested the entire NNLC leadership and charged them in long and costly trials in order to neutralise and financially incapacitate the party.

The NNLC was the only visible opposition to the ruling monarchy after independence and until King Sobhuza II declared a state of emergency, dissolved parliament, and banned all political parties in 1973. The reason for this had been that the NNLC had won three seats in parliament in the 1972 elections and the monarchy feared that they might win more – especially as the votes that the number of votes that the NNLC had received were significantly higher than the number of seats they won indicated due to the first-past-the-post-system employed in Swaziland.

After 1973, however, the NNLC has been discredited in the eyes of many Swazi’s because of the acceptance of posts within the regime, including ministerial posts, by NNLC members and the party’s lack of grass roots level activity.

As a result of the above-mentioned problems and the increasingly brutal clamp-downs upon any party-political or oppositional political activity in Swaziland, such as the sixty-day detention orders that were used to imprison and further stifle the NNLC leadership during the seventies, party politics was effectively paralysed until the forming of the PUDEMO in 1983.


PUDEMO was formed in 1983 during the political deadlock caused by the death of King Sobhuza II in 1982 and the subsequent power struggles over who would succeed him that lasted until King Mswati III was finally crowned in 1986. PUDEMO was formally launched in 1985, mostly by students and unionists, with Mario Masuku being elected president.

Mswati III failed to reproduce the legitimacy and respect that his father Sobhuza II had commanded, due in part to the former’s excessive spending, and PUDEMO touched a raw nerve in pointing to this. Along with a treason trail against PUDEMO in 1990 that resulted in most of its charged activists being released, this helped give PUDEMO a public face. It was thus PUDEMO that was to become the main political proponent of democratisation in the eighties and nineties.

PUDEMO is an internationalist, socialist democratic party that is somewhat more revolutionary in its rhetoric than the NNLC. PUDEMO seeks to replace the present tradition consciousness in Swaziland with one that is both revolutionary and working class orientated, and its Freedom Charter-inspired manifesto specifically states that it is dedicated to “destroy[ing] the Tinkundla [feudal] system” and creating a Swaziland where “the country’s wealth shall be enjoyed by all citizens and shall be shared equally … [and where] there shall be social security and welfare for all”. PUDEMO also calls for smart sanctions against the Swazi regime. The more revolutionary rhetoric of PUDEMO is somewhat contradicted, however, by the fact that it also advocates a constitutional monarchy and “an environment conductive to economic growth”.

As previously mentioned, the NNLC has accused PUDEMO of being too militant and of advocating violence, something that PUDEMO president Mario Masuku has denied. “The NNLC see PUDEMO and SWAYOCO [the youth wing of PUDEMO] as too militant, but if they are militant, against whom are they militant? The oppressive Swazi regime?”, said Masuku during a meeting with the author of this article. There seems to be some disagreements within PUDEMO, however, as there is bound to be within any democratisation movement that seeks to include a large segment of the population, on both political and strategic issues. Some therefore believe that PUDEMO has tried to stretch too far in trying to encompass a wide section of political views, but this is only the case if PUDEMO is to be seen as a party. If PUDEMO, on the other hand, is seen as a broad movement with the over-arching goal of democratisation, such as the ANC was in South Africa, then there should be room for political pluralism within it.

Joining hands?

As we have seen, the disagreements that are bound to surface during any liberation or democratisation struggle are obvious both between and within the two main political parties or movements. That this should be the case is a natural effect of a budding political pluralism and not the main issue, however. The main issue is whether such a political movement can find the common political denominators that are clearly there in the case of the NNLC and PUDEMO and build a political platform around these whilst not disregarding their separate political standpoints. That this can be difficult has been obvious during the independence and democratisation struggles of other African countries, not only in joining hands to dislodge a repressive colonial or dictatorial regime, but also after democratisation has taken place.

The lesson one should learn from these other countries is that when a dictatorship crumbles, as is clearly happening with the present Swazi regime, the democratic oppositional forces need to have an legitimate and concrete alternative ready if the vacuum left by the outgoing regime is not to be filled by opportunists and populists. But such an alternative at least provisionally requires some kind of both political and strategic common ground amongst the oppositional forces as well as a solid democratic footing in the general population, both in the towns and rural areas. As PUDEMO’s president Mario Masuku has said, “no battles are won at the conference table if they have not been won in the streets and the rural areas first”. And there is a lot of common ground: both parties are more or less left-wing, both seek to democratise Swaziland, both wish to retain a constitutional monarchy, both wish to instil some kind of financial redistribution, and both insist upon actions beyond a negotiated democratisation.

Perhaps the most important thing is therefore to stamp out the “ongoing bickering” that Sikelele Dlamini spoke of in the beginning of this article, and speaking and working together in the SUDF is surely the way to go about this. The coming about of this unity is becoming increasingly urgent, however, as the rate with which the Swazi regime is deteriorating, with the threat of mass-unpaid salaries to all civil servants just being the latest instalment, is bringing change ever closer. As has been the case in many other African countries, however, dislodging a dictatorship doesn’t necessarily lead to true democratisation – only an initially united and broad-based opposition will. And seizing the moment – as the two parties have previously done in the early seventies and eighties respectively – is therefore vitally important.

4 Responses to Are PUDEMO and the NNLC ready to join hands?

  1. Vusi E Mbuli says:

    It can be a good thing if both parties honestly come together and fight the common enemy to reach a common goal. Peaceful work together thereafter democratisation they compete for members. I believe is time to broaden the consciuosness of the Swazi population, jointly. Is not time to fight.

  2. wandile says:

    Lets join hands to fight Mswati’s regime bekunene and put our differences aside!!!!!!

  3. Ntokozo says:

    Of course its time that we work together to liberate ourselfs,the more silwa sodvwa the enemy is gaining happy about tyhis move hope to make the best out of it.

  4. Slwane says:

    The NNLC and PUDEMO might share the same political views but I don’t see a merge anytime soon, mainly because of the way the tackle issues. Like u said, PUDEMO is more hands on the other hand the NNLC is more on the round table.

    I strongly agree with Masuku, u cant win a war around the table 1st. Am fir the NNLC but I choose PUDEMO fighting skills.

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