Traditionalists in the African kingdom of Swaziland pulled off their second palace revolution in five months today when they ousted Queen Regent Dzeliwe, who tried to support reformist elements in the government during her year as monarch.
The queen regent's formal title is indhlovukazi, or great she-elephant. The new one, Ntombi, is in her early thirties, and sources close to the palace say the supreme national council, called the Liqoqo, will find her easier to influence than the strong-willed Dzeliwe, 53.
The traditionalists of the Liqoqo carried out the first palace coup in March, when they forced Dzeliwe to fire reformist Prince Mabandla Dlamini as prime minister and appoint their own man.
The new queen regent, Ntombi, is the mother of 15-year-old Prince Makhosetive, whom the Liqoqo chose secretly as successor to the throne after the death last August of the 83-year-old king, Sobhuza II, who was the world's longest reigning monarch. As Sobhuza left 70 wives and 150 children after ruling for 62 years, the succession question was complex, and such rules as existed were not well-remembered.
Swaziland, with its tribal traditions, is surrounded by Marxist Mozambique on one side and white-ruled South Africa on the other three. It became independent of Britain in 1968. Sobhuza then set a measured pace toward modernity. The capital, Mbabane, is a partial exception, with a casino and nightclubs that draw tourists from strait-laced South Africa.
Prince Makhosetive will only assume the throne and become known by the traditional name of ingwenyama, or lion of Swaziland, at the age of 21. He has been sent to school in Britain to prepare for the job. This was in accord with the wishes of Sobhuza, who was trying to ease Swaziland into the modern world without breaking up the traditional tribal system that he had preserved through his long reign.
Sobhuza picked Mabandla to be prime minister as part of this policy of cautious modernization. After Sobhuza's death, Dzeliwe tried to continue modernizing, but the traditionalist establishment--with its power base in the Liqoqo--moved to strengthen its own position. This led to a power struggle between Mabandla and the Liqoqo, with the queen regent backing the prime minister.
At first, Mabandla seemed to be winning as he moved to dismiss two key traditionalists from his Cabinet, Foreign Minister Richard Dlamini and Justice Minister Polycarp Dlamini.
But in March, Dzeliwe suddenly switched sides, ordering the reinstatement of the two ministers, dismissing Mabandla, who fled to South Africa, and appointing the traditionalist Prince Bekhimpi Dlamini as prime minister.
It was rumored at the time that Dzeliwe had done this because the Liqoqo threatened to name the successor to the throne officially, which would have meant his own mother would immediately take over as indhlovukazi.
Senior members of the Liqoqo denied the rumors, saying such a threat would have been improper, but it appears to be what has now happened. Palace sources interviewed by telephone today said the latest round in the power struggle was precipitated by a decision, still unannounced, to hold a general election in November.
The election is to be held under a traditionalist constitution devised by Sobhuza that places great power in the monarch's hands, and Dzeliwe would have been able to use it to strengthen her position.
Under the constitution, political parties are banned. Voting takes place through tribal councils which elect delegates to an electoral college. The electoral college is presented with a list of candidates, first approved by the monarch, from which it elects 40 members to a House of Assembly and 10 to a Senate. The monarch then nominates another 10 members to the Assembly and 10 to the Senate.
The sources said this could have given Dzeliwe a majority of supporters in the new parliament, who would probably have bought Mabandla back as prime minister. The Liqoqo moved to prevent this, the sources added. After publishing a special proclamation naming Ntombi as the new queen regent today, the secretariat of the Liqoqo issued a statement listing what it called Mabandla's "litany of betrayals."
The statement, published in Mbabane, said the former prime minister was "criminally liable for abuse of power." It accused him of corruption and treason and said he would be put on trial if he returned to Swaziland.