The making of Barnabas, the politician
He has served in six Parliaments, including the very first Tinkhundla government; served under four heads of state and under five prime ministers. But, still Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini was never elected into Parliament.
This is the interesting statistic of the Prime Minister, Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini who only missed one term of office since the Tinkhundla system of governance was introduced by the late King Sobhuza II in 1978.
It is a distinction that sets this prime minister apart from the rest and perhaps explains why he was brought back to head government for the ninth Parliament, by His Majesty the King. When the King announced him as the new prime minister in 2008, it marked a return to politics for the veteran politician, who although not in the eighth Parliament, had served as a King’s advisor in the Liqoqo.
Yet, had he not been appointed into politics by the late King Sobhuza, and retained by Queen Regent Dzeliwe during that transitional government, and Queen Mother Ntombi the following year perhaps things would have been different as his chosen career path then was a chartered accountant.
The prime minister, in an exclusive interview with this newspaper for the celebration marking his 70th birthday, has spoken about how this appointment into Senate in 1978 was a turning point for him—and the reason why he is still in politics today.
Like any other young person, the young Sibusiso had dreamed of being a doctor while he was still in primary and high school, but a visit to a hospital to shadow doctors put paid to those aspirations. In university, he then decided to concentrate on "developing my skills in science, because I was good at science and mathematics; so I then decided on a career as an industrial chemist," he states.
But, this ambitious young man was to soon realise that a career as an industrial chemist would not do, as when he was at Ngwenya Iron Ore Mine he quickly reached the ceiling and felt he would need a new challenge.
That challenge was enrolling at the university for a Bcom degree (Accounting Economics), which set him on the road to his dream of becoming a chartered accountant.
"My long term vision then was that I’d have my own firm of chartered accounts. But, when I left Ngwenya Mine King Sobhuza II appointed me into Parliament," he says.
The prime minister reflects that that was the turning point in his life where he changed careers, without planning for that.
And the rest, as they say, was history. In his early years as a politician, he reveals that he rarely said anything in Parliament, except when it concerned issues that were technical, so it was no surprise when he then requested King Sobhuza to give him permission to pursue his first love of being a chartered accountant. His wish was granted, and he was off to the United States, in 1981 to return a year later in August 1982.
But two weeks after his return, King Sobhuza died.
The Queen Mother then appointed him into the House of Assembly in 1983, and made him Minister of Finance the following year.
He was then nominated again into the House of Assembly by His Majesty the King in 1987.
"It is quite rare, to serve four heads of state," says the PM with affection.
In all these Parliaments he has been appointed into Parliament by Their Majesties; "(I served Queen Dzeliwe, even if briefly and although there was no election at that period."
Serving under 5 PMs
As an experienced politician, the prime minister has learned from five prime ministers during his time as a politician—and he says he has picked some of their characteristics to add to his own qualities.
The PM served under Prince Maphevu, who he says was a strict disciplinarian.
"Actually he espoused that civil servants should not go home on weekends, so as to continue working on service deliver," reveals the PM. Prince Maphevu also expected everyone around him to work really hard, including civil servants.
He then worked under Prince Mabandla who he defines as having been resolute in the things that he seriously believed in. "Anything that he said he would do, Prince Mabandla would do."
Prince Bhekimpi also was strong in discipline and the PM says what he took from him was exactly that. "Bhekimpi was also very strong on discipline. He was also keen on rural development, hence his mantra that civil servants should go home on weekends (kuyolima).
During Sotsha Dlamini’s time, the PM says he also benefitted a lot from him, especially because Sotsha took a liking to him. "Sotsha was there briefly, but I gained a lot from him. He took a very good liking of me. In fact, he used to consult with me on a number of issues, especially on financial issues. But he was hard working, and expected everyone else to work real hard."
The last of the PMs was Obed Dlamini, who the current PM describes as never wanting to bother anyone. "Each minister did whatever they wanted. At the same time he was a consensus builder."
What I learned at Finance is that it was really my field. And I made a number of changes while at Finance.
Sales tax I found it already in the process of being made law, but I decided to implement it. It was promulgated in 1983, but it was still not implemented when I got there.
I made a number of reforms, especially on taxation—I introduced tax clearance certificates for instance, which nabbed a lot of culprits.
He’s been there, done that
Having been in politics for at least 34 years, it is fair to say that the prime minister has been in the woes during his three different terms. Introduced pension for politicians which he likens to having been as controversial as Circular No.1 of 2010. "It made me become unpopular," he says with a smile. Up until 1992, politicians weren’t included in the pension fund.
The trade unions strike in 1996, followed by another in 1997 by teachers which lasted four months, is what he describes as a challenge. "But fortunately we were able to strategise for it not to be effective."
One other challenge was the decision to purchase the jet for the King, which almost split Parliament—as well as Cabinet! Fortunately Parliament resolved it amicably.
The next major one was the Judiciary (the collapse of the rule of law) for which "I still believe if things were to happen exactly the same way, I would still do the same, based on the recognition for Swazi Law and Custom," he said.
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