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TRIBUTE TO THE INCOMPARABLE PRINCE

By JABU MATSEBULA | 2020-05-18

TWO things are probably significant about 1947 on the national historical timeline.

 It was the year King George IV boarded a battleship, the Vanguard with a staff complement of 2 000 people to Cape Town.

From there, he proceeded by train to Johannesburg, and on to Breyten, 70 kilometres west of Ngwenya where the rail line ends. The trip continued by car until the British monarch reached the then Swaziland.

Accompanied by his wife Elizabeth and daughter, who is now Queen Elizabeth II, King George followed the dusty tracks all the way to Goedgegun to meet with King Sobhuza II.

That historic meeting had been made at the Mbangweni royal residence, a traditional homestead that still stands about a kilometre south east of modern Mbangweni where the Shiselweni reed dance is celebrated. For that reason, the town was renamed Nhlangano, the meeting place.

History

The other significant occurrence was the birth of three princes. None of them was, however, named Nhlangano.

Instead they were Sobandla, Phinda and Matatazela. The three were part of the original cohort of the Malindane (Lindimpi Regiment), and each of them would stand out in their own way in the history of their country.

The extremely low profile Prince Phinda, who passed on last week, enjoyed royal status not incomparable with any of his brothers – for whom he was brother with father status.

His mother, Tikholisile Mkhonta had been promised to Ngwenyama Sobhuza II’s father, Mahlokohla who ruled as Ngwane V from 19 February 1895 to December 1899. He is more commonly known as Bhunu, a nickname that honoured the crude meddling of the Transvaal Afrikaner Republic in Swazi affairs.

Bhunu had died before the Mkhonta clan could keep their promise to provide him a bride. The maiden, delivered 30 years later, had been accepted by Sobhuza II. SiSwati has a unique way of managing filial relations.

Soul

It provides for leviratic unions under which a man can assume special responsibility to carry out full duties of husband on behalf of a departed relative. He is required to look after the woman in all respects as would her departed husband.

Custom dictates that any issue of the leviratic union is credited to the departed husband. So children born in the relationship belong to the departed soul.

Prince Phinda’s status after he was born was that of brother to King Sobhuza II, which elevated him to be father to his brothers.

In this capacity, he would assign even the most senior princes, who would report that they had been sent by their father.

Though Prince Phinda maintained a low profile throughout his life, his status within the house of LaNgolotsheni (his grandmother’s clan) only compared with that of Prince Maguga of Macetsheni who was born in similar circumstances.

As it was common with members of the Royal Family at the time, Prince Phinda attended the Swazi National High School, though only a secondary school in its time, it was esteemed with the title of Matsapha College. He then proceeded to Vincennes, Indiana, in the United States where he studied veterinary sciences and returned to join the ministry of agriculture.

Following the general elections of 1993, His Majesty appointed Prince Phinda into the Senate and subsequently became Minister of Broadcasting, Information and Tourism in Prime Minister Prince Mbilini’s cabinet. Notable members of that cabinet included the late teacher’s union leader Albert Shabangu, Dr. Sishayi Nxumalo and current Deputy Prime Minister Senator Themba Masuku.

Prince Phinda was minister of information when the internet first reached Swaziland and University of Swaziland lecturers Graeme Mathews and Eelco Vriezkok established the first internet service provider (ISP) in one of the staff houses at Luyengo campus.

This predecessor of what subsequently became Africaonline, inspired fierce competition from Lachezar Karadjov who founded Real Image in Mbabane.

Support

In recognition of his status as senior prince, His Majesty allocated Prince Phinda land directly opposite the Lozitha State House, sharing boundaries with the ceremonial Mfabantfu Royal sorghum fields and the Ngabezweni Royal Residence. The prince named his home Busweni (which means in your face) on account of its prominent visibility.

The prince loved soccer and perhaps unwisely, fully supported Kwaluseni Rebels. This club drew its heart and soul from Mbhuleni, one of the rougher sections of the Manzini region. Ordinarily, such a disapproving association would have been anathema for a high profile person with national political responsibility.

The prince later found out to his regret that he had often innocently shared cars with some members of the club who were notorious for their underworld associations. His cabinet career ended suddenly when he was found driving a car associated with one of the more colourful Mbhuleni leading figures notorious for stolen cars. As a senior national leader, Prince Phinda was one of the prominent behind the scenes movers in the early ‘90s who helped mount a successful domestic charm offensive that included creating space for pro-democracy advocates, especially within the labour movement who were recruited to play a role in government.

His Majesty subsequently appointed the prince chairman of the University of Swaziland, which by coincidence is across the Luntsatsama river, a stone’s throw from Busweni. He served this sinecure for more than 20 years while also participating as a member of various Royal Committees.

Prince Phinda was unfortunately not blessed with good health, and has spent considerable time in his 73 years in and out of surgery and under constant medical care for a stomach problem. Despite it, the King’s regiments will not find a hardier fellow or a more committed adherent.  Those close to him knew that whatever his state of health, Prince Phinda always kept his place in the ranks during Incwala.

The prince’s health was already in jeopardy in 2018 when His Majesty relieved him and appointed Prince David as Chairman of the University Council and assigned him to the Land Management Board.

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