South Africa Supports Swaziland to Engage Government around Upgrading Policy

Last week, a delegation from South Africa travelled to Swaziland to support communities in their work with government around a national upgrading policy currently under review. Read the full report below. 

By Kwanele Sibanda, CORC, South Africa 

Background of Swaziland

The Kingdom of Swaziland is located in Southern Africa and is land locked (almost completely surrounded by South Africa) with the Republic of South Africa and Mozambique forming the boarders. The Swazi Nation Land, which is communal, is held in trust by the King and parts of it are allocated by Chiefs to individual Swazi families for their use. Swaziland has four administrative regions which are further divided into 55 Tinkhundla Centres (Local Administration) these form the basic unit of political administration. Political parties were banned from the constitution promulgated on 13 October 1978.

Swaziland is one of Africa’s smallest countries yet has an estimated 2014 population of 1.27million which ranks 155th in the world. The country faces several health issues including HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. It has a life expectance of just 31.88years, the lowest documented life expectancy in the world and less than half the world average.

34% of the nation stands unemployed. 70% live on less than a dollar per day. 35% of adults suffer from HIV. 

Background of local federation

The federation of Swaziland is known as SLIPO (Swaziland Low Income People’s Organization). No local support NGO has been established as yet. The federation activities are currently being anchored by John Dlamini who has supported the federation from its revival in 2011. In 2008 an exchange was held to Zambia and it was attended by municipal officials and zone leaders. Upon their return, they established the federation with a lot of support from the municipality. An MOU was submitted to the national government in 2012; however no formal feedback was given back to the federation.  Out of Swaziland’s total of four regions, the federation is in two regions namely: Manzini and Hhohho. The other two regions that have not yet been mobilized are Lubombo and Shiselweni. SLIPO’s membership is currently at 429 and they have R498 333.00 in savings. The federation is currently in the process of building a federation office that is being funded by SDI.   

Purpose of exchange

In 2008, residents of Mbabane were informed that the government is working on a policy around upgrading; however it is asserted that no further consultation was held with the respective communities. Without much knowledge about the implications of the policy; the communities remained relaxed. As SLIPO intensified its engagements with the state in 2014, it came to light that the policy had reached an advanced stage and if it is not attended; its implementation may come with more harm than good for the poor communities. To start off the process, the policy shall be implemented with an intention of upgrading 9 areas around Mbabane and that will affect Ward 1, 2, 3, part of 7, 11 and 12. Each Ward is divided into Zones. The Land Allocations Policy and Procedure went through council and passed. It was recommended that it be forwarded to the Minister and it is currently with him for approval before it is forwarded to cabinet. The first and direct negative implication of the policy especially to the poor is that; he who cannot afford a site estimated at R42 000 shall be required to seek a new place of residence (in a form that can be described as eviction). According to the state, the aim of selling the sites is that of raising funds for service installation. As SLIPO grows to another stage within the SDI alliance; it encountered a challenge that requested support; hence the request for the South African alliance to go and support. Delegated to support the federation of Swaziland from South Africa was Patrick Matsemela, Nomvula Mahlanga, Thandeka Tshabalala and Kwanele Sibanda.

Exchange preparatory meeting

Date:  30/10/2014

Day one of the exchange started off with a preparatory meeting. The preparatory meeting was between the South African delegates and 6 SLIPO saving scheme leaders. 

Introductions were made in the following manner: name of member, saving scheme, component, total saving scheme amount and UPF.

The preparatory meeting had 3 main objectives:

  1. Introducing some of the South African delegates to the Swaziland federation members and briefing on the federation’s background and current status that prompted the need for an exchange.
  2. Outlining the programme for the entire period of stay.
  3. To discuss key issues that had to be focused on in the meeting with the Mayor and the Councillors.


  1. Introductions were made and John Dlamini from SLIPO shared the background of the federation as indicated under ‘Background of local federation’.
  2. The programme of the exchange was outlined as indicated below:
  • 30/10/2014 – 10:00: Preparatory meeting (S.A and Swaziland federations)
  • 30/10/2014 – 16:00: Meeting with the Mayor of Mbabane and the Councillors.
  • 31/10/2014 – 08:00: Meeting with Zone leaders
  • 01/11/2014 – 10:00: Meeting Federation leaders + site visit to the office under construction.

       3.  In preparation for the meeting with the Mayor, the points below were highlighted:

  • The meeting with the Mayor and the Councillors was requested by SLIPO.
  • The meeting with the Mayor came about in the following way:
  • It was prompted by the advanced stage of the Land allocation policy and procedure that is currently a draft; in the swing of being implemented and above all, putting all informal settlers and low income earners at risk of being evicted from their current places of residents.
  • The SASDI delegates were requested to focus their presentation on how they partnered with their government and what they have achieved.
  • Shared background information on the draft policy and its inevitable implications.
  • The team was advised that councillors to be met are from both the formal and informal wards. It was also added that SLIPO does not focus on informal wards only, but also mobilizes and organises members in the formal wards because there is a great percentage that is struggling to pay rates and taxes and run at a risk of having their properties seized.
  • SLIPO would like to mobilize, organize communities, use SDI tools and be able to influence policies and the manner in which they are drafted.
  • SA delegates were advised to expect challenges from some councillors because in the coordination for the meeting, some councillors were already arguing how South Africans can assist Swaziland and yet they are burdened by their own informal settlements.
  • Request to emphasize the non-political aspect of the organization
  • Our challenge is that within the Municipality, there is no proper handover of information as a result the change in officials imply starting engagements all over again.
  • It was also indicated that even Mayors and Councillors of places that have not yet been mobilized were invited so that they start getting an understanding of the SDI’s approach to development.

Meeting with the Mayors and the councillors


  • Benito George Jones – Mayor of Mbabane
  • Khetho Dlamini – Mayor of Manzini
  • Makhosazana Shongwe – Representing Mayor of Ngwenya
  • Sipho Shongwe – Mayor of Piggs Peak
  • Four councillors, seven SLIPO representatives and four SASDI alliance delegates.
  • The meeting was chaired by John Dlamini
  • After introductions the purpose of the meeting was outlined as that of making a formal presentation to the Mayors and Councillors about the SDI Alliance with more focus on SLIPO
  • SLIPO’s presentation covered its background, aims and objectives, member, savings UPF, loans, projects as well as areas covered.
  • The above was followed by the SASDI alliance’s presentation that gave an overview of SDI, tools used, S.A partnerships with the state and other formal institutions as well as achievements. The various representatives explained how working closely with saving and organized communities results in meaningful development.


  • The Mayor started off by indicating that he is impressed with the presentation made and the approach being taken.
  • He went on to enlighten the delegates about the differences that are there between S.A and Swaziland.
  • While South Africa has three spheres of government (national, provincial and local), Swaziland only has national and local. In addition to the above, the local municipalities rely on rates and taxes payment as funds for development; hence the need to sell plots and install infrastructure.
  • The municipalities have a serious budget constraint because they do not get a budget allocation from national for service installation and maintenance. Funds received from national are for subsidizing service provision that is made to areas that do not pay rates and taxes. An example was given of a community that has street lights and waste removal, but does not pay rates and taxes.   
  • The Mayor furthermore emphasized that if there are such communities that are taking a stand in development; the state and SLIPO have to jointly have a model that clearly states how the process is going to be undertaken.
  • Inputs made by Mayors and councillors from other areas showed that they have interest as well as a lot of knowledge about SLIPO. Some councillors even mentioned names of saving schemes within their areas that were not present in the meeting.
  • Lastly, it was indicated that for SLIPO to be recognized as a national structure, it has to cover all the four regions of Swaziland.
  • In response to the question about the MOU submitted, it was indicated that the MOU was directed to national and not the local municipality. It was recommended that a formal working relationship starts off at a local level and the work done will be able to influence the national level.


  • SLIPO has the task of mobilizing, organizing and motivating communities to save in the remaining two regions.
  • SLIPO has to draft and present to the Mayor a model that can be used in the purchase of plots as well as infrastructure development.
  • Need to draft an MOU directed to the local municipality of Mbabane.





On day two of the exchange, a meeting was held between SLIPO saving scheme leaders, Zone leaders and the SASDI delegates. Zone leaders are equivalent to community leaders in the South African context. The aim of meeting them was that of: sharing the SDI concept with them, reporting on what SLIPO has been doing in form of saving schemes, share report back from meeting with the Mayors and Councillors and also requesting their support in establishing more saving schemes in their respective Zones.

The zone leaders were informed about the upgrading policy and also reminded that it is everyone’s challenge therefore a joint effort is required in finding a better solution. The estimated cost of each plot is around R42 000 and that will require at least a R600 contribution per member per month for at least five years. It was mentioned that the majority of residents are unemployed and for those that are employed they hardly earn R3 000 per month.

The zone leaders gave a positive response and some even shared history of the government’s targeted areas. One of the zone leaders indicated that one of the targeted areas is an area where his parents were born. ‘My father is 86 years old now. He is unemployed and does not receive any pension. How is he supposed to raise the required money?’ The leaders basically denounced the displacement of residents in the name of development and furthermore pledged to support SLIPO in mobilizing communities and engaging the government in a workable solution to the challenge.

The Zone leaders requested SLIPO to visit their Zones so that presentations can be done to each entire structure.



DATE: 01 November 2014

On the third day of the exchange, a meeting was held with saving scheme leaders. The purpose of the meeting was to give a report back of the engagements that had taken place on the 31st and the 1st of November, share savings reports, discuss mobilization and establishment of more saving schemes.

All presentations were made and various proposals were made for taking the process forward. Below is what was proposed:

  1. Establish a team to focus on mobilization. Draft a program that will include meeting the Zone leaders as well as extending to the remaining two regions.
  2. Write a letter to the Mayor thanking him and the other officials for hosting SDI and also make a request of starting monthly joint meetings to share what SLIPO is doing, request relevant officials to participate in the various SLIPO activities, request for support and to keep constant communication around activities.
  3. The SLIPO saving scheme leaders have the task of going back to their respective saving schemes to discuss and agree on a reasonable affordable amount that saving scheme members can contribute on a monthly basis towards the purchase of plots.
  4. The Mbabane Mayor’s comment about financial strain at a Municipal level was noted; however it was proposed that while SLIPO members save and make contributions towards their development, SLIPO should stay determined to tap into useful resources at the disposal of local municipalities. The leaders have a task of drafting an MOU directed to the Municipality of Mbabane as recommended.
  5. The leaders must start off by choosing one settlement that they will use as a learning centre and work on a project with the municipality.
  6. It was recommended that the upcoming three enumerations scheduled for January 2015 should be of settlements that have active saving schemes and also fall under the areas that will be affected by the new policy. The policy has defined places were the implementation will start.
  7. SLIPO must choose a documentation team to compile stories about projects, exchanges, engagements and personal stories from members.
  8. The leaders should make a follow up on the proposed exchange to South Africa with official that have influence on the policy being drafted.
  9. FEDUP should assist in the establishment of networks.


Lessons from Swaziland

Savings Groups

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

“When the NGO disappeared it was like a shepherd looking after the sheep and the sheep were scattered…that is what I was picturing. To my surprise we found that all the people we found last time were still here and it gave us more courage to emphasize our support.”- Rose Molokoane

Recently a team from South Africa visited Swaziland to meet with the communities aligned with the Swaziland Low Income People’s Organisation (SLIPO). The team was made up of South African community leaders and a member of the SDI secretariat.   While professional and leadership processes in Swaziland have stuttered over the years, the exchange team learned that many of the Swazi savings schemes and communities remain committed.  Infighting amongst leadership and a lack of clarity about the core SDI rituals and how to implement them remain significant challenges. The core purpose of the exchange was to assess and re-invigorate the Swazi process and leadership, albeit with the pledge of sustained support from South Africa; in the words of Rose Molokoane “Swaziland will become like South Africa’s baby”. Although SDI’s presence in Swaziland is small, the exchange visit raised a number of issues and examples that speak to much broader and diverse challenges within, and beyond the SDI network. These came up in the nightly reflection sessions conducted by the exchange team.

Dealing with issues of Leadership:

“Lets take our caps down and say we have volunteered as the leaders to make this country better for the poor. We do not use elections we ask who is good at what! All of you come together, assess yourselves and see who is good at what.” – Rose Molokoane

One of the core issues hampering the Swazi process was a lack unity amongst the leadership on the way forward. The South African team emphasized unity of purpose and mapping a clear way forward in their engagements with the Swazi leadership. What struck me was the manner in which the South African leadership engaged their Swazi counterparts. Social movements are complex organisms, comprised of individuals with divergent opinions who simultaneously need to present a united front. Negotiating internal community dynamics involves listening, assessing and intervening in a supportive but decisive manner without undermining individuals. It involves walking a line and speaking a language unique to community members who have faced similar challenges. The anecdotes, similes and comparisons that comprise this rhetoric avoid personal antagonism while making powerful points about unity of purpose.  It is unlikely that a professional will ever understand these dynamics; drawing out points which are important but may seem irrelevant, the manner in which to listen and hear what people say, how to suggest changes subtly, using metaphors to build collective unity of purpose, cutting to the core of the issues which are hidden below the surface and learning from the engagements instead of just “teaching” others. 

“We learnt that we must find a good way to solve problems. Fighting is not the way – we must come together and talk and look at the way forward. The mistakes are there to teach us lessons and give us power. From our mistakes it should make a strong way to make SLIPO strong. We have to come together and work together.”- SLIPO member 

The lesson here is about the way in which communities speak to and engage one another, what they see differently and how they use practical experience to define such engagements. The Swazi engagement illustrated firsthand what is gained when capacitated community members engage each other on their own terms and in their own language, a learning engagement that is very different to those mediated by professionals. 

Sustainable Processes?

SLIPO Office

A topic of discussion that emerged amongst the exchange group was the long-term sustainability of the Swazi process. Despite various interventions made over the years to re-invigorate the process, SLIPO remains unable to leverage resources or move towards internal sustainability. This begs the question of how long external funds can be used to prop up social movements. Is the withdrawal of funding a disservice to the urban poor? Should leaders be doing more to make the movement sustainable since donor funding is never guaranteed in perpetuity? What dependencies emerge when donors continue to fund movements that do not have the capacity to be sustainable or leverage significant resources from government? And do such dependencies ultimately weaken communities and leaderships who continue to rely on external assistance rather than deepening their own capacities?

These questions speak to much broader themes within the SDI network and the development world. The importance of communities being involved in their own development processes is magnified when that involvement implies some form of contribution (whether financial, technical or through sweat equity). The very basis of the entire SDI network, female centered savings groups, stresses savings as a means for enabling communities to bring something to the negotiating table. The process is not merely fiscal, as it builds capacity and a collective agenda alongside a financial basis for negotiation. If a process is truly built from the bottom-up it is these savings schemes that are the building block for leveraging further resources and funding – their sustainability rooted in the social capacities that develop alongside them.

Urban or Rural?


Initial impressions of Mbabane were not of a large bustling urban center but of a town somewhere between rural and urban. While some factories and warehouses dot the road to Manzini, Swaziland remains largely rural.  Can countries like Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana, were SDI has begun to establish a presence, really be considered urban in the same sense as Kenya? Not that any two pictures of urban poverty are the same but different dynamics are certainly at work. Communities still retain strong rural ties and layouts could be considered peri-urban-a form of urbanism that is evident in many countries in which SDI works (e.g. Malawi, parts of South Africa). The long history of Swaziland as a “labour reserve” for South African industry (especially mining) has created a large migrant labor force undoubtedly affecting the dynamics of communities and urban poverty in cities like Mbabane.

As the SDI network expands it needs to develop varied responses to different cities along the continuum of urbanization. Informality in dense, urbanized and rapidly growing cities is very different to that experienced in Mbabane. Recognizing such dynamics and learning from how they play out at a community level is imperative to deeper and more insightful engagements, not just in Mbabane but also in similar cities across the SDI network.

Way forward for Swaziland:

“The federation in Swaziland is very much alive because even though they have been informed late yesterday about the meeting their attendance did not reflect this.”- Emily Mohohlo

The exchange team ended their visit by drafting, in close conjunction with the Swazi leadership, a work plan. The plan aims to re-invigorate savings schemes, draw Swaziland into the Southern African Regional Hub, capacitate leadership through mentorship by the South African process and complete construction of the SLIPO office so that the federation can have a place to meet and store records.  In the final reflection session, conducted with the Swazi leadership, the team stressed unity of purpose and the strength of local savings groups as key to the way forward.

“Now we have a proper program we can bring back the image of the Swazi federation. We have to become a strong united front. Change can happen if you as an individual can become the change – you have to be the change that you see. You have to build the unity amongst the leaders – there are many issues that are pending and through unity you can move forward with this. For all these days that we have been together we are not doubtful that we have seen progress and that this will bring positive results and positive reports to the Southern African Hub and the entire SDI family.”  – Excerpts from reflection session