Today marks the 38th anniversary when King Sobhuza II suspended Swaziland’s independence Constitution and banned the existence of political parties in the country’s political life. Labour unions, students and civil society organisations have planned what they hope to be the mother of all protests to mark the event. Inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt Swazis hope to achieve nothing less than the realisation of full democratic rights. The union’s much anticipated protest may however be interrupted by the government’s announcement that the anticipated protest is illegal and “anyone who (goes) ahead with the protests would be “dealt with in accordance with the laws of the country”. Reports of the arrests of union leaders and journalists earlier in the day are but a few of the examples that indicate what the Swazi regime is capable of. It remains to be seen whether the people of Swaziland who have suffered for years at the hands of King Mswati III will finally have the courage to demand their long awaited liberation. It is again not clear what impact this attempt at demanding greater freedoms for the people will have on the politics of Swaziland generally. The jury is still out. Nevertheless, irrespective of how the protests turn out it is encouraging to see that Swazi people have not entirely lost the fighting spirit that recently helped the people of Tunisia and Egypt to remove their own dictators from power.
Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in Southern Africa. If the country ever experienced some sort of democracy it must have been in the first five years after independence. By 1978 the then king had suspended the independence constitution, dissolved parliament, and had introduced the state of emergency. His argument was that the constitution and political parties were incompatible with Swaziland’s traditional practises and way of life. When the King died his son King Mswati III took over the throne at the age of 18 years and together with his advisors and the mighty royal Dlamini clans has ruled the country without any attempt to change the status quo. In 2005 a new Constitution was approved by Swaziland’s Parliament to end the constitutional crisis created by the suspension of the independence constitution. However, the new Constitution vest powers in the hands of the monarchy, and King Mswati III still retain powers “to dissolve parliament and government, dismiss and appoint members of the judiciary and act as head of both police and army”.
King Mswati III known internationally for his flamboyant lifestyle and a great taste for expensive cars is together with his 13 wives accused of negligently using the public purse to maintain the royal family’s expensive standard of living. This happens in a country with the highest number of poor people and frightening statistics on HIV/AIDS. Without doubt Swaziland’s current situation demands that its people combine efforts in pushing away the frontiers of poverty while demanding greater freedoms from the Swazi regime. It is at times like these that serious questions need to be asked. What have the world done to help Swazi people? While SADC sends delegations to Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and recently Libya what has it done for Swaziland? SADC recently took a tough stance against Zimbabwe to the annoyance of President Robert Mugabe but its silence on Swaziland has been too loud. One can ask the same questions of the United Nations. There is simply world silence on Swaziland. The world has not only forgotten the plight of Swazi people, it has ignored and turned a blind eye to their situation. South Africa, the region’s economic hub has remained silent as well with only the unions highlighting the plight of Swazi people. South Africa’s painful past demands that it speaks out on what is happening in Swaziland. South Africa cannot fully enjoy its new democratic dispensation if its neighbours worship with impunity undemocratic practises which have no place in the modern era. South Africa and SADC needs to live up to their responsibilities in the region. Swazis have a role to play as it is they who can change their own circumstances. It is through a democratically elected and accountable government that Swazis can have their human dignity restored.
The next two months remain crucial in the history of foreign direct investment in South Africa. Wal Mart, the US retail giant is negotiating its grand entrance to Africa’s growing markets and this deal is reported to be its biggest acquisition since 1999 when it bought Asda, the British supermarket. A few months back, the international company offered to pay billions to facilitate its 51 % ownership share of South Africa’s biggest retailer MassMart. The deal was approved by Massmart shareholders in January this year. However, if recent objections in South Africa to Walmart’s anticipated entry into the African market are anything to go by, then it is assured an uphill battle in the next coming months. South Africa’s powerful trade unions seem determined to take the retail giant head on and continuously express a strong desire to oppose the merger. Also, government has so far shown strong determination to oppose a deal that stands in contrast to South Africa’s economic development plans and its strategic priorities for the next years.
Since the announcement of the Massmart/Walmart merger numerous yet critical and necessary questions have arisen around the desirability of the deal in particular the implications it is likely to have for South Africa’s retail industry, small –to medium –sized enterprises and the country’s job creation project. The Competition Commission, a body tasked with regulating the South African market in the public interests recommended to the Competition Tribunal that the deal be approved without conditions. This decision was highly questioned by those who specifically maintain that Wal Mart needs to guarantee job security for its workers and voluntary bind itself towards using domestic suppliers. The Competition Tribunal had scheduled public hearings on the deal last week but these have been postponed to May to allow opposing parties to the deal an opportunity to prepare for a cross examination of witnesses provided by Massmart/Walmart.
Critics of Wal Mart’s operation and practices whether in the USA, Chile, Argentine, or India raise issues which create many uncertainties and questions about the deal. Also, Wal Mart’s alleged poor global reputation as an employer and increasing allegations of its lack of respect for workers rights including its negative attitude towards labour union activities cannot be ignored. Reports by Human Rights Watch and other human rights activists also paint a depressing picture thus making it absolutely necessary for South Africa to ensure a proper scrutiny of the merger. Obviously, there are two sides to any story and Wal Mart has in the past disputed the allegations. Nevertheless, the risks of ignoring the issues raised by those with direct experiences of Wal Mart operations are simply too much to be left unaddressed. When Norway disinvested from Wal Mart its pension fund’s ethics committee alleged that “Wal-Mart is involved in “serious and systematic human rights abuses”, consistently flouting international rules on child labour, health and safety, underpaying women and blocking unionisation in the workforce”. Can South Africa afford to turn a blind eye to these allegations?
What is in South Africa’s best interest? Without doubt, the country needs direct foreign investment, but at what cost? Trade Unions maintain that they want ‘responsible’ foreign direct investment. It is therefore clear that South Africa needs to vigilantly apply its mind on this merger and any further dialogue should be in line with its strategic plans and priorities.
Categories: Issues Tags: African business, african economic growth, african economy, business in africa, Competition Commission, Competition Tribunal, foreign direct investment, growing markets, Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Wal Mart
International Day for The Elimination of Racial Discrimination Should Challenge Us Against all Forms of Discrimination
In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly declared 21st of March as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Celebrated annually, and meant to remind countries of their collective responsibility in the fight against all forms of discrimination, this day’s observation owes its existence to the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in which 69 people who were part of a peaceful demonstration against “pass laws’’ were brutally murdered by the South African apartheid regime. At that time, indigenous black Africans were legally required to carry dompas identity documents and to produce them whenever required to do so by the South African police. There were dire consequences for those who failed to produce such documents and many ended up in jail. In 1960, people of the township of Sharpeville participated in a peaceful march against ‘pass laws’ but were fired upon by the police. In South Africa, 21 March is celebrated as Human Rights day and is a public holiday.
More than 50 years after the Sharpeville Massacre, human rights activists and peaceful demonstrators still go through unimaginable suffering at the hands of those in authority. The ongoing killing of innocent civilians and peaceful demonstrators in Yemen, Bahran, and Libya are but a few examples that remind us that in some parts of the world people who dare question their governments still risks a similar fate to that of Sharpeville residents. As the world celebrates International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination thousands of people pursuing the struggle against elimination of all forms of discrimination, intolerance and other injustices are either behind bars, in exile or await dire consequences including death. Human Rights Watch reports on the state of human rights practises around the world paints a disturbing picture. What is further worrying though is the lacklustre approach that leaders and international bodies seem to adopt when occasions arise for them to show leadership and harshly condemn human rights violations. The 2011 Human Rights Watch’s report note that “in place of a commitment to exerting public pressure for human rights, they (governments that can be counted on to be on the side of human rights activists) profess a preference for softer approaches such as private “dialogue” and “cooperation”. The report goes further to list recent examples of soft approaches and these include “ASEAN’s tepid response to Burmese repression, the United Nations’ deferential attitude toward Sri Lankan atrocities, the European Union’s obsequious approach to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the soft Western reaction to certain favored repressive African leaders such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, the weak United States policy toward Saudi Arabia, India’s pliant posture toward Burma and Sri Lanka, and the near-universal cowardice in confronting China’s deepening crackdown on basic liberties. In all of these cases, governments, by abandoning public pressure, effectively close their eyes to repression”.
Months back, the world welcomed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy leader from almost 20 years of house arrest by Burma’s military government yet Chinese writer, human rights activist and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo is still behind bars. Liu Xiaobo, the only winner of the Nobel Peace Prize still in detention was sentenced to eleven years in prison by the Chinese government after co-authoring ‘Charter 08′, a manifesto that is robustly calling for democratic rights for the people of the People’s Republic of China. There is currently an ongoing campaign against his ongoing imprisonment. The campaign consists of more than 70 organisations including PEN South Africa’s Writers in Prison Committee and Poetry International South Africa. The question is, what are we doing as individuals when faced with situations of injustices? This year’s celebration should therefore challenge us to be more tolerant of those that differ from us and less tolerant of repressive governments and people in our lives who show disregard of the rights of others. Martin Luther King Jnr once said “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. He further maintained that “the ultimate treasure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of controversy”. In deed these wise words remain relevant even today and challenge all good men and women not to close their ears and deliberately block the loud cries of help from those around them.
International Women’s Day and Egypt’s 25 January Revolution: What Do the Women Stand to Gain From Their Struggle?
Will process result in any tangible gains for the majority of women who participated fully in the struggle?
Categories: Uncategorized Tags: apartheid, Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, Egyptian Coalition for Civic Education and Women’s Participation, Egyptian women, International Women’s Day, participatory governance, Protocol to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of women in Africa, rape, representative democracy, sexual assault, sexual harassment, women rights
No African Country is Immune to The Call for Change Sweeping Across The Continent, Not Even South Africa
Africans and people of the Middle East have spoken; and in their loud and clear voices, they have unambiguously made it clear to their governments that cronyism, nepotism, corruption, and any abuse of state resources and public power for the benefit of the few will no longer be tolerated. At present, demands for political reforms are mounting in Libya despite deadly threats from the current regime, and the people of Yemen, Bahrain, and Jordan are continuing with their struggle for freedom. As expected Zimbabwe’s security apparatus is on high alert and no one doubts its readiness to use whatever means available to crush the people’s demands for true democracy and to keep President Mugabe in power. Today, the first of March is Everybody Hates Bob Day (#EverybodyHatesBob on Twitter) and anti –Mugabe protests have been planned for Harare, Bulawayo and there will also be a demonstration outside South Africa’s National Parliament in Capetown. This demonstration is in response to the arrests of 45 Zimbabweans for watching uprisings footage. The arrested pro-democracy activists have since been charged with treason. Without doubt, only a fearful, paranoid and desperate regimes will respond with such stupidity to a normal act of watching uprisings footage. Unfortunately, this incident and many other instances of violent abuse, intimidation and repression against ordinary Zimbabweans happen under the watch of SADC. Perhaps it is time for SADC to realise that whatever it is trying to do in Zimbabwe is not working and the grabbing of foreign companies as Mugabe launches his “anti sanctions campaign” tomorrow as part of his election campaign clearly shows that he has little regard whatsoever for the regional bloc.
Tunisia’s wave of change currently spreading like wildfire throughout North Africa and the Middle East harshly reminds the entire African leadership that people will no longer accept anything less from them. The revolution is further proof that the people have had enough of bad governance. Going forward, it can not be business as usual and leaders need to vigorously assess the impact the revolts will have in their own countries. Long-serving leaders many of whom have poor service delivery records and dictatorship tendencies need to go back to the boardroom. They need to realise that there is nothing they can do about the present situation. People want freedom and they want it now. Victor Hugo, French poet, novelist, playwright once said “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. This quote captures the mood of Africans at this point in time.
Democratic South Africa was recently forced to engage with the implications of Tunisia’s revolt. In response to a prediction by Moeletsi Mbeki, political analyst and brother of former President Thabo Mbeki that South Africa’s Tunisia Day will be in 2020, the President’s response was “I can tell you there will never be a Tunisia in South Africa. We have a constitutional democracy here. No-one is being repressed; everyone has the right to say what he wants and to vote.” “It is impossible. I use the word again: It is impossible.”
One thing that the protests have taught us is that anything is possible. South Africans through violent service delivery protests have strongly made it clear to the government and the ruling party that constitutional democracy has to deliver on socio economic rights and it has to make it possible for all to live a dignified life with access to basic services like water, electricity, sanitation, health care, and so on. There is widespread acknowledgement that substantial progress has been made in the delivery of basic services to South Africans, however, much more needs to be done. The youth who are behind many of the current protests in North Africa are, for example, the main victims of the unemployment crisis in South Africa. Statistics show that about 50% of young people below the age of 25 are unemployed and have no chance at all of finding a job. Many hope the youth wage subsidy starting in 1 April 2012 will help soften the crisis, but it remains to be seen what its impacts will be. At the launch of the ANC‘s Election Manifesto for the 2011 local government elections to be held before May, the President of the ANC Youth League Mr Julius Malema correctly echoed the sentiments of many including the youth when he said that “this democracy is not a democracy of families; this is a democracy of the people of the South Africa”… “When families are exploiting the resources of this country and are enriching themselves in the name of freedom, when those in political office abuse their power to benefit friends, the youth must rise in defence of the ANC.” This statement comes at a time when there is a strong perception that members of the President’s family especially his 28 year old son Duduzane and the President’s close friends the Gupta family are getting state contracts worth billions of money. Surely it is stories like these that have brought out the wrath of the Tunisian and Egyptian people.
Whether the perception is real or not, what matters is that it exists and it was a contributing factor in the uprisings in North of Africa. South Africa despite its strong democratic institutions and a somewhat better service delivery record is not immune at all to what is happening around it.