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.