Australia, Asian and the Pacific Region
January 1, 2006
Holding the bastards accountable
Two weeks before Christmas, Swaziland police arrested thirteen PUDEMO and SWAYOCO members on various trumped-up charges ranging from arson to attempted murder. These charges have now been upgraded to High Treason which carries a possible sentence of death or life imprisonment. The original charges have been upgraded for no apparently good reason. We challenge the government to explain what it is the activists are alleged to have done and how this can possibly be regarded as treason.
The Director of Public Prosecution, Mumsy Dlamini, has now sought the services of a South African lawyer to prosecute the charges because she knows that these are trumped up charges and she would find it extremely difficult to prove the case against the thirteen. The DDP’s decision also reflects the inefficiency, incompetence and irresponsible spending of this government. Why should taxpayers pay a South African lawyer to do the DDP’s dirty work? There is no justification whatsoever for this spending of public funds which will run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This recent development is tragic and sends an unambiguous message to the Swazi nation of the regime’s intent to ruthlessly suppress the movement for democracy. It ends a year in which the Swazi nation witnessed the arrogant imposition of the Commonwealth-sponsored Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act, 2005. The enactment of this Constitution occurred against the backdrop of massive public disenchantment with the constitution making exercise, particularly the exclusion of political and civic organisations from the process, the absence of public education on constitutional matters and the failure to embrace democracy.
With absolute control over the constitution making exercise and undivided support from the Commonwealth Secretariat, the royal family government was able to enshrine its ruthless policies in the new Constitution. These include the death penalty for treason and violent suppression of political dissent. Section 15(c) of The Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act, 2005 gives authority to state security forces to kill Swazis “for the purpose of suppressing a riot”. Many people would be horrified to know that the Commonwealth Secretariat helped to develop and gave its seal of approval to a constitution that enshrines the death penalty and gives power to security forces to murder Swazis. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act, 2005 casts serious doubts over the Commonwealth’s claim that it is genuinely committed to the principles of democracy and human rights.
At the 2005 Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) in Malta, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon, let the cat out of the bag in his infamous statement in which he claimed that “…people are beginning to ask…whether building a democracy is really the road to prosperity. Does democracy put food on our tables, clothe our children, put roofs over our heads and give us a future?” (November 25, 2005). It not clear to which people the Secretary General was referring because the call for democracy, a framework for good governance, socio-economic progress and respect for human rights, is a common theme throughout the world. McKinnon is a politician renown for his conservative views in his home country New Zealand, and it is obvious that on this occasion, he was speaking on behalf of tyrants. His statement is a coup against the Commonwealth Harare Declaration of 1991 which places primary emphasis on democracy. It gives comfort to tyrannical regimes within the Commonwealth club which can now confidently use the cliché “people can’t eat democracy” to justify crimes against their people.
As demonstrated in the recent arrests of pro-democracy activists in Swaziland, the Commonwealth-sponsored Constitution has given strength to the government’s violent rage. We are extremely concerned about the thirteen political prisoners and the support the Commonwealth continues to render to this murderous regime. This support has contributed enormously to the destabilisation of our society. Supporting tyrants never creates stability and it does not make sense morally and politically to continue insulating this cruel regime. Through this support, the Commonwealth Secretariat has effectively declared itself an enemy of democracy and a defacto oppressor of our nation. As a liberation movement, we hold the Commonwealth responsible for the arrest and torture of the pro-democracy activists and the continued repression of our people. PUDEMO and SWAYOCO will fight the Commonwealth by intensifying the international campaign to expose the organisation’s agenda to aid repression in Swaziland.
We appeal to the broader international community to condemn and express disgust at the Commonwealth’s support of the repressive regime in Swaziland. The Commonwealth must shape up or ship out of Swaziland if it is not willing to help build democracy by enforcing compliance with the Commonwealth Harare Declaration of 1991. The recent political arrests and the enactment of an anti-democratic constitution seriously undermines the fundamental principles of the Harare Declaration against political persecution, torture, repressive governance and neglect.
Events in the past year indicate that repression in Swaziland and neglect of political responsibility will continue into 2006 and beyond. Swaziland is a failing state with a track-record of years of social, political and economic neglect. Corruption is rife and embedded in most economic and political sectors. Private companies collude with government departments and individuals to plunder the economy through fictitious services and exorbitant costings. Recently, we saw a consultant accounting company collude with the government to award politicians an exorbitant pay rise. There is escalating HIV/AIDS infection with no effective intervention strategy in sight. More than 40% of the population of just over a million people is HIV positive and about 70 000 children are now orphans because of the epidemic. The responsibility for responding to this epidemic has been left to inadequately resourced non-government organisations. Healthcare services in public facilities have declined to an alarming level with patients sharing wards with rats. All the authorities could say is that they are planning to do something about the rat plague at the Mbabane Government Hospital (see The Times of Swaziland December 28, 2005). The rate of poverty continues to rise and there is no long-term strategic plan to reduce the deficit and encourage growth in the economy apart from reducing the public sector workforce by 10,000. This strategy is not visionary for two reasons. Firstly, it is highly possible that the redundancy programme would mostly affect low paid employees and exacerbate the problem of poverty and unemployment. Secondly, the decision ignores the key areas responsible for the deficit and negative economic growth – the current political system, lack of leadership and irresponsible spending by politicians and the royal family household.
This is not our vision for Swaziland. It is our strong belief that the current political system is at the core of the currently disastrous state of the nation. Fixing the political system and building a strong system of responsible governance is PUDEMO’s priority. Unlike the Commonwealth, we strongly believe that democracy can bring social, economic and political prosperity. Swaziland has enormous potential to grow economically but this has been suppressed by bad governance, self-interest and the absence of a bigger vision among generations of politicians. Hence, Swaziland has not been able to aggressively diversify the economy and continues to rely on highly fluid economic industries such as agriculture and textiles. The recent collapse of the world sugar price and closure of a number of local textile industries are testimony to the instability of these investments. Diversification of the economy, eg., expanding from traditional investments such as agriculture to new areas of economic activity remains an elusive vision in Swaziland. The intellectual potential of the nation has not been adequately explored as an economic resource as there has been little investment in technology and other areas of intellectual activity. Furthermore, lack of state leadership has resulted in the failure to develop a culture of efficiency and accountability. Brain drain from Swaziland is a huge problem. Professionals leave Swaziland in large numbers because the political system suppresses intellectual development and freedom. Through fear of reprimand, many intellectuals who stay in Swaziland are trapped in their small cocoons and rarely venture out to express alternative visions for Swaziland.
The arrests of the thirteen pro-democracy activists are an important part of the total strategy to suppress intellectual freedom. In their daily activities in the pro-democracy movement, the thirteen political prisoners have contributed valuable intellectual material to the progress of our nation. We honour and respect this contribution. Their incarceration is a tragic end to a bad year and another step backwards for social, political and economic development. These charges have no basis and we will fight them all the way to the Court of Appeal.
As a liberation movement with strong conviction to act for the good of our nation, we will continue to pursue the royal family government and hold it accountable for its actions. The incarceration of our members is an act of bastardisation and will not defeat our resolve to overthrow this illegitimate regime and make a difference to Swaziland.
Dr Jabulane Matsebula
Australia, Asia and the Pacific Region.