Sunday, April 16, 2006

Intensify the border blockade against Swaziland

The People's United Democratic Movement of Swaziland PUDEMO International Office
Australia, Asian and the Pacific Region
April 16, 2006

Intensify the border blockade against Swaziland

On April 12, 2006 South African workers and supporters of the struggle for democracy in Swaziland staged successful blockades at all of Swaziland’s borders. The protest was in commemoration of the death of democracy on April 12, 1973. On this fateful day, the late King Sobhuza II suspended the Independence Constitution, declared an indefinite state of emergency and imposed a life ban on political parties. In the 2006 blockades, more than twenty people were arrested and some sustained injuries when the South African Police Service (SAPS) used rubber bullets to disperse the peaceful protest. Those arrested include senior members of the South African labour movement.

Condemn police violence
The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) is extremely disturbed by the apartheid-style police violence against South African citizens who participated in a peaceful protest to support the struggle for democracy in Swaziland.

The police violence is abhorrent and unwarranted. It invokes painful memories of a pro-apartheid police establishment whose main goal was to sustain an evil system of government. We did not expect this from a post-apartheid police organisation governed by one of the most progressive democratic constitutions in the world. Police brutality against peaceful political protest is symptomatic of intolerant totalitarian regimes such as the absolute monarchy government of Swaziland. In the lead up to the border protest, the regime in Swaziland warned its citizens against participating in the protest and deployed troops and armed police at its border posts.

Through this brutality, the SAPS has disgraced the South African system of democracy, political tolerance and respect for human and political rights. Thus the conduct by the SAPS must be seen by all as a shameful act which warrants the strongest condemnation possible. Democratic forces around the world must register their disgust against this police violence. PUDEMO is pleased to learn that the police have now released all those who were arrested. However, it is not known whether charges have been preferred against the pro-democracy activists.

Border protest: a commitment to free Swaziland
The border protest, which was organised by the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), is part of an ongoing commitment by the South African public to support the democratisation process in Swaziland. For ten years, SSN affiliated organisations such as The South African Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have relentlessly upheld their commitment to help free Swaziland. In pursuit of this commitment, SSN and its affiliates have, through peaceful public protest actions, demanded significant democratic change in Swaziland which takes cognisance of international requirements such as those established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. On several occasions, the South African-based solidarity network joined the people of Swaziland in their protests against:

· the ban on political party participation in national politics
· the political discrimination embedded within the Commonwealth-sponsored constitution making process
· torture and violence against the democratic and worker’s movements
· political persecution and imprisonment of political and labour activists
· neglect of public responsibility, e.g., the failure to provide basic public healthcare and,
· misuse of public resources to satisfy obscenely lavish royal lifestyles

PUDEMO highly commends and unreservedly endorses the South African people’s support, including the recent border protest. We regard the action to blockade passage of goods and services to and from Swaziland as a form of legitimate public protest to force the monarchy regime to agree to long-standing demands for significant progress towards democratisation.

In view of the geo-economic position of Swaziland, this support is a valuable political asset to the Swazi struggle for democracy. Geographically, Swaziland is almost surrounded by South Africa with only one border with a second country – Mozambique. South Africa is Swaziland’s largest trading partner and Swaziland has a high degree of reliance on this partnership which accounts for about 60% of total exports and 96% of total imports.

Sustained economic action by the South African public, if combined with government policy to economically isolate the monarchy regime, has great potential to yield substantial political results in Swaziland. It is inconceivable that Swaziland would have the capacity to resist sustained economic pressure brought to bear on the regime by a combination of government and public action in South Africa. Such action has potential to generate space inside Swaziland for a business and public revolt against the monarchy regime.

Economic sanctions as effective political weapon: the anti-apartheid experience
Economic sanctions are a widely used form of peaceful protest against repugnant regimes which oppress and neglect their citizens. They were used successfully against the apartheid system in the 1980s. Increasingly, the effects of international sanctions compelled the business sector to enter public political debate. By mid 1980s, the South African business community and transnational corporations began to turn away from the apartheid government. For these corporations, the apartheid state had become a major liability to business because of its recalcitrant position on democratisation. Prospects for business recovery did not rest with the protection of apartheid but with joining the anti-apartheid movement in creating conditions for a stable democratic state. Thus, the way out of the continued impact of international economic sanctions was to retreat from apartheid.

It was against this backdrop that in 1985 a high profile business delegation began to work with the leading liberation movement, the African National Congress led tripartite alliance. This shift in political alliance was a major setback to the apartheid state as it desperately tried to resist demands for wide-ranging political change.

Although international economic sanctions were used successfully in the South African struggle, they were never perceived as the only panacea. Instead, they were part of multifaceted struggles incorporating various strategies including armed struggle, mass action and clandestine activities. Furthermore, support for economic sanctions was not without its critics. The pro-apartheid media (local and international, including the Swazi media) echoed the apartheid government’s opposition to economic sanctions. Foreign governments with strong economic interests in South Africa such as the United Kingdom and United States of America initially opposed economic sanctions but subsequently endorsed them because of a swell in international support for sanctions. Most importantly, fearful of local political backlash, the Thatcher and Regan administrations preferred to remain in office than continue resisting local and international pressure to isolate the apartheid regime. Opposition to economic sanctions was premised on one dominant discourse - that the sanctions would hurt the Black poor people they purported to help.

The ANC, SACP and COSATU rejected this argument as absurd because Black people had not benefited from the system of apartheid. Under apartheid, the socio-economic wellbeing of Black people was grossly and deliberately neglected. The apartheid state exercised minimal responsibility towards the political, social and economic development of the Black population. Instead, it was mostly preoccupied with the wellbeing of the white minority population. It created an oligarchic society characterised by a highly mobile white community with skills and wealth, on the one hand, and highly immobile Black community which had little apart from its labour which was exchanged for very poor recompense.

Swazi media and government reaction against the border protest
The resemblance between opposition to economic sanctions against apartheid and the reaction of the Swazi media against the recent border protest is striking. There are only two daily newspapers in Swaziland and both have opposed the border protest. One of these papers is the royal family-owned Swazi Observer. Given that this paper usually opposes political actions by unions, it was interesting to see the prominent coverage it gave to the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU)’s decision not to participate in the border protest.

Apparently, Jan Sithole, the SFTU’s Secretary General, issued a national notice against the protest claiming that his union was not involved in the planning process. On the day of the protest, the Swazi Observer (April12, 2006) describes Sithole as having acted “bravely”. King Mswati III praised the trade union leadership and workers for putting the country first by refusing to participate in the border protest. The King told the Weekend Swazi Observer (April 15, 2006) that he was:

…encouraged by reports that some leaders of the unions took a well considered decision not to participate.
This shows a sense of maturity and a consideration for the country and its people. Anything that seeks to undermine peace, the economy and the country’s security must be opposed by all.

Cabinet ministers have also commended the union leadership and have paraded the decision as a trophy. The regime’s comments have thus completely disregarded the SFTU’s explanation for its decision. Before and after the border protest, the SFTU leadership issued public statements that the decision not to participate was taken because of breakdown in communication and that it actually supports the border blockade (see Times of Swaziland, April, 13, 2006).

The Swazi Observer (April12, 2006) editorial comment predicted apocalyptic economic consequences of political actions targeting the economy and warns:

No amount of political demands and pressure should leave us a poorer country because then we would be undermining the interests of the people we purport to fight for.
Any action that frustrates trade and business activity is a one-way ticket to gross suffering and vulnerability and should be discouraged at all costs.

A day after the protest, the Times of Swaziland, a quasi-independent daily newsprint owned by a British conglomerate, echoed the Swazi Observer’s commentary. It described the border protest as unacceptable and calls for “serious action by the local and South African Governments” as well as the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC). According to the Times of Swaziland, “…unions exceeded their mandate to cause untold harm to an economy that supports the workers in whose sympathy they staged the blockade.” These statements overlook the current political culture in South Africa established by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996. Under the Constitution, South African citizens have rights and freedoms to protest. Constitutionally, the government cannot, as suggested by the Times of Swaziland commentary, punish its citizens for exercising their constitutional rights and freedoms.

The reaction to the border protest is thus reminiscent of the 1980s alliance between the monarchy regime and the Swazi media against international economic embargo on South Africa. During this period, the Swazi media joined hands with the Liqoqo regime and subsequently with the current government of King Mswati III to denounce economic sanctions against apartheid. The regime went further to collude with the South African “death squad” to hunt down anti-apartheid activists in Swaziland. Several ANC members were murdered and “kidnapped” from Swaziland police stations by apartheid agents. This criminal behaviour of the Government of Swaziland was never investigated and reported in the local media. Whilst other states in Southern Africa supported economic sanctions against the apartheid state and gave protection to anti-apartheid activists, the monarchy regime dined with the devil.

Dining with the devil
From the mid 1980s to the 1990s, Swaziland benefited from its pro-apartheid position by acting as a gateway to international markets for South African companies. Within this period, investment from the South African manufacturing sector boosted the Swazi economy which registered healthy growth at an average rate of 7% per annum (WTO, 1998: IMF, 2002). The monarchy spent lavishly on arms, royal palaces and luxurious automobiles.

However, the economy sharply decelerated after the collapse of the apartheid regime in 1994. During apartheid, South African manufacturers had moved to Swaziland to evade international economic sanctions but after 1994, they largely returned to South Africa. There was thus a massive flight of capital from Swaziland which left the Swazi economy in strife. In the early 1990s, the economy slowed down and growth fell to 2.1% at the beginning of the 21st century. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Country Report of 2006, estimates real GDP growth in Swaziland to fall to 1.8% for the 2005/2006 financial year. This prediction was correct as the Swaziland Minister of Finance acknowledged in his recent budget speech that the 2005/2006 budget “…has been prepared under very hard economic conditions with barely a 2% GDP growth rate.”

Thus the benefits of the 1980s had created a false economy and the position of support for the apartheid economy was misconceived. The flight of capital has been compounded by other factors such as irresponsible public spending, lack of innovation, reliance on climatic economic activities, mismanagement, corruption and most importantly, the absence of political accountability.

Grim economic outlook and social neglect: indications of a failed state
Like the pro-apartheid media in the 1980s, the Swazi media ignores one important aspect of the debate about economic sanctions – that the majority of Swazis gain very little benefit from the current economic system and have much to gain from significant change in the way in which Swaziland is governed. The current system has driven the majority of Swazis into abject poverty. They have been caught in a treadmill and are hurting now.

Assessments of the level of poverty in Swaziland give a grim reading. Government budget records show that from 2002/3 to 2004/5 financial year, the number of people living below the poverty line (less than US$1 a day) has increased from 65% to 69%. In desperation, Swazis are increasingly resorting to informal loan sharks to survive and are being charged interest of up to 360% per annum. The King’s response has been to tell Swazis to improve their budgeting skills and to save part of their income for emergencies (see the Weekend Swazi Observer, April 15, 2006). He cautioned “his subjects” against “careless borrowing” and advised them to apply a “strict regime of ‘saving for rainy days’” (Ibid). King Mswati III has completely missed the point that Swazis have no money to buy bread today and certainly have no spare cash to save for later. For most Swazis, there are no financially sunny days any more – all are “rainy days”. The country is facing an economic meltdown and the proliferation of loan sharks is merely one of the more obvious signs of a failed state.

The King’s response symbolises the obscene disconnection between the rich and the poor in Swaziland. It is reminiscent of the comment which has come to symbolise the position of the aristocracy in the French Revolution. When told that the poor people had no bread, Marie Antoinette is reported to have said “let them eat cake”.

The King’s response is also profoundly unSwazi and again demonstrates the fraudulent nature of his claims to be the guardian and arbiter of Swazi culture. One of the strongest and deepest values of Swazi culture is Ubuntfu - a communal approach to life and deep sense of responsibility to others. Our tradition is to help people who are poor and struggling in life. Our tradition is not to criticise that person and call them stupid or lazy. Yet this is precisely what King Mswati III has done. He is telling the majority of Swazis who are living below the poverty line that their poverty is the result of their lack of budgeting, not due to his profligacy and contempt for the welfare of Swazi citizens.

Whilst the government spends lavishly on the royal family household and politicians, the majority of Swazis have no jobs, nothing to eat, are sick and dying because of the acute lack of healthcare services. Unemployment is estimated at 30% and much higher among the youth population (IMF, 2006; Government of Swaziland, 2006).

More than 20% of the population of approximately 1.1 million, an equivalent of 220, 000 people, are living with HIV/AIDS. In 2003 alone, 17, 000 adults and children died from HIV/AIDS (WHO, 2004). In Swaziland the death rate amongst adults is exacerbated by the high prevalence of tuberculosis, an infection that can be adequately contained and eradicated through effective health policies. The World Health Organisation (June, 2005) observes that with a ratio of 1:3 adults infected, “…Swaziland faces a generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic”.

However, WHO is incorrect in its assessment of government response to the HIV epidemic. According to WHO, “the Government of Swaziland has demonstrated a high level of political commitment to fight HIV/AIDS since the start of the epidemic” in 1987. Contrary to this observation, the high infection rate is a result of state neglect of its responsibility and duty of care to protect its citizens through effective containment policies. Swaziland authorities were very slow to understand the potential impact of HIV/AIDS and actually discouraged people from using condoms. Current neglect of the healthcare system by the government shows that there is still a serious lack of political commitment in fighting the epidemic.

In 2005, Swaziland’s authorities refused to join the rest of the world to commemorate the annual World Aids Day because it was held during the time of the sacred Incwala ceremony. Incwala is a sacred traditional ritual which represents the spiritual renewal of the nation and affirms our belief that life is sacred. Traditionally, it is a symbol of hope and healing, particularly when the nation is under siege from natural disasters such as drought and disease. The ceremony draws tens of thousands of young and old men, and many Swazis continue to appreciate its significance. HIV/AIDS campaigns share the core values of Incwala – renewal of the nation’s health and the protection of life. The coincidence of Incwala and World Aids Day presented an opportunity to the authorities and the HIV/AIDS campaigners to raise awareness of the epidemic and promote positive health messages. A combination of these ceremonies would have had long-lasting effects, particularly among the older generation and rural population which have strong sense of Swazi traditions. It would also have provided the King with a well-overdue opportunity to make amends for his disastrous initial response to HIV in which he declared the use of condoms to be “unSwazi”. The decision not to commemorate World Aids Day was short-sighted and yet again reveals the truly careless and incompetent response of the regime to the HIV epidemic. The failure to grasp the opportunities offered by the coincidence of Incwala and World Aids Day shows the absence of innovative ideas and leadership among the ruling elite and its determination to ignore the biggest threat ever faced by the Swazi nation.

With 70% of farmers engaged in subsistence food production, the high rate of HIV/AIDS has almost incapacitated the capacity of rural households to produce sufficient food supplies, even in good rainy seasons. Assessments by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) published in 2006 show that “many households are facing chronic and acute food insecurity, which is not merely caused by poor climatic conditions, but is also compounded by the effects of HIV/AIDS and a general economic decline.”

The healthcare service in Swaziland is a disgrace and the authorities should hang their heads in shame for this acute neglect. Health facilities such as the Mbabane Government Hospital illustrate the government’s complete failure to meet its responsibilities. Reports in the local media have revealed horrific conditions at the Mbabane Government Hospital including assault of patients, rat infestations, sanitation problems and inadequate pharmaceutical, food and water supplies. (see Times of Swaziland, 17/12/05; 28/12/05; 26/02/06). Investigative journalists from The Times of Swaziland (26/02/06) describe the situation at the Mbabane Government Hospital:

Instead of giving hope for life to patients, the place simply sucks life away from them day after day until they die. Once they are admitted there, there is simply no hope that they will come out alive.

The place is dirty and it stinks.

The smell is now permanent and there are allegations that some nurses are shunning this particular ward because of the terrible state it is in. This is where patients are made to drink water that is also used to flush away their waste. The same water is also used to wash the sick patients.

“We have no option but to wash them here because there is no other place where we can wash them,” commented one patient.

Just when he was speaking, a female came with a bucket full of human waste to deposit in the sink where he was washing his dishes.

“This is a norm, we have no other place where we can deposit our waste this is because the toilets do not flush and even if they did, there is no water to run the waste,” commented another patient.

On April 15, 2006, the Swazi News (Saturday Times of Swaziland) reported yet another water crisis at the Mankayane government hospital. The hospital has had no water for a week due to a burst pipe which could have been repaired within a day. However, this was not done and hospital authorities decided to send patients home as the crisis worsened. Meanwhile, the government had the audacity to spend over E200,000 (approx. US$33,000) of public funds on luxurious curtains for the Prime Minister’s residence. The cost of fixing the water crisis at the Mankayane hospital would come nowhere near the money spent on the curtains. Whilst public health facilities have no running water and Swazi citizens are denied the basic right to healthcare, the Prime Minister barricades himself behind luxurious curtains. The sick at Mankayane hospital have gone home to die and the Prime Minister cannot be seen behind his curtains –a symbol of visual separation and indifference to the painful experience of many Swazis.

The economic situation in Swaziland is grim and shows no signs of improving. Swaziland is digging deeper into international reserves to finance the waste of public resources and the lavish lifestyle of those in authority. According to the 2005/6 budget reports, the economy registered a deficit of 4.3% of GDP. Whilst the economic situation continues to decline, corruption, misuse of public resources, political neglect and financial mismanagement are on the increase. Recently, more than E50 million (approx. US$8.2m) has disappeared without trace and no one in government is willing to take responsibility. This money was earmarked for the purchase of a water drilling rig which would have made a difference in supplying water in rural areas where the bulk of the poverty stricken population lives.

In view of the economic trends over the past 10 years, it is inconceivable that a solution to the economic crisis can be found in the existing system of government. The Swaziland business community and foreign investors should realise that the current system of government has become a big liability to economic growth and business prosperity. As the South African business community realised in the 1980s, the solution to this crisis is the creation of a stable democratic state with a new social contract between citizens and structures of governance. It is in the interest of the Swazi business community to come out of their cocoons and help hasten the change to democracy.

Our people are dying, hungry and sick and their situation cannot be resolved through piecemeal political reforms such as the recently adopted national constitution. We all have the responsibility and moral obligation to give Swaziland a chance to rejuvenate.

Appeal to the Government of South Africa and South African citizens
For over twenty years now, PUDEMO has been relentless in its endeavour to fight for political change through peaceful engagement with the monarchy regime. We have appealed to the international community to seriously consider economic sanctions against this repressive regime. The emphasis of our appeal has been on South Africa because of its geo-economic position.

PUDEMO reiterates its appeal to the Government of South Africa to stand up for democracy in Swaziland and impose comprehensive economic sanctions against the monarchy regime. In our view, if comprehensive sanctions are imposed, it will take a relatively short period before the monarchy relents to demands to open up space for significant political change. The recent border blockade has reopened the debate on economic sanctions as a form of struggle with great potential to yield political outcomes. Results from the one-day border action are already evident. Government officials including the head of state, King Mswati III, have been drawn into the public debate about the political crisis in Swaziland. Comments from King Mswati and his ministers reveal their fear of economic sanctions. The hysteria about the border protest shows that economic sanctions have the capacity to bite deep into the regime. South African citizens together with their government can effectively exploit this vulnerability to hasten broader political change and decelerate the slide into socio-economic decay in Swaziland. A slide into further decay in Swaziland threatens peace and security in the region.

The South African public, led by SSN and its affiliates, has taken the initiative to help the people of Swaziland bring the repression and economic decay to an end. PUDEMO supports this and calls for the intensification of the economic blockade against the monarchy regime. We appeal to the South African public to stay the course and not to relent under scare tactics that economic sanctions will hurt the poor. Our people now look up to the Government of South Africa to seriously reconsider this issue and take a leadership role against the recalcitrant regime in Swaziland. For too long now, the world has turned a blind eye on the political crisis in Swaziland. King Mswati III and his ministers have been at leisure in their endeavour to undermine regional and international aspirations of responsible governance and democratic practices. Consequently, Swaziland has, for a considerable period, been a stagnant backwater where nothing happens because international organisations such as the Commonwealth have decreed that nothing must happen.

In reaction to the border protest, King Mswati was quick to refer to the Commonwealth endorsement of the constitution making process which he described as inclusive. He also claimed that there are structures in Swaziland through which citizens can express dissatisfaction with the political condition. The argument is ridiculous, nonsensical and grossly misleading. No one with knowledge of the political situation in Swaziland would believe it. It contradicts the Constitutional Review Commission Terms of Reference which prohibited political and civic organisation from participating in the constitution making process. The product of this process, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act, 2005 upholds the ban on party participating in national politics.

Political intolerance and hostility against critics are core elements of the current system of government founded upon the King’s Proclamation to the Nation on April 12, 1973. It is against this background that the government has refused to open dialogue with the pro-democracy movement in Swaziland and to constructively contribute to international efforts to improve the quality of governance. The prohibition of political party participation in national politics grossly undermines the principles and aspirations of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). One of these aspirations is to see that “Africa adopts and implements principles of democracy and good political economic and corporate governance, and the protection of human rights becomes further entrenched in every African country” (NEPAD). It is regrettable that the Government of Swaziland has, to this date, not signed up to NEPAD’s Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) designed to monitor and assist progress towards quality governance in Africa. This recalcitrant position is characteristic of a totalitarian and secretive regime determined to stifle regional progress. The absolute monarchy is a political system born of another age. The time to change it is well overdue and South Africa’s contribution to Swaziland’s development is absolutely crucial.


Dr Jabulane Matsebula
PUDEMO Representative
Australia, Asia and the Pacific Region