THE HISTORICAL AND CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION OF SWAZILAND: WHAT HAS BEEN DONE AND WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE?
A Paper Presented by the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) President, Mario Masuku at the Zimbabwe - Swaziland Solidarity Conference organised by COSATU held at the St. George Hotel, South Africa on the 10th – 11 August 2008.
COSATU General Secretary, Cde Zwelinzima Vavi
The entire leadership of COSATU,
SACP and ANC leadership,
International guests and friends.
On behalf of the fighting people of Swaziland, dear comrades, please receive warm and fraternal greetings from the oppressed masses of our country. Our country stands on the brink of disaster, a catastrophe that has become accepted by some as beyond redemption, for its magnitude runs deeper than the source of the mighty volcanic eruptions.
This revolutionary gathering is a fitting tribute to the great work and contribution of our assassinated stalwart, leader and outstanding cadre of PUDEMO, the late Dr Gabriel T. Mkhumane. From where I am, I can already see where he could be seated were he amongst us today, a seat that is still not occupied, for few amongst us would dare fit the shoes of such a great legend.
Background to the crisis in Swaziland
The more things change, the more they remain the same, words of wisdom have always echoed. Since 1973, so many things have happened to the lives of the people of Swaziland, but all those things have not changed the quality of life of the people for the better.
With these provocative words, PUDEMO appreciates this opportunity to interact with you all dear comrades on a subject matter so close to all our hearts, how far have we come and how far are we to the promised land.
We do not seek to speak narrowly on behalf of our own selves, but to acknowledge the massive contribution we have made together as progressive forces in our country, including all our comrades from Swaziland present here today.
We also appreciate unreservedly the support from our South African comrades, particularly from the alliance, who have done all in their power to raise the issue of Swaziland, much to the annoyance of certain forces who believe that Swaziland should still belong to some 17th century archive or political museum, which must be a source of tourist attraction and academic interest for European anthropologists keen on studying how 17th century Africa looked like, a classical example of backwardness and primitive social relations of the worst order, with no regard for human dignity, women in particular.
Since the first march and blockade against the Swazi regime, we have made great strides, but have also suffered setbacks and no moment than this one provides such a great space for deeper reflection on all these for a renewed momentum forward.
Should it not be of interest to all of us that in our region we have a country that has evaded the powerful media screens, academic freedom train of political scientists and all the world’s watchdogs who should be ashamed of their witting or unwitting silence and failure to uncover more than 35 years of legalised political fraud in the name of Swazi culture and tradition.
But why should a fast evolving world of information highways and super governance systems on a global scale, afford to tolerate the longest state of emergence in the region and most probably on the continent as a whole. These are the questions we should pose to our governments, multilateral institutions of governance in our region and continent, as well as beyond. But even more uncomfortably, we must also pose them to ourselves. Should we be pardoned, for we did not know, or we did not see or we just chose silence, for it is golden sometimes and very convenient than the sacrifice that comes with challenging things.
Swaziland was a British colony until 1968 when an arrangement of convenience was made between the colonialists and the local traditional leadership under the monarchy for a settlement that would comfortably accommodate both forces in some form of partnership, that would not upset the conditions designed by colonialism, but only integrate a few amongst the historically oppressed in the form of the monarchy and its appendages. This is what is usually referred to as independence, which in less than a month from now will be costing the taxpayer millions to “celebrate” together with the birthday of the king, popularly known as the 40/40, as both are marking their 40th anniversary.
In 1973, the king proclaimed a decree that banned political parties and criminalised all forms of political activity, which paved the way for the monopoly over public affairs and politics by the royal family and their friends, a case that holds to date. We have a royal family that regards all of us as mere objects of exploitation, oppression and the satisfaction of its greedy interests, disguised as our national pride and culture.
The luxury of elections is too far fetched for our people. Since 1973 the whole nation has never seen what it is like to participate in free and democratic elections, where you can openly contest, freely persuade people, be openly scrutinised and finally, be held accountable for your promises other than singing royal praises and automatically landing a juicy position.
Even when SADC adopted the protocol of guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections, we raised our eyebrows that a new glimmer of hope is emerging on the horizon, guess what, we were to yet learn the mechanics of reality that, the nearer we get, the further we move away from our final destination.
Having considered all the factors above and seeking to characterise the ruling system in Swaziland, we can safely say, despite resistance from some quarters, the tinkhundla system is and remains a neo-colonial and semi-feudal system, founded on the premise of the exclusion of the overwhelming majority of our people, because of a royal regime that failed to transform society and the economy to serve the interests of the people, but instead integrated itself as an extension and corrupt elite into the well-oiled system of accumulation already in place then.
A brief balance sheet of the socio-economic profile of Swaziland
• Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world, which is now at 38 % from around 40%.
• Swaziland has one of the highest levels of inequality between the rich and poor, with the wealth being so unevenly distributed.
• The economy is no longer growing, but has stagnated and has, in fact been going down every year since around 2000.
• Women abuse is dressed in nice gowns, called Swazi tradition and culture, which undermines the rich heritage in our culture, thus serving the narrow selfish interests of a royal minority.
• About 70% of the population live below the $1 a day and over 300,000 of the around 1 million citizens depend on food aid, as means for survival and livelihood have been crushed by a failing economy.
• The bulk of the economy is now based on the informal sector, casual and contractual labour which are all, very insecure jobs and pay very low, thus creating a further crisis for decent livelihoods.
• It is common knowledge that more than 52% of the total income of the government is derived from the Southern African Customs Union pool, and were this not so, and our reliance on the South African Rand (to which the Swazi currency is pegged), inflation would be in the double digit
Like all other undemocratic regimes the world over, the economy of Swaziland is centred around the royal family and their friends. Cabinet dance to whatever tune sang by the master; recently the royal family receive funds and aid and distributes as it wishes through the king, queen mother, princes and princesses, to be perceived as benevolent and caring for the poor and suffering, whilst they are the primary cause of the hunger experienced by our people. Balancing these hand-outs with the extravagant expenditures by this family on itself is like chasing a wild goose.
A new constitution or a revised 1973 king’s draconian decree
In his proclamation to the nation, the monarchy on the 12th April, 1973 said,
"Now, therefore I, Sobhuza II, King of Swaziland, hereby declare that, in collaboration with my cabinet ministers and supported by the whole nation, I have assumed supreme power in the kingdom of Swaziland and that all legislative, executive and judicial powers is now vested in myself and shall, for the meantime be exercised in collaboration with my cabinet ministers. I further declare that to ensure the continued maintenance of peace, order and good government, my armed forces have been posted to all strategic places and have taken charge of all government places and all public services. All political parties and similar bodies that cultivate and bring about disturbances and ill-feelings within the nation are hereby dissolved and prohibited."
Many speculators have convinced themselves that this decree has ceased to be the foundation of the ruling political architecture of our country. Our view is that, it still continues to be the force behind the establishment. The new constitution is rather a reinforcement and further entrenchment of this decree and its fundamental provisions.
The royal regime, in response to the pressures of our people’s struggles, tried a hasty constitutional review process in which it was the player, the referee and the match commissioner at the same time and all we were privileged to be, was being spectators in a game we were supposed to be the players.
This is why we rejected the process and its outcomes with the contempt it deserved and still maintain that no short-cuts will take Swaziland to the promised land of milk and honey, but a protracted, honest and all-inclusive process leading to a multiparty democratic constitutional dispensation will deliver us to the land of our dreams.
That is why the constitution reaffirms the fundamental perspectives of banning political parties and all forms of political activity, frustrating the popular aspirations of the whole population and
undermining the supremacy of the rule of law. Such an arrangement will not take us forward.
Undemocratic elections or elections without democracy
In the obtaining circumstances in Swaziland, what are the possibilities of holding free, fair and democratic elections that should constitute the basis of a legitimately acceptable outcome and whose product could be the express will of the people.
We have, time and again, affirmed the centrality of a process that will lead to a democratic outcome for our country, in many documents, such as the “Way Forward to a Constituent Assembly Through a Negotiated Settlement” and the “Road Map to a New and Democratic Swaziland”, which fundamentally outlines the essence of our alternative route out of the mess tinkhundla has plunged our country into.
The regime has, once again, as expected, defied all logic and organised an electoral process that lacks even the most basic semblance of democratic participation. To test its authenticity and claims for a free democratic space, as PUDEMO we held our rally to commemorate our 25th anniversary in Manzini on the 6th July, 2008 and about four of our leaders were arrested and brutalised, whilst other comrades were hospitalised as a result of police brutality. Further, it has been made clear beyond doubt that, political parties remain banned and illegal, which means they cannot contest the coming elections.
The following conditions obtain as regards elections;
• Political parties remain banned.
• The media, judiciary and all public institutions remain tightly in the monopoly of the royal family and its friends and is used to criminalise political parties as divisive, fomenting war and is described as unSwazi.
• Traditional institutions and structures continue to be vehicles of intimidation and abuse, agitated against democratic practices.
• Parliament has no powers, but a mere rubber stamp of the royal family.
• The constitution remains illegitimate and does not have fundamental guarantees for the creation of a conducive environment to conduct democratic elections.
We also note that various international organisations have clearly refused to condemn Mswati, at best preferring to play hide and seek around words like, “not sufficiently democratic for proper elections”.
We further note the hypocrisy of the UN in encouraging women to participate in undemocratic elections much against the progressive movement’s call for a boycott of the elections, which is seen as an attempt to use a very legitimate issue, which is the dehumanisation and under-representation of women in decision-making processes to support an undemocratic, highly patriarchal and oppressive system, which shall turn a few women in parliament into stooges or agents of patriarchy and political tools of oppression.
We condemn this in the same way that we condemn the Commonwealth which designed the current constitution, supported tinkhundla oppression and is now turning against the product of its own failures, the royal elections, because it has been exposed for its hypocrisy and opportunism and is shying away from associating with the mess of its own making, which unfortunately is costing our country, people and the struggle in general.
The same Commonwealth of Nations dressed down the last national elections in 2003, and ran short of calling them a sham, elections that elect a legislature which does not have political power, where power is entrusted to one person, and where political parties are banned.
The EU has romanticised the tinkhundla system, politely calling for some changes and failing to act with the decisiveness required or known of it in other instances. It is not assisting the process in any way. We did call for smart sanctions against the royal family, specifically, but the EU played its games, and preferred to passively raise concerns and not confront the evil system directly.
The regime back home prides itself on the hope that there would be various observers who would declare, at the end, that the elections were free and fair since there was no violence. In this case we ask ourselves if it is indeed worth the trouble of going to watch a basically undemocratic election process – would these observers be (actually) legitimising an illegitimate process.
As mentioned earlier in my presentation, we believe that for the process to be worth its salt, it must embrace broader democratic participation, clear constitutional safeguards and the respect of all the international human rights principles and conventions, including the Declaration On Human Rights, the African Charter on People’s and Human Rights, the Harare Declaration of the Commonwealth of Nations and the SADC Principles on National Elections.
The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) is the way forward to a new and democratic Swaziland
We are proud to be members of the newly formed Swaziland United Democratic Front, an initiative of the struggling people of Swaziland collectively. It is their united voice against the tinkhundla system, in their quest to establish a truly united and democratic Swaziland.
Indeed the history of the struggle for democracy all over the world provides one key lesson, and that is, it matters not how deep the oppression may be or whether the captain of the oppressive rule is a military junta or a traditional despot, foreign or local – Unity is a fundamental pre-condition for democratic victory!.
It has always been the collective and individual desire of the struggling forces of Swaziland to act in unity against a divisive system that always plays one against the other, sometimes infiltrating forces of progress to drive even deeper wedges between the people and their organisations and between organisations themselves. In our address to the workers in May 2005, PUDEMO clearly and articulately called for the forces of change to unite and speak in one cohesive voice, and we are, therefore, proud that this call has been achieved.
It has been our constant call for the unification of the labour movement in the country under the call for “One Country One Federation, and One Industry One Union”. This year, the workers commemorated their day together as one, and not a fragmented movement. This is a positive step towards a united mass democratic movement.
We are proud to be amongst those who have refused to be bullied by the system into the sham elections or any of its fraudulent constitutional schemes, despite massive pressures, patronage and corrupt material temptations. We have refused to be second class citizens in our own country, but continue to demand our rightful place as full citizens and not objects of royal pity and subjugation. We stand tall, in the midst of a cold world that conveniently pretends not to see what our people are going through daily, with all the indicators of a terrifying political and socio-economic crisis.
Tasks of the Swazi revolution in the current phase
We are called upon to act with renewed urgency, to arrest a deepening feeling of hopelessness, in which both local and international organisations are beginning to feel that nothing can be done to change things in Swaziland. It is a country ‘cursed by the gods’, with a monarchy that is determined to go to any lengths to destroy every element of democracy and decency in our society.
The following tasks are central to what must be done;
• Strengthening of the mass democratic forces to root themselves amongst the masses of our people, which is the core anchor of any claim to being progressive and democratic.
• Deepening of Strategic thinking and deeper ideas backed by solid and scientific facts around all the issues affecting our people in order to develop popular, workable and viable alternatives to the crisis of the system. In our Road Map Document, we were beginning to do just that as PUDEMO.
• Restructuring and broadening of the international solidarity movement, as well as strengthening all solidarity efforts in order to enhance, deepen and unite all attempts to expose tinkhundla, raise the profile of the Swazi people’s struggle and mobilise resources for the struggle of the people. In this case, we must ensure that structures of this nature are led by our international friends as we Swazis are actively involved in the frontline trenches of our struggle, which they are acting in solidarity with.
• We need to deepen political education for all-round ideological and political development of the forces of struggle, in which case, clarity around core perspectives of the struggle and its evolving line of march shall be better enhanced. In this case, we know that our South African comrades are very much advanced here, and their expertise would be useful for us.
• Uniting all the forces under the banner of the SUDF around the issue of multiparty constitutional elections, which should be able to offer a decisive Way Forward, though this does not mean undermining the individual programmes of different organisations within the front, but it is supposed to be a means to build cohesion and unity in action
Finally, we would not have done justice if we do not also add our voice, once again, to the call for speedy democratisation, stability and success in the negotiations process in Zimbabwe, which is a factor the region has felt so heavily these past days. We are encouraged by the democratic breeze seemingly emerging from the negotiation table lately, and is proof that Africa is indeed capable of resolving her own challenges amicably, for we are all and our ‘brother’s keeper’.
Our call for democracy in Swaziland is a call for democracy all over the region and continent. We believe that without a firm and revolutionary movement for the deepening of democracy all over Africa, there will be no democracy or at least, sustainable democracy in Swaziland.
“Let all who love our country join the march to a new and democratic Swaziland! All life has no meaning outside the life-affirming struggle for human dignity”.
Quote - The Road Map to A New and Democratic Swaziland.
I thank you.