Statement from PUDEMO Regional Office
(Australia, Asia and the South East Pacific Region)
Date: November 24, 2008
Strangling the King's opponents: Swaziland's "war on terrorism"
When King Mswati III addressed the 63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2008, the emphasis of his speech was on the threat of terrorism. His speech was a carbon copy of what is now an outdated political discourse that dominated global politics in the turn of the 21st century. Out of touch with the shift in global politics, he sounded hollow when he called upon the world to unite and fight terrorism. World unity was achieved in 2001 but discourses about the threat of terrorism have receded from the centre stage of global politics. The recent 63rd Session of the UN General Assembly and the presidential election in the United States of America are examples of this shift in global politics. Whilst world leaders focused their attention on the global financial crisis and climate change, King Mswati III looked like a yesterday man. Nobody paid attention to him and he returned home a disillusioned, embarrassed and a frustrated man.
Rejected as a yesterday man and a hopeless actor in the global political theatre, King Mswati III returned to home ground to vent his anger and frustration on Swazi citizens. Shortly after the United Nations General Assembly, he summoned the nation to his royal residence for what local and international media widely described as a historical event in which the ruling monarch declared war on Swazi and South African citizens. He accused Swazis and South Africans of engaging in acts of terrorism against Swaziland. The rage in his tone and use of sadistic words such as abakhanywe (strangle them) generated a deep sense of fear and anxiety in many people. It caused significant concern that a new wave of political repression will soon follow.
From the speech, it was clear that strangling the King's political opponents was to become the mainstay of government policy. For the King, there is no one more capable of turning this desire into practical action than his most trusted henchman, Sibusiso Dlamini, a member of the King's advisory body. In disregard of his own laws enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act, 2005, King Mswati III appointed Dlamini the new Prime Minister in charge of government business and the police force. The Constitution states that the Prime Minister must be appointed from members of the House of Assembly. Sibusiso Dlamini was not a member of the House at the time of his appointment. His appointment was, therefore, unconstitutional. Dlamini's immediate responsibility was that of forming a war cabinet to strangle what the King described "enemies of peace".
There were no doubts in many people's minds that members of the pro-democracy movement in Swaziland and the South Africa-based Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) are the obvious targets of this rage and war mongering. In the past few weeks SSN, PUDEMO and its youth wing, the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) have featured predominantly in media reports and official statements about recent sabotage attempts against public road infrastructure. However, no concrete evidence has yet been produced to link these organisations to these activities. Furthermore, the police have not been able to confidently declare that these are indeed acts of terrorism carried out by identifiable organisations for political, social, religious or economic reasons. Thus talks about the presence of a terrorist threat are empty rhetoric and speculation with no substance. Such talks are, at best, acts of political indulgence.
If the government fuels speculation about the threat of terrorism, it streams into public fear. This is good news for King Mswati III and his government. It makes governing relatively easy because a fearful population is more susceptible to social control than a fearless population. The ultimate goal of this government is to reclaim the power to rule absolutely by retransforming the nation into docile bodies paralysed by fear. One of PUDEMO's great achievements has been the empowerment of the Swazi population to be less fearful of state power and to openly demand political change. As the population of fearless citizens grew bigger, the state's power-base has been gradually diminished. Swazis have long known that there is rottenness in the state of Swaziland but gradually people have been more able to proclaim this loudly rather than in fearful whispers. As a consequence, the regime is scrambling to regain control, a scenario reminiscent of the late King Sobhuza II's response to the resurgence of pro-democracy politics in the early 1970s.
In all aspects, King Mswati III's declaration of war resonates with King Sobhuza II's Proclamation to the Nation in 1973 in which he proscribed opposition political parties. Although supporters of the regime would like us to believe that the enactment of the 2005 Constitution eclipsed the Proclamation, it is indubitable that the principles which underpin this Proclamation remain a major influence in government thinking. All the key aspects of the Proclamation – political fear, hatred and intolerance of political dissent, constitutional vandalism and dictatorship – are evident in the current political development.
The proclamation placed dictatorship at the centre of governance. Today, dictatorship remains the cornerstone of the monarchy-led government. Under this system, those capable of furthering this most abhorrent form of political repression are appointed to public office. Thus, the choice of Sibusiso Dlamini is not surprising, given King Mswati III's emphasis on a form of governance based on strangulation rather than peaceful political engagement. In his capacity as Prime Minister from the late 1990s to early 2000s, Dlamini acquired a shocking reputation as a heartless and ruthless political operator. From 2001 to 2003, he was famous for senseless spending on royal luxuries, interference in the administration of justice, media censorship and engaging in political witch-hunts against state critics. He also presided over spectacular examples of government incompetence, such as the disastrous failure to reign in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Sibusiso Dlamini has the ability of a typical ruthless dictator to act swiftly against state opponents and sluggishly on issues of national development.
In 2002, PUDEMO warned that the Sibusiso-led government resembled a steamroller driven by a drunk and that it was capable of causing harm to the nation. At the time, PUDEMO was responding to the government's decision to close down two print media organisations, The Nation and the Swazi Observer, because it didn't like what they published. Despite local and international condemnation against the closure of these media organisations, the steamroller was allowed to continue on its way, causing widespread havoc. It brought Swaziland into the realms of failed statehood by crushing flat one of the most vital institutions of government, the judiciary. On November 28, 2002 Dlamini shocked the nation and international community when he publicly declared that his Majesty's Government would disobey the Court of Appeal judgements in Gwebu and Bhembe v. Rex and Minister of Home Affairs et al. v. Fakudze et al. According to Dlamini, the rulings sought to strip His Majesty King Mswati III of powers accorded to Swazi Kings since "time immemorial". No judge, Mr Dlamini declared, could question the King's decision or challenge his power. An avalanche of local and international condemnation was brought to bear on the regime. King Mswati III recapitulated and removed Dlamini from office. Many Swazis were hopeful that the drunk would be institutionalised in a detoxication centre for good. But alas, that was not to be. The drunk is back behind the wheel of the steamroller looking more intoxicated than he was in his previous term of office. He is back to kill and pillage national resources with impunity.
King Mswati III and his chosen henchman, Sibusiso Dlamini, are hoping to use the yesteryear strategy, "war on terrorism", to wage a proxy war against the pro-democracy movement. In 2008, The Suppression of Terrorism Act was enacted as a vehicle to waging this war. The Act gives authorities such as the Prime Minister unlimited powers to proscribe political organisations and wage a vicious witch-hunt against their membership. Immediately after his appointment as Prime Minister, Dlamini proscribed a number of political organisations including PUDEMO as "terrorist entities".
Globally, the effectiveness of this strategy to retain unpopular government in office has long receded. In the turn of the 21st century, citizens of various nation states were cajoled into believing that terrorist attacks were imminent and that the state was acting in their interests when it suspended basic rights and freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism. Threats of terrorism, as described by state officials and the media, began to infuse a deep sense of fear, anxiety and insecurity among citizens and fellow travellers. Through advanced technology, acts of "terrorism" were brought into people's living rooms. In most cases, images of terrorism were accompanied by harsh official statements to hunt down "terrorists", "sympathisers", "acquaintances" and "supporters" of terrorism.
As nation states became increasingly relentless in their pursuit of "terrorists", they acquired greater presence in people's private lives. Consequently, a state of paralysis emerged among populations of various nation states gripped with fear of "terrorism" and fear of the state. People were fearful of the ever looming terrorist attack and that their political views could be construed by the state as rendering support to terrorism. In the "war on terrorism", over zealous states transformed into terrorist entities causing fear, insecurity and enormous harm to the people they claimed to protect. In many instances, nation states with reputable records of democratic rule used the "war on terrorism" to shred away civil liberties. Kidnapping, arrest, rendition, eavesdropping, persecution and detention without trial were common tools of the "war on terrorism". Indeed, the turn of the 21st century was an era of great fear and strong statehood.
Whilst in some countries, particularly democratic nations, the "war on terrorism" introduced political conditions unfamiliar to many people, the majority of Swazis were born into conditions of fear and repression. These conditions, unbearable as they are, have enabled many in Swaziland, particularly those in the pro-democracy movement, to build a strong culture of resilience. PUDEMO leader, Mario Masuku, is a living example of this culture of resilience. Since the formation of PUDEMO more than 20 years ago, he has been in the forefront of the struggle for democracy and has endured the brutality of King Mswati III and his predecessors. He was the first to be arrested under the new terrorism laws. On November 15, 2008, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini ordered the police to arrest Masuku on charges of terrorism. Masuku is accused of providing support to "terrorism" following his response to reports about attempts to bomb bridges.
In our view, the charges preferred against Masuku are part of the government's long-term strategy to persecute PUDEMO members. Masuku did not render support to terrorism as alleged by the police. What he said was what all responsible Swazis would have said. He called upon the government to reflect on why these bombing incidents were occurring. In his view, these incidents were an indication that some people in the community have reached the end of their tether and the time had come for the government to reconsider its position on the question of democracy. He implored the government to open talks with the pro-democracy movement to chart a way to a future political dispensation. This is not a statement of support for terrorism but a genuine and forward-looking gesture of goodwill from a man who has committed his life to build a democratic system of governance in Swaziland. A week after Masuku's arrest, the Catholic Church Bishop, Ncamiso Ndlovu expressed similar sentiments and condemned the terrorism laws, the proscription of pro-democracy organisations and the incarceration of Masuku (see All.Africa.com, November 21, 2008 report). It remains to be seen if the government will now arrest Bishop Ndlovu and charge him with supporting terrorism.
Masuku has endured frequent arrests and detention because of his political views. However, the determination of the regime to break his spirit has failed to yield results. Instead, it has strengthened his resolve to soldier on and fight for his people. It is against this background that when Sibusiso Dlamini proscribed the pro-democracy movement, Masuku was resolute that we will fight on and we will exercise our rights as members of the global community to disobey unjust laws.
The regime may arrest, incarcerate and strangle our members to death but they will never kill our spirit and our movement. PUDEMO has deep roots in the community as a people's political party. It is not a terrorist organisation. PUDEMO has not killed or threatened to kill anyone, caused or attempted to cause fear among the Swazi population and it has not, in its history, threatened to use force to overthrow the government. PUDEMO is, however, committed to the overthrow of the dictatorship monarchy regime through peaceful political processes. This is the core principle of our movement.
Various PUDEMO leaders have repeatedly stated that the movement will not be drawn into a military confrontation on terms defined by the regime. It is well known that the government has, on numerous occasions, engaged in activities akin to spoiling for a war. We refused to be party to this and we will continue to do so. It is, therefore, ludicrous to declare PUDEMO a terrorist organisation. Similarly, it is preposterous to arrest and charge PUDEMO leader, Mario Masuku, with acts of terrorism. Masuku has never handled a firearm or explosives, threatened anyone with violence, contemplated to wage a war or supported acts of terrorism.
PUDEMO calls upon the people of Swaziland to stay strong and not allow the government to push them back to the 1970s and 1980s. People should disobey the terrorism laws and continue to publicly declare their support and membership to the movement for democracy without fear.
The declaration of the "war on terrorism" must be seen as none other than a stunt designed to rejuvenate the culture of political fear in Swaziland. It is important that people understand that this war is part of the government's long-standing agenda to liquidate the pro-democracy movement and to use fear as a political resource. It is not about fighting terrorism because there are no terrorists to fight in Swaziland - just pro-democracy activists demanding a democratic system of governance and respect for basic rights and freedoms.
In a remarkable admission, the Prime Minister told diplomats that there are no terrorists in Swaziland yet but maintains that there are terrorist organisations (see Times of Swaziland, November 22, 2008). This statement does not make sense. It is like saying there are no soldiers in Swaziland but there is an army. If the Prime Minster believes that there are no terrorists in Swaziland, he must reverse the government's decision and release the PUDEMO leader from prison. The Prime Minister and his government need to revise their understanding of terrorism, particularly the fundamental question of what makes a person a terrorist. Does a person becomes a terrorist merely because of his/her membership of an organisation that has been officially classified a terrorist entity? Or can an individual become a terrorist, independent of his/her association with an organisation, if he/she engages in the activities outlined in the Suppression of Terrorism Act? The people of Swaziland demand answers to these questions.
Dr. Jabulane Matsebula
Australia, Asia and the South Pacific Region