Divided opposition leaves Mswati smiling

By Musa Ndlangamandla | February 04th, 2013
King Mswati did not need South Africa's massive loan after all
King Mswati did not need South Africa's massive loan after all

The anchor and strength of all undemocratic regimes, particularly in Africa, is financial muscle used to either thwart or incorporate all threats. To that end, the cash flow crisis from which the government of Swaziland recently emerged was a missed opportunity for pro-democracy forces in the tiny-landlocked country.

Despite support from the ANC and COSATU for their agenda for political reforms, a seemingly out-of sorts, squabbling and egocentric group of pro-democracy proponents in Swaziland was caught either napping or lining its pockets, until a R12 billion windfall brought relief to King Mswati's regime and giving his regime space for further procrastination.

The financial crisis between 2010 and 2012, which saw King Mswati seek to borrow R2.4 billion from South African President Jacob Zuma, presented an opportunity for a shift in the balance of forces, but the pro-democracy movement had neither a coherent strategy nor tactics for a collective way forward.

"The push for democratic change in Swaziland is at best reactive. At worst, it is largely dictated to by the oppressor,” said Dr Sikelela Dlamini, an independent analyst. “It's a strange state of affairs. The financial crisis should have provided the necessary impetus to finally coerce Tinkhundla [system of governance] to heed the call for socio-political reform. But Tinkhundla can breathe again. The pronouncements that they could even do without the protracted R2.4 billion loan from South Africa is evidence of this fact.”

“The pro-democracy movement has been dealt a severe blow from which it will take double the amount of effort and sacrifice that it would otherwise have required to pick itself up and generate the necessary momentum to shake Tinkhundla again," added Dr Dlamini, lamenting that political, labour and civil society organisations in Swaziland cannot stand each other and do not perceive one another as partners of convenience.

The President of Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) Sibanesenkhosi Dlamini concurred but stressed that for unity, tolerance and organisational discipline to be realised there must be an appreciation of its diversity in the pursuit for the common goal of multi-partyism. TUCOSWA is the biggest opposition group in Swaziland commanding a membership of over 50000.

"While there is unity in the labour movement, it is glaringly missing regarding coherence with the political parties. Issues of mudslinging and squabbling are the order of the day. This is our major drawback. All leaders of progressive organisations should sober up and smell the coffee. This is one war that needs collectivism," he said.

The Secretary General of the Swazi Diaspora Platform (SDP) Ntombenhle Khathwane confirmed concerns about infighting and the scramble for donor funds by some organisations. "A fragmented pro-democracy movement will never become a mass democratic movement that is able to force the regime to the negotiation table,” Khathwane said. “We in the SDP believe that unity amongst pro-democracy actors must be prioritised, based on the lowest common denominator – multiparty democracy for Swaziland. They must not let ideology or past actions deter them, but be prepared to try something new and to compromise for the goal.”

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) Secretary General Lucky Lukhele said, “We will have to uproot the present system, grabbing it by the stem, and pulling it out, and then utilising the free space to build a new Swaziland. That will not happen with the leisurely attitude currently exhibited by those of us in the front-line of the struggle. If we have ideological differences then let us find the common ground and synergise the differences. We fail and succeed together."

Muzi Masuku of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) said that despite the emphasis on differences, huge progress had been made in relation to the struggle for democracy. In particular, he singled out the 'People's Parliament' last year where pro-democracy inclined citizens indicated in unprecedented numbers their desire for the country to return to a pluralistic polity.

Masuku listed six key areas of potential agreement for pro-democracy forces, such as inclusive political dialogue, the total unbanning of political parties, a transitional authority, a new democratic constitution, a multi-party democratic dispensation and a monarch under a democratic constitution.

He added that intervention by bodies such as SADC was desperately needed. "My sense is that Swaziland is now the biggest blot in SADC since it violates most of what SADC represents,” said Masuku. “I still can't fathom why countries that are relatively democratic such as Lesotho and Malawi find themselves on the agenda of SADC summits yet Swaziland is always able to evade such scrutiny.”

“The crafting of joint working programmes and visible activism from within Swaziland cannot be over emphasised,” added Masuku. “Reactions from outside Swaziland will only be able to take a cue from that which is happening within."

Mario Masuku, the President of Swaziland's largest proscribed political party PUDEMO, said diversity among pro-democracy formations was nothing strange, nor was it a fundamental problem in relation to effecting transformation. "South Africa was liberated even though some political parties were not in agreement on the strategy,” he said. “Diversity is healthy.”

Masuku added that there are many ways to pressurise a regime to move towards democracy, including the use of strike action, protest marches, solidarity with similar organisations and violence. “As PUDEMO we do not condone violence, but you should look into who is the instigator. In our case the State is the instigator of violence on unarmed and helpless people whose only sin is to demand their rights," he said.

Meanwhile, Swaziland's Deputy Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, insists that King Mswati is guided by the wishes of the majority concerning the country's political direction, saying there was overwhelming support for the monarch and Tinkhundla system of governance.

Masuku stressed that service delivery was impressive, and that human rights and democratic principles were adhered to. He mentioned that 29 international and regional protocols, charters and conventions – the majority of which address basic human rights – had been ratified opening the country up to international scrutiny and accountability.

"Our constitution contains a Bill of Rights and recently some members of parliament used parts of it to push a no confidence vote in the cabinet,” said Masuku. “That is democracy at play. The government did not thwart the process. It's just that the process was flawed."

"We hold regular elections and the next ones are billed for August,” he said. “It is inaccurate to say political parties are unwanted because Chapter 3 of our constitution guarantees freedom of association. If someone does not want to exercise that right it is not the problem of the state. These critics know they have to go to the Tinkhundla Centres, sell their programmes to the people and not fear going to the polls.”

He also rebutted criticism about the record of the authorities in relation to public protests, interference with the judiciary and human rights.

"Clashes [with strikers] happen all over the world. We don't condone it, but some protest actions are hijacked by criminals," Masuku said. "We respect the rule of law and judges work independently. Just recently a group of citizens approached the courts to force the government to implement free primary education. The ruling was in their favour and government complied. I personally succeeded in a case against the elections body while I was still working for a New York based multi-lateral organisation to allow more time for registration.”

He also cited the government's programmes for orphans and vulnerable children, rural electrification, telecommunications and roads infrastructure, and the provision of clean water as some examples of how Swaziland compares with the best in the region. He added that R200 million was allocated for anti-retro viral treatment for over 80,000 people living with HIV and that mother-to-child-transmission had been reduced remarkably.

"Now 96 percent of vulnerable children are born free of the HIV virus. Soon we will record 100 percent,” he said, complaining that the government’s successes are not highlighted – just its failings. “But what we have found is that despite this some saboteurs within the system only report shortages of medicines so as to tarnish our image.”

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