New target for persecution in Swaziland?

When the Swazi Member of Parliament Marwick Khumalo screamed ‘political persecution’ before his recent arrest on fraud charges, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) showed him no sympathy.

August 12th, 2013

When the Swazi Member of Parliament Marwick Khumalo screamed ‘political persecution’ before his recent arrest on fraud charges, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) showed him no sympathy.

Normally, PUDEMO – a political party that has long been proscribed by the government under the odious 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act and whose members have often been suffered from genuine political persecution over the years – would swiftly side with the persecuted. But not this time, even though they agree that the veteran MP, who represents the Lobamba Lomdzala Constituency, might well be facing political persecution owing to his fallout with Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini.

Instead, PUDEMO’s position seems to be – serves him right.

In fact he has stood on many platforms and rubbished us when we said there was political persecution in . Now it’s his turn,” was the party’s response on twitter when I asked if injustice should not be condemned irrespective of who the victim is.

So who is Marwick Khumalo? He is a founding member of Sive Siyinqaba, a cultural-movement-cum-political-party, which was formed in 1996 to counter the progressive movement and made it its business to fiercely defend the current regime and oppose all calls by other political parties for change. Although Sive Siyinqaba was well-received by the authorities because one of its objectives was to ‘uphold the institution of the monarchy’, Khumalo’s relationship with King Mswati has not always been smooth.

Indeed, in 2004 Khumalo was forced to resign from his position as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, despite being elected to the post by his peers, because of some bad blood between him and the all-powerful monarch. While the King’s decision was condemned by civil society organisations across the country, there was – once again – no real sympathy for Khumalo, who was accused of defending the status quo for his own selfish benefit. On that occasion too, PUDEMO publicly scorned him for his fallout with the institution that he sought so assiduously to protect.

Almost ten years later, Khumalo is again caught between the rock of the authorities and the hard place of the progressive movement, which has turned a blind eye to his plight ever since the auditor general launched his controversial investigation into the local branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), which Khumalo chairs.

After the audit, Khumalo – together with his co-accused, Senator Bhutana Dlamini, the former Clerk to Parliament, Sanele Nxumalo, and Parliament’s accountant, Nompumelelo Zulu – was charged with defrauding the CPA of R5.8 million. They are all out on bail.

In response, Khumalo accused the Prime Minister of abusing state institutions, including the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to persecute him. Khumalo claims that the Prime Minister has had a personal vendetta against him ever since Parliament passed a vote of no confidence in the executive last year – a decision that embarrassed the Prime Minister and Cabinet and was later unconstitutionally reversed when King Mswati III refused to endorse it.

And whether the Prime Minister is personally out to get Khumalo or not, two events have fuelled speculation that he might be right when he shouts ‘political persecution’. Firstly, he was arrested during the run-up to elections in September. And secondly, when he applied for a bail waver so that he could get his passport and attend CPA meetings in Windhoek and London, the state objected and – thanks the assistance of a ruling from High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini – Khumalo remains grounded.

Khumalo and his co-accused have not yet had their day in court. But it is clear that he will enjoy very little support when his trial begins, especially from the progressive movement.

In the past, when civil society organisations screamed blue murder at the way the country was run, he either turned a blind eye or criticised those who are opposed to the undemocratic Tinkhundla system. And when progressives boycotted the national elections held under the Tinkhundla system, Sive Siyinqaba participated and sent members to Parliament. It even saw some of its supporters elected to the Senate and boasted of having some of its members in key government positions and state institutions.

Indeed, its slogan – Sibahle Sinje (We are fine the way we are) – tells you all you need to know about Sive Siyinqaba, which is wedded to maintaining Swaziland’s ‘unique democracy’.

Whether Khumalo is found guilty or not, it will be interesting to see if he retains his faith in the Tinkhundla system in future. Or where he ends up – since there is no one from the progressive movement holding out a hand of welcome and the Prime Minister certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. It could be a very lonely time for Khumalo – even if he stays out of his jail.

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