Paper Presented at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa),
24 October 2005, Cape Town, Jazze Mokoena
The Young Communist League (YCL) in the Western Cape has declared the week of 23-30 October 2005 as Swaziland Solidarity Week. During this week we will be holding a number of activities aimed at pledging solidarity with the people of Swaziland. What we see in Swaziland is a class of squirarchy that owns land and its subjects on the one hand. On the other hand it is the working class that is armless and harmless, lead by the workers who want to free themselves from the rule of the Swaziland squirachy. The Swaziland state is truly an instrument of rule by the squirachy aimed at crushing all forms of political activity and organisation using its public power such as the police, army and prisons. The state in Swaziland, as an organ of class rule, is used to preserve the rusty system of tinkudla by ruthlessly suppressing freedom of association and organisation in a civilised world. As communists and as Internationalists, we have a responsibility to contribute towards Solidarity work for the people of Swaziland and for peace and stability on the continent. In this brief article, we lay bare this Swazi system of oppression and recommend what needs to be done.
Part One: Historical Context of the Dynasty
The political developments that have been sweeping Africa are always talked about, ranging from peaceful protests and civil unrests, through to armed rebellions. However, there has been, hitherto deafening silence at what was taking place in Swaziland. The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small Southern African country between South Africa and Mozambique. According to the United Nations country profile report, Swaziland has about 1.1 million people, majority of whom live in the rural areas.
The country was previously part of the British Empire although some scholars regarded it as a colony of the United Kingdom (UK). It was not until the 6th of September 1968 that Swaziland got its independence from the UK. The country is a monarch, which has been under the rule of Kings. The first King of the Swazi people as we know them today was King Sobhuza I who succeeded his father, Ndvungunye, as King in 1815 and reined until he passed away in 1839. He was then succeeded by his son Mswati, where the Swazis derive their collective clan name; Swazi. However, certain scholars continued to refer to the new crowned King Mswati as King Sobhuza II. King Sobhuza II ruled for 61 years after a 22 years regency and he was the King who repealed and later scrapped the constitution in 1973, banning all political parties, beginning a road to absolute monarchy.
When King Sobhuza II passed away at age 82, King Mswati III (Makhosetive Dlamini) was crowned the King in 1986 replacing his autocratic father. The current King rules by decree, despite the fact that he introduced a constitution in 2005, which was the result of pressure from political formations in Swaziland. That constitution bans political parties.
From the foregone historical background of the succession of the Sobhuza dynasty, there is one significant milestone of note that relates to the current King. The milestone of note is that, the late father of the current King scrapped the constitution in 1973, a constitution which his late father Sobhuza I did not have a problem with. The current King introduce the constitution cleaning his father’s legacy. There is however, one significant point of note in the constitution, it outlaws all political parties and activity. This is actually one of the most contentious issues with the constitution, which underpin the current political crisis in Swaziland.
Part Two: Parliament and Institutions of Governance
The political system and institutions of governance in Swaziland is a concoction of both Non-African and traditional system of rule. According to the CIA country profile the system of Swaziland is based on South African Roman-Dutch law in statutory courts and Swazi traditional law and custom in traditional courts. The head of state is the King Mswati who has vested himself with powers to appoint a Prime Minister who is the head of government.
The Prime Minister in turn appoints the cabinet that he recommends to the King. The monarch may reject or accept the recommended individuals to serve in the cabinet. The legislature is one and the same as ‘Libandla’ or what in South Africa is referred as parliament, which consists of two houses namely the Senate and House of Assembly. The first house, Senate, which is an advisory body, consists of 30 appointed individuals. The House of Assembly appoints ten of the members of the senate and 20 are appointed by the monarchy. The senators serve for a five years term.
The second house, that is; House of Assembly has 65 seats of which 55 are elected and the monarch appoints 10 and the term for the members of the House of Assembly is a five-year term. The elections are done on a non-partisan basis and the local council does nominations. These elections are a mockery since candidates have to be non-partisan and political parties are banned. In July 2005, the African Union’s human Rights Commission criticized Swaziland for failing to conform to the African Charter and gave the government six months to rectify the situation. This may be a tremendous step in the right direction.
The political institutions of chiefs and headmen are appointed by the King and constitute the district councils (tinkundla). This system is not democratic at all. There are elections for these councils, which are in actuality appointments. In the same breadth, it is imported to state that, in 1964 King Sobhuza II was elected by the majority of the people in Swaziland as a leader of the Imbokodvo (Grindstone). He won because of his popularity with the masses against the colonisers, which then led the British Empire to recognise him as King. It was not through this tinkudla system that the current King has entrenched.
The institution, parliament was abolished in 1977 and replaced by the libandla, which is similar in some respect to parliament, but is made up of elected tinkundla members and King’s appointees. The courts are also not spared from these appointments made by the King. The judges of the high court and that of appeal are appointed by the monarch.
It is only leaders of political parties (politicians) that are banned, which cannot be appointed by the monarch. Some of these political formations lead by the banned leaders, by the way the formations themselves are banned; include inter alia, Imbokodvo National Movement (INM ), Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NLC), and People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). At the present moment, the King has not showed a sign that he will ever allow freedom of association and free political activities. It appears the King wants to continue to immense himself into personal supreme power.
Part Three: The Beginning of Civil Obedience
In October 1998 Swaziland was rocked by bombings in Swaziland that blew away a bridge and killed a security guard near the Prime Minister’s office and there was no one who claimed responsibility. This triggered a cacophonous outcry and widespread condemnation from a myriad of forces both within and outside Swaziland.
Later in 2000, the Parliament building was also partly damaged in a bomb attack at least this time around there was a group only known as Mashekheshekhe People’s Army, which claimed responsibility. This Mashekeshe, which means ants in Swazi, seems to be a group of concerned citizens who want to draw the attention of the monarch to begin a process of transformation in Swaziland. The attack by the ‘army of ants’, on the institution of political dynasty in Swaziland seems to be part of the broader civil dissatisfaction.
In August 2005, this year, there was also an attack on government offices in Mbabane and in the Nhlangano. On the last Friday of September 2005, there were petrol bomb attacks, which damaged the courthouse in Mbabane and another one was at the home of government spokesperson Percy Simelane. The political dynasty under King Mswati III cried out and claimed this to be a terrorist act. The police in the Kingdom of Swaziland vowed to arrest the people who are responsible for the two firebomb attacks. While they blame terrorists, they link the attacks to the main banned opposition party, PUDEMO. The question that arises out of these cursory developments is: What triggers these attacks?
While it is not common for communists to prophesy, but we can be scientifically prophetic in this instance. The attacks are propelled by a particular rule, by the King. The monarch is ruling by decree, and there is no freedom of political association, freedom to organise and be organised. The tinkundla system itself is not democratic. The King appoints and/or choose who to represent his subjects. He appoints judges, and he becomes a law unto himself. He can do wrong, but will not be tried in the courts in which he appoints judges. The entire system is not democratic. All these seem to trigger the attacks.
The King has ruled by decree since he ascended to the throne 19 years ago, The first step towards ‘forced change’ was to sign a mockery constitution in July 2005, which was rejected by major political formations in the country, because it still gives the King more powers and still bans all forms of political activity and political parties that were supposed to organise such activities. The very constitution, which he signed into law was called for by the very same banned political parties and he did not involve them in the constitution making process, hence it is also rejected.
The constitution makes a mockery out of freedom. The 1,1-million people of Swaziland live in an undemocratic society.
Part Four: What needs to be Done?
The government of South Africa should beginning engaging with the squirarchical dynasty in Swaziland and engage in diplomatic persuasion. This diplomatic interaction must seek to persuade the monarchy to enter into negotiation with the banned political parties to discuss constitutional reforms, which must lead to democratic elections. The ordinary people of South Africa should pledge solidarity with and raise the plight of the oppressed people of Swaziland.
The bombings that have been seen are the beginning of civil obedience, from citizens who do not know what to do with an oppressive regime. History is abound with examples of what such civil actions end up to.
The Swazi government may regard the disobedience as acts of terror, but in actuality these are acts of civil frustrations by citizens who are thirsty for freedom from an oppressive system of tinkudla. The main political force, People’s United Democratic Movement, should call for negotiations with the government and demand the un-banning of political organisations. If the government does not want negotiations, there are other means to consider to force them to negotiate such as the armed struggle by the people of Swaziland. The African National Congress and the South African Communist party (SACP) called on the apartheid government to negotiate after the government refused for a long time, but after an armed struggle the regime had to concede and entered into a peaceful transition. This shows that, war is peace at last. These brewing civil frustrations in Swaziland are peace at last.