April 30, 2003

South African royalists pledge fealty to Swazi King

Seventy renegade South African chiefs have banded together to campaign for their territories to be "returned" to the kingdom of Swaziland. The chiefs jointly administer close to one million subjects in Mpumalanga's rural Lowveld, as well as in the towns of Malelane, Barberton, Ermelo, Piet Retief, Badplaas and Pongola, and along KwaZulu-Natal's borders with Swaziland. The disputed territory is South Africa's winter breadbasket, growing almost 50% of its export quality subtropical fruit, sugar, and maize.

The secessionists - led by a core "cabinet" of nine senior Swazi princes - have resurrected a string of colonial and apartheid-era agreements to bolster their claim, including an original 1932 secession petition drafted by Pixley Seme, founding president of the African National Congress. The most potent weapon in their arsenal, however, is a 1982 bilateral treaty detailing South Africa's willingness to adjust the borders in return for Swaziland's clampdown on liberation struggle activists. "The apartheid government was a pariah, but it was recognised as the legitimate government of the day and this treaty therefore has legal standing in international law," said Mfana Sibiya, the secessionists' spokesperson. "In addition, the ANC in exile also formally acknowledged the territorial dispute in 1982 and pledged to resolve the matter in the spirit of African brotherhood and mutual solidarity when it achieved liberation." The royalists, who already swear fealty to King Mswati III, formally petitioned President Thabo Mbeki last month and plan to march on the Union Buildings to prove mass support for incorporation into sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy. "This is not petty politicking. We're talking about a cultural grievance stretching back almost 100 years. Swazis are a minority in South Africa, with little recognition for their language or socio-economic rights. In Swaziland we would be part of a unified, homogeneous nation," said Sibiya.

Mbeki's spokesperson Bheki Khumalo confirmed receipt of the petition, but said the government was studying the issue and could not yet comment. Mpumalanga's royalist Premier, Ndebele prince Ndaweni Mahlangu, is, however, red-faced. The renegade chiefs' renewed campaign only got off the ground after Mahlangu reversed provincial policy and invested more than R15-million in "empowering" traditional authorities by giving them computers, office equipment, cars and support staff. The initiative, which was supposed to ensure chiefs were respected, instead violated local tender procedures, allowed chiefs to network like never before and introduced them to the strategic advantages of the Internet and e-mail. "We no longer have to travel hundreds of kilometres to meet anymore," said Sibiya. Neither Mswati nor his South African consul would comment on this week. They would also neither confirm nor deny that Swaziland's attorney general had given the secessionists legal advice. (African Eye News Service, Johannesburg)

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