November 19, 2004

Growing concern over royal rule even among traditionalists

An influential organisation of Swazi traditionalists and royal supporters has come out strongly against the palace-imposed exile of two chiefs and their followers for defying an order by King Mswati III. "We all know, as a nation, the problems the issue of the rule of law has caused, and that the problem is in the royal household," said a statement by a 'cultural organisation' called Sibahle Sinje. King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has insisted on his right to rule by decree, even though the country's highest court, the Court of Appeal, has ruled against him. Former cabinet minister Isaac Shabangu, the group's chairman, expressed regret at recent battles between the courts of law and the palace. "We, who have defended the institution of the monarchy so strongly, even turning against our fellow Swazis in the 90's, now feel betrayed." The Sibahle Sinje organisation warned of popular discontent with a monarchy that held absolute power, and urged the palace to examine its actions if it was to survive as an institution in Swaziland. "If the issue of the rule of law is not solved, the Swazi nation will face international hostility as a result of decisions from the throne," Shabangu said in the statement. "We have Zimbabwe as an example, whose head of state has been sanctioned for disregarding international opinion."

The Swazi government furthermore also faces protest action by labour unions, human rights groups and banned political parties. In an ultimatum delivered to the prime minister's office, the Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants, along with the Swaziland National Association of Teachers and the Swaziland Nurses Association, noted with concern the government's continued "defiance" of court rulings. "Despite sustained public outcry from both the local and international community ... [and] despite your undertaking to uphold the rule of law, your government has continued to defy court rulings. Government has further displayed its defiance through the continuous unlawful and inhumane eviction of [Chief] Mliba Fakudze," the civil servants' associations said. (IRIN)

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