|3 May 2002
No progress in fight for democracy
Opposed by meek pro-democracy
forces, King Mswati's government is likely to succeed in promulgating a new
constitution to preserve palace power, Swazi political analysts told IRIN.
"Mswati seems like small potatoes compared to Robert Mugabe and other national
leader cutthroats," said a Manzini businessman. "No one has ever died in
political violence here, and there aren't even any demonstrations anymore. Why
should the world bother with little Swaziland?"
This is the dilemma
faced by the kingdom's opposition groups, who are unable to stir up excitement
among the tradition-minded populace most of whom are loyal to Mswati. Though
some worry about corrupt palace officials, according to one survey by the
Swaziland National Association of Journalists. "The days when the Swaziland
Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) can close down the country at will to press
for political reforms are over," said Dr Anton Magongo, a sociologist at the
University of Swaziland. "The people are quiet because they have been cowed by
the '73 Decree," said Phineas Magagula, president of the Swaziland National
Association of Teachers. "They are afraid of the security forces. There is a
difference between a silent country and a peaceful country."
political parties, which have been banned by royal decree since 1973, struggle
on. Former Prime Minister Obed Dlamini, a royal family member who was fired
from his post for being too soft on political demonstrators, now heads the
Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), founded in 1959 as the country's
first political party. "The prerequisite for political dialogue is lifting the
decree banning parties," Dlamini said. "When that happens, you will see
membership of our party go from the 5,000 members we have today to tens of
thousands in a week, I guarantee that."
At his birthday celebration on
19 April, a national holiday in Swaziland, King Mswati had called for dialogue
between conflicting groups to forge a national consensus. At May Day
observations this week, opposition groups said dialogue was impossible under
the State of Emergency, imposed by Mswati's father, King Sobhuza, which
outlawed all political organisations other than his own, the Imbokodvo party.
Under the State of Emergency, political meetings are banned, and public
meetings and marches of any kind require the permission of the commissioner of
police. "If the king is sincere about dialogue, he must give us back our
voices," said NNLC Women's League president Ntombi Nkosi.
Mswati's constitutional review commission has released a report that will be
the basis for a new national constitution to be drafted by year's end. It calls
for a permanent ban on opposition politics, and an expansion of royal powers.
Nkosi burned a copy of the report at a pre-May Day strategy meeting of the
SFTU. A move applauded by the federation's secretary general Jan Sithole but
dismissed by political observers as futile and tardy, given that the report was
issued last August. "The political opposition has been outmaneuvered by the
palace at every turn," said Magongo. "They no longer control the agenda, like
they did when they called national strikes against palace rule. The
progressives react to government initiatives, and have failed to spark a large
public following." Magongo feels that pro-democracy groups are being
disingenuous when they say Swazis will join them once the ban on opposition
politics is lifted. Magongo insisted: "Swazis would join now if they felt truly
dissatisfied with the current government."
Mario Masuku, president of
the largest banned political party, the Peoples United Democratic Movement, has
been in prison for a year on charges of sedition. His trial resumes in June.
Security forces manned roadblocks in Mbabane and surrounded the High Court
during the initial phase of Masuku's trial. But only a handful of supporters
showed up to test the police.
Masuku was charged with uttering
seditious statements against King Mswati at a march in Manzini, Swaziland's
most populous town 35 kilometres west of Mbabane. The crowd was protesting a
royal decree which expanded the power of chiefs and traditional authorities.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the gathering, which proved
to be the last of its kind to occur in the country. "We chose to turn to
international pressure against government to achieve our objectives," said the
The Swaziland Democratic Alliance, a reformist umbrella
organisation, has called upon the international community to isolate Swaziland
economically and diplomatically until King Mswati agrees to be a constitutional
monarch within a democratic system. Last year, when a royal decree made
government officials invulnerable to legal challenges and circumscribed the
activities of labour unions, the International Labour Organisation called for
economic sanctions against Swaziland. But within a month, King Mswati revoked
the decree, and there's been not talk of sanctions since. Prince Mguciso
Dlamini, older brother to King Mswati and a senior palace counselor, said:
"Swazis love their king. They are proud that their kings have preserved the
nation against the odds after all these years. Political parties have not
offered a compelling alternative." (IRIN)