Swaziland = Zimbabwe? May 15, 2007Posted by Andreas in History, News, Politics, Society, Southern Africa, Swaziland.
Most South Africans, myself included, know very little about Swaziland. Our very liberal press keeps us well informed about the latest civil rights abuses in Zimbabwe, but we hear next to nothing from Swaziland even though many people in that country habitually compare their own situation to that of Zim.
A Swazi friend has been complaining bitterly about life in Swaziland for months and I’ve been asking him to write down his experiences for me. The other day he sent a few press clippings from The Times of Swaziland and the Swazi News and I thought I’d write a bit about their contents – month old news is better than no news, right!?
Let me first set the scene, though, by reminding you of the fact that Swaziland is an absolute monarchy. Yup, the King is pretty much, well… the king of the place. According to Swazi law and custom, the monarch holds supreme executive, judicial and legislative powers and is also the Commander-in-Chief of all of the country’s armed forces.
The country does have a two-chamber parliament with a House of Assembly and a Senate, but the trappings of democracy are very thin: the king effectively controls the parliament and political parties and large political gatherings are outlawed.
King Mswati III and his numerous wives enjoy a lavish lifestyle of luxury mansions and expensive cars, while the country is crippled by poverty, unemployment and very high HIV infection rates. If that all sounds very medieval and feudal, that’s because it is!
The newspaper articles speak of widespread greed and corruption among the country’s elite, harassment of unions and police brutality.
In early April, two members of the fledgling Police Union of Swaziland, one of them its president, Buhle Dlamini, were fired by Commissioner of Police, Edgar Hillary, and some twenty of the union’s members were suspended or transferred.
Swazi News columnist Thulani Thwala wants to welcome visitors by erecting billboards at all of the country’s border posts that read “ZIMBABWE TO BE… IF NOT ALREADY” and fumes:
What we are condemning in Zimbabwe right now, most recently the assault of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, is exactly what has been happening in Swaziland in the recent past.
He describes the new constitution that was adopted in early 2006 as “cosmetic”:
Currently, the constitution gives hope where there is virtually none. It appears it is more brutal than the devil we know.
On the 12th of April, the People’s United Democratic Movement, PUDEMO, called for pickets and blockades of all major border posts with South Africa to commemorate the “1973 Decree”, which banned political parties in the kingdom and to protest about the constitution.
The protests, supported on the South African side of the border by COSATU, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, SACP, YCL, ANCYL, SA Police Union, COSAS and SASCO, were met by large police contingents and blatant police brutality. The newspapers carried photographs of a plain-clothes police officer virtually strangling a protester, which led to an outcry among civil society. Several people were arrested and six charged with sedition because their placards contained “derogatory information”.
All of this is happening right on our doorstep in a neighbouring country and most of us don’t know, let alone do, anything about it.