Sunday, February 8, 2009


If you need proof of how little power members of the Swaziland parliament have you only have to read the speech delivered by King Mswati III on Friday.

He opened the first session of the ninth parliament with his traditional ‘state of the kingdom’ address. He began by treating the parliamentarians like little children and reminded them that the Swazi people were expecting great things from them. Then like a father patting his son on the head he said, ‘I am confident that you won’t disappoint them.’ Earlier, the parliamentarians had been told they were not allowed to choose what clothes to wear for the parliament opening and were instructed they must all turn up in school uniform.

It’s hard to see what the members of parliament are meant to achieve when the King doesn’t allow them to make any decisions.

The rest of his speech was about what policies the government will pursue in the coming year. Unlike the speech the Queen Elizabeth II makes each year to the UK parliament, King Mswati’s speech was not written by the Swazi Government: they were all his own words.

He announced spending plans for disaster management, health and education among other things, thereby pre-empting the official budget announcement that the Finance Minister will make later this month.

The King also told the Swazi people that he was going to ignore the constitution. Of course, he didn’t say it in these precise words, but he made it clear that people will not get the free primary education as set out in the 2006 constitution.

The lack of free education has caused controversy in Swaziland this year and the courts are to be asked to rule on the matter. Now, the King’s intervention is being interpreted as an end to the discussion. King Mswati has ruled that free education must wait and that is an end to the matter. So much for democracy.

King Mswati, who has a wealth estimated at E1.4 billion (200 million US dollars) castigated the poor for not working hard enough. He said Swazis must work harder to ensure that Swaziland didn’t need food from foreign donor agencies. He criticised Swazis for not ‘tiling the soil’ and instead preferring to depend on aid.

He didn’t point out that it is a major reason for Swaziland’s food crisis was a lack of appropriate agricultural policy, caused largely by the ‘unique democracy’ that Swaziland has that puts power and influence in the hands of local chiefs, who are mostly appointed because of their allegiance to the monarchy, rather than their abilities as leaders.

Mfomfo Nkhambule, a former Swazi Government cabinet minister and an outspoken critic of the Swazi political regime, dismissed the king’s speech as stale and lacking substance.

He told the Times Sunday today (8 February 2009), ‘There is nothing new in what he said. He has been making those statements for many years.’

He was surely speaking the truth when he said ‘there is no proper political leadership in the country’.

Bishop Meshak Mabuza, chair of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) said in a statement, ‘This parliament was formed without regard to the needs of the country. It has no direction, vision, mandate or accountability. It remains a fig leaf for the sham democracy that is Swaziland.

‘When the people cannot choose their government, it simply cannot be called a democracy. The pomp and ceremony surrounding the opening of parliament is a smokescreen to disguise what is essentially a hollow act.’

King Mswati chose ‘renewal’ as the theme for his speech. He said, ‘This year we shall renew our philosophy and focus, working together for a common goal and putting the best interests of the country over everything else.’

In fact, his entire speech demonstrated the exact opposite. The real theme for 2009 is ‘no change for Swaziland’. The same discredited people remain in charge and collectively they haven’t got a clue on how to get Swaziland out of the mess it is in.

Sadly, 2009 will be a year of consolidation. The 70 percent of people who earn less than one dollar a day will remain in abject poverty, hundreds of thousands will go hungry unless they get food aid from abroad, E40 million will continue to be lost in corruption each month and the king will continue to spend the people’s money on his own lavish lifestyle.

A year of renewal indeed.

No comments: