Monday, March 2, 2009


This is democracy in Swaziland.

King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa, illegally appoints Barnabas Dlamini as Prime Minister. Then together they have chosen Prince Gcokoma, a chief and member of the Swazi Royal Family (and also a man who has not been elected by the people), to head up a new ministry to promote the Tinkhundla system of government in Swaziland.

Tinkhundla is the system of government that exists in Swaziland in place of representative democracy. It takes the place of political parties which are banned in Swaziland and operates on the premise that individuals can represent the will of the people. It has been rejected by many groups both inside and outside Swaziland for its lack of democratic credentials.

There are 55 Tinkhundla centres in Swaziland and each elects one member of parliament.

Last month, (February 2009) Dlamini announced that a new government department of Tinkhundla Administration and Development would be created with the mandate to expand the government services made available through Tinkhundla centres.

Musa Hlophe, Co-ordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO), was reported to have ‘laughed his lungs out’ when informed about the creation of the new ministry.

According to the Times of Swaziland, Hlophe said the new ministry was a waste of resources because it would not deliver on socio-economic needs of the citizenry. He said this was not surprising because it was unclear to most people how the Tinkhundla system worked and ‘only those who benefited from it knew how it worked’.

Don’t expect too much from the new department. According to the Swazi Observer, on the day it was announced that Gcokoma would head up the department, he revealed he hadn’t been told anything about it ‘so I cannot say much for now’.

The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, sees something sinister in the creation of the new department. ‘... the changes come across as a re-enforcement of the Tinkhundla system in disguise, given the rising calls for a system change by others’, it said in an editorial comment.

The Times says the move seems, ‘motivated by uncertainty as rising poverty levels have cost the country’s leadership loads of support at grassroots level and something needed to be done to buy time and win back some valuable support’.

The Times has a point. Following the elections in Swaziland in September 2008, the international community almost with one voice condemned the lack of democracy in Swaziland and branded the election a sham. This was repeated only last week by the United States in its annual country review of Swaziland.

Within Swaziland the pro-democracy movement is gaining ground, despite the efforts of the Swazi state to terrorise opposition voices.

The Tinkhundla system is not democratic and is the focus for much of the dissent. The Swazi Government stands or falls by Tinkhundla and that is why it is making to effort to prop up the crumbling structure.

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