Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Although people have rightly poured scorn on claims made in the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, that Swaziland played a major role in getting Jacob Zuma elected as president of South Africa, one significant point has been overlooked.

In its election manifesto the African National Congress (ANC), which won the poll with just under two thirds of the vote, stated the South African government would ‘Spare no energy in our efforts to find urgent, democratic and lasting solutions to the situation in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Western Sahara, Somalia and other countries.’

That seems clear enough to me. Swaziland is not a democracy, it has sub-Saharan Africa’s only absolute monarchy, political parties are banned, Barnabas Dlamini was illegally appointed as the kingdom’s prime minister and the Swazi government is presently ignoring a Swazi High Court ruling that it should abide by the constitution and introduce free primary schooling.

It is right that South Africa as the region’s major democracy should do all in its power to encourage democracy elsewhere.

So far, so good. But a reader of this blog points out to me that once the election was secured, Zuma had a change of heart. In his victory speech he said, ‘We will continue with efforts to find lasting solutions in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sahara, Somalia and other flashpoints.’

Not a mention of Swaziland.

Was this an oversight, a mere slip of the tongue or does it tell us that South Africa under Zuma is not quite as committed to democracy as we were led to believe?

The Observer has been making outrageous claims for the ruling elite in Swaziland and its influence on the South African elections. It says that Zuma made many visits to meet King Mswati in the run up to the election (presumably to hear firsthand the experiences the king has in fighting democratic elections).

The chair of the king’s advisory council, Liqoqo, Prince Logcogco Mangaliso, told the Observer, ‘Swaziland has always had a profound role in the victory of Zuma. Actually, we have always known that he was going to win because he made it a point that he came to the country for assistance. He did not forget his roots and the ancestors and culture and has respect for culture.’

The newspaper also reported that Minister of Foreign Affairs Lutfo Dlamini congratulated the king for organising the fair elections in South Africa (don’t ask me how the king was meant to have done this: South Africa has plenty of experience now in running elections and this was the fourth since the end of apartheid).

There was much optimism among progressives that a Zuma victory in South Africa would hasten democracy in Swaziland but as things stand at present this optimism may be misplaced.

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