Friday, August 12, 2011


Business Day, South Africa

12 August 2011


ANDILE MAZWAI: Ask for more when Mswati comes begging again

‘We must be acutely aware of the danger in the logic that opens SA as an underwriter to Mswati’s spending whims’

THERE has been an outcry following SA’s R2,4bn part in bailing out Swaziland. The people of Swaziland, as spoken for by the trade unions, believe the bail-out afforded King Mswati a stay of execution. His tenure has become increasingly unpopular, not least because most of his 1,2 million subjects live in poverty and suffer political repression while he has sacrificed none of his luxuries.

South African opposition parties and the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) own alliance partners have also criticised the bail-out. The Mail & Guardian reported that the ANC’s investment company, Chancellor House, stood to benefit from the bail-out as it has co-investments with Mswati. Despite these valid criticisms, I wish to consider how the bail-out might result in an optimal outcome for SA.

Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations recognises a people’s right to self- determination, and the Swazi people have accepted Mswati as their rightful and legitimate monarch. This entitlement puts a moral duty on him to govern an orderly state in which the people can enjoy their chosen way of life in dignity. Allowing the state to fall into bankruptcy is a gross dereliction of that duty. The very essence of a sovereignty is that it has independent authority in its affairs. Being bankrupt and in need of bail-out subverts this authority. If this should become the undoing of Mswati, then so be it.

Are the people of Swaziland right in calling for a regime change and reform from monarchy to democracy? The answer is yes, they have the right to self-determination. If they wish to effect a change of regime, they are within their rights to demand it. An outsider, such as myself, cannot opine on regime change in another sovereign state. SA is ill- advised to take sides on the internal politics of another state. As a neighbour, however, SA also cannot stand idly by while those politics cause people to suffer.

We must accept that if Swaziland is allowed to fail by way of bankruptcy, then it is its people who will suffer the consequences much more so than their ruler. If the state cannot fund its institutions and pay its public servants, then it can be expected that those institutions will fall into chaos and lawlessness will prevail.

One can easily imagine the human suffering that would ensue in a failed state. Even if a democracy were to be formed out of such turmoil, experience has shown that people suffer when regimes change rapidly after succumbing to pressure to do so.

Given this outlook, SA must take a position that sides with human rights. In this way, it will know that its actions are both morally and politically correct. It follows then that if the R2,4bn bail-out will avert a humanitarian crisis, then we were correct to grant it. We must, however, be acutely aware of the danger in the logic that opens SA as a de facto underwriter to Mswati’s spending whims. Even though SA has self-interest in not having a failed state on another one of its borders; it cannot write blank cheques to avert it.

SA can channel the funds only through the recognised regime. This should not be mistaken as showing support for the monarch, as it is not. It is the only way sovereign states can relate to one another — to do otherwise could be seen as an attempt to undermine the government of Swaziland. SA has rightly imposed conditions on the loan, including reform to the governance of the kingdom, which must be led by the Swazi people.

While the loan has a mechanism for repayment, these very terms are likely to lead to a subsequent default for Swaziland — the problem is not cured, only deferred while being enlarged. This crisis has demonstrated that the Swazi monarch is incapable of running an administration.

If SA is serious about conditions that will cure the problem, it may wish to consider demanding the cession of Swaziland’s administration to itself when the king comes begging again. This will ensure the protection of both Swaziland and SA. (Historians will note that Swaziland fell under the administrative control of SA in 1890.)

I wish I could stop here, but Chancellor House cannot be ignored.

If the ANC’s investment vehicle will indeed benefit from the bail-out, then the decision was compromised. It is then only lucky that the positions of Chancellor House and SA happened to coincide. It would be disappointing to accept that our policy formation serves two masters, because at the point where they are not in agreement is where our luck will run out.

• Mazwai is group CEO of Barnard Jacobs Mellet.

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