Sunday, October 7, 2012


Barnabas Dlamini, the Swaziland Prime Minister who has refused to abide by the kingdom’s constitution and stand down after losing a vote of no confidence, has previously caused a political crisis by defying the rule of law.

In 2003, Dlamini was PM and had held office for seven and a half years. Then, he refused to recognise two court judgements that challenged King Mswati III’s right to rule by decree. This led to the resignation of all six judges in the Appeal Court. The court had ruled that the Swazi King had no constitutional mandate to override parliament by issuing his own decrees.

In a report running for more than 50,000 words, Amnesty International  looked back to the years 2002 and 2003 and identified activities of Dlamini that ‘included the repeated ignoring of court rulings, interference in court proceedings, intimidating judicial officers, manipulating terms and conditions of employment to undermine the independence of the judiciary, the effective replacement of the Judicial Services Commission with an unaccountable and secretive body (officially known as the Special Committee on Justice but popularly called the Thursday Committee), and the harassment of individuals whose rights had been upheld by the courts.’ 

Eventually, in a bid to save King Mswati’s face, Dlamini was forced to resign.

But, King Mswati did not send Dlamini to the political wilderness. In 2008 the King appointed him to be PM once again. King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, did this in contravention of the Swaziland Constitution of 2005 that he had signed into law. The Constitution states that the Prime Minister must be a member of the House of Assembly. At the time he was chosen Dlamini was not a member of the House. In the past Dlamini had sat in six parliaments but had never been elected by anyone.

In 2008, when introducing Dlamini as the new PM, King Mwsati told him publicly to get the terrorists and all who supported them.

Dlamini set about his task with zeal. He banned four pro-democracy organisations, branding them terrorists.

His Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini told Swazis affiliated with the political formations to resign with immediate effect or feel the full force of the law. Under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), enacted the same year Dlamini came to power, members and supporters of these groups could face up to 25 years in jail.

Under the draconian provisions of the STA, anyone who disagrees with the ruling elite faces being branded a terrorist supporter.

The Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini stressed that the government was after supporters of the banned organisations. Supporting an organisation, he said, ‘includes associating with such banned formations’.

This happened at a time when the call for democracy in Swaziland was being heard loudly both inside the kingdom and in the international community.

Since 2008, the Dlamini-led Government has clamped down on dissent. In 2011, Amnesty International reported the ill-treatment, house searches and surveillance of communications and meetings of civil society and political activists. Armed police conducted raids and prolonged searches in the homes of dozens of high profile human rights defenders, trade unionists and political activists while investigating a spate of petrol bombings. Some of the searches, particularly of political activists, were done without search warrants.

Amnesty reported that authorities continued to use the STA to detain and charge political activists. The STA was also used as a basis for search warrants and other measures to intimidate human rights defenders, trade unionists and media workers.

In 2010, Dlamini publicly threatened to use torture against dissidents and foreigners who campaigned for democracy in his kingdom.  He said the use of ‘bastinado’, the flogging of the bare soles of the feet, was his preferred method.

Dlamini told the Times of Swaziland newspaper he wanted ‘to punish dissidents and foreigners who come to the country and disturb the peace’.

This week, Dlamini said publicly that he would ignore a vote of confidence passed against him and his government by the House of Assembly. Under the Constitution he had three days to resign or the King would be required to sack the Cabinet.

The deadline has passed and King Mswati has made no move against Dlamini.

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