Swaziland’s Attorney-General Majahenkhaba Dlamini has said there is no need to annul a 1973 Royal Decree that bans all political parties and puts all legislative, executive and judicial power in the hands of the King.
Dlamini was reacting to a newspaper report in Swaziland that traditionalists stopped the decree being repealed when Swaziland’s Constitution came into force in 2006. He said the Constitution in effect annulled the Royal Decree.
‘Why do they [prodemocracy campaigners] want us to revoke the decree through a gazette? What if we don’t want to do that?’ the newspaper reported him saying.
According to the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, ‘influential traditionalists’ feared Swaziland ‘could become a republic if this law was repealed’.
The newspaper said preparations to abandon the Royal Decree in 2005 were far advanced and a gazette had been drawn up.
The newspaper quoted one of the traditionalists, Brigadier General Fonono Dube, who was a member of Liqoqo, an advisory council to the King, saying, ‘There was no way we could have revoked a law that establishes the country. We couldn’t have allowed the authorities of the country to annul the decree because that would have turned the country into a republic. We don’t need a president in Swaziland. We need the King.’
The Times reported, ‘The argument by the traditionalists to keep the decree in the statutes was that it was the “heart” of the country and its repeal was tantamount to killing the whole country, – the whole government machinery, thus depriving authorities of powers to govern the kingdom.’
The Royal Decree came into force in 1973 after King Sobhuza objected to his subjects electing members of a political party that was not under his control. He tore up the kingdom’s constitution that had been in place since Swaziland gained independence from Britain in 1968.
In his decree, King Sobhuza announced, ‘I have assumed supreme power in the Kingdom of Swaziland and that all Legislative, Executive and Judicial power is vested in myself.’
He added, ‘The Constitution is indeed the cause of growing unrest, insecurity, dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in our country and an impediment to free and progressive development in all spheres of life.’
He also said, ‘All political parties and similar bodies that cultivate and bring about disturbances and ill-feelings within the Nations are hereby dissolved and prohibited.’
He said, ‘Any person who forms or attempts or conspires to form a political party or who organises or participates in any way in any meeting, procession or demonstration in contravention of this decree shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on conviction, to imprisonment not exceeding six months.’
The Royal Decree was never abolished and today King Sobhuza’s son, King Mswati III, rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties remain banned and the King choses all members of the government and the judiciary. He also chooses 10 members of the House of Assembly, allowing his subjects to select the other 55 members. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.
National elections were held in September 2013, but the full results of the voting have never been revealed publicly.
In April 2013, on the 40th anniversary of the Royal Decree, armed police and state security forces in Swaziland broke up a series of events, including meetings, prayers and a rally, which had been called to debate the political situation in the kingdom.