Thursday, December 19, 2013


Newspapers in Swaziland are deliberately misleading their readers about King Mswati III’s vision of ‘Monarchical Democracy’.

In September 2013, King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, announced that he had ‘a vision’ during a thunderstorm in which he was told to change the name of the present political system in his kingdom from ‘tinkhundla’ to ‘Monarchical Democracy.’

He told media in Swaziland that this meant the king would take advice from his subjects before making decisions that affected the kingdom.

His description of  ‘Monarchical Democracy’ was vague, but in Swaziland, people, even journalists who purport to act on their behalf, are too scared of the King to ask him for clarification.

In fact, the ‘tinkhundla’ system of government puts all power in the hands of the monarchy. King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, members of the judiciary, and he appoints all senior political posts in his kingdom.

Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the Swazi people are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, with the King appointing the others. No members of the 30-strong Swaziland Senate are elected by the people.

When the King made his announcement about ‘Monarchical Democracy’, many people hoped this would mean a change from the present system to something approaching democracy.

But, the supine Press in Swaziland did not explain to their readers that this was not going to happen.

Instead, it took a proper journalist called Ed Cropley, from a proper news organisation called Reuters to get at the truth. Cropley interviewed the King and asked him outright what ‘Monarchical Democracy’ was all about and what was going to change.

The King replied, ‘No change really. It's just a name so people can understand.’

It was, Reuters reported, ‘merely a name change for foreign consumption’.

The news agency reported the King saying, ‘The world really doesn’t understand the Tinkhundla system, but everybody can understand monarchical democracy. It’s an English name. This monarchical democracy is a marriage between the traditional monarchy and the ballot box, all working together under the monarchy.’

So, the King confirmed in his own words that ‘tinkhundla’ and ‘Monarchical Democracy’ is one and the same thing.

Reuters’ report was published worldwide, as well as on social media circulating within Swaziland. Swazi newspaper editors read the report with everyone else.

But, even though the Reuters report was published in September 2013, the Swazi newspapers continue with the fiction that ‘Monarchical Democracy’ might be something new. Reports they have published include statements from the newly-elected MP Jan Sithole who thinks parliamentarians need to have a workshop to learn what ‘Monarchical Democracy’ is all about.

Even though Percy Simelane, the government’s press spokesperson, has confirmed on state-controlled radio, the King’s position, the newspapers continue to mislead their readers that there might be more to it.
No workshops on ‘Monarchical Democracy’ are necessary, because there is nothing new to learn.

However, editors in Swaziland might need to go on a workshop to learn that the prime responsibility of journalists is to tell their readers the truth.

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