The much anticipated meeting between Swaziland’s autocratic King Mswati III and representatives of the prodemocracy movement in his kingdom did not take place.
It was scheduled for 30 September 2015 and had been brokered by the Commonwealth. A total of 15 representatives of civil society, including some groups banned under the kingdom’s Suppression of Terrorist Act, had been expected to attend.
Swaziland is a secretive society and existence of the meeting was never officially confirmed. However, leaks about the meeting and who was attending, and who had been barred, circulated freely on social media.
The meeting attracted attention because King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups advocating for democracy are outlawed. Every major global human rights organisation has criticised Swaziland for its poor human rights record. Public meetings are routinely broken up by police and state security. Journalists critical of the regime have been jailed.
The meeting called by some ‘talks about democracy’ failed to materialise after it became clear that some participants had drawn up a list of demands for the King. These included the unbanning of political parties and a commitment to democracy.
The Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati and described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) as belonging to a stable of newspapers that was a ‘pure propaganda machine for the Royal Family’reported Prince Masitsela, a senior traditionalist in Swaziland, saying the Royal Family had ‘not taken kindly’ to reports that civil society representatives at the meeting had ‘demands’ for the King.
The newspaper reported (4 October 2015), ‘This has been viewed as a sign of disrespect towards the King.’
It added, ‘Senior Prince Masitsela is one of the people who have come out to state publicly that chances of the political formations meeting the King were now slim.’
The Observer also reported, ‘The 85-year-old prince said he did not see the meeting taking place as it was unheard of that Swazi citizens would openly say they have demands for the King.’
Prince Masitsela is an advisor to the King on the Ludzidzini Council.
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