Political and workers’ leaders in Botswana have said King Mswati III of Swaziland should not take the chair of SADC later this month (August 2016), because he is a ‘dictator’ in his own kingdom.
The King is due to hold the chair of the Southern Africa Development Community because each of the 15 countries in SADC take it in turn.
Botswana is a member of SADC and a multi-party democracy. The Botswana Guardian newspaper reported that civil society groups, labour leaders and politicians were against King Mswati.
The Guardian reported Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang, vice president of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), saying, ‘Although Swaziland is a sovereign state, the fact that King Mswati III is ascending the SADC chair this August is a matter of great concern to us because the country has thus far refused to embrace the values of democracy.
‘This is an indication that the regional body is not committed to democratic values.’
The newspaper reported, ‘In his view, the development is a setback for the region because Mswati III is not competent to meaningfully intervene when there is a crisis especially where democracy is the issue.’
Motlatsi Molapis, President of the Botswana People’s Party (BPP), reportedly said, ‘Mswati does not qualify to hold that position at all. Not only is he a dictator but he is also a corrupt leader who sees nothing wrong with abusing public resources for his benefit while people starve.’
Nelson Ramaotwana, the Botswana National Front (BNF) Secretary for Foreign Affairs, said all countries, including Swaziland, were free to run their affairs according to their own home-grown processes.
‘Mswati is, however, not the right person for the job because he cannot mediate between government and its people where matters of democracy are concerned. In his country, civic right groups including political parties and trade unions are, for all intents and purposes, banned.’
Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, Deputy Secretary General of the Botswana Federation of Public and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), reportedly said, ‘He rules by decree. There is no bargaining council and those who raise their voices about his abuse of power are incarcerated. Above everything else, a leader must be a role model with regards to what the organisation he leads stands for.’
He added, ‘We are liaising with like-minded organisations in the SADC as well as embassies to reject his chairmanship. We will also lobby Swazis here and back home to join us in the rejection of King Mswati III. We seek to isolate him,’ he said.
Opposition groups within Swaziland have also spoken against King Mswati. The Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), in a statement, said, ‘The CPS is astonished that the governments of Southern Africa show such massive disregard for the plight of the Swazi people as to put absolute monarch Mswati III at the helm of SADC, supposedly an organisation that defends democracy, the rule of law and human rights.’
It added. ‘The CPS urges all its supporters in Swaziland and in exile and all those in the broader pro-democracy movement to put the spotlight on SADC’s moral black hole that is Swaziland, as Mswati dresses up as the chairman of SADC and wallows in the applause of SADC’s democratic heads of state.’
SADC states that its objectives are to, ‘achieve development, peace and security, and economic growth, to alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration, built on democratic principles and equitable and sustainable development.’
In August 2015, Human Rights Watch said in a statement, ‘SADC member states have taken little action to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law in all southern African countries despite identifying peace, security, and the promotion of human rights as key concerns within the region.’
Swaziland is the only member of SADC where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and he chooses members of the government. Opposition groups are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Human Rights Watch said, ‘In Swaziland, human rights conditions and respect for the rule of law have deteriorated significantly. Restrictions on political activism and trade unions, such as under the draconian Suppression of Terrorism Act, violate international law, and activists and union members risk arbitrary detention and unfair trials.’
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