Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Freedom campaigners for Swaziland have had their work cut out in recent days as the Swazi state tries to tighten its grip.

The jailing of Thulani Maseko, Swaziland’s most prominent human rights lawyer, sparked fears that other arrests are imminent. Swazi dissident Mfomfo Nkhambule believes an arrest warrant is out for him and he says he is ready to go to jail.

The banned political party the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) says eight of its leaders are also expecting to be arrested any time now.

Mario Masuku, president of PUDEMO, remains in jail since last November awaiting trial on a sedition charge.

Meanwhile, the government has confirmed that legislation is being drafted by the end of this month to make it a crime for anyone on the government’s payroll (which includes minor civil servants and school teachers) to speak out on politics. Under the Suppression of Terrorism Act anyone who speaks out against the state is liable to go to prison for up to 25 years.

Last week Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister, told editors and senior journalists in Swaziland that moves are afoot to introduce legislation to control the media. This would in effect give the government powers to punish media houses and journalists who publish material the state doesn’t like.

Even as the Swazi state shows it has no interest in democracy the fight for freedom continues.

Only this week I reported that the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) criticised the Swaziland Supreme Court for misinterpreting the Swazi Constitution and ruling that it was lawful to continue to ban political parties in the kingdom.

Last week Amnesty International issued a report on human rights in Swaziland and highlighted the ‘crackdown against critics of the government’. It went on, ‘Police continued to use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and workers on strike. Torture, other ill-treatment and the unjustified use of lethal force by law enforcement officials were reported.

Maurice Parker, the outgoing US Ambassador to Swaziland, in his farewell speech this week said, ‘Let us declare our commitment to the people of Swaziland and to the advancement of the concepts citizens of the United States hold so dear. Those of equality of opportunity; education; freedom of expression; freedom of the media, and association; human rights for all; the rule of law, and democratic participation in government policies.’

PUDEMO, in a statement this week said, ‘By arresting President Mario and recently Advocate Thulani Maseko, [Prime Minister] Barnabas [Dlamini] had hoped that the people will desert the movement. They had hoped that the people will forget their leaders. The opposite has happened.’

It went on, ‘Every day more and more people across all sectors of our society: the youth, students, churches, rural communities, professionals, workers, etc; have come to realise and accept PUDEMO as their true representative and liberation movement.’

Internally and internationally people are speaking out against King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and his ruling elite.

It is increasingly difficult to find anyone internationally who supports the king.

But there remains one voice of support. It comes from Robert Mugabe, who remains president of Zimbabwe after stealing the election last year. He has been entertaining King Mswati this week on a state visit.

In a speech at a banquet to honour King Mswati, Mugabe praised the Tinkhundla system of government that bans political parties in Swaziland.

‘It is a democratic and community-based system that allows only bona fide members of a community to stand for elections. We are therefore proud to note that the Kingdom of Swaziland is one of the few countries in Africa which has preserved its rich culture while at the same time adopting aspects of modernisation. We wish the rest of Africa could emulate some of your time tested traditions for the sake of posterity.’

So there you have it: all the king has left, the support of a fellow despot.

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