MPs are cowards
By Musa Hlophe Times
Sunday (Swaziland) October 21,2012
Here is a quick question for all of us. "What has
changed in Swaziland since we decided to have a Constitution?"
Here is the simple and depressing, answer:
I think the only lesson we can take from the farce that
surrounds the vote of no confidence is that the constitution means absolutely
nothing to the traditional structures, all of the Cabinet, many of our MPs and,
I am sorry to say, even some of our judges.
The people on the streets and in the villages know this
and are left bewildered and almost hopeless in the face of the arrogance of the
powerful and unaccountable elite.
When the draft constitution was being paraded around the
country, there was a meeting with some senior princes who were horrified at
what it contained.
They were upset that it subjected authorities in the land
to rules and regulations and that it was to be supreme over their deliberations
It even guided them on who to appoint and what to do.
Prince David, the chair of the Constitutional Drafting
Committee, took great care to assure them that, in reality, nothing would
change for them. How right he was.
The Constitution of Swaziland exists merely on paper.
It is a convenient shield to show off to our regional and
international partners who question the state of democracy and human rights in
However, in practice it does not exist.
A constitution is more than a mere law. It is the
founding document of a nation.
In the end, it is a political document that sets out
guidelines for how power is divided and how it should be exercised.
It comes alive not in the dry words of the law but in the
living examples of how politicians and the powerful behave.
Here in Swaziland, when the rules of the constitution are
inconvenient to the wishes of Cabinet and the traditional authorities, they
just ignore it.
The constitution is clear on many matters.
It is clear on how many women must be appointed to
Parliament and Senate.
It is clear that four extra women MPs must be appointed
when there are fewer than 30 per cent of women in Parliament.
It is clear that at least half of Cabinet should be made
up of elected members of the House but until recently that was not the case. It
is clear about who should be Human Rights Commissioners and Elections and
Boundaries Commissioners. It is very clear on what happens after a vote of no
confidence: "The King shall dissolve Cabinet."
All of these rules have been ignored.
However, these are the details, the bigger picture is
that this government, the first to be appointed under the constitution, has
gone out of its way to ignore not only the letter of the constitution but its
spirit too. We have a Bill of Rights. Have we seen this government behave any
This week alone saw the newspapers filled with the
arrogant and high-handed behaviour of the police.
Have we ever seen a police officer even investigated for
abusing his powers?
We know that free speech is simply banned from our TVs
and radios and highly restricted in the press. Last year saw one of our best
judges in Thomas Masuku sacked for reasons that are obvious to everybody. He
was ‘too’ independent.
We have a Human Rights Commission that has never been
given a budget to do any real work or employ any staff. We have an
Anti-Corruption Commission without Commissioners.
Everybody knows that it is in the nature of politicians
to try and grab as much power as possible. This is why Parliament, judges and
the independent oversight bodies are supposed to have the ability to call
government ministers and civil servants to public account. On the paper of the
constitution that is what is said – but what is our reality?
We can see from this month’s vote of no confidence
scandal that Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini has done to Parliament in 2012
exactly what he did to the judges in 2002.
In November 2002, this Prime Minister declared that the
government did not consider itself bound by judgments of the Court of Appeal.
When the PM refused to recognise the legal judgments, the
Court of Appeal had the honour and courage to collectively and completely
They forced the nation, and the world, to recognise the
deep political trouble that Swaziland was in. They put the needs of the
country, their personal honour and their duty to uphold the law before their
own personal enrichment. The result was that the people of Swaziland and
governments across the world put enough pressure on us to remove the PM from
This month saw the Prime Minister declare that he did not
consider himself bound by Parliament’s vote of no confidence.
He made up some legalistic sounding excuses but in the
end he is neither a lawyer nor a judge and he certainly does not have the power
to overrule a valid vote of no confidence and the constitution.
In the democratic norms I discussed last week, we expect
a losing PM to resign.
However, since he did not do the honourable thing, it is
up to the MPs to force him.
That is why my real anger is reserved for the
What have they done? When faced with the ultimate
challenge to their only real power, their constitutional and democratic right
and their duty to represent the people, what did they do? Did they stand for
democracy? Did they think of their mandate to represent the people? Did they
look at the scorn with which the PM treated them and stand up to fight for the
constitution and the rights of the ordinary Swazi?
We know they did not.
They behaved like the worst sort of cowards – the type
that appears to be strong when the going is easy but let us down when times are
They made us believe they were heroes and champions of
They had the numbers and courage to use the constitution
to evict a Cabinet that had long lost its nation’s mandate.
The people spoke with courage at Sibaya, Sidla Inhloko
and in the streets, the churches and even the shebeens across the country.
The MPs listened and did the remarkable thing - voted out
I am told that they were then put under an enormous
amount of pressure with threats and bribes raining down on them.
However, as the story of Job in the Bible tells us, you
know a person’s character not when times are easy but when the going gets
When MPs caved in and passed a motion that claims to
overturn the vote of no confidence, they showed us the true nature of
Swaziland’s politics – that it is simply not a democracy in any credible sense
of the word.
They failed in their first duty to represent the people
against the powerful.
Section 68 is the only part of the constitution that
allows the people to change their government and the MPs showed us this week
that it might as well not be there. I thank them for showing the world that, in
reality, the Swaziland was not, is not, and can never be, a democracy under
This leaves us with the political reality that the real
Constitution of Swaziland is the King’s Proclamation of 1973.
Sources tell me that many in power still consider this to
be the real founding document of the Swazi nation. We all know that it has
never been repealed.
The closest we have got was when the Attorney General
admitted to an international audience that it had been ‘superseded’ but he
never went on to explain what that meant in practice. I think we can all now
tell. It means that while the constitution might be the newer document, the
1973 decree never went away.
We can now see that the political reality of Swaziland in
2012 is that the 1973 Order still stands. Political parties are not allowed to
stand for elections. The traditional authorities decide what is acceptable.
Free speech remains a myth. The rights to assembly and association are simply
treated as a joke.
Women remain treated as second-class citizens.
The police, army and others, kill, torture and maim whom
they choose. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.
For sure, we must develop democracy with regard to our
own history and culture. However, in Swaziland there has simply been no true
We have developed the symbols of democracy such as
elections, Parliament, judges sitting in courts, even supposedly independent
oversight commissions on elections, human rights, political integrity and
corruption. But what we have failed to do is develop a culture of democracy and
the rule of law where these institutions are respected by the both the
traditional authorities and the ordinary Swazis.
In the end, last week’s decision to reverse the vote of
no confidence said the powerful in Swaziland do not respect either domestic law
or international democratic conventions. It said Swaziland’s constitution was a
Most telling of all is that it said the powerful in our
country have absolutely no respect for us, the ordinary people.
My other question to you, dear reader, is this; ‘What are
you going to do about it?’
TOP LAW OFFICER DEFIES CONSTITUTION
GOVT NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE REVERSED