Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Five of Swaziland’s biggest prodemocracy groups have demanded the South African Government recall its High Commissioner from the kingdom after he appeared to publicly support King Mswati III’s autocratic regime and undermine their own campaign for multiparty democracy.

They were joined in the call by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

The new South African High Commissioner to Swaziland, Happy Mahlangu, was widely reported in the Swazi press seeming to support the present regime. Swaziland has been ruled under Royal Proclamation for 40 years, when in 1973 King Sobhuza II abandoned the country’s constitution and began to rule by decree. The proclamation has never been rescinded and today his son, Mswati III, rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Elections are due to be held in Swaziland later this year, but democracy groups are urging a boycott because political parties are banned and the Swazi parliament has no real powers.

When Mahlangu went to present his credentials to King Mswati, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the king, reported him saying, ‘I further wish to make use of this opportunity to express South Africa’s best wishes to Your Majesty and the people of Swaziland for success during the forthcoming elections. I also want to assure you of South Africa’s support regarding the Swaziland Elections.’

The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, reported him saying, ‘It would be folly to force things on the people of Swaziland. It is the people of Swaziland who should decide whether they want multiparty democracy. I think South Africans believe that the best way of representation is multiparties yet that is not the case.’

‘They have to understand the different types of democracies of the world, in particular in the African continent.’

Six prodemocracy groups in a joint statement said, ‘We believe that the South African Government must recall the High Commissioner and provide him with a comprehensive briefing and then assess his suitability for the post.  His most recent statements do not inspire the confidence of the peaceful democratic movement.’

The groups were the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), Swaziland Democracy campaign (SDC), and COSATU.

The groups said Mahlangu needed to learn the realities of life in Swaziland.

They said, ‘At present, peaceful democracy activists are languishing in miserable prison conditions without charge or credible evidence against them while awaiting the possible imposition of harsh sentences for sedition. Many Swazis continue to suffer in exile, while those in Swaziland are prevented from holding meetings, marches or any gatherings and are instead beaten and humiliated for expressing their views about their country.

‘The trade union federation, TUCOSWA, is banned and their leaders were arrested and prevented from celebrating Workers Day just this year. The only “crime” these democracy activists are guilty of is to speak out that democratic norms be accepted in Swaziland.

‘Not only are the Swazi people subjected to appalling levels of poverty, but they are also robbed of resources, both land and finances that should be placed at their service. The regime is considered to be one of the most corrupt in the world.’

They added, ‘Repression in Swaziland is well documented and makes up a major part of the submissions that were made to the UN’s International Labour Conference and other international gatherings. These respected institutions have in turn consistently criticised the Swazi regime for trampling on the fundamental human and civil rights of the people of Swaziland.’

The statement said Mahlangu was out of step with his own government, which last year denied a financial bailout to the regime pending moves towards democracy and with his own ANC party, which last week said, ‘The democratization of Swaziland must preoccupy the work of the African National Congress and all progressive forces as we call for the release of political prisoners, return of exiles and free political activities in that country.’

He was also out of step with, ‘[T]he Commonwealth, the United Nations, the SADC guidelines and protocols on elections democracy and constitutionalism, and a global array of respected human rights organisations who have painstakingly catalogued the abuses of the current Swazi regime.’

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