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King Mswati's tyranny in Swaziland shows some cracks

By Klaus Kristensen | 2015-07-25 08:22:41.0 | COMMENTS [ 9 ]

Swaziland has recently experienced two events with potential significance for the country's democratisation.

The first was the issuing of a warrant of arrest for Chief Justice Michael Romodibedi in April.

The second is the release on bail of human rights activists Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, banned political party People's United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) leader Mario Masuku and youth leader Maxwell Dlamini.

Ramodibedi was largely thought to be King Mswati's pawn. He worked to ensure that opposition politicians and others opposed to the regime would be jailed on spurious charges and minor offences such as a critique of the judiciary and wearing T-shirts with the logo of Pudemo.

King Mswati shocked many in the judiciary when he opted to depose Ramodibedi after charges of corruption and abuse of power surfaced against him. This has been seen as his attempt to lend credibility to the judiciary.

The release of political prisoners was most likely a reaction to international pressure, especially from the United States, the European Union, and the International Labour Organisation. But it could also have been Mswati's attempt to redeem the judiciary following revelations of Ramodibedi's impropriety.

Only time will tell if it is possible to legitimise the judiciary. But these two events should give Swazis hope. Although a number of political prisoners remain behind bars, the Swazi government has demonstrated some level of willingness to accommodate international pressure.

Right now, the pro-democracy movement is rightly rejoicing with the released prisoners. But when the joy has been dampened, they need to put considerable energy into identifying new pressure points for advocacy and change. And this might prove difficult.

Arbitrary arrests of those opposed to the regime are easy content for international campaigning. Such state actions violate the country's own constitution and international laws. But their activism and advocacy will always be limited if they continue to agitate in the realm of the law.

Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, a dictatorship, where laws stop and start with the royal family, more precisely the Queen Mother and her son King Mswati III. In this context the law itself is illegitimate. It is highly unlikely that the solution to the democratic deficit should be found within an inherently undemocratic constitution and accompanying set of laws.

The solution can only be found outside the legal system, not in terms of means but in terms of an end. It is simply not possible to logically rely on an inherently undemocratic constitution to achieve multiparty democracy - the end goal.

The pro-democracy movement should focus its attention on exposing the horrendous mismanagement of the country orchestrated by Mswati.

Despite Swaziland's relative high gross national income, on par with Namibia's, 80% of the population lives below the poverty line while the royal family fly around the world in their private jet.

Mswati seems completely oblivious to the HIV/Aids epidemic ravaging his country or is simply indifferent as he marries one young beautiful Swazi after another.

Other issues that could be used to sustain and increase international pressure is to highlight the dubious business relationships between the royal family's investment fund, Tibiyo, and South Africa's business elite, or even Mswati's occasional trips to the Middle East to apply for loans.

It is of course uncertain what will have the highest resonance with the international community.

The release of political prisoners and the seeming opening up of some democratic space through a re-shuffling of the judiciary might provide the best opportunity for the pro-democracy groups to apply greater pressure.

lKristensen works as the Swaziland political analyst and coordinator for Southern African Liaison Office


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What is wrong with the Swazi People??? Indicative of African people's mentality. Always want to be rule with an iron fist, when the alternative would be to depose the tyrant and throw him in jail. Which in turn would save a lot of nubiles and virgins from being infected by this philanderer.

2015-07-25 10:18:19.0 | 2 replies


The Swazis just love their king and I think as South Africa we are not doing justice to them by supporting the monarch. Our government like dictators, Omar al Bashir, Mswati III, Mugabe and the AU is the biggest culprit. It needs to be transformed.

2015-07-25 10:37:08.0 | 0 replies


It's fear, the police there are brutal, especially to protestors, peaceful or not. The king pays them to shut the people up by inducing fear. If that doesn't work the soldiers will march on the streets with their AK47's as a warning to sit back down, no matter how hot the seat is.

2015-11-14 12:00:26.0 | 0 replies


Countries like Swaziland and Lesotho must be annexed by South Africa.

2015-07-25 10:21:01.0 | 1 replies


Damn right. They should be called Zululand, that's who they ran away from in the first place.

2015-07-25 14:18:51.0 | 0 replies


The Swazi people prefer to have a system where the king and queen don't middle with Swaziland day to day polical affairs. Just like how England political system runs. We have seen the Swazi polical opposition crew under the PUDEMO arrested for expressing their views again and again its not knew to see the Swaziland Government arresting Mario Masuku and his crew members over the past 20years they have been seeking change. The reason behind hiring a Judiciary head judge from another country is part of the ideas of manipulating the courts and getting such judge to arrest the opposition parties. No wonder the present King don't chose a Swazi citizen for the Judiciary judge position because most of the qualified judiciary judge candidates from Swaziland cant stand making illegal arrest any more and continuous request from the above to continue to arrest the voiceless. After hiring the Judge from Lesotho it is clear example that the present Swazi government was on the role to continue to harm and destroy the peaceful PUDEMO members. Swaziland DEMOCRACY IS NEVER CHANGING therefore such NEWS THAT MONARCHY is up to change is all lies.

2015-07-28 21:40:34.0 | 0 replies


Swaziland and Lesotho can be both become the province of South Africa but its clear that the Monarchy system in Swaziland refused several times for the offer. Development is not taking place in Swaziland when most African states are developing because of CONTROL and keep on stealing from the majority poor Swazi citizens. If you incorporate Swaziland as a province to South Africa it means Swaziland will be like Kwazulu Natal just like the King over there in Durban making it hard for the present King and his family to continue to steal and lie to Swazi's. Its all Greed people and we know that in Africa. How can it be done properly? its hard now because the Swazi's inter marry with the Zulu king tribes, and now Jacob Zuma married to a Swazi, same as Mandela's grand daughters and grandsons married to a Swazi. Some Democratically change can be allowed if both South Africa, Swaziland can seat down and listen at the Swazi people's concerns and help solve them. Swaziland needs to develop their cities just as how Ethiopia and Rwanda is working on their internal infrastructure and economies..When will it be done?

2015-07-28 21:53:28.0 | 0 replies