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Swaziland's tyranny escapes world's eyes

By Ido Lekota | May 20, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THE recent death in detention of Swaziland political activist Sipho Jele has once again put the untenable political situation in Swaziland in the spotlight.

THE recent death in detention of Swaziland political activist Sipho Jele has once again put the untenable political situation in Swaziland in the spotlight.

Jele, 25, was arrested under the controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act at a May Day rally in Manzini for wearing a People United Democratic Movement T-shirt.

Pudemo was formed in 1983 as a political party opposed to the status quo in Swaziland, with the objective of fighting for a multiparty democracy. This was after King Mswati's father, King Sobhuza, passed a state of emergency decree in 1973 banning all political parties and restricting freedom of speech, association and assembly.

He also vested all legislative, executive and judicial powers in himself. Mswati took over in 1986 - essentially perpetuating his father's anti-democratic rule.

Last Friday Jele was found dead in his cell, according to the police "hanging from the rafters of a toilet". The police officially announced his death as suicide.

Subsequently the police disrupted Jele's funeral, arresting more activists. One who escaped the police dragnet at the funeral, student activist Pius Vilakati, has been reported missing. There is concern that he might be in police custody. His comrades fear for his safety.

Generally, the given picture of Swaziland is this idyllic tourist destination that annually draws visitors from all over the world to witness its famed reed dance.

This is where the country's monarch selects a new member to his ever-expanding harem.

But the real picture of Swaziland is far bleaker than the facade of a peaceful nation with a beautiful country of rolling hills.

Swaziland is Africa's last absolute monarchy with an estimated 70 percent of its 1,36 million people living below the poverty line of US$1 a day. Swaziland also has the highest HIV-Aids prevalence rate in the world, with 21,6 percent of its population infected. Mswati has shown no enthusiasm for sharing power.

As of May 15 2010, Forbes estimated Mswati's net worth to be R1,4 billion. In 2002 he bought a R330 million jet despite the country's parliament voting to cancel the order.

Compared with its relatively politically stable neighbours, South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland is a dictatorship island encircled by democracies.

The country is facing a deep-rooted political problem manifested by Mswati denying his people the joys of multiparty democracy.

The situation in Swaziland is aptly captured in the words of Sipho Hlophe, director of Swaziland for Positive Living: "A beautiful country which is being ravaged by the impact of poor governance and HIV-Aids. We work so hard for this country yet our taxes are spent on the king and his wives rather than tackling poverty."

In 2006 Mswati introduced a new constitution that replaced the 1973 decree. Although it confirms most of the king's powers, the constitution provides for an independent judiciary.

It also introduced a Bill of Rights, which includes freedom of association.

But it does not allow parliamentary candidates to stand for election as members of political parties, only as individuals. It also upholds the executive role of the monarch.

Under the new constitution people like Jele continue to be arrested, tortured and subjected to persecution under the notorious Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Despite the persecution, leading civil society organisations, including trade unions and outlawed political movements like Pudemo, continue to speak against the lack of democracy.

This continues to put them at loggerheads with state organs like the police - who seem bent on using brutal force to suppress any dissent.

Swaziland activists are accusing Mswati of having endorsed this brutality by publicly declaring "Ukukhama" (strangling) "the terrorists".

The irony is how Swaziland has managed to evaded international attention when it comes to its suppression of dissenting voices.

Unlike countries such as Zimbabwe and Madagascar, Swaziland continues to be feted in the international arena like a model peaceful post-colonial African state.

Organisations like the African Union and Southern African Development Community continue to turn a blind eye to the dire political situation in the kingdom.

Instead, they continue to treat Mswati as the epitome of an African statesman.

For example in 2008 Mswati was elected chairman of SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.

He also played a role in finding a political solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe and Madascar.

By ignoring what is happening in Swaziland, SADC is essentially going against the objectives set out for its OPDSC.

These include ensuring political stability and security in the region through finding political solutions for intra-state conflicts.

What is happening in Swaziland is a typical example of intra-state conflict.

How can these organisations expect to be taken seriously when they fail dismally to deal with such glaring inconsistencies?


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