News that Times of Swaziland writer and former cabinet minister Mfomfo Nkhambule has been taken in by state police and told he must stop criticising the ruling elite is further evidence that the rule of law has broken down in the kingdom since Barnabas Dlamini was illegally appointed Prime Minister in October 2008.
Nkhambule says that the head of the Intelligence Unit and two other officers interviewed him and told him that his articles could incite people to revolt against King Mswati III and that this was a security threat.
Nkhambule said the officers informed him that even though Swaziland had a new constitution, there were still laws that could be used against him, which were enacted before independence.
This threat is nonsense. According to the Swazi Constitution (Section 2), the constitution is supreme law in Swaziland and if there are any existing laws that are inconsistent with the constitution, the other law will no longer stand.
Put simply what that means is that the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the media, so Nkhambule is entitled in law to write what he likes.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the constitution is being ignored. When Barnabas Dlamini was appointed by King Mswati III, the king was acting unconstitutionally because the prime minister has to come from the House of Assembly and Dlamini does not. Dlamini was never elected to anything.
Dlamini had previously been prime minister from 1996 to 2003 and his term in office was characterised by a complete disregard for the rule of law in Swaziland. He refused to abide by decisions of the courts and unleashed a reign of terror against anyone who supported democracy and argued against the king and government. In Swaziland, the king is an absolute monarch and the parliament has little real power.
Dlamini has not changed. He remains an anti-democrat and since he started his second term in office there has been a further illegal clampdown on dissent.
As the Nation magazine points out in its current issue (January 2009) Mario Masuku, the leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), has been arrested and awaits trial for allegedly breaking the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), even though when he is alleged to have acted against the Act, the STA was not in force.
In the past months, marches, meetings and rallies that are perfectly legal under the constitution’s so-called ‘Bill of Rights’ that guarantees freedom of expression and assembly, have been banned or broken up by police. Police also demanded to attend workshops of journalists and meetings between church leaders and foreign diplomats.
In November 2008, journalists working in Swaziland were warned that they could be branded ‘terrorist sympathisers’ and face up to 25 years in jail if they wrote reports unfavourable to the Swazi government and the king.
A briefing paper prepared for the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa in November 2008 summarised the situation in Swaziland rather well.
‘The ruling elite and the King seem to be surrounding themselves with higher levels of security and the ensuing paranoia that goes along with this. They are increasingly isolated and with extreme wealth and power disparities to protect seem intent on using military and paramilitary analyses and solutions. Thus they see their political foes not as legitimate challengers to power but enemies of the state and the status quo that must be demonised and defeated. They have said that they know how to ‘control’ conflict. This is inevitably going to provoke a reaction by the paramilitary supporters of the political opposition and lead to an escalation in the frequency and severity of their attacks and the subsequent reactions. Military solutions to political problems are rarely as effective as their proponents expect.’
The Swazi political elite are indeed paranoid about opposition and it is this lack of rationality that makes them so dangerous. Also, they do not recognise the constitution and they will use the police and army to maintain their hold on power in Swaziland.
This paranoia also makes them highly unpredictable. It is anybody’s guess who they will come after next.