Swaziland Solidarity Network [SSN] Press release
12 April, 2010
Swaziland 37 years after the king's decree of 12 April 1973
“Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”: so says an African proverb. Very few countries in this epoch have borne witness to a more crude distortion of their national history than Swaziland. Central to this are the events which lead up to the late king’s unilateral decision to disregard a national constitution and assume the role of a supreme ruler on the 12th of April 1973.
While a thorough rebuttal of the official story peddled to the Swazi masses may be the subject of an entire book, there are few facts whose mere mention exposes the propaganda version for the absurd lie that it is. The most important being the fact that Swaziland was never officially a colony of Great Britain, although it might have been administered as one. Swaziland was a British protectorate. The distinction between the two is crucial to understanding the nature of the relationship that the Swazi tribal authorities had with the colonial government. The Swazi tribal authorities, being the ones who had literally begged to be a part of the British colonial system, have always been an important instrument for ruling the native population. It is therefore not surprising that Great Britain, a constitutional monarchy, saw nothing ironic with handing power to what was clearly an executive monarchy which had ascended to power thanks to its collusion with forces some of which were, at the time, engaged in the most dehumanising policies against indigenous Africans.
It is also not surprising that when the king decided to rescind the independence constitution unlawfully, crushing all form of dissent, he had the practical backing of the former colonial power. Despite the Royal cabinet, a new flag, national anthem and other trappings of an independent state, Swaziland’s socio-economic relationship post independence remained largely unchanged. It was the same politics of exploitation. Political parties and all forms of political expression were banned. Failure to heed to the king’s decree was severely punishable by a sixty day detention without trial. All in all, such tactics were always a mirror image of the manner in which the South Africa Apartheid government, then a close ally and political advisor of the new Swazi government, used to crush opponents of Apartheid.
Taking advantage of a population which was largely uneducated and politically naive, Sobhuza reigned supreme after the initial opposition to his decree had been defeated. The rapid economic development of that time, fuelled largely by the British through the Commonwealth Development Corporation coupled with the exclusive relationship which the Sobhuza regime enjoyed within J. B. Vorster’s “Outward looking policy”, which sought to neutralise opposition to Apartheid by creating friendships with neighbouring African states, led to the creation of a new national Bourgeois which was comfortable with maintaining the status quo regardless of its very illegitimate nature. It was a period of superficial prosperity which belied the troubling times which were yet to come.
The Swaziland of today is one that fits the definition of the term “Banana republic”. It has the lowest economic growth rate in the kingdom, the worst human rights record-after Zimbabwe, and the only statistics that it lays claim of being “the highest” in are in the rates of poverty and HIV infections. All these can be directly traced to the dehumanising proclamation of 1973 which held that Swazis ought not to consider themselves a part of the human family by seeking the respect of their inalienable human rights. They were to be nothing but slaves, or as the Ndebele language describes them: Amahole, second class citizens who at best can hope to be nothing but mere bootlickers to the royal family, which of late has had the audacity to proclaim that it is their divine right to rule over the lesser beings within the country who should never eat of the same dish, Umgcwembe, as those who are “Closer to God”. The economic disparities indicate this line of thinking clearly. The percentage of the budget that is allocated Royal expenditure is increasing at such an alarming rate that in future it might well be the sum total of government expenses. Social expenditure such as public health and education is way below that required.
Yet despite these very gloomy facts, one can take solace from the fact that the opposition, despite being banned and brutally suppressed, is showing no indication of disappearing. Political parties, although banned, continue to grow and the growth in numbers is most visible amongst the most militant ones. Even some vocal supports of the monarchy have shown an indication that they would support moves towards limiting its powers or simply doing away with them. There are, however, some challenges to this resistance. The small size of the country and its pollution has rendered it unknown to the international word. Despite this, efforts to internationalise the struggle for the liberation of the country have borne fruits of late and it is only a matter of time before it dominates the politics of the region.
Before this can occur, however, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) needs to take a proactive stance towards Swaziland’s human rights abuses. There are very few states within the region that did not have to struggle for the democratic freedoms that they currently enjoy. Indeed some of them had to pay heavily in order to do so. It is quite hypocritical of these countries to expect Swaziland to have to go through a destabilising war, which it will take decades to recover from. The moral stance that was taken by the African Union in forcing Zimbabwe to create a unity government should not be seen as being an attempt to please the West by bowing down to its pressure. It is clearly a precedent which the regional leaders need to follow, not only with regard to Swaziland but as a general rule.
Issued by the Swaziland Solidarity Network [SSN] South Africa Chapter
Lucky Lukhele: SSN spokesperson: