AIM NEWS (Mozambique)
27 April 2011
Swazi activists disappointed by SADC
Swazi democrats are “very disappointed with SADC (Southern African Development Community)”, for its failure to stand up to Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, declared on Tuesday (26 April 2011) Comfort Mabuza, the national director of the Swazi branch of the regional press freedom body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa).
Mabuza and the Executive Director of the Swazi Co-ordinating Assembly of NGOs, Emmanuel Ndlangamandla, are in Maputo for contacts with Mozambican civil society and with the embassies of donor nations (since, apart from the United States, no major donor has an embassy in Swaziland).
Interviewed by AIM, Mabuza noted that, unlike the situation in Zimbabwe, when it came to Swaziland, “there is no SADC criticism of the way King Mswati runs the country. Nobody in SADC tells the king to respect human rights”.
“Rather than challenge Mswati, SADC celebrates him. It’s very discouraging”, said Mabuza.
The one bright spot is that the South African government, the ruling African National Congress, and its partners in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade unions (COSATU), are in favour of democratic reform in Swaziland.
When the protests of 12 April were suppressed by the Swazi police, there were signs from South Africa “that there is an interest in making Swaziland aware that it cannot be an island, and needs to be part of the spirit of freedom in Africa”, said Mabuza.
“But Mozambique was quiet”, he lamented. Mabuza was not sure whether this was because the Mozambican authorities were unaware of what was taking place in Swaziland.
He was also critical of the Mozambican government for allowing weapons to be imported to the Swazi regime through Mozambican territory. “Swaziland is not at war”, Mabuza said, “and we would have expected Mozambique not to allow arms of war to pass through to a country which is not at war”.
Ndlangamandla said that Swaziland had been plunged into a deep economic crisis when, last year, its revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) fell by two thirds. The Swazi government, he said, had relied on SACU for 70 per cent of its total revenue.
As a result, all ministries, except for Education and Health, had to cut their budgets by 14 per cent, and 7,000 public sector jobs were lost. These problems contributed to the rise in militancy from the public sector trade unions.
“It is the governance, the political system, that has failed the people”, said Ndlangamandla. “We don’t have an opposition. Parliament takes orders from the government and from the royal palace”.
Political parties were banned in Swaziland in 1973, and still are, despite the adoption of a constitution in 2006. The courts are not independent, added Ndlangamandla, and “the current system is highly controlled by traditional authorities”.
The exact costs of the monarchy are unknown, since “royal expenditure is hidden in the budget”, he said. “We don’t know how much the king earns, or the queen mother, and they don’t pay tax, even though they are business people”.
Mabuza noted that Mswati plans to attend the wedding in London on Friday of British Prince William, grandson of Elizabeth II. How much this trip will cost is also unknown – but the bill, as with all royal trips, will be picked up by the Swazi Foreign Ministry and not by the king himself.
Ndlangamandla noted that even the Finance Ministry admits to high levels of corruption – now believed to be costing Swaziland around 80 million rands (11.9 million US dollars) a month.
Donors were no longer willing to support Swaziland – and donor funds were even drying up for NGOs. The two activists hoped to persuade donors to change their minds “otherwise Swazi civil society will not function”.