16 August 2011
Should Swaziland be “colonised”?
Gordhan is already half-way towards “colonisation.”
By Stanley Uys
Angry over South Africa’s R2.5 bn bailout of Swaziland? Aghast that King Mswati III (Africa’s last remaining absolute monarch, crowned in 1986 and “looting the state coffers” ever since) now will have an even more “lavish and indulgent lifestyle” for himself and his 12 (approximately) wives?
Join the club – the northern Eurozone one. The northerners themselves are furious over bailouts: Greece and Cyprus, maybe Ireland. Who’s next?
Mswati has an estimated personal fortune of $200 million. SA’s Finance minister Pravin Gordhan (furious, too, that Mswati jumped the gun to announce the bailout, minus the conditions attached by Gordhan), will not confirm that Mswati first asked the IMF in vain for R10m.
Mswati’s critics range across the whole Left-to-Right spectrum. Ill-feeling runs high in SA against Mswati, seen as running his landlocked nation as his personal fiefdom for more than two decades. Swaziland’s pro-democracy activists threaten to march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, and SA’s trade unions threaten to cross the border. How far will either get?
The Democratic Alliance calls on King Mswati to unban all political parties and release opposition party members and civil society activists who have been detained without trial. Who will hearken to it?
Cosatu, scornful of the “very vague conditions” attached by Gordhan to the bailout, says: "This is not a natural disaster, but one made in Lobamba (the country's traditional and legislative capital) by a few royal elites who have milked the country dry from years of extravagance, corruption, parasitism and poor management.”
King Mswati’s unelected administration has run through his country’s central bank reserves to pay public sector wages. The IMF says the crux is a civil service wage bill that consumes 18% of GDP. Mswati’s government owes at least $180m in unpaid bills. Repayments of the bailout will be via debits recovered from Swaziland's share of the Southern African Customs Union duties (60% of the kingdom’s total state revenue).
Gordhan says: “Swaziland is a sovereign country; we can only go so far.” It is in SA’s interests to have a stable country. “It’s not our place to dictate to them.” “Sovereign country” is the mantra most African states chant - afraid that outside interference in one profligate “sovereign” African country will lead to interference in the next? Sovereignty is the bulwark behind which ex-President Thabo Mbeki and the African Union resisted “interference.”
The DA makes the point that more than 90% of Swazi imports come from SA and SA buys about two-thirds of Swazi exports. Put these and other points together and the Mswati regime emerges as “utterly reliant” on SA’s goodwill. SA, says the DA, “should not miss this opportunity to contribute to the democratisation of our neighbour by using our economic leverage…without delay.”
By asking Swaziland to implement only economic, not political, reforms, Gordhan invites political restiveness among impatient SA trade unionists and in tiny Swaziland’s 1.4m population. The ANC Youth League, frustrated over its recent failed move to overthrow the Botswana government, sees Swaziland as a sitting duck.
When Zimbabwe was in its worst mess, did the thought flit through the ANC’s collective mind (it has one?) that Zimbabwe would soon be up for grabs?
The DA calls for “democratisation,” but wouldn’t “colonisation” be an option? A joint endeavour by say the UN or some other internationally-endorsed foreign institution or think-tank? (forget about the African Union).
Let’s get this straight. Colonialism as Africa has known it, is past its sell-by date. In any case, who would want a colony now, especially a run-down one like Swaziland? But what about a benign consortium, with hard-headed assistance in mind, and international backing?
Already, Gordhan wants a team of South African experts with unlimited access to “assist Swaziland with its fiscal and budgetary plans”; Swaziland to undertake "confidence-building measures" to attract foreign direct investment; to align its fiscal policy to International Monetary Fund standards; and to co-operate with "multilateral engagements" to stabilise Swaziland’s tiny economy. Gordhan is already half-way towards “colonisation.”
Hopefully, the critical political reforms Swaziland needs will arrive when they are propelled there by the momentum of economic change. If not, who would administer Swaziland if it went into political rehab? To judge by King Mswati’s record, politically it should be taken into protective custody or placed under a curator bonis. Its own trade unions, encouraged by Cosatu and other SA unions, could lend support, even if under warning not to rock the financial boat.
The problem is this: If the ANC cannot democratise itself, how can it democratise Swaziland?