Swaziland's Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, the man King Mswati III illegally-appointed in 2008, is 70 years old today.
Dlamini was appointed by the King, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, after the November 2008 national election in which all political parties were barred.
The King disregarded the constitution he had signed in 2005 that clearly states that the Prime Minister must be a member of the House of Assembly. Dlamini has sat in six parliaments, but has never been elected by anybody.
When introducing Dlamini as the new PM, King Mwsati told him publicly to attack prodemocracy campaigners and all who supported them.
Dlamini set about his task with zeal. He banned four organisations, branding them terrorists.
His Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini told Swazis affiliated with the political formations to resign with immediate effect or feel the full force of the law. Under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), enacted the same year Dlamini came to power, members and supporters of these groups could face up to 25 years in jail.
Under the draconian provisions of the STA, anyone who disagrees with the ruling elite faces being branded a terrorist supporter.
The Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini stressed that the government was after supporters of the banned organisations. Supporting an organisation, he said, ‘includes associating with such banned formations or aiding materialistic through provision of commodities such as food and weapons.’
This happened at a time when the call for democracy in Swaziland was being heard loudly both inside the kingdom and in the international community.
Since 2008, the Dlamini-led Government has clamped down on dissent. In 2011, Amnesty International reported the ill-treatment, house searches and surveillance of communications and meetings of civil society and political activists. Armed police conducted raids and prolonged searches in the homes of dozens of high profile human rights defenders, trade unionists and political activists while investigating a spate of petrol bombings. Some of the searches, particularly of political activists, were done without search warrants.
Amnesty reported that authorities continued to use the STA to detain and charge political activists. The STA was also used as a basis for search warrants and other measures to intimidate human rights defenders, trade unionists and media workers.
In 2010, Dlamini publicly threatened to use torture against dissidents and foreigners who campaigned for democracy in his kingdom. He said the use of ‘bastinado’, the flogging of the bare soles of the feet, was his preferred method.
Dlamini told the Times of Swaziland newspaper he wanted ‘to punish dissidents and foreigners who come to the country and disturb the peace’.
But Dlamini’s abuse of human rights did not start with his appointment in 2008. He was a former PM and held office for seven and a half years until 2003. While in office he gained a deserved reputation as someone who ignored the rule of law.
In 2003, he refused to recognise two court judgements that challenged the King’s right to rule by decree. This led to the resignation of all six judges in the Appeal Court. The court had ruled that the King had no constitutional mandate to override parliament by issuing his own decrees.
In a report running for more than 50,000 words, Amnesty International looked back to the years 2002 and 2003 and identified activities of Dlamini that ‘included the repeated ignoring of court rulings, interference in court proceedings, intimidating judicial officers, manipulating terms and conditions of employment to undermine the independence of the judiciary, the effective replacement of the Judicial Services Commission with an unaccountable and secretive body (officially known as the Special Committee on Justice but popularly called the Thursday Committee), and the harassment of individuals whose rights had been upheld by the courts.’
Today (15 May 2012), the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in Swaziland, publishes a fulsome tribute to Dlamini running over several pages. In one headline it says, ‘He is not the tough man that people think he is’. Another headline says, ‘We need more people like the PM’.
Times’ publisher Paul Loffler, is on public record saying Swaziland does not need democracy.