This is a tale of democracy and two neighbouring nations: the kingdom of Swaziland and the Republic of South Africa.
In Swaziland police have broken up a number of gatherings in the kingdom called to discuss the national election due in the kingdom later this year. They said the discussions were a threat to state security.
King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and the government ministers he selects, argue that people in Swaziland love their political system and do not want it to change, so there is no need to have discussions about the election.
Switch to South Africa, where for two days this week students at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg hosted an ‘international dialogue’ on the elections. Among those gathered were political parties that are banned in Swaziland, academics, and civic society groups.
The dialogue was co-hosted by German Institute, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
The dialogue in South Africa was held to discuss the election in ways the Swazi people are prohibited from doing themselves at home.
Organisers said in a press release in advance of the event that objectives of the dialogue included:
· To understand the tenets of democratic electoral systems and compare these with the current electoral system in Swaziland;
· To explore the current Swazi electoral system in detail, in particular how political power is formed, coalesced, and contested and the pitfalls and opportunities in this process; and
· To draw comparisons between the Swazi and other regional and International electoral role of different national interest groups in electoral systems.
‘We anticipate an open and vibrant dialogue among varying participants with a range of viewpoints,’ organisers said.
Such a dialogue is illegal in Swaziland.
On 12 April, democrats wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of King Sobhuza’s Royal Decree that in 1973 turned Swaziland from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarch, by holding a public meeting to discuss the forthcoming national election in Swaziland. All political parties are banned from taking part and the meeting was to discuss why this was so.
Armed police and riot troops, acting without a court order, physically blocked the restaurant in Manzini where the meeting was to take place. The police said the meeting was a threat to state security.
A week later, on 19 April, the 45th birthday of King Mswati III, the banned youth group SWAYOCO tried to hold a rally at Msunduza Township in Mbabane to discuss the election. Again, police, forced the meeting to close. Organisers of the meeting have been charged with sedition.
Following these events, raids on the homes of democracy activists in Swaziland took place. Wonder Mkhonza, the National Organizing Secretary of the banned political party the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was allegedly found in possession of 5,000 pamphlets belonging to PUDEMO. He has been charged with sedition.
The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a ‘private militia’ with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime.
In April, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia that Swaziland was becoming a ‘military state’. OSISA reported that the Swazi army, police and correctional services were being deployed to ‘clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections’.
Separately, the US Embassy in Swaziland voiced its ‘deepconcern’ about the way the police engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights.
While the dialogue was taking place in Johannesburg, King Mswati was attending the World Economic Forum Africa conference in Cape Town. He told that meeting that he ruled his country only at the pleasure of his people.
Media reports said the king told the forum, ‘They [the Swazi people] are happy with the system. They don’t want to see any change. And as a king you are ruled by the people, you don’t want to impose on the people.’
The king added, ‘In our system we allow every Swazi person a decision, to decide how we do the politics.’
RIOT POLICE FORCE HALT TO PRAYER