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Wednesday, 7 August 2013

SWAZI CABINET HIDES ITS FAILURES

Casual observers of the scene in Swaziland should not be misled by the report just published by the Swazi Government detailing what it claims are its achievements during the five-year parliament, just ended.

The fact that it was written by the government itself puts one in mind of the lazy schoolboy who, allowed to write his own end of term school report, gives himself A-grades in all subjects in the hope that his father will not find out the truth and punish him.

If you took the Cabinet Performance Report at face value you would not know that Swaziland was on the verge of economic collapse, shorn up only by inflated receipts from the Southern African Customs Union that will not last forever.

Nor, would you know that every international organisation that monitors human rights has determined Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is ‘not free’.

The issue of human rights in Swaziland received only five lines in the 239-page report and this was only to state that in 2009 the Commission of Human Rights was established in the kingdom. But, without a hint of shame, the report records that in 2012, fully three years later, the task of filling nine posts in the commission was ‘underway’.

Nowhere was there mention that the Suppression of Terrorism Act had been widely condemned as it labelled legitimate dissenters, ‘terrorists’. Nor, did it say that Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini had himself called for his critics to be whipped on the feet to silence them.

Swaziland has been torn apart by a judicial crisis, with senior judges turning against the Chief Justice, but not a word of this is mentioned.

The Swaziland Government report baldly states, ‘The Constitution has throughout the period of this Administration been a continuous point of reference, and is fully respected as the supreme law of the land.’

This was demonstrated not to be true in October 2012 when the House of Assembly passed a vote of no confidence in the government by a two-thirds majority.

According to the Constitution, King Mswati was obliged to dismiss the government (he had no discretion in the matter), but he ignored the Constitution and instead of sacking the Prime Minister, who he had personally appointed (again, in contravention of the Constitution), he forced the House of Assembly to have a re-vote, which the Government won.

That case alone puts to rest any doubt that King Mswati and the governments he handpicks do not respect the Constitution.

Free speech is severely curtailed in Swaziland and most of the media are state-controlled. Censorship by the authorities and self-censorship by nominally-free media houses is rife, but according to the government’s version, ‘Consultation with, and participation by, communities, as a way of encouraging active participation by citizens in their own governance has continued to be promoted over the course of the Administration.’

This also ignores the many times state police and security forces have broken up public demonstrations, and even prayer meetings, to stop people discussing issues of their choice. In April 2011, a protest against the repressive Mswati regime, that would be deemed legitimate in any democratic nation, was brutally put down, with leaders arbitrarily arrested without court orders or warrants.

In April 2013, a protest against Swaziland’s forthcoming undemocratic elections was broken up by state police and its leaders charged with sedition.

The Cabinet Performance Report is designed to deflect attention away from the true realities in Swaziland. Next month (September 2013) elections for the House of Assembly take place in the kingdom. Political parties are banned from taking part and state police and security forces are trying to silence those who point out that the parliament has no power as this rests with King Mswati alone. This will be an excellent opportunity for observers outside the kingdom to see for themselves what life is really like for the Swazi.

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