In Swaziland, the more things change the more they stay the same.
With the national election presently taking place in Swaziland, progressives are complaining about the lack of democracy in the kingdom. King Mswati III is an autonomous monarch and the Swazi parliament has no real power. Political parties are banned and the King chooses who he wants as Prime Minister, even if that person has not been elected to parliament.
There is a misunderstanding in some quarters in Swaziland and in the international community that in the past things used to be different. Next week (6 September 2008) Swaziland marks the 40th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain, so now might be a good time to remind ourselves of the controversy that surrounded the 1968 independence and what happened next.
Elections had been held in April 1967 and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) won 20 percent of the votes, but no seats in parliament. This was because of the way constituencies were drawn up and the fact that the candidate with the highest vote in each constituency won the seat in parliament.
The Imbkodvo National Movement, a party set up by King Sobhuza II, won all seats to parliament.
Even though the NNLC clearly had a large amount of support in the kingdom, it was not allowed to be part of the discussions Swaziland had in 1968 with Great Britain in London over the terms of independence.
The Times of Swaziland reported at the time (23 February 1968) that NNLC leader Dr Ambrose Zwane and supporters went to London uninvited and lay down on the cold steps of Marlborough House, venue of the independence conference, as a protest.
They were eventually carried away by policemen.
Zwane told reporters, ‘I am furious that only chiefs and white settlers have been invited to the conference.’
He added, ‘There are two South Africans in the delegation to London. They are the Trojan Horse in Swaziland and it is only a matter of time before Swaziland becomes another Bantustan.’
The international media were not much interested in the independence talks, not even in the fact that Swaziland was Britain’s last colony in Africa to be granted independence.
The NNCL protest did however make the news. The Guardian newspaper, (published in Manchester and London, UK) reported (19 February 1968) that the NNLC leaders claim ‘that the  election was unfair and are demanding that there should be a fresh general election before the territory becomes independent’.
The Guardian went on, ‘Their claim is that during the election campaign there was intimidation of the opposition party by the King’s supporters and that the constituencies had been gerrymandering so as to split the forces of the NNLC.’
Although, the powerful elite in Swaziland tried to ignore the NNLC, the international community did not.
On the eve of the independence celebrations, the London-based Financial Times newspaper reported (5 September 1968) that the NNLC could not be ignored. Referring to the 1967 election, the newspaper reported, ‘[NNLC] votes came mainly from the tiny, but growing, white-collar urban working class.
‘Moreover, with hindsight it is now apparent that the vote was not so much for the NNLC but against the Establishment, so that even if Dr Zwane [the NNLC leader] disappears from the scene, the forces which had been channelled through his party will remain.’
A constitution was agreed between Britain and Swaziland which provided for a parliament and political parties, but executive authority would be vested in the hereditary King who would appoint the prime minister and, on the latter's advice, the cabinet.
But that wasn’t enough for King Sobhuza II.
According to Contemporary Review, published in Oxford, UK, (December 1996), ‘In 1973, King Sobhuza staged a coup when he scrapped the constitution in reaction to a perceived threat posed by increased support for the opposition in parliament. (The King’s party, the Imbkodvo National Movement, lost three of the 50 seats in the House of Assembly in 1972 - its first loss since independence - to the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress.) The King's attempt to deport one of the opposition MPs was successfully legally challenged and the King went on to declare a state of emergency: he suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and set up a national army.
‘Five years later, parliament was reinstated and indirect elections on a non-party basis were held, underpinned by the Tinkhundla (traditional chieftaincy councils) which preserved the royal control of executive and legislative processes. The functions of the Libandla, the bicameral legislature (comprising the House of Assembly and the Senate), were limited to debating government proposals and to advising the King. Eventually, the monarch's control became absolute, increasingly conservative and personal. This was subsequently enshrined in the 1978 Constitution, which introduced the new system of government where the King appointed ten deputies to the 40-member House of Assembly while the remainder were elected indirectly through the Tinkhundla, comprising chiefs appointed by the King. Equally, the King appointed the majority of senators, whilst the House deputies nominated ten of their number to the “upper house”’.
The 1973 Royal Proclamation has not been revoked, even though Swaziland has had a new constitution since 2005.