Following the news that the Swazi Government has illegally banned the Southern Africa Social Forum from meeting in Swaziland this week comes this media release from the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), based in Namibia.You will notice that the Forum meets regularly and has had no trouble from governments in the past - not even from the most repressive regime in the region, Zimbabwe.
The Legal Assistance Centre has leant with deep sadness and disappointment of the attempts by the Swaziland Government to ban the taking place of the Southern Africa Social Forum. The Forum was to meet in Manzini, Swaziland on the 16-18th October, 2008, but the Prime Minister of Swaziland, in a press release of this morning, banned the meeting.
The Swazi Government claimed that the meeting of civil society and human rights activists will not be in the national interest and will compromise peace, security and stability of the Kingdom. If the meeting will continue, the organisers and those attending the meeting risks being arrested. The Southern African Social Forum meets every year in a Southern African country and brings together several hundred activists to discuss pertinent social justice matters affecting the region and beyond.
The LAC views the illegal actions of the Swaziland Government as a blatant violation of the rights of people to association, speech and to participate in democracy, under both the Swaziland Constitution and international law, such as the SADC Treaties, to which Swaziland is a signatory. We are indeed concerned of the gradual erosion of established standards of human rights in not only in Swaziland, but also in countries such as Zimbabwe.
The 2005 Southern African Social Forum took place in Harare, Zimbabwe. It had the largest participation so far with around 4,000 people taking part. Participants came from all Southern African countries, including Namibia.
At the Zimbabwe meeting, the event organisers had been put under pressure from the Zimbabwean police who warned speakers that any criticism of Robert Mugabe would lead to the event being closed down. But by the end of the meeting, buoyed by the size of the participation, speakers were denouncing Mugabe. Half of the watching police were nodding along in agreement with the statements at the Social Forum in Harare. It is obvious that the Swaziland Government is afraid of something similar!