The following is the full text of a letter sent by civil society organisations in Swaziland to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Troika on Politics, Defense and Security which met this week. It calls for urgent talks to be convened in order to resolve the constituional crisis that presently exists in Swaziland.
Swaziland United Democratic Front National Constitutional Assembly
P. O. Box 6959 P. O. Box 6959
Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations
P.O. Box 4173
H. E. K. Motlanthe, The Chairperson of SADC, President of South Africa
H. E. Armondo Guebuza, Deputy Chairperson of the SADC Troika, President of Mozambique
H. E. President Dos Santos, Outgoing Chairperson of the SADC Troika, President of Angola
H. E. Dr. Salamoa, Executive Secretary of SADC
Date: 26 January, 2009
Subject: Political Impasse in Swaziland
Please receive our cordial greetings from Swaziland’s Civil Society. We are writing to request that SADC urgently convenes a dialogue between the Swaziland government and the civil society sector and political parties in Swaziland. We are aware that Swaziland is the current Chair of the Troika on Politics, Defense and Security. As such, we are of the conviction that it is an opportune moment for us to provide you with a brief update on events in Swaziland over the last eighteen months, with a view to SADC taking steps towards the holding of talks to:
- Resolve the constitutional crisis
- End the ban on political parties that has been in place since 1973; and
- Provide greater space for the involvement of civil society in the normal functioning of affairs in the country, including in the workings of parliament and the monitoring of issues of corruption and governance.
- The unconditional release of Mr. Mario Masuku from prison
We wish to place on record the following issues of importance in respect of State and Civil Society relations:
1 Constitution Making and Content
In 1996, the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland began the process of writing a new Constitution. This process was largely the result of consistent calls from Civil Society over a number of years. Indeed, Civil Society had drafted a list of twenty-seven popular demands that were shared with the Government in order to support the drafting process. These demands were completely ignored and instead a process that authored a Constitution that did not reflect the will of the people was adopted. In fact there were a number of process issues that marred the Constitution-making process. These include:
· the unilateral appointment of commissioners by His Majesty King Mswati III without due regard to the competence and representativeness of those appointed
· the unilateral determination of the terms of reference by His Majesty
· the sole determination of the calendar wherein this process would take place and the stages that it should follow
· the shutting off of the media from following up the process as it unfolded and reporting on it
· the determination of the process of adoption of the final text including unilateral changes effected by the King after parliament’s adoption of the final text
· the failure of the state to provide civic education
· the denial of group presentations or submissions.
The result of these flawed processes is that there are significant democratic deficits in the constitution. It effectively re-enacts the 1973 Proclamation, for example, it fails to give space to political parties and does not provide for a separation of powers. These are fundamental tenets of democracy.
Not only has the Constitution failed to garner the respect of the populace, it has also failed to be respected by the King himself. For example, His Majesty has not conformed to the dictates of the constitution in the appointment of members of the Elections and Boundaries Commission. In terms of the appointment of quotas of women representatives in the House of Assembly, His Majesty the King failed to heed the demands of Sections 94 and 95 in appointing members to both the House of Assembly and Senate. The country continues to fall foul of even the 30 percent representation that was demanded by the 1997 SADC Gender and Development Declaration.
Similarly the challenges that the constitution poses in the electoral process means that Swaziland violates all but one of the SADC guidelines in the conduct of elections agreed upon in Mauritius: that an election be held at least every five years. Aside from this very basic requirement, Swaziland is unwilling or incapable of complying with the Mauritius Principles.
3 Political Parties
The King’s Proclamation to the Nation of 1973 which banned all political parties effectively still holds true today. This political malaise has unfortunately, lead to a situation in which certain disgruntled elements have displayed their anger in violent ways. For example, there have been various incidents of petrol bombings and attempts at blowing up certain installations. We wish to state a priori that we strongly condemn violent means of seeking to engage. It is clear however that these incidents create the utmost urgency for engagement.
The recently enacted Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008, in terms of which certain groups, including the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and its youth wing the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) and the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) were deemed specially listed entities and therefore illegal. No evidence to back these claims up as been produced. This is a clear indication that this law is aimed at clamping down any opposition to the system of governance. Its wording is so nebulous so as to outlaw most of the activities that civil society groups embark upon on a daily basis. For this reason, as Civil Society, we align ourselves with the observations of Amnesty International and the International Bar Association which called for its repeal or significant reform.
5 Torture, Degrading Treatment and Police Impunity
Notwithstanding its ratification of the UN Convention against torture and degrading treatment, Swaziland’s law enforcement agencies routinely use torture against detained Human Rights Defenders and Political Activists. In September 2008, protesting leaders of Civil Society were abducted without arrest, held in police vans without food, water or fresh air, for over sixteen hours. They were taken on a hell-ride on rough roads across the country and were eventually dumped in various isolated places.
6 Civil Society Space
The tendency of the government to quash genuine debate, the flawed constitution and the constitution-making process, new terrorism act and the democratic abuses being carried out under it, and the fact that political parties are banned, present real challenges to democracy in Swaziland. They also contribute to an environment in which it is difficult to challenge corruption and the abuse of power by those within the state or to adequately protect human, civil and political rights. Swazi society today stands at an impasse, with escalating violence and widespread poverty and HIV being the consequences of the status quo with respect to space for debate and dialogue.
As members of civil society we represent the wishes of thousands of ordinary Swazi men and women who are committed to peace and democracy. We urge SADC to call upon His Majesty King Mswati III to agree to participate in a genuine dialogue with the affected Civil Society groupings and political parties in order to resolve the differences between the leadership of the country and the people of Swaziland.
We ask that this dialogue be convened by SADC and chaired by a designated member of the Community.
We look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
Mr. Jan J. Sithole National Constitutional Assembly: Trustee
Mr. Vincent V. Ncongwane Swaziland United Democratic Front: Secretary General
Mr. Musa I. N. Hlophe Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations: Coordinator.
CC: His Majesty King Mswati III
H.E. B S Dlamini, Prime Minister of Swaziland
UN Secretary General
The Commonwealth Secretariat
All Diplomatic Missions Accredited to SWAZILAND
International Bar Association
Southern Africa Trade Union Council
Human Rights Watch
 For further information on this issue see: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR55/001/2009/en