No matter how much the Swaziland Government wants to keep the world in ignorance of the human rights abuses in the kingdom, the truth is getting out.
At the start of the recent Global Week of Action for democracy in Swaziland, two Associated Press reporters were turned away at the border with South Africa. The clear intention of the Swazi regime, headed by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was to try to stop reporting of the protests reaching the international community.
The Swazi regime failed miserably. Over the past two weeks international media have been full of reports about Swaziland, exposing the harsh regime in the kingdom and the way that the Swazi state tries to stifle legitimate protest.
Here is a summary of some of the more interesting articles. Click on the media name to go to the full articles. Also, on Friday (17 September 2010) I posted a report from CBC in Canada that is worth a listen if you haven’t already done so.
The Economist magazine in a report headed The king is good for the tourists, much less so for his people contrasts the image of the ‘pretty little mountainous kingdom’ that is sold to tourists with the reality of a state where ‘political parties are banned, critics are systematically arrested and beaten up by police and freedom of expression is severely curtailed’.
It says, ‘As wars of liberation raged around it in the 1980s, this former British protectorate gained a reputation as an island of peace in a sea of regional conflict. And that is the way the government wants to keep things, come what may. The prime minister has even threatened to bring back the bastinado, a form of torture where a person’s feet are beaten with a cane or a rod, to deal with pesky dissidents and interfering foreigners. “There is peace,” Mduduzi Gina, head of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, concedes, “but it’s not real peace if every time there is dissent, you have to suppress it. It’s like sitting on top of a boiling pot.”’
‘Over the past few years the oppression has been getting worse. Yet no country seems willing to take up the Swazis’ case. They feel most aggrieved about South Africa’s silence. After all, they gave refuge to the African National Congress during its liberation struggle. Why can’t it return the favour now? Because, it is whispered, South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, received money from King Mswati during his campaign to oust former president Thabo Mbeki. Mr Zuma is also still officially engaged to one of the king’s nieces. And South Africa wants Swaziland’s support to get itself elected back onto the UN Security Council next month.’
Business Day, South Africa, questions why the South African government was silent over the violence meted out by Swazi police to South African citizens during the protests in Swaziland.
Loyiso Langeni commented in the newspaper, ‘This is in stark contrast to the swiftness with which SA would react in condemning human rights abuses in regions such as the Middle East, western Sahara and Rwanda.
‘SA recently recalled its highest ranking diplomatic representatives to Israel and Rwanda in protest against human rights abuses there. This is the strongest action a government can take short of cutting all ties with another country.’
Langeni goes on, ‘Yet several attempts by Business Day last week to get a comment from the ministry on the suppression of political parties and human rights abuses in Swaziland were met with silence. This raises the question of whether SA considers the aspirations of the Swazi s for a free and democratic dispensation as not deserving the same attention as those in Palestine and the Morocco-invaded western Sahara region.’
Langeni concludes, ‘SA is vocal about its enviable track record of a being a progressive, human-rights centred nation. Is it not time that SA, as the most powerful and influential country in the region, extends this culture to neighbouring Swaziland?’
The Morning Star, UK, carried an article that has also appeared in a number of other publications by Mike Marqusee, in which he writes, ‘Swaziland is a small country with a big problem. The 1.1 million inhabitants of the land-locked southern African kingdom live under the thumb of one of the world's last absolute monarchies, a venal and repressive regime whose plunder of the country is systematic and comprehensive.’
Elsewhere, Mario Masuku, of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) spoke to the Voice of America (VoA). He said the Swazi people’s demand for democratic change and the rule of law will not be silenced by government threats.
Dlamini also warned that foreigners who interfere in the country’s internal politics will face the same punishment.
VoA reports that analysts said that, although a constitution was reintroduced in 2006, the level of power invested in King Mswati III is so significant that the country can be considered an absolute monarchy.
Despite the constitution, the king holds executive, legislative and judicial power.
Critics say the government has successfully stifled political opposition by putting pressure on human rights organizations, trade unions, and civil society groups and banning all political parties.