More than 1,000 people – mainly women, under 35year olds and rural dwellers – attended the People’s Parliament Sidla Inhloko yesterday (4 December 2010).
The parliament allowed ordinary men and women of Swaziland to come together and to hold debates and discussions around topics of interest to them. Themes for the day included: Freedom of Speech and Media, the Land Issue, Political Participation, Social Justice, Economic Justice, Security, Policing and Human Rights.
The keynote speech was delivered by Bishop Meshack Mabuza, chair of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO).
Bishop Mabuza spoke on ‘Defending Human Dignity in Swaziland’. Below is what he had to say.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, I stand before you here a humbled man. That so many of you have shown the courage and bravery to stand up for your dignity and come to Manzini and be prepared to be counted shows us how important our cause is.
I would like to welcome those of you who have traveled from afar, those who have left their friends, their families and loved ones to make sacrifices for a greater good, the future of our nation. Those from the trade unions, the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, the churches, the media, the informal sector and those who came as individuals. We see the presence of the Royal Swazi Police. They are welcome too, so long as they come in peace and with respect for us, our opinions and the law.
Today we shall listen to the stories of the downtrodden. Those who have had their loved ones shot and killed by the very same police and other security forces. Those who have been evicted from their homes and left penniless by the side of the road. Those whose families are destroyed by HIV & AIDS where the money for the drugs food and treatment they need is being eaten by the greedy, the selfish and the grossly immoral. We will hear from those who have had their homes destroyed by the whims of the labadzala, the faceless, nameless and I shall say, spineless, ones who run this country. What manner of man hides his face? What sort of leadership hides in dark places? What have we done to be governed by those who are so ashamed that they cannot show their face to the bagogo whose families they have torn apart during the day but will happily try to impregnate their grand-daughters that same night?
I used to talk about Human Rights in Swaziland but that talk has gone. There are no Human Rights in Swaziland. That is actually wrong, there are Human Rights because nobody can take them away from us, but what use is a right that has no practical meaning? A legal right to life does not bring back the dead, it never could. But what it could do was to ensure that justice for the victims of the killers was not only done but seen to be done. Where is the justice for those who are killed at the hands of the police, the army and the game rangers?
What is the right to freedom of speech when our media are treated like whipped dogs too fearful to bark lest they get another kicking from their masters. When our words of passion and respect, reason and love are treated as treason and our politicians are imprisoned for daring to dissent - where is freedom of Speech? It’s not in Swaziland.
Where is our right to a fair trial when our courts take language that means the same in every other country in the world and twist it to suit their political masters. Free Assembly in every other political system in the world means the freedom to form political parties - not in Swaziland. You are only free to choose your friends, colleagues and comrades so long as the police tell you that you can. What freedom is that?
The reason I say that Human Rights are dead in Swaziland is not because they are not in our laws but because they are not in our hearts. More importantly they are not in the hearts of the people who run this country. Every Human Right that we have, has a person or organisation in government who is supposed to uphold that right as a duty to the people. Who in our government upholds our rights? When do we hear of the Attorney General saying to the land management board - women should have equal access to ownership of land and property?
When do we hear of the Human Rights Commission saying that they are going to do their duty and investigate the widespread allegations of police brutality leading to torture? These people are paid, and paid very well, to protect our rights but they are silent. Human Rights are dead in Swaziland and that is why we have called this People’s Convention ‘Defending Human Dignity in Swaziland’ We must change the way that we think, we must stop relying on others to defend our rights - it is largely pointless. We must start to defend our own dignity. We must move out of the courtroom and into the community.
Dignity is part of our common cultural heritage, it is part of our Christian theology. We are all made in God’s likeness and therefore we are all to be treated with respect and dignity. We may not be able to claim our rights right now, but we can claim our dignity. Dignity does not come with wealth, it is earned through service. Dignity is about being able to hold your head up high and look your fellow brother and sister in the eye without fear because you know that you have equal worth to him. Dignity knows the difference between respect and fear. It knows that the value of a person is not their position in society but the character in their soul. Most of all, it knows that no one person can be dignified alone. Dignity requires community, it requires the great African spirit of ubuntu, the recognition that we only exist through each other. Tinkhundla tries to destroy ubuntu, it tries to set Swazi against Swazi in hope for favour but more often in fear of loss, pain, hunger and solitude.
When we see a brother or sister being abused by the powerful bullies, at home, at work, in the community or even in the church do we stand up and say something? No because we fear for ourselves. Every time we say nothing in the face of wrongdoing a little piece of us dies, a little piece of our dignity goes. Every time we turn our backs on the reality of the dreadful lives of many of our brothers and sisters we become a little bit less human.
Today we want to stop this rot in our society. We will not change everything all at once but we can start by reclaiming our humanity, our self respect and our respect for others. Through them we will reclaim our dignity as a proud and honourable people that will stand up to bullies, say no to intimidation and its handmaidens flattery and bribery.
Today is about listening to your voices, we want to hear your stories, your opinions and your ideas for how we can claim back our self respect as a people. It starts with you, it grows into your families and your communities and eventually this country’s leaders will have to listen to its people. We want you to be creative, be constructive, think as much about what you can do for others as what others can do for you. Let us go to our commissions and find our common ground. Let us start Defending Human Dignity in Swaziland TODAY.