The following is the End of Year Statement for 2010 from Bishop Meshak Mabuza,Chair of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations
There is a song by the great American soul singer Solomon Burke that has the chorus;
None of us are free,
None of us are free,
When one of us is chained,
None of us are free,
None of us are free.
So it is for Swaziland. When some of us are chained by poverty, illness, discrimination and suffering all of us are.
For too long have we, as a Swazi Nation, sat silently and pretended that other people’s troubles were not ours. For too long have we been quiet as we have seen people, families and communities denied their rightful dignity, thinking “well at least it is not us”.
Well my brothers and sisters I am here to tell you that it is us. Our colleagues in the unions say “An injury to one is an injury to all”. These are not just slogans, they are reality. When we allow bad things to happen to others through fear, all that we do is to delay the time that the very same bad things happen to us. When we say nothing, when we do nothing what we really say is that what is happening is right. But how can we do something? How do we stand up for what is right? We start by knowing what is wrong and why. Our Lord said “as much as you do it to the least of these you do it to me” But in this country we seem to have a lot more Christians than actual Christianity.
The Coalition has always argued that the Tinkhundla system was not democratic, the elite within the system are of the view that Swaziland is not ready for multi-party and so Tinkhundla is what is best for the Swazi People. Of course, this is nonsense - the Tinkhundla system is best for them, the Swazi elite, not us the people. It was put together to ensure that there could be no possible way of challenging those that are in power now. There is no way to stop them denying the poor its rightful share of our national riches.
We, the people, can not choose the government, and therefore the government is not accountable to us. Tinkhundla is not really a system at all. It has no coherent political philosophy, it has no expressed values or goals. All that Tinkhundla has been designed for is to keep those who really choose the government (the labadzala) rich and contented. In the process they abuse those of us who get in the way. And when they abuse one of us - they abuse all of us.
But this is all theory, what does it mean to you and me?
It means that we cannot know if we can feed our families because the land we live on is at the whim of those who rule us and their petty disputes. It means that we cannot go to work and get a fair day’s wage. It means that when the lowly paid are scraping around for their next meal, while their bosses are going to the doctors with gout from overeating.
Look at what has happened this year. The report on the 40/40 celebrations shows that the organisers spent three times the budget - mainly in payments to themselves and their friends. Look at the Circular No 1 that gives our politicians undeserved and unaffordable pay increases in the same time that they are asking for seven thousand of the lowly paid to become unemployed. Look at how they allocate themselves one million Emalangeni discounts on land - how many jobs does that equate to? For those on the grade of a lowly office cleaner who earns E2000 per month that is five hundred jobs that could have been saved, and five thousand lives spared starvation, desperation and humiliation. But what can those five thousand citizens do to express their dissatisfaction? Nothing - because only one of those ministers was elected - the rest were appointed. Those Ministers should be ashamed of themselves. Do they know shame? Do they know modesty? Do they know any humility? Their greed means that people we know will starve. It means that we will all be shamed when honest workers and their families go hungry while ministers and their cronies live in luxury.
We all know of the saying that when two elephants fight it is the grass that gets hurt. Never was that as true as for the people of KaShigali. The feuding that is going on between the descendants of King Sobhuza II is destroying the very fabric of the community there. It goes to show how far our culture has declined in the twenty eight years since His Majesty’s demise. How have we gone from “A chief is a chief because of his people” to sending in bulldozers to destroy the homes and the crops of ordinary decent Swazi families because of infighting amongst the labadzala? These evictions have little to do with Swazi culture but much to do with the egotistical abuse of power. How can so many families’ rights to food, shelter, community and a decent burial in their homelands be so callously ignored? Only when our culture means less to those who rule us than their own self importance. They do not protect our Swazi culture, they defend their power to rule, and in doing so treat ordinary Swazi citizens with less respect than they treat their cattle. Our Culture is our heritage, it is what binds us together as Swazis, it is not right for these people to destroy our families and communities and then call it Swazi Culture. Swazi Culture is not Dlamini Culture - there used to be a big difference, is it still there now?
We stand beside our brothers and sisters whose pain was so openly and tragically expressed at our people’s parliament this month. We will not let their stories be forgotten or their suffering ignored. If civil society is about one thing only it is about calling those in power to account. The courts are an important way to stand up for our rights but they are not the only ones. We must recognise that we have to stand up for ourselves each and every day as well; we must retain our dignity in our homesteads, our families, our clans and our communities. As a Coalition we will continue to campaign for the ability for the people to claim their rights and human dignity in spite of being dispossessed, disenfranchised and downtrodden.
Our Prime Minister has talked a lot about corruption but what has been done? Last year he told us that people would be convicted in January 2010 but nothing happened. He has made exactly the same promises for January 2011. Why should we believe him when the Anti Corruption Commission is not even investigating the story that a government minister had over E30 Million in his or her bank account? The only people that they will convict are the little ones at the bottom who use a government car at the weekend. Not the big ones who are stuffing their pockets with money from government contracts. The PM, and everyone else, knows that the truly corrupt are too powerful to be prosecuted.
Our Finance Minister has also talked about corruption as being at the heart of the current economic crisis and, of course, to some extent it is. But the real problem is the silly, extravagant and selfish spending priorities of the government. How much money is being spent on major vanity projects that will not raise any income? In an agricultural society why are we not having more LUSIP projects and less airports and science parks? We have plans to open mines and railroads but no plans to use the income to invest in our future. We have security forces spending more than any other department apart from health. What for? Who are we defending ourselves against? Costa Rica in Central America has not had a standing army for the last forty years. They have ploughed the money saved into development with the result that it is in the top fifty countries in the world - it has gone from poverty to first world status. We could do well to learn its lessons.
To my sisters and brothers in the Democratic Movement I have one simple message to put to you. What we have in common is so much more than what separates us. We are all clear about our vision for a properly democratic and accountable Swaziland that respects the rights of all. So let us not allow the differences of approach to the goal hinder us getting there. We are all trying to climb the same mountain - it will be easier if we do it as a team. Nelson Mandela gave us the vision of continuous mountains to climb and he is right. But we have to climb this first one together. After that we may have to go our separate ways. But only when we have reached the first summit.
To all of our friends and supporters we thank you for the constant encouragement you have given us throughout the year and look forward to working with you all in 2011 to achieve a peaceful and prosperous Swaziland.
First World Status
If Swaziland really wants to develop first world status it needs to think radically about the options it faces and the choices it makes in the next five years. If we want things to be different we must do different things. Promote proper democracy, empower women, abolish the army, democratise land rights, engage with business and the unions, respect human rights, obey our own laws, develop pluralism, listen to dissent and most of all have a system of power that enables the best and the brightest to flourish ahead of the loyal and the lazy. Less of the ‘unique democracy’ less of the ‘business unusual’ and a bit more humble recognition that the way out of poverty and to avoid strife in Swaziland is the same as everywhere else. Work hard. Trust the people. Free the people. Only we, the Swazis can help our country to prosper as a nation for all of us and not just some of us.
Bishop Meshak Mabuza+