The Swazi Government has failed to support the Attorney-General’s assertion that political parties are not banned in Swaziland.
Majahenkhaba Dlamini, the Attorney-General, claimed to the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, that there was no law that bars them. He said they were free to operate and dismissed claims that they were banned as untrue. He said the 2005 Swaziland Constitution ‘superseded’ the 1973 Royal Proclamation of King Sobhuza II that banned the political parties.
‘As far as I can interpret the law, political parties can exist because there is no law that bans their existence,’ he said.
But when the Times Sunday contacted Macanjana Motsa, the Swazi Government spokesperson, she said the question was political. Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister will give a verdict when he returns from an African Union meeting in Ethiopia, the newspaper was told.
As I wrote on Friday (28 January 2011), we shouldn’t take much notice of what the Swaziland Government says it does (or says it will do), we should judge it on what it actually does.
I am pleased to see that people the Times Sunday called for comment saw through the Attorney- General.
Philani Ndebele, of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), told the paper, political parties were still banned in the country. The kingdom still operates under the 1973 Royal Proclamation.
He said, ‘If political parties are free to operate in Swaziland, then why is it that PUDEMO (the People’s United Democratic Movement) and SWAYOCO (Swaziland Youth Congress) leadership, and many other human rights activists are harassed, jailed and tortured by the Swazi police?’ he said. He said parties were still denied opportunities and space to organise marches, pickets and meetings.
‘The police always interrupt them. In September 2010, meetings and marches of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign were hijacked by the police. Activists were arrested and tortured and international activists were forcibly deported,’ he said.
‘The existence of the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) and many others that are in the pipeline testifies that Swaziland needs an urgent fundamental socio-economic and political transformation,’ he said. Ndebele told the newspaper the STA not only banned political parties, it also criminalised all their activities.
Musa Hlophe, Coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO), said he was happy to hear the Attorney-General formally announce that the 1973 Proclamation had been superseded.
‘We have been asking for this particular clarification for a long time. Firstly this is an extremely important statement. It is the first time that the government and the Attorney-General have publicly, in Swaziland, conceded the point that the 1973 decree has been superseded,’ he said.
‘Superseded means replaced. In other words, the 1973 decree is dead. I hope the Attorney-General has instructed the police on this point to stop harassing our members going about their perfectly legal duties.’
He also said the Attorney-General was playing ‘fast and loose’ with words.
‘Technically and legally he is correct. There is no specific ban on political parties in the constitution. However, the legal position differs from the political reality,’ he said.
‘The ban on parties remains practically in force. In a credible democracy parties can campaign freely, mobilise without interference, put up candidates for elections, form caucuses in parliament and most importantly form a government. In Swaziland they can do none of these things.’
The Attorney-General argued in court that the freedom of association in article 25 of the constitution did not extend to political parties.
‘The government also lost a case on this very point in the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in 2005 and have done absolutely nothing to rectify the situation,’ he said. Equally, this government has ratified many International Conventions on Political Rights but has not put them into law.
‘What the law says and what the government does are two different things,’ he said.