7 July 2011
Prominent Swazi activist: Crisis can spur change
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A prominent Swaziland democracy activist says the tiny nation's economic crisis could spur democratic change, and lobbied today (7 July 2011) for neighboring South Africa to deny the impoverished kingdom a loan.
In Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy, cancer and AIDS patients face going without treatment. Teachers and other civil servants aren't sure how much longer their government will be able to pay them.
Mario Masuku, president of Swaziland's main pro-democracy movement, blames the crisis on royal mismanagement and corruption. He says widespread hardship preceded change in other countries, and is "bringing us nearer to our destiny" by spurring more citizens to push for political change.
South Africa has not yet decided whether to grant the loan request. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's foreign minister, told reporters Wednesday that a loan alone won't reverse Swaziland's economic crisis.
"The government will also have to improve its governance and fiscal management system," Nkoana-Mashabane said. "The South African government has urged all the relevant parties in the kingdom to begin a political dialogue with a view to speedily and peacefully resolve all the challenges facing the country."
The Swazi government has condemned what it calls outside pressure. King Mswati III lives lavishly while most Swazis live in poverty, and he is accused of harassing and jailing pro-democracy activists.
Masuku, whose People's United Democratic Movement is banned in Swaziland, and five other Swazi activists say Mswati should seize the opportunity now for peaceful change.
Otherwise, desperate Swazis may one day "drag him out of the palace, screaming and kicking," said Musa Hlophe of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations, who joined Masuku at a news conference in South Africa's largest city yesterday.
Swaziland has seen large pro-democracy protests since the government revealed its financial woes in March, announcing a plan to freeze civil service salaries and sell off state-run companies. Despite the austerity budget, the health department recently announced it was running short on AIDS drugs, and that it has run out of money to send its cancer patients to neighboring South Africa for treatments that are unavailable in the kingdom.
The government has cracked down hard on protests, and reformists have had to contend with reverence for the monarchy among many Swazis.