11 August 2011
Mantashe calls for reform in Swaziland
By Eric Naki
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe might be the first top leader of the ruling party in South Africa to express a clear public view on the seemingly untouchable political situation in Swaziland.
He was quoted as saying our neighbour, the landlocked kingdom, must allow multi-party democracy or unban political parties. Could Mantashe’s public pronouncement reflect the thinking within the top echelons of the ANC or was his a voice in the wilderness? The former must be true, I contend.
Holding a post that is traditionally highly regarded as being an “engine” of the movement for the power it carries, his could not be just a lone voice. Whether Mantashe was saying this as the ANC secretary-general or was using his position as chairperson of the SACP, whose position is clear toward repression in this, Africa’s only remaining absolute monarchy, I have no idea.
Mantashe is most likely reflecting the inner thinking and the fermenting discourse at the top level of the ANC. Especially coming on the heels of the controversial R2.4bn loan by the South African government to Swaziland, this strong statement tells us the ANC would like to get value for the money that went to Mbabane.
That value of the money (whether taken from taxpayers or from the coffers of Reserve Bank matters not) should be the ushering in of democracy in Swaziland, where political parties remain banned and political activism restricted since the reign of King Sobhuza II, the late father of King Mswati III.
The country is ruled by a no-party Tinkhundla royal political system headed by the king.
That senior leaders like Mantashe are now breaching the diplomatic protocol of not interfering in the internal affairs of another state is indicative of thinning patience by Luthuli House towards the political stagnation in Swaziland.
The loan provides an excuse for some to come out of the closet and express their “rebel” viewpoints on the uncharted waters of the Swazi Tinkhundla dictatorship.
It is important to note that the ANC was alone in turning a blind eye to the repression inflicted by the Mswati leadership in Swaziland, as its alliance partners, Cosatu and the SACP, long have taken an unequivocal stand that Swaziland must permit free political activism or must face isolation by South Africa, the SADC, African Union and the international community.
Our left-wing activists working alongside Swazi activists in exile here staged several border blockades in solidarity with the oppressed Swazi masses, and many Cosatu leaders were detained and deported and declared as a nuisance and interfering in that country’s internal affairs by the Mswati regime in the process.
The situation in Swaziland is dire, make no mistake, but the response of our political fathers in SADC and AU has been muted, with Mswati even being trusted to lead the SADC troika on politics, defence and security.
Across that border, opponents of the regime are daily subjected to apartheid-style arbitrary detentions, harassment, disappearances, mysterious deaths, arrests and torture of leaders who face trumped up charges, particularly those from the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), with its president, Mario Masuku, going in and out of jail.
The president of the Swaziland Youth Congress, Bheki Dlamini, is in jail while many political activists and opposition members are living in exile in South Africa and other neighbouring countries.
Recently civil servants rose up to demand better wages and free political activity. Such pro-democracy protests often result in intensification of repression by Swazi authorities against their organisers and leaders.
If South Africa fails to act to normalise the situation in Swaziland, we will find ourselves with another Zimbabwe in our hands – a never-ending exodus into this country of illegal economic immigrants, the majority of whom do not benefit this country’s economy but become a burden to its social security system and job market.
Unless Pretoria acts on Swaziland and helps to free its people from the yoke Mswati perennially puts on their necks, we will be forced to cough up more money to bail out a failing economy and prop up an oppressive regime next door.
While the conditions attached to the R2.4bn loan to Swaziland are vague, with only a call for “political reforms” there is hope that influential voices are emerging to speak out against the lack of democracy in that country.
Luthuli House is better placed to influence the South African government’s new approach, which could help usher democracy in Swaziland.
We need to watch what Mantashe’s pronouncement on Swaziland will precipitate in the short to medium term. With any of our neighbouring states unfree, we cannot enjoy our hard-won freedom in South Africa.