Swaziland’s Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku has claimed that human rights and democratic principles are adhered to in the kingdom in a newspaper interview that denies evidence to the contrary amassed over several years.
He told the South African Sunday Independent this week (27 July 2013) that Swaziland adhered to 29 international and regional protocols, charters and conventions, the majority of which addressed basic human rights.
This flies in the face of evidence supplied by human rights observers.
In 2011, the US State Department reporting on human rights in Swaziland, said, ‘The three main human rights abuses were police use of excessive force, including use of torture and beatings; a breakdown of the judiciary system and judicial independence; and discrimination and abuse of women and children.
‘Other significant human rights problems included extrajudicial killings by security forces; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community; harassment of labor leaders; restrictions on worker rights; child labor; and mob violence.
‘In general, perpetrators acted with impunity, and the government took few or no steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.’
It is also clear that in Swaziland, King Mswati who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is in complete control.
In October 2012, the kingdom’s House of Assembly passed avote of no-confidence in the government by a three-fifths majority. According to the constitution King Mswati was required (he had no discretion in the matter) to sack the Prime Minister and Government.
This he did not do, instead the king put pressure on members of parliament to run the no-confidence vote again, this time ensuring it did not pass. In this way King Mswati ensured that the government he himself handpicked stayed in power.
On this subject the Sunday Independent quoted Masuku saying, ‘Our constitution contains a Bill of Rights. Recently some members of parliament used parts of it to push a no confidence vote on cabinet. That is democracy at play. The government did not thwart the process. It’s just that the process was flawed.’
Masuku told the newspaper that child rights legislation in Swaziland was world-class. This came two weeks after Timothy Velabo (TV) Mtetwa, one of the leading traditionalists among the king’s supporters and who is commonly known as the ‘traditional prime minister’ said it was all right for children to be taken as brides.
He said this despite a newly-enacted Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, 2012, that aims to make the practice known as kwendzisa illegal.
Mtetwa was quoted by a local newspaper saying traditionalists would apply for a review of the Act if it was felt to collide with Swazi customs and traditions.
Masuku seems to be on a charm offensive on behalf of the Swazi ruling elite in an attempt to convince international opinion that Swaziland is a fully-fledged democracy.
This year national elections are to be held, on a date yet to be set by the king, and already international democracy watchers have concluded that they will be a fraud.
The parliament has no powers, as evidenced by the king’s refusal to abide by the constitution and sack the government after the vote of no confidence.
The king selects the Prime Minister in contravention of the constitution which insists that the PM should be a member of the kingdom’s senate. There are two chambers of parliament, the House of Assembly and the Senate. Of the 65 members of the House, 10 are chosen by King Mswati and 55 are elected by the people. In the Senate, King Mswati chooses 20 of the 30 places. The other 10 are chosen by members of the House of Assembly. None are elected by the people.
At the last Swaziland national election in 2008, the Commonwealth Election Team, which has global experience monitoring national elections, declared that the voting was so badly flawed Swaziland needed to rewrite its constitution, if it ever wanted to ‘ensure that Swaziland’s commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal’.
The European Union declined even to send a delegation to monitor the election, declaring that it could not be free and fair if political parties were banned. In 2008 Peter Beck Christiansen, the EU Ambassador to Swaziland, told a press conference there were ‘shortcomings in the kingdom’s democracy’.
In his interview with the Sunday Independent, Masuku claimed that the pro-democracy protests that have been taking place across Swaziland over recent years had been hijacked by ‘criminals’.
He said, ‘Such clashes happen all over the world. We don’t condone it, but some protest actions are hijacked by criminals.’
But if anyone is behaving like ‘criminals’ it is the Swazi state. In its annual report on Swaziland for 2012, Amnesty International said, ‘Arbitrary and secret detentions, political prosecutions and excessive force were used to crush political protests.’
It also reported, ‘Arbitrary and secret detentions, unlawful house arrests and other state of emergency-style measures were used to crush peaceful anti-government protests over several days [in 2011].’
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