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Thursday 12 November 2015


Traditionalists in Swaziland have been gloating that because ‘only’ 36 percent of people surveyed in the kingdom wanted political parties it proved the present system of autocratic monarchy was the preferred system of government. They have missed the point spectacularly. 

In Swaziland political parties are banned from contesting elections and King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, chooses the government. All debate about alternate political systems is banned in the kingdom. Meetings to discuss political reform are routinely broken up by police and security forces; prayer meetings are closed and advocates for reform are jailed. Political parties and prodemocracy groups are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
The media, which are mostly state-controlled under the King, do not allow debate for political reform and schools teach the present ‘tinkhundla’ system as the ‘Swazi’ way of government. Even children at the annual Reed Dance at which ‘virgins’ dance half-naked before the King are taught to sing songs against political parties.

With all this going on, it is close to a miracle that as many as 36 percent of the population still say they want political parties. It does not take a leap of the imagination to suppose that if the Swazi people were given the space to genuinely discuss alternative political systems, the 36 percent would quickly grow to a majority and King Mswati’s absolute monarchy would come to an end.

Monarchists and traditionalists in Swaziland are dishonest about political parties. They say they bring division and chaos, but that does not stop them accepting charity and aid from nations that are multi-party democracies.

As recently as 2 November 2015, the Swazi media praised King Mswati when he returned from India with promises of business loans from that country. What the Swazi people were not told was that India is known as the largest democracy in the world (because of the size of its population) and has a multi-party system.

Taiwan, which set up numerous businesses in Swaziland to exploit the kingdom’s (now withdrawn) special trading relationship with the United States, is a multi-party system. 

South Africa, Swaziland’s neighbour and largest trading partner, is a multi-party democracy. Without the support of South Africa, Swaziland would not have an economy. 

King Mswati gladly receives charity for his kingdom from the European Union, an economic bloc that consists entirely of multi-party democracies. The United States – another multi-party democracy – also provides aid and charity in abundance. 

It is the economic and aid support from multi-party democracies that keeps Swaziland functioning. But traditionalists refuse to openly discuss why it is that all these multi-party democracies have such successful political systems that they can afford to be charitable to Swaziland, while Swaziland, where parties cannot contest elections, cannot support itself.

Tens of thousands of Swazi people are predicted to go hungry during the present drought that grips southern Africa. Swaziland will only stop its people from starving because food will be donated by multi-party democracies. 

While the Swaziland Government runs around like headless chickens unable to cope with the drought, which recurs year after year, other, multi-party democracies in the area have put in place schemes to cope with the crisis. 

In Botswana (a multi-party democracy) for example, dams and pipelines take water from areas with water to those without. Financial schemes are in place to compensate farmers when crops fail and livestock die.
The government has worked on this for years, not only because it believes it is the right thing to do, but also because it knows that if it fails the people will throw it out at the next election and vote in an alternative government to meet their wishes.

People in Swaziland have no such choice. In the Swazi system the people elect only 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly; the King appoints the other 10. No members of the Senate are elected by the people. King Mswati choses the Government: the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini was not elected to parliament by the people, nor did they choose him to be the government leader.

There is nothing the people in Swaziland can do. It makes no difference who they vote for. Whoever they elect into parliament, the decision-making remains with the King and nothing will change.

Richard Rooney

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