Swazi Princess debates with ”terrorists” on Twitter
October 2, 2013 Leave a comment
In an unprecedented move, Princess Sikhanyiso (a.k.a. Pashu) of Swaziland debated for several hours with banned political movement the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) via her Twitter account on Sunday, even though her father, Swaziland’s absolute monarch King Mswati III, has branded PUDEMO as “terrorists” and refuses to negotiate with them.
The debate started with the Princess amiably asking several questions about PUDEMO, such as “who is your President,” “can you give me an example of a country that you wish Swaziland to operate similarly to,” “what is your plan to eradicate poverty,” and “what is your ultimate goal?”
Later in the conversation, Princess Sikhanyiso had some suggestions of her own in regard to Swaziland’s problems. “Countries suffer from poverty but they don’t act poor for tv to draw false sympathy from oblivious foreigners,” she said, seemingly believing that her father was not responsible for the extreme poverty in a country where two thirds survive on less than a dollar a day in concluding that “unemployment will be solved by God.”
On the possibilities of PUDEMO interacting with her father, Princess Sikhanyiso advised PUDEMO to “ask [the governor of the King’s Royal Ludzidzini palace, Timothy] Mtsetfwa to apologize on your behalf & seek HM’s audience. You’ll be surprised,” although she seemingly insisted that political parties such as PUDEMO had no role to play in Swaziland as she claimed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand. Let the common goal be the peace and prosperity of Swaziland not organizations.”
So if members of Swaziland’s largest political party PUDEMO are really such dangerous “terrorists,” then what was the king’s eldest daughter doing discussing with PUDEMO on Twitter for several hours?
The fact of the matter is that PUDEMO are not terrorists. PUDEMO advocates a peaceful transition from the present absolute monarchy, via a negotiation process that includes a national convention and a transitional period of interim authority towards democracy, like the process in South Africa in the early nineties.
As PUDEMO Secretary General, Skhumbuzo Phakathi, said in a statement on Monday, “we have repeatedly affirmed our commitment to peaceful resistance and dialogue … our struggle is not against the royal family or the king, but about the capture of the state and the dispensing of benefits to the majority of the people … Our debate with Princess Sikhanyiso was an opportunity for political education not just of her but to all those who followed the discussion.”
But being branded a “terrorist” in Swaziland is surprisingly easy. Swaziland’s infamous Suppression of Terrorism Bill from 2008 defines terrorism very broadly, for instance as an act that “involves prejudice to national security or public safety.” Anybody who “solicits support for, or gives support to, any terrorist group” or even meets with them can be punished with up to 15 years in prison.
According to Amnesty International, “the failure to restrict the definition of ‘terrorist act’ in the Suppression of Terrorism Act to the threatened or actual use of violence against civilians [as defined by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights] undermines the Suppression of Terrorism Act in its entirety.”
Amnesty International has therefore asked Swaziland to repeal or immediately amend the Terrorism Bill, “because it is an inherently flawed piece of legislation which is inconsistent with Swaziland’s obligations under international law and regional human rights law as well as of the Swaziland Constitution.”
A high-profile example of the inexplicable nature of Swaziland’s Terrorism Act was when PUDEMO President Mario Masuku was charged with terrorism in 2008 for a statement about a bridge bombing. After having been imprisoned for 340 days, his case was laughed out of court in a matter of hours. Even the courts in Swaziland could not bring themselves to send him to prison for a mere statement.
Some might see the Princess’s debate on Twitter, together with Swaziland’s government’s promise to the ILO that they would amend the Suppression of terrorism Act, as a sign of an increased willingness to discuss with PUDEMO, however.
But if this is the case, then why was her Twitter profile closed Monday? And why has the Swazi regime increased spending on security equipment and supplies fiftyfold since last year even though Swaziland has no external enemies?