Will a post-democratic Swaziland be a ”nation united”?
November 11, 2013 Leave a comment
Understandably, people in Swaziland are focused on and eager to bring about democratic change. After all, it is the corrupt and brutal absolute monarchy of King Mswati III that is to a large degree responsible for the mass-poverty, inequality, financial disorder, and lack of freedom of speech and assembly in Swaziland.
But it is equally important to focus on what Swaziland will look like upon achieving the multi-party democracy that the majority of Swazis seemingly want. Neighbouring South Africa, for example, might have had a non-racial multi-party democracy for nearly twenty years, but the ruling ANC hasn’t been able or willing to extend its political victories to widespread socio-economic progress for South Africa’s many poor.
This is why Mario Masuku, President of Swaziland’s largest political party, the proscribed People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), has recently reiterated that Pudemo must be ready to anticipate and campaign in a multi-party election, to be able to build politically on the fact that they “enjoy massive support across Swaziland while some of the other parties are merely opportunistic,” as PUDEMO President Mario Masuku puts it.
But PUDEMO are not alone in actively anticipating the implementation of multi-party democracy in Swaziland. The traditional movement, Sive Siyinqaba (siSwati for “nation united”, also known by its slogan, Sibahle Sinje, “we are beautiful as we are”) was formed in 1996 to shield Swazi culture from outside influences and to try and quell the influence of PUDEMO and the trade union movement.
The policies of Sive Siyinqaba are free market orientated, but value state intervention and indigenisation of the economy. According to its constitution, Sive Siyinqaba will “protect and conserve Swazi heritage in all its forms from indiscriminate degradation, contempt and ridicule and facilitate changes thereto where such are necessary.” In effect, the party is claiming that true democracy will erode Swaziland’s cultural identity and create disharmony.
“Sive Siyinqaba was formed with the objective of countering the moves by PUDEMO towards a nominal democratisation of the country, claiming to defend the traditions and the sustainment of the Tinkundla system of government,” Mario Masuku says.
“But from 1998, Sive Siyinqaba shifted goal posts to say that they are a political entity and that their method is to ‘change the system from within’. But as they do not interfere with the monarch or the Tinkundla system, the question we ask is – ‘change what’?,” Mario Masukus asks rhetorically. “Most of their members are former MP’s or Cabinet Ministers, so they are seated on both sides of the fence.”
Marwick Khumalo, the MP for Lobamba Lomdzala who is the face of Sive Siyinqaba as well as being one of the forming members of the movement, has been an MP in Swaziland’s lower house for the last 15 years, and allegedly the party has held anywhere between 25% and 60% of the seats in Swaziland’s Parliament – although as it illegal to run for office on a party ticket so no-one really knows.
Khumalo was even elected Speaker of the House, but was “dropped like a hot potato” in violation of Swaziland’s constitution, as Swazi Magazine The Nation put it, because absolute Monarch King Mswati III “wanted him out.” And Khumalo was one of the most vocal MP’s in speaking for last year’s vote of no confidence in the Swaziland’s Cabinet, although King Mswati III – again in violation of the constitution – declined to do so.
So one has to ask oneself what, if anything, has Sive Siyinqaba and other parties who claim to be “changing the system from the inside” achieved. And do they truly want to change the Tinkundla system once they have been sworn in as MP’s who are bound to serve King Mswati III “or else”, with the honour and healthy pay check that goes with it?
That Sive Siyinqaba stated earlier in the year that they “fully support the monarch” and that “the King has done a lot by returning constitutionalism and in particular the basic right for citizens to associate and discuss the future of their country,” should be a good indication of where Sive Siyinqaba’s sympathies really lie.
And the fact that “insider”-parties such as Sive Siyinqaba do not receive the same harsh treatment by the authorities also indicates that the authorities are a lot more sympathetic towards towards them than the parties who advocate real change, as is the fact that Mswati’s half-brother, Prince Guduza, who was the speaker of the Lower House in the last parliament, “is part of Sive Siqinqaba’s senior leadership”, according to Freedom House.
But people in Swaziland and outside need to also understand the threat that parties such as Sive Siyinqaba pose to the democratisation of Swaziland, even after multi-party democracy has been achieved. With their potential support in the rural areas, that are more culturally conservative and tend to equate Swazi culture with the monarchy. And with their experience of election campaigns, the fact that they are allying themselves with other parties, and the potential of a significant financial backing of the party by a King and the Royal elite who have no shortage of funds.
So PUDEMO and those who wish to see a true democratisation of Swaziland need to win both the political struggle for multi-party democracy, the struggle for funds to run election campaigns, but also the battle of cultural consciousness that will determine how Swazi culture is framed.