Powerless People’s Parliament
August 10, 2016 Leave a comment
The Sibaya ”People’s Parliament,” where Swaziland’s absolute monarch summons his subjects to the royal cattle byre to discuss pressing issues, was held over the last week. Many issues were raised, but in previous years little has happened as a result of it.
“Raise grants for the elderly”. “Stop repossessing our land in Vuvulane”. “My kids go to bed hungry”. “Ordinary people don’t have access to radio”. “Minimum wage should by 3000 emalangeni”. “We have no land, even though the constitution says every Swazi should have access to it”. “Cattle roam the streets and are causing accidents”. “The cabinet should be fired”. “Inequality causes division”.
A multitude of issues were taken up at this year’s Sibaya People’s Parliament, an event that according to Swaziland’s constitution is “the highest policy and advisory council” that is meant to enable “the views of the nation on pressing and controversial issues” to be heard.
But one of the problems with Sibaya, as can be seen in the quotes above, is the fragmented nature of the political and social discussions. That there is no direction or common agenda, and any true and structured discussion on political change in the absolute monarchy is drowned in a sea of complaints that might be relevant for the person voicing them, but do not really touch upon the root of the problem, namely that Swaziland is ruled by and for a small royal elite.
Another important matter is that much of the criticism at this year’s Sibaya, while criticizing the Prime Minister and the cabinet who are all appointed by the king, fell short of criticizing King Mswati who, as an absolute monarch with the final say on all matters, actually has the power to change things.
And even when people get to the root of the problem at Sibaya, such as when Dukanezwe Dlamini dared stand up and tell King Mswati that he should allow multiparty elections to be discussed at the “People’s Parliament” so that Swazis could “deal with the issue once and for all and let the nation decide on whether they want parties or not”, nothing really comes of it.
At the 2012 Sibaya, ordinary Swazis also called for the introduction of multi-party elections in Swaziland and for firing Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, none of which happened.
But as Afro-American politician, abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass pointed out in 1857, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” a sentiment shared by President of the banned Swaziland Youth Congress, Bheki Dlamini, who does not believe that Sibaya or the people’s parliament can bring about real change.
“Sibaya is a fruitless exercise meant to deceive the gullible masses and the sceptical international community to believe that there is some semblance of democracy in Swaziland, yet there is none. As Swazis we want real change and this change can only be started in an all-inclusive political process, a national convention with clear terms of reference. The levelling of the political field, which includes unbanning political parties and allowing political exiles to return home, is paramount in the transition process. Mswati must stop fooling us. His dictatorship is too obvious for us not to see it.”