OUR DEAF­EN­ING SWAZI SI­LENCE

CityPress - - Front Page - MONDLI MAKHANYA

In a nor­mal so­ci­ety, the man would have been charged with in­cite­ment. But this was no nor­mal so­ci­ety; it was a coun­try called Swazi­land. Or, as its rulers would pre­fer, the King­dom of Swazi­land. The man in ques­tion was the king­dom’s prime min­is­ter, Barn­abas Sibu­siso ... yes, yes, you guessed right ... Dlamini.

Speak­ing in Par­lia­ment re­cently, Dlamini said a union leader and a hu­man rights ac­tivist should be stran­gled upon their re­turn from an over­seas trip. He was re­fer­ring to Vin­cent Ncon­g­wane, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Trade Union Coun­cil of Swazi­land, and lawyer Sipho Gumedze. They had gone to the US to lobby sup­port from the heads of state at­tend­ing the US-Africa Lead­ers’ Sum­mit.

Dlamini ac­cused the two men of “sneak­ing” into the US. He stopped short of ac­cus­ing them of trea­son, say­ing he couldn’t un­der­stand why they were in Wash­ing­ton when there was al­ready an of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try at the sum­mit.

“They leave your con­stituen­cies and do not even in­form you where they are go­ing. Once they come back and you find out that they are from your con­stituency, you must stran­gle them. The cru­cial ques­tion you should ask your­selves is why they have gone there with­out in­form­ing us,” he told MPs.

He also urged those chiefs, whose sub­jects th­ese ac­tivists were, to pun­ish them for leav­ing the coun­try with­out their per­mis­sion.

In a later in­ter­view with the Times of Swazi­land, Dlamini said the coun­try would never tol­er­ate peo­ple “go­ing be­hind [the king’s] back to op­pose him”. He added: “That is not al­lowed and no coun­try can al­low that.”

He pro­ceeded to ex­plain Swazi democ­racy: “Swazis re­spect the king, they never op­pose him. The king has no op­po­si­tion. It is only gov­ern­ment that could have op­po­si­tion, so gov­ern­ment took se­ri­ous ex­cep­tion to what they did,” said Dlamini.

Th­ese ut­ter­ances, dear reader, do not come from a Sacha Baron Co­hen movie based in a fic­tional coun­try. They are the words of a prime min­is­ter of a neigh­bour­ing coun­try.

While South Africans en­joy their democ­racy and ex­press their free­doms in the most di­verse ways, our brethren next door are sub­jected to the prim­i­tive at­ti­tudes of peo­ple like Dlamini and other mem­bers of the Swazi gov­ern­ment. It is a re­pres­sive gov­ern­ment whose mem­bers be­have as if they are liv­ing in me­dieval times.

As I write this, jour­nal­ist Bheki Makhubu and hu­man rights lawyer Thu­lani Maseko have just been con­victed of con­tempt of court and are set to serve two years in jail. Their crime was coau­thor­ing ar­ti­cles that were crit­i­cal of abuse of power by the coun­try’s ju­di­ciary.

The ar­ti­cles re­lated to the ha­rass­ment and ar­rest of a ve­hi­cle in­spec­tor who had com­mit­ted the grave mis­take of book­ing a judge’s driver for vi­o­lat­ing traf­fic laws. Af­ter the ar­ti­cles were pub­lished, the men were jailed and de­nied bail.

In a coun­try where the line between the ju­di­ciary, the gov­ern­ment and the monar­chy is very blurred, their con­vic­tions and sen­tenc­ing were always fait ac­com­pli. Over the years, Makhubu’s courageous jour­nal­ism has earned the wrath of the boy king and his play­mates.

He has been ha­rassed, had his pub­li­ca­tions shut down and has been in and out of court­rooms al­most as many times as King Mswati II has made wed­ding vows.

He is not alone in this. Pro-democ­racy ac­tivists and those who dare speak their minds face this all the time. They face the brute force of a rul­ing elite that is bent on prevent­ing Swazis from liv­ing the free lives that most in south­ern Africa live.

We in South Africa look on un­per­turbed by the abuses next door. Cosatu and the SA Com­mu­nist Party (when th­ese sup­posed Marx­ists are not busy pro­tect­ing pres­i­den­tial cor­rup­tion) have been the only con­sis­tent voices in speak­ing out on Swazi­land.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties, who have cor­rectly made huge noises about the sit­u­a­tion in Zim­babwe, have been silent on Swazi­land. The re­li­gious com­mu­nity and other el­e­ments of civil so­ci­ety have made oc­ca­sional noises.

Loud­est in the mute­ness has been South Africa’s gov­ern­ing party, the ANC. The con­ti­nent’s old­est lib­er­a­tion move­ment has been very happy to ca­vort with the abu­sive Swazi elite and has said lit­tle about its de­sire for Swazi­land to be a free and demo­cratic na­tion. The party’s cor­po­rate arm, Chan­cel­lor House, does good busi­ness in Swazi­land and prob­a­bly ben­e­fits nicely from the me­dieval worker rights in the coun­try.

Some have sug­gested the spoils of Chan­cel­lor House’s in­vest­ments may be one of the rea­sons for the cosy re­la­tion­ship with the op­pres­sive gov­ern­ment. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and King Mswati are said to be on very good terms, and love gig­gling and guf­faw­ing with each other. No prizes for guess­ing the dom­i­nant topic of their long and hu­mor­ous chats.

As a peo­ple who en­joy the free­doms we have, Swazi­land should sit heav­ily on our con­sciences. The sen­tenc­ing of Makhubu and Maseko should bring home the re­al­ity of what is go­ing on next door.

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