SwazilanD : 10 years later
In early 2003, the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) was launched because of the disgraceful behaviour of the government of the day and the Parliament back then.
Remember that it was in late 2002 that current Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini told the nation that his government did not feel bound by the decisions of the highest courts in the land.
He said in his opinion, the government did not have to respect the rulings of the Appeals Court.
What he really meant was that he was the law. We found that we had nobody to speak up for us.
Political parties were banned.
Trade Unions had done some great work in mobilising the people but were stopped by the law from speaking about matters that were not to do with the social and economic conditions of their members.
Even employers who are normally a very conservative bunch were up in arms because they saw that if the government did not respect court rulings, the very fabric of commercial life, business contracts, was simply torn apart.
Most of the churches saw that the social justice the New Testament commanded could not be served when the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer, but did not feel able to say this openly.
So we all came together along with lawyers, journalists, gender activists and many others and formed a Coalition where, we hoped, our collective voice could be heard as the voice of reason against the government and traditional authorities’s irrational and self serving actions.
Back then, I was working for the Federation of Swazi Employers (FSE) and the Chamber of Commerce and coming to the end of my career after a life spent in the private sector with many organisations but especially Metro Cash and Carry and Coca-Cola.
I was asked to head up this Coalition and be its coordinator.
Our vision was that we would try, as organisations that served ordinary Swazis, to achieve together that which we had not achieved alone.
We wanted a country where we were seen as proper citizens, not just lowly subjects. We wanted a government where the MPs were elected on their policies not through bribery.
We wanted a cabinet appointed on principles.
We wanted security services that protected us the people, not just their bosses and we wanted our chiefs to lead their communities and not rule over them.
We wanted leaders who obeyed the law and served the people as they governed, not enriched themselves and their masters.
So, how did we do?
At first glance, the answer is - not very well. In November last year, the PM went even further than his 2002 statement to say he would not even respect a properly constitutional Vote of No Confidence. He now is happy to say that he respects neither the courts nor Parliament.
Ministers award themselves massive discounts on very valuable land and get the Attorney General to bully the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) into not investigating it by deliberately misstating the law and the Constitution.
So are the efforts of my colleagues and I useless, worthless or in vain?
Maybe, given a first glance at the above you would be right to say ‘yes’.
However, if you took a deeper look at what has happened you might see some changes in approach from our beloved government leaders.
Now they know that what they do is shameful and while many of their actions have remained the same, now they know that the people are increasingly angry and despairing. Now they have to hide from the people.
We all know that in the real world, there is no such thing as a free lunch and we know that the reality is that somehow, we are going to end up paying for their expensive acquisitions through our taxes or lost revenue.
Before, they tried to tell us that the world’s economists were happy to support the Swazi economy but now we know that they cannot even get the most simple of loans from the African Development Bank because their credit rating is even worse than their democratic standing.
Swazi Civil Society was able to say to the International Economists and the South African Government that this government’s word was not enough.
It should be measured by its actions, not its policies.
Do not be foo-led into thinking that our economy is healthy. The Minister of Finance’s E12 billion windfall this year is part of a falsely inflated increase in SACU projections.
The overpayments of last year and this year will have to be paid back, starting from 2014.
Soon after the elections, the new Swazi government is going to be in a whole lot of economic trouble and Swaziland will be in an even worse position than it was in 2011.
Our newspapers are now a little bit happier to report on misdeeds and underhand activities than they were 10 years ago.
We have read stories of how the current Prime Minister was fooled into paying for a fake award for statesmanship in Barbados.
We have heard other stories about ministers with millions of Emalangeni in their bank accounts.
Of course, the biggest change in the governance of the country in the last 10 years has been the adoption of that piece of paper known as ‘The Constitution of Swaziland"
I call it a piece of paper because it does not seem to have changed anything in the way the country is governed.
We still see political parties banned from taking part in elections.
As I said, we see the Prime Minister and others simply ignoring a vote of no confidence in Parliament.
We see clear provisions on the number of women to be appointed to Parliament and the Senate being ignored. We see our sisters‘ rights as landowners also being ignored.
We have an Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) stacked full of people who, according to the constitution and the courts simply should not be there. We see a Human Rights Commission notable for only one thing: its silence.
It says little or nothing in the face of the grossest violations of human rights, including dozens of killings by the state security forces. The killings go uninvestigated, not to mention the abuses of the rights to peaceful assembly that have occurred when trade unions, students and church members take to the streets.
Do not mistake our Constitution as a move towards a modern responsive government. It is merely a fig leaf to cover our shame at how the country is governed. It is a thing our government can show our international partners but the reality is that is has changed nothing.
Civil Society has been instrumental in continuing to highlight the flaws in the Constitution and government’s constant willingness to ignore it when it is convenient to do so.
One of the things that has definitely changed in the last 10 years is the international image of Swaziland.
The government was keen to tell the world that it was a peaceful nation with full support for its Tinkhundla system of governance and that there were no voices of dissent or opposition.
Now the government finds itself on what is known as the ‘special paragraph’ of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which is a serious indication of the world’s concern at the lack of respect for workers’ rights.
It has also found itself receiving strong criticism from the United Nations on its Human Rights Record.
The Commonwealth has appointed a special envoy to investigate the country and report back. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has made findings against us as well. The world has woken up to the fact that while Swaziland has all the symbols of democracy, the reality is far from it.
So in the 10 years that we have been operating we have seen some progress especially in the international arena. But we, the Swazi people, need to become much more active in working for the country we want. It is only when you, the ordinary citizens tell our leaders that you have had enough of their antics that they will listen.
However, nobody can do it alone. We must act together.
This year sees the 100th anniversary of the ANC.
This means it took them 82 years of struggle to overcome apartheid.
Looking through the lenses of history, we see that our 10 years in Swaziland is a very short time indeed.