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Sometimes I have this disturbing feeling that we have been talking about the dialogue for so long, but we have no idea what form this dialogue will eventually take.

The conservatives have their own idea of how the dialogue will be conducted and the progressives have a totally different process in mind. Taking into consideration the budgeted amount for the dialogue, one can safely assume that it will be the vusela style. On the other hand, the progressives and political parties envisage a dialogue in the form of negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa (SA), where a series of bilateral and multiparty negotiations between 1990 and 1993 were held. The negotiations culminated in the passing of a new interim Constitution in 1993, a precursor to the Constitution of 1996; and SA’s first non-racial elections in 1994. This election was won by the African National Congress (ANC) with a landslide majority.

There is this strong belief that what is done in SA should naturally be done in Eswatini, disregarding the different circumstances that prevail in the two countries. Unfortunately, the pro-multiparty movements fail to follow the SA example to the letter. A referendum on ending apartheid was held in SA on March 17, 1992. The referendum was limited to white SA voters, who were asked whether or not they supported the negotiated reforms begun by then President F W de Klerk. The mandate of the citizens must be sought at every level of decision-making. We are a constitutional democracy and if the people need amendments, they must be given an opportunity through a referendum.  

Majoritarianism democracy

Any honest well-informed local political analyst can easily understand why the progressive pro-multiparty movement can be reluctant to embrace a referendum now. The multiparty movement knows they don’t have the numbers to win a referendum. They know that such a call would risk the total loss of any pro-democracy gains achieved to majoritarianism, which is a winner-takes-all principle, even if it’s a 51 per cent majority win. Majoritarianism is the idea that the numerical majority of a population should have the final say in determining the outcome of a decision, regardless of its impact on the minority. What is even worse is that majoritarianism can be used by unscrupulous politicians to keep the whole country backward or even promote acts of human rights violations. We have seen genocides in Germany and Rwanda that were led by the majority against minorities. This may extend to the use of the majority votes of the ANC to protect its presidents from corruption as majoritarianism at its worst.

Surprisingly we have not seen the conservative Tinkhundla Government taking advantage of the referendum to kill the pro-multiparty movement once and for all. They realise that it is not that simple. An internationally recognised referendum would have to have civic education where the citizens would be taught about various political systems. Even more disturbing would be the fact that the political parties would have to be fully recognised by the Constitution and some mechanism put in place to fund them given some kind of membership qualification criteria. This would allow divisions that the traditionalists want to believe do not exist. This leaves the vusela consultative system where citizens are targeted as individuals. Any form of collective representation is forbidden. The idea is that each liSwati can speak freely without external influence or cohesion. In reality, citizens are now more in fear than ever before; having the loyalists on one side and the pro-democracy youth movement on the other side.   

Consensus democracy  

Every country grows, develops and evolves politically, socially and economically over time. The country has citizens born naturally conservative and more inclined to right-wing politics and policies such as pro-life against abortion. They are not comfortable with change. On the other hand, you have progressive citizens who question everything; they constantly seek change. They may have been born from a traditional family, even imiphakatsi, royal family or traditional tindvuna homesteads but feel driven to question culture and traditions. Understanding these diversities is important in achieving a successful dialogue.

EmaSwati must collectively acknowledge that we are different as a people, but have the same aspirations to see our country develop. There is a tendency from both groups to think that they don’t need each other, yet they actually do. We are all emaSwati born equal and unique with our culture and history but all created in the image of God. We can’t just copy and paste political systems from developed countries and some of our sister countries. The EFF theatrics at the opening of every Parliament can’t be the norm in our politics. The hackling and total disrespect within politics can’t be fine; we are a small country that Africa is looking at to come up with better political systems. The Chinese and Japanese deal with each other respectfully even in Parliament. They have achieved great development and higher quality of life for their citizens.

Sibaya policy conference

We need to improve our traditional Sibaya dialogue process; we can’t just remain at the traditional cattle enclave. We can start at Sibaya as per tradition and move to our new International Convention Centre where proper deliberations about the collective future of our kingdom can be held in a more modern and professional setting. A full secretariate can be put in place; maybe 4 000 representatives from every part of the citizenry representing different disciplines and different social statuses. They must all contribute to the building of the country without fear and then give an elected government the policies they want to be implemented. Political party affiliations must be considered and emaSwati must be allowed to present collectively as per our Constitution. However, we must guard against a small political group without a tangible mandate from the people making decisions that affect the majority.  

Consensus political decisions require that every point of view is taken into consideration and deliberated upon extensively; such that at the end of the discussions, both parties try to accommodate the other in every way possible. An example would be the accommodation of political parties in Eswatini. It would be a grave mistake for the monarchy to continue to pretend that political parties don’t exist or have no significant following in Eswatini. Wisdom would say, look at the number of young people and start political future planning with them in mind. Ask political questions about these demographics.  Send comments to septembereswatini@gmail.com 

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