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NO POLITICAL WILL TO DEAL WITH EVICTIONS

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The Kingdom of Eswatini faces escalating international scrutiny due to recurring incidents of forced evictions, predominantly executed by governmental entities, private enterprises and occasionally, municipal authorities. These evictions are frequently accompanied by the demolition of residential properties in a manner that seemingly contravenes both the national Constitution and various international human rights agreements to which Eswatini is a signatory.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights categorises forced eviction as the non-voluntary displacement of individuals, families, or communities from their homes or lands, devoid of legal protections or recourse. Fundamental to this discussion is the universal human right to property ownership, either individually or collectively, as safeguarded by Section 19 of our Constitution, which explicitly outlaws compulsory property deprivation under arbitrary conditions. The core of this provision underscores the necessity of protecting human proprietary rights.

Rightful

In disputes concerning land or property ownership, a primary consideration is the determination of the rightful title holder, which could range from traditional chiefs overseeing Eswatini Nation Land, private landowners, or municipal authorities backed by statutory provisions. Such considerations become particularly complex when residential developments emerge on contested lands. The challenge arises when an entity asserting land ownership overlooks the rights of current occupants, who are often economically disadvantaged citizens lacking secure tenure, placing them in a profoundly vulnerable position.

It is essential to recognise that both local and international human rights frameworks staunchly oppose prioritising the rights of those with superior claims over ordinary citizens’ rights. Our Constitution explicitly details conditions under which property deprivation is permissible, such as through lawful procedures that ensure prompt, fair and adequate compensation; guarantee access to justice; and are sanctioned by a court order. Regrettably, numerous instances of forced eviction in Eswatini have transpired without adhering to these fundamental standards, violating constitutional safeguards on property rights.

Contravene

The United Nations highlights that forced evictions contravene a broad spectrum of rights, including, but not limited to, the right to life; freedom from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment; personal security; an adequate standard of living; access to work, education and property. Violations often originate from the eviction process itself—lacking transparency, consultation, adequate notice, relocation planning, and compensation. Additionally, the manner in which evictions are executed, sometimes under adverse conditions or through the use of force, further exacerbates these infringements.

The recent statement by government spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo regarding these evictions reflects a concerning detachment from legal obligations and the principles of justice and equity. Asserting superior title to land does not constitute sufficient grounds for eviction, particularly in the context of people living on farms. While farm owners have rights to land, the law recognises that this does not negate the rights of farm dwellers or squatters.  They too are perfectly entitled to equal protection under the law. The apparent lack of political motivation to address the critical issue of land rights, despite constitutional assurances, is alarming. Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, established with the aim of repurchasing lands from colonial settlers, has notably strayed from its foundational mission. One of this entity’s core mandates was to ensure that farms in the hands of colonial masters go back to the hands of emaSwati.  History records that a fund, known as Lifa Fund, was created with cattle belonging to emaSwati for this purpose.

Prevent

It is imperative for Parliament to expedite legislative processes to safeguard farm dwellers’ rights and prevent further dispossessions by corporate or governmental actions. The Farm Dwellers (Amendment) Bill needs to be expedited by the Legislature if we are to demonstrate that as a country we want to protect the rights of farm dwellers. The Kingdom of Eswatini stands at a pivotal juncture, where the adherence to constitutional and international human rights standards in addressing forced evictions and land disputes is not only a legal obligation, but a moral imperative.

Rectifying these practices will not only enhance the nation’s international reputation but, more importantly, uphold the dignity and rights of its citizens. Ignoring this issue will not only dent the country’s image, but also likely lead to a bigger political crisis. As a matter of urgency, we need a moratorium on forced evictions and a land indaba to thrash out all issues of land in the kingdom before their festers into a deep political crisis. It does not help that almost invariably, the names of the country’s authorities are used in these evictions.  This poses the danger of breeding resentment towards the monarchy. 

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