Dialogue possible to unlock kingdom's political impasse
It is ironic that just a day or two after what should have been an historic encounter during the Manzini Smart Partnership Dialogue between some government leaders and a prominent activist of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) should be sullied by the mysterious death, supposedly through suicide by hanging, of Sipho Jele, also a member and activist of the banned political organisation.
The inimitable PUDEMO’s Mphandlana Shongwe was either pictured sharing a table with the high and mighty of the obtaining Tinkhundla political hegemony, such as Prince Masitsela, and was also captured either shaking hands with the Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku or in serious conversation with Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso during which either party invited the other to join Tinkhundla or the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), the youth wing of PUDEMO, which has since been proscribed as a terrorist organisation, paradoxically, by the same PM.
The symbolism of the encounter is not in the substance of what was discussed per se since we all know that the obtaining suffocating conditions placed the subject of real politics far away from the domain of the ordinary folk.
Because contrary to the misplaced belief that the Tinkhundla system represents a democratic platform for politicking – what space is made available for engaging in politics is within the control and ambit of what is sanctioned and prescribed by government - which is usually in the form of the mundane promises to the electorate by aspiring parliamentarians of building them roads, bridges, etc., whenever the country goes to the hustings, but not the real politics that would include interrogating the credentials of the obtaining political oligarchy over all other systems as well as its inherent and intrinsic failures and weaknesses.
As I see it, and as has been observed and expressed numerously in this column, the only democratic credentials those feeding off the Tinkhundla carcass have been able to muster include the proposition that it allows for the direct election of individuals, whatever their credentials or lack of, to Parliament.
Rarely does one hear of the exclusive power that is enjoyed by Parliament as part of an independent arm of government outside the executive and the judiciary because the whole concept of the separation of power is a taboo in a society where power is centralised and is an exclusive preserve of one institution, the monarchy.
This scenario makes the whys and hows of the direct elections of individuals quite irrelevant to even go to the subject of interrogating their intellectual abilities and capacities to legislate or even to appreciate how the whole Tinkhundla machinery functions hence many seek refuge from their ignorance of real politic and the things they do not understand and those that they are impotent to influence otherwise by transforming into undertakers and sympathy and agony aunts and uncles for their various constituencies in exchange for votes.
The point provided by the encounter of political adversaries during the Manzini Smart Partnership Dialogue is that whatever the political divide separating the people, specifically those serving the Tinkhundla system and those opposed to it in favour of a pluralistic multiparty system of governance, is that for the sake of this country, the Swazi nation and posterity they need to find and dialogue with each other.
If anything the Smart Partnership Dialogue concept should serve as a reminder to all of us that this nation believes in and was founded on a culture of dialogue, which seemingly has long been discarded in favour of violence on either side of the political divide.
The state on its part has routinely unleashed its police and military might to deny political space to proponents of multiparty democracy whom it has termed terrorists while the former returned the favour with sporadic petrol bombings of primarily government structures and police residences.
As I see it the prevailing scenario is reminiscent of the egg and the chicken scenario wherein advocates of multiparty democracy are blaming government for visiting violence on them courtesy of the 1973 King’s Proclamation to the Nation that effectively outlawed democracy as well as the people from talking and participating in politics thereby establishing a state of emergency with its accompaniments of draconian laws such as the 60-Day Detention Order.
Conversely, government has over the years defended its position by saying it was protecting the unity of the nation that political parties were threatening to undermine hence some of them have been proscribed as terrorist organisations on the back of the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008 law that has been interpreted by many here and internationally as having been exclusively enacted to quash political dissent.
Inevitably this standoff has resulted in a political quagmire whose existence the ruling class is at pains to acknowledge ostensibly since it sees itself as legitimate and therefore believes there is no reason whatsoever to open political dialogue with anyone least of all political formations espousing multiparty democracy.
It is for this and no other reason that the political issue does not form part of the agenda of the Smart Partnership Dialogue notwithstanding rumbles from progressive quarters even especially within the conservative camp that given the multitude of challenges facing the country it is about time that it became an agenda item for open discussion by smart partners.
It is widely held that it is the politics driving the policies of the country coupled to institutional corruption as well as lack of discipline in the employment of financial resources that have negatively impacted on the economy and foreign direct investments.
Given its historical political patronage by government, the Smart Partnership Dialogue is also not alluring to multiparty protagonists to house a frank and open political dialogue.
To that extent they do not believe it would achieve anything except to endorse the political status quo as has happened with Sibaya, the Royal Cattle Byre, where people with opposing political views to those of Tinkhundla are routinely hounded and ejected from making submissions. Even if they are listened to their submissions are never considered as legitimate.
While personally I remain sceptical and not fully convinced that the Smart Partnership Dialogue can be or is a catalyst for change across the spectrum, I am of the opinion that it can still be used to explore the political question, even in terms of coming with a way forward without getting down to the nitty-gritty of the subject.
To that extent one would campaign that these official talk shows become all embracing of the tapestry that makes the fabric of the Swazi society in its diversity.
Understandably this might require cajoling some of the hard-nosed political formations into participating if not for anything else but to initially explore the possibility of holding talks about talks and accreditation thereto rather than remaining out in the cold.
Instead of seeking to punish the likes of Mphandlana Shongwe for participating in these Smart Partnership Dialogues, political formations like PUDEMO and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) must seek creative ways of breaking the political ice for the sake of the country. The cold shoulder treatment that has mutually been employed by either party from each side of the huge political divide is not helping this country move forward.
As it turns out who would have dreamt that the liberation organisations in neighbouring South Africa would one day meet around the table with their former apartheid tormentors in what was termed CODESA, to hammer out an all-inclusive constitutional dispensation for a new rainbow nation.
That was unimaginable while both sides remained in the trenches exchanging lethal hell fire until both sides were convinced that the key to a democratic dispensation was negotiations and not the number of fatalities on either side.
Hopefully this voice of reason shall one day come to prevail in the Kingdom of eSwatini before it is too late to salvage the country from a certain abyss. Unless of course, like those scavenging from the carcass of the Tinkhundla system, we are all in denial that there are political challenges facing this country that needed to be addressed yesterday.
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