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WE NEED KING IN POLITICAL DIALOGUE, SAYS YOUTH

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MBABANE – Some young people in the country have resolved that His Majesty the King should form part of the proposed political reforms.  

During their three-day conference in May 2022, at Esibayeni Lodge, Matsapha, 65 young people drawn from various stakeholders voted against ‘social media talk’ that undermined allegiance to the King. The 65 young people came from 10 communities – three in the Lubombo Region, three in Manzini, two in the Shiselweni Region and two in the Hhohho Region.
The remaining delegates came from churches, students, NGOs, and several others. The Times SUNDAY has established that the youth invited Professor Arthur Mutambara from Zimbabwe to be their guest speaker. Professor Mutambara is a Zimbabwean politician, who assumed the position of president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in February 2006. He has worked as a director and chief executive officer of Africa Technology and Business Institute since September 2003.

power-sharing agreement

Under a September 2008 power-sharing agreement, Mutambara served in the government of the late former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as one of the two deputy prime ministers from 2009 to 2013. Known as Luvatsi, the Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation received financial assistance to the tune of US$20 000, the equivalent of E352 000 at yesterday’s current exchange rate. It received the money from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a private, non-profit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. Each year, NED makes more than 2 000 grants to support the projects of non-governmental groups abroad that are working for democratic goals in more than 100 countries. The money is to finance a project themed: ‘Supporting grassroots action for accountable governance.’

According to the project scope published by NED, the Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation should strengthen the capacity of grassroots activists to demand more accountable and responsive governance in Eswatini. The organisation is expected to train and mentor five community-based organisations, which will work with local leaders to improve their communities and carry out joint advocacy campaigns promoting women’s rights, youth political participation, and freedom of assembly. The project seeks to strengthen and coordinate youth leadership in the call for democratic reforms as it will host a coordination platform for youth activists and lead strategy sessions, trainings, and campaigns.

hold the dialogue

Drawn from various stakeholders that included churches, communities, civil society, the youth said it was not possible to hold the dialogue in the absence of the King. “Who do we dialogue with if the King isn’t there?” that is the question the young men reportedly asked before reaching consensus that they needed the King. Sizwe Bhomo Vilakati, the Coordinator of the Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation, confirmed that they had a meeting attended by Professor Mutambara at Esibayeni Lodge. He said they felt as young people that the nation should not rush into an undefined constitutional democracy but emaSwati should be given the opportunity to first look at the form of democracy they wanted. He said they addressed the issue of transitional authority wherein they could use this period to get views from the people on what democratic philosophy was suitable for Eswatini.

Vilakati said the meeting enlightened them on the fact that there was no ‘winner-takes-all’ during a dialogue. He put it this way: “we realised that we can’t get it all, and we can’t give all.”
Vilakati made it clear that young people expressed the need for political reforms because the current regime appeared reluctant to adhere to the dictates of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland (Eswatini). The coordinator disclosed that the youth conference had different views on the Tinkhundla System of Government. He said they felt that the nation should decide on whether they still wanted the current political system, and why they want it? He said these were genuine questions which should be asked and answered in a free political environment.

oppressive to the people

Pertaining to the question on politics, he mentioned that some of them were of the idea that the political system was oppressive to the people. He said they expressed disgruntlement about the charges preferred against the MPs, who were advocating the election of the prime minister as opposed to the premier being appointed by the King.  He was referring to exiled former Siphofaneni MP Mduduzi ‘Gaw’zela’ Simelane, Hosea MP Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Ngwemphisi MP Mthandeni Dube. The coordinator disclosed that they also addressed the issue of political parties, which they likened to a car parked in a garage but was not driven out to provide transport to the people. He said political parties existed in the country, but did not exercise their rights to contest in the election and formation of a government or Cabinet.

On another note, he said they raised concern over lack of transparent structures to address youth challenges. He said Luvatsi had been to the communities to handle those youth challenges such as teenage pregnancy and also engaged traditional leaders in community issues. “We engage students in what is actually driving them to boycott classes. We ask this question so that we can create a conducive environment for dialogue,” Vilakati said. He said they hadn’t been successful in holding talks with people in high authority to address national issues. However, he mentioned the fact that they, at some point, made attempts to address the issue of scholarship, with both Ministry of Labour and Social Security and Ministry of Education and Training shifting blame for certain discrepancies to each other.

provide solutions

He said they wanted to provide solutions to the high youth unemployment rate in Eswatini, and they could only be useful and helpful when given the opportunity and recognition to contribute to nation-building programmes. He said they also raised concern over the youth’s perceived unfair representation at the Swaziland Multi-Stakeholders Forum (MSF).
Meanwhile, Professor Mutambara presented a paper titled: ‘Politics of transition in Africa; contemporary study of democratic transitions in Africa – lessons, experiences, challenges and opportunities for the Kingdom of Eswatini on the verge of the proposed SADC facilitated dialogue.’ In his presentation seen by this newspaper, the Zimbabwean politician looked at the following topics;  
* Lessons and experiences for Eswatini from these democratic transitions (e.g. Zimbabwe 2008).
* Challenges and opportunities in Eswatini for democratic transitions while maintaining its rich cultural traditions.
* What is the role of SADC/AU (as an independent facilitator/mediator) in making sure that genuine and credible dialogue takes place in Eswatini to resolve the political crisis engulfing the country?
* The possible scenarios/route for democratic transition for Eswatini.

He said the youth should always strive to entertain negotiations that would lead to a settlement and enduring peace. On the other hand, he said the protagonists’ choice was the number of deaths and the extent of infrastructure damage they wanted to occur before smoking a peace pipe. “The sooner the citizens of Eswatini talk, the better,” he said. He advised them that they shouldn’t expect to dialogue and make peace with their friends but their enemies.

reached new heights

He said he was aware that pro-democracy protests in the country reached new heights in 2021, and escalated on June 28, 2021 in Manzini and Mbabane. Professor Mutambara said the demonstrations were against the monarchy’s rule over the country; hence they were met with police brutality and deadly force from security forces. He fixed the number of deaths at 46.
He pointed out though that some protesters responded with violence, and SADC has had to intervene, however, the intervention yielded little. The former deputy prime minister of Zimbabwe said His Majesty King Mswati III has not shown genuine interest to engage with his aggrieved citizens. He said he had discovered that pro-democracy forces were yet to consolidate and present a unified voice. Regarding Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to the country in November 2021 in his capacity as chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, he said there were expectations that the King would have made clear concessions pointing to his national dialogue.

Professor Mutambara said it appeared the King agreed that the SADC secretariat would work closely with the Government of Eswatini to draft the terms of reference for the national dialogue. He said it was imperative that the tone of the dialogue was not set by the Head of State. He suggested that it should be broadened to include the Parliament. “The King’s stance on the national dialogue has not really moved since,” the politician said.

setting the tone

He said it looked as though he was still bent on setting the tone and character of the dialogue, and this did not engender trust and confidence in the dialogue process on the part of the various pro-democracy movements in Eswatini. Given civil unrest for the past 20 years, he said SADC should be taking a clear, assertive stance to resolve the impasse between the King and citizens. He told the youth that they should not allow the King to set his own timelines without questioning, urging SADC to insist on all-inclusive dialogue immediately. He listed key things that should be done in Eswatini in order to have a meaningful and peaceful dialogue –
* Identification of stakeholders
* Identification of the issues
* Identification of facilitator
* Definition of success
* Negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
* Carry out the dialogue
* Global political agreement.

In a recent statement, Alpheous Nxumalo, the Government Spokesperson, alluded to the fact that the country was committed to the dialogue, but violent acts such as the attack on security officers delayed the process. The communiqué of the 42nd Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government held in Kinshasa, DRC, on August 17, 2022, states that they welcomed a brief report presented by the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini regarding the security situation in the country.

condemned the violence

While the summit condemned the violence, it mandated the chairperson of the organ to convene an extra-ordinary summit of the Organ Troika plus Eswatini, at a date to be determined, aimed at finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the security challenges facing the country. Young people are the ones who began the petitioning of MPs about social and political demands. The then acting Prime Minister, Themba Masuku banned the delivery of petitions at the tinkhundla centres on the grounds that the exercise had turned violent. They defied the acting prime minister’s ban, resulting in clashes with the police. The clashes culminated in deaths of people and destruction of property.  It was not possible to get hold of MSF executives to shed light on the youth representation in its structure.

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