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MBABANE – Government has given an indication of the format that the much-anticipated national dialogue will take.

Following the statement presented by Prime Minister (PM) Cleopas Dlamini at the Extra-Ordinary Summit of the Organ Troika plus the Kingdom of Eswatini held in Windhoek, Namibia, on Tuesday, the Times SUNDAY posed questions to government regarding the dialogue. The questions were mostly based on the PM having informed the summit that as part of putting in place the modalities for convening a national dialogue, ‘…extensive use was made of the National Dialogue Handbook – A guide for practitioners compiled by the Berghof Foundation in cooperation with the Swiss Peace Foundation recommended by international partners”. This handbook provides 14 parameters of a successful national dialogue and three of these are; convener, topic and security guarantee. Government Press Secretary Alpheous Nxumalo was asked as to whether consideration had been given as to who the convener of the national dialogue could be.

legitimate and impartial

The handbook recommends that it has to be a person considered a legitimate and an impartial actor by all sides. In response, Nxumalo first indicated that the handbook was just a small part of many other literature reviews that government has carried out. He said as per the PM’s indication to the summit, guidelines would also be drawn-out from the country’s rich history of conducting successive national dialogues. He then said: “There is no consideration on who could be the person to act as a convener for the national dialogue. Remember, the nation’s dialogues are conducted at eSibayeni and extend to the various tinkhundla centres. Sibaya is only summoned by the King, who also is the Chairman of Sibaya, although often times he would delegate this responsibility to tindvuna.” In a joint statement issues in November 2021, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa and His Majesty the King agreed that the process towards the national dialogue would take into account and incorporate structures and processes enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini, including the role of the Parliament of the kingdom, and the Sibaya convened by the Monarch.

advisory council

The country’s Constitution, in Section 32 (1), (2) and (3) states: “The people through Sibaya constitute the highest policy and advisory council (Libandla) of the nation. The Sibaya is the Swazi National Council constituted by Bantfwabenkhosi, the tikhulu of the realm and all adult citizens gathered at the official residence of the Ndlovukazi under the chairmanship of iNgwenyama who may delegate this function to any official. Sibaya functions as the annual general meeting of the nation but may be convened at any time to present the views of the nation on pressing and controversial national issues.” On the topic, Nxumalo was asked if consideration had been given on the issue that needed to be deliberated on during the dialogue, looking at the fact that the handbook states that the topic must be of high importance (national) importance and relevance, getting to the very heart of the matters troubling the country at that time; and that simultaneously, the national dialogue should not be overloaded with an unrealistic set of issues.

canvass the issues

“The people themselves will canvass the issues that need to be deliberated on,” Nxumalo said, and continued: “This usually happens during the sessions of Sibaya, before His Majesty appoints a commission that shall conduct the consultative nationwide exercise. It is not only one person or groups that shall determine the issues/agenda for the national dialogue.” The consultative nationwide exercise is commonly known as Vusela Commission. The first Vusela to be commissioned by His Majesty King Mswati III was in 1991, which was chaired by Prince Masitsela, and its main role was to consult the Eswatini citizens whether they wanted the Tinkhundla system established in 1978 to continue or have it abolished. After collating the opinions submitted to the Vusela, Prince Masitsela reported that a majority of emaSwati wanted the Tinkhundla system to continue.

The second Vusela was commissioned by His Majesty in 1992 and it was chaired by Prince Mahlalengangeni; its responsibility was to review the submissions made by the nation to the Prince Masitsela-led commission. It also had to receive written and oral submissions from the nation on the country’s political and electoral systems. This second Vusela is considered the most defining moment in the country’s politics as it is through it that emaSwati called for a written Constitution and also that the electoral college system of voting should be abolished in favour of direct representation through voting by the secret ballot.

written Constitution

The process to have a written Constitution only ensued in 1996 when His Majesty appointed the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) that was headed by Prince Mangaliso (Chief Logcogco). This CRC worked for six years until His Majesty appointed the Prince David-led Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) in February 2002. After three years, Prince David presented the Constitution to His Majesty and the nation at Sibaya in 2005. At the SADC Organ Troika Summit, the PM said since His Majesty ascended the throne in 1986; various initiatives had been held, with dialogue at their core. He listed these initiatives to include: 1992 Tinkhundla Review Commission; 1996 Constitutional Review Commission; 2002 Constitutional Drafting Committee; 2003 Draft Constitution for public review and comment; 2004 Swaziland Constitution Bill; and the 2005 Swaziland Constitution. The PM also told the summit that preparations for Sibaya were halted by politically-related violent activities, which included the killing of Sate security officers, the killing of members of the public and arson attacks.

On the parameter of security guarantee, the handbook outlines that ongoing violence, banning of opposing groups, curtailing of media freedom and political killings all undermine the credibility of national dialogues. It says national stakeholders participating in national dialogues should have space to operate freely and autonomously without fearing political persecution. The Times SUNDAY asked Nxumalo what measure would be used to determine that the violence had subsided and dialogue could be convened. “When there are no longer people killed randomly or assassinated for their respective political, professional and cultural choices, and there are no acts of vandalism to properties, no threats or intimidation, then government would make the proper determination on when dialogue can be convened,” the government spokesperson responded.

unban the political groups

He was then asked if there was any possibility that government would unban the political groups that are proscribed so as to allow for a smooth dialogue process. To this, Nxumalo said: “The national dialogue is not for groups, banned or unbanned. It is a dialogue for all emaSwati.” Pertaining to curtailing media freedom, he said the media would be allowed to continue to cover all matters of public interest in the country as has always been the case. “Government believes that there is no restriction imposed on the media even now. So, why then, if the media is duly carrying out its reporting business freely today?” he said. Asked when it was likely that the preparations for the dialogue would resume and the possibility of making public the identities of members of the preparatory committee, Nxumalo said: “Government will indicate to the public as to when preparations have resumed and the identities of those tasked with that responsibility may be made known depending on their safety and protection”.

He added by stating that no committee had been appointed as such, but only a working team doing some preliminary research on how best a national dialogue could be convened and conducted. This was after he had been asked about the inclusiveness of this committee’s composition. At the SADC Organ Troika Extra-Ordinary Summit, the PM stated that the country was open to engaging in dialogue to find common ground and resolve differences and to enable the Constitution to evolve with the times so that it continues to meet the aspirations of the majority of the people. He said this needed to be achieved by people who had stood for election and gained the support in parliament that is necessary to bring about the constitutional changes they aspired for. The PM said this was the process followed in every civilized society.

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