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image US Ambassador Makila James chats with South African High Commissioner Happy Mahlangu.

MBABANE – Government was conspicuously absent at the commemoration of the 238th Anniversary of the United States of America Independence held at the USA ambassador’s official residence yesterday.

There was no Cabinet minister or any other senior government official, nor a representative of King Mswati III at the celebration, which was held at the Thembelihle residence of US Ambassador to Swaziland, Makila James.

This was an unprecedented occurrence, as not even any of the King’s Emakhosikati and other members of the royal family were present.

This left a lot of questions in the minds of the people present, as the country was recently de-registered from the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) by the US Government for failing to meet conditions bordering on workers’ rights.

The event was scheduled for 3pm, but started an hour late as guests were still arriving.  It became clear that no representatives from government would attend. Some embassy staff started removing two of four chairs from the stage. Guests also appeared to be getting concerned that the event was taking too long to start.

When it finally began, the ambassador maintained her cool and did not look perturbed by the absence of the kingdom’s dignitaries. She did not openly express her sentiments to the close to 100 invited guests about their non-attendance.

In fact, a copy of her speech showed that Prince Lonkhokhela was supposed to be the King’s representative, followed by Emakhosikati, royal councillors and Cabinet ministers.  However, there were some Members of Parliament (MPs), members of the judiciary and also members of the diplomatic corps. The ambassador’s speech was centred on the importance of the protection of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition government for redress of grievances.  She said these defined the United States.

“As a friend and partner of Swaziland, we note that the country stands at a critical juncture.  It is undergoing challenges that threaten to undermine freedom of speech, respect for the rule of law and judicial independence that are guaranteed in Swaziland’s own Constitution. 
“His Majesty’s vision for Swaziland is threatened if dissenting voices are forced into silence, whether through political, economic, social, or legal oppression,” said James.

She mentioned that one of the cornerstones of a strong democracy is well-informed debate and decision making.  She opined that criticism and dissent were absolutely fundamental to a democracy’s survival.  The ambassador also wondered what it meant for Swaziland if journalists and lawyers can be arrested and subjected to prolonged detention for questioning the actions of the Judiciary, or any other branch of government.  By this, she meant the plight of The Nation Magazine Editor Bheki Makhubu and Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko, who have been incarceration for three months on charges of contempt of court.

“What other mechanism exists to keep government’s power in check?  If the actions of the government are in accordance with the law, then surely they will stand up to scrutiny.  And if they are not, then they deserve to be exposed for what they really are,” James said.

She continued: “I would guess that most people would not want to live in a society in which sincere and earnest questions are answered with shackles and the isolation of a jail cell.  The greatest countries are those which protect the rights of all citizens, even, and perhaps especially, those who are critical of it.”

Nonetheless, the commemoration of the Independence Day proceeded to the end without any glitch, though the absence of the national dignitaries proved to be a talking point for many guests.

Comments (9 posted):

Skhu on 04/07/2014 09:02:14
It goes to show what kind of leadership this country has!!We are in big trouble as a nation, we need change if we are going to make it and soon!
Wise up on 04/07/2014 09:07:47
The AGOA issue is proving to be a litmus test to the strength of our unique political institutions; so it seems. The ''busy schedule'' excuse is hollow.
Zethu on 04/07/2014 10:02:58
US does not have anything to loose, SD is to blame for everything.
sihle dlamini on 04/07/2014 10:13:48
What a shame!For the failure to attend only because of lies told by ICT Minister and govt. spokesperson P.Simelane. Oh not forgetting Winnie Magagula, liers to the nation. Howclever do you now feel Mr. ICT Minister? How clever now? In life, your lies soon catch up with you Sir. Good day!
Ndlela on 04/07/2014 10:59:08
Who is she to dictate to us about our legal system? The last time I checked diplomatic relations were not an excuse for imposition.
It's good that Government did not attend.
Menzovic on 04/07/2014 12:34:19
Sebadvubile lamamelika
Nje on 04/07/2014 14:11:26
This was an obvious snub but we can all speculate that it's gotta do with AGOA. But the Americans wanted us to be part of it and they did a lot in terms of helping to nudge us in the right direction but we failed to listen or comply. Snubbing American events will only worsen the relationship which is already strained. Our ego or arrogance is getting in the way again!
welcome on 04/07/2014 17:43:41
So childish. An ant wants to take on an elephant. A kid wants to take on a big man. Come on, this is USA not the helpless workers of Swaziland that you are used of pushing helplessly. The bible says humble yourself and you will be lifted up. You have shown this attitude the people who are feeding you, namely South Africa, now USA. I give up.
zweli on 04/07/2014 17:55:46
At least people can now see that former PM AT Dlamini was not weak, but very wise. Just look where we are today. I'm just laughing out of pain.

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