Decision time: are we ready?
As we draw nearer to the elections, let's take stock of what we really want for our parliament? There is no doubt that the quality of MPs we have had in the last five years has been a terrible embarrassment. But, whose fault is it? We now have a Constitution. Do those who will vote and those who will be voted for clearly understand this document? Where are the lawyers and other intellectuals to help unpack this most important document for the rest of us? Where is the media in all this? SIPHO NKOSI-DLAMINI reports.
The time has come for the electorate to make decisions on their representations in Parliament. In addition, it is that time of the year when some unfortunate humans disappear; and if found, they are without their limbs. That is why, in developmental terms, we have stagnated as a nation.
The people have been starved of information to make informed decisions on their representation. Yesterday is history; it helps us not to make the same mistakes. Tomorrow is a mystery whose solutions we must plan for today. Today is a gift; that is why we call it a present of opportunity to act.
The enlightened have the responsibility of leading those who need the light to make informed decisions and not to decide on the basis of who provided a meal one day. The individual standing for elections must have the capacity to comprehend the intricacies of governance and the priorities of the electorate. Providing one with a plate offish without the ability to use a rod, line and hook is a strategy to keep one a dependent forever (sihhanya).
Policies are good but only made useless by those who should implement them. A launching fanfare that culminates into a feeding session for the haves, projects a wrong impression when, on the very day, some people went to bed hungry. If only that money was used to buy some maize for the people of Lavumisa and Nkalashane, the meaning of commitment to poverty reduction would start to sink in. All those at the launch went home to a plate of food!
However, HMK Sobhuza II admonished us against dependency when he said, "ungabophila ngekudla kwemuntfu, utawugcina sewusihhanya sakhe" (i.e. do not depend on someone's food to feed your family; you end up his zombie). The people only need expert advice on when and what to sow; they know that the taste of the produce of own labour is always sweetest! Our MPs have had different tastes from the electorates'. Know what for to send an MP to Parliament. This is not possible if one does not know what the system of governance prevailing is. It is important that we articulate the methodologies of service delivery to the populace.
One would like to respect MPs and never to fear them. Never again should anybody, including the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, be ashamed of us for choosing people who cannot recognise their own products of Parliamentary deliberations. Does the system enable this state of affairs? All those who have an interest and basic understanding of specific elements of the Constitution should use the available means to educate all of us. We keep hearing of tinkhundla system. Could someone please give us a document that describes the system, if only for comparative assessment?
What HMK Sobhuza II called an experiment did not have a document and never became public, like many commissions. Thus, the populace has always voted based on perceived instructions and non-issues, opening them to manipulations.
For example, a prospective MP or incumbent, at election time, suddenly remembers that the people do starve, need a market shelter, piped water, etc.
For 5 years, the MP was looking after his/her stomach. Why should people vote if they have no say on how they are to be governed? Are we going to elect the Government of Swaziland or merely "horrible" Members of Parliament? Are these MPs answerable to the electorate or to themselves?
Remember, a few years ago HMK Mswati III called them to Lozitha for his briefing as to what they had done for their constituencies ever since they were elected. A majority of the answers were an affront to the electorate. Prince David will always be correct and has my support for the naked truth. Let us not allow this to happen again!
Many academics and politicians have written on democracy to project supportive views on the system. Others have distorted the Plutonic philosophy to project personal or group preferences. The thesaurus version merely means power to the people (demos = people and kratos = power). It developed from the desire to move away from dictatorship, totalitarianism, or any form of entrenched favouritism by whatever method. Since the proletariat were providing the taxes, they were entitled to benefit from the use of the acquired resources to be used for the collective good.
Parliamentary democracy evolved seriously after the industrial revolution in Britain where the rich regarded themselves as having a divine right to rule the poor. First, there were the Conservatives (Tories), who wanted to maintain the status quo, then came the Labour party (Whigs), an outgrowth of the labour union movement. The Liberal Democrats took the centre stage trying to accommodate those who had no extreme views on the social evolution. This was the formal structuring of multi-party democracy.
No country today would say they have achieved democratic dispensation. The haves have become have-mores and the have-nots lose the little they may have accumulated. Hobos are a common sight even in the most developed 'democratic' countries. The difference in developing countries is the available levels of opportunities to reach the stars! The opportunity to express one's personality with one's God-given capacity/talent is the inherent spirit of elementary democratic principles. Choice, by technical know-who and not technical expertise, is anathema to democratic practice.
Thus, true democracy is the ideal system we all aim at. Communalism, as practised by nuns, aimed at elimination, not reduction, of have-nots. The latter is the Godly perfect system. How does multi-party democracy or tinkhundla systems fair in the human attempt of bringing God's kingdom closer so that His will can also be done on earth without being battered by any state security personnel? In a democracy, the theory is that the people own the governors; the government exists at the behest of the governed: the will of the people is pre-eminent.
Is what we are practising in SD today at the same wavelength as that HMK Sobhuza II had in mind? My recollection from his speech on the experiment is that the people in each sub-constituency would decide who was to stand at primary level of the process of election to Parliament.
The basis would be the contributions the individual had made in one’s community to the general and any specific sector of socio-economic development. The communities must be involved in formulating the methodology.
External coercions, be they from the chief, government officials, political parties or family members would not play a role in decision-making on one's preference if the people were well informed about the real issues. During the secondary election at the Inkhundla, the candidates would then compete for election to Parliament. It is not clear who is to educate the populace on the real issues!
Has the practice lived up to this idea, especially with respect to external influence? Has the system practice metamorphosed through manipulation by interested 'parties'? What influence do tindvuna, hunger, positions, etc, have on vote decision-making? Does the system truly allow freedom of expression (neluhlanya luviwe), so that even a mad man can be heard?
For the purpose of the coming election, what measurable responsibilities do all the governance divisions have? What parameters are used to assess their delivery capacities? Simply, how can the electorate ascertain the kind of performance results and the capacity of an individual prospective MP?
Are there any measurable parameters for eligibility for election? This will help the system to stem the scourge of gross failure through lack of analytical agility and the consequent corrupt relations that ensue. How much transparency is entrenched in the system to enable any researcher to interrogate its efficiency or efficacy? Essentially, what defence argument can one advance against those who view it as undemocratic?
Ignore the waffling arguments to protect one's plate of fish.
The basis for multi-party democracy is that it expresses both the will of the people irrespective of their differences and the majority view wins the day. The candidature of each potential MP is scrutinised at grass roots level based on their assimilation, comprehension and people-based national policies and their implementation strategies.
For example, health, food security, education, international relations, national security and socio-economic development are national prerogatives. The appreciation of party policies by the populace should qualify one to be an MP and not providing a plate of food for one day.
The acceptance and appreciation of differing views is viewed as honourable and intellectually stimulating. No one person possesses monopoly of knowledge and thinking. Only God does!
However, experience in some countries has been the suppression of the minority view, which could contribute superiorly to the development of the country. Some politicians have resorted to military force to remain in power. In Swaziland, we do not need that because we are one "family", being blood relations. We will always be together at the funerals.
Overall, the responsibility lies with the electorate to choose the people who can articulate their aspirations. This is assumed to form the foundation stone of the system. The system also prescribes that an eligible candidate must possess basic education (not learning) standards to contribute substantially to a stimulating debate on people's issues.
Without the basic tools of natural mental agility and basic, not elementary, ability to read, one's qualification becomes suspect. One just needs to have the mental dexterity to compare and contrast using many sources of information.
That the Constitution does not ban political parties may be incomplete truth; it is indisputable nonetheless that the Constitution does not specifically reinstate them into the political dispensation. The 1973 Proclamation specifically banned multi-party politics and introduced one party or non-party system. That was a constitutional change and was not open to multiple interpretations.
Without these specifics in the new Constitution, political parties are essentially banned. This view is further supported by the breach of the very Constitution in the composition of the EBC by including a practising "judge" of qualification of eligible candidates at the primaries. One is open to correction. But that is what many understand is prevailing.
The 2008 election may indeed be a farce. However, there is need to educate the populace why it is a farce so that they make the necessary informed decision to register and vote or not. Over-generalization cannot be enough to make a responsible decision. Let them know the prevailing circumstances that militate against free and fair elections.
True democratic principles do not allow one group to be a criminal, police officer, prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time. With the means available, let the populace have the civic education they need to make intelligent decisions. No one will do it for them save those who are sufficiently enlightened to realise the wool over their eyes.
Some think the more of the same mind entering the system, the greater the impact of influencing changes from within. What are the strengths and weaknesses of such an argument? Even boycotts need to be substantiated. Hitherto, the vociferous anti-boycotts have been those who derive benefits from the status quo. That is expected. The populace are still unable to make informed decisions.
The views herein are an attempt to lead us away from the prevailing disinformation climate in order for us to make informed decisions on our representatives in Parliament. Never again should we hear anybody calling our MPs stupid because they 'approve' key legislation they do not understand, later doubt its efficacy, and question their own decisions when the law is applied.
Secondly, the majority has not read and understood the Constitution under which we shall be choosing our MPs. Accepting that it is their fault and no one else's, I implore our legal boffins to help surgically dissect the Constitution, elucidate the tricky areas and intellectually lift us to the level where we can elect quality MPs.
Is the Constitution people-based enough to facilitate free and fair elections? Do the people own it sufficiently to accept responsibility for its failures? Does it facilitate choice of quality MPs? No one in the country can stand boldly proud of the quality of MPs we have had in the last Parliament. Many of us have been around since independence!
In the last election, reports were that less than 25% of the electorate registered and voted. Did we then have a legitimate Parliament? Democracy demands that more than 50% of eligible voters should register and vote. Who is to blame for that other than those who must vote? Does the Constitution stipulate the size of register and qualification of eligible participants before we can say, "the people have indeed spoken"?
To boycott or not is a choice that needs to be based on knowledge not ignorance or mob psychology. The press must play its role as a medium of healthy intellectual exchange with only the future of the country in mind. Editorials should only crystallize (that is compare and contrast) issues and avoid promoting sides!
Is it true that chequebook journalism prevents open, free and fair intellectual intercourse? Governments have no monopoly on censorship. By commission or omission, the media houses are in many instances guilty, especially in Swaziland, through editorial power to exclude the unpalatable.
I sincerely invite you to raise your views and exercise your constitutional freedom of expression; one is expecting opposite views too. Silence is never golden in Africa; it depicts taciturn disagreement. Bunhhinhhinhhi ("cooing" like a bilious pigeon) is no longer justified!
Opposite debating views are healthy; that is how one can surpass one's horizons of knowledge. Only deafening silence keeps people mentally stunted and promotes the choice of "stupid" candidates.
Please wake up from your intellectual slumber! From Cape to Cairo, Morocco to Mozambique, there are many of our politicians, not all, who thrive on the ignorance of the people. Do not be one of those who provide the platform for stomach politics.
You were born free!