Elections under a constitutional order
Is Swaziland ready for change?
By Comfort Mabuza
The Swazi nation is yet again presented with an opportunity to go to the polls before the end of this year, the first elections under the constitutional dispensation.
Whilst most vote seekers have already gone all out to campaign and position themselves for the forthcoming elections, others have indicated that there was no use to bother themselves about the whole exercise because it was a farce.
Others have even gone a step further to dismiss the constitution as one that entrenches the status quo and that the multi-party democracy ideals in Swaziland will never be realized in our time. They argue that the constitution has failed to usher a new dispensation as it falls far too short of international benchmarks on democracy.
I have stated before and will do so now that I have no political ambitions whatsoever under the present system, but somehow I stand and advocate for human rights. I am sold out to the noble idea that citizens of any given country should be availed with an opportunity to elect people of their own choice to lead them.
They should also be allowed to organize themselves and come with their own manifestos for such a programme. I am also convinced that whatever system that is in place should ensure that free political activity is guaranteed without intimidation. Is this possible in Swaziland?
The mere fact that political formations remain banned in Swaziland and that free political activity is not ensured means we are operating in the dark, and this is a mockery of the 21st century democracy ideals.
Those who have advocated for change from within the system have come out clearly to say that it is impossible to change the system from within.
Therefore, one wonders how can Swazis advocate and demand a new order in Swaziland with the status quo using every security measure to silence the voices of the masses? It goes without saying that ours is indeed the proverbial animal farm, where change is almost impossible, because some animals are better than others.
Ideally, Swazis should be embracing change without fear as it is part of the history of humankind. If truth be told you cannot suppress dissenting voices forever.
Civil society is equally guilty of not becoming more proactive and involved while there is still time. There is this tendency among civic society organizations of waiting for too long and then only to awake during the election year to try and educate the masses about meaningful change, transformation and democracy.
One is certain that the Tinkhundla system of governance as it stands needs transformation, because it tends to enshrine and enforce the status quo.
Imiphakatsi (chiefdom kraals) are the domain of the traditional leadership and there is no way free political activity will ever be guaranteed in rural communities under these chiefdoms.
An ordinary Swazi will not be free to enjoy his/her political conviction under a system that has been drugged for over 35 years into thinking that political parties are a foreign entity meant to destroy national unity and the future of the Swazis. Change cannot come easy under such a regime.
It will take a generation to uproot such an ideology that has become a core belief of the Swazi nation.
Well-targeted civic education is needed to instil new and progressive thinking among Swazis. But this cannot be done overnight and surely it cannot be done by such a fragmented civil society like ours. Our civil society needs to employ new tactics if we are to see any meaningful transformation and change in Swaziland.
Free Political Activity
If any meaningful transformation and change is to be realized in Swaziland, it is time that political parties are allowed to operate freely. Nobody benefits from the status quo where free political activity is non-existent in Swaziland.
In fact, the image of the country is continuously destroyed by the continued banning of the political formations. If constitutionalism is embraced then why is government afraid of declaring all political formations free?
I dare say that the forthcoming elections should be held under the multi-party system. The government cannot pride itself in the fact that there are no political prisoners in Swaziland when still those organized formations are finding it difficult to operate and organize themselves freely.
King and Queen Mother
It is prudent to elevate the monarchy to be above party politics. In fact, the monarchy should be seen as a unifying symbol rather than be drawn into politics. It should be freed from those who at times abuse the very institution for their own selfish gains.
The King, who is regarded as the father of the nation, should play that unifying role and political ideologies should be left in the hands of the very politicians who can then become dirty and fight it out amongst themselves.
It is unfortunate that the constitution has given all the powers to the monarchy and that alone is interpreted to mean that the King has so much power and control that he can be equated to a dictator. This is an unfortunate scenario when the King can play a much more fitting role being that of being a national unifying symbol.
The King is not a politician and, therefore, he should leave the political games to politicians.
Separation of powers
For any free political activity to thrive in any given democratic context there should be separation of powers between the three arms of government.
When speaking of separation of powers, one is actually advocating that Parliament should enact laws, which is its primary duty. There is no reason for MPs to be involved in developmental issues as is currently the issue.
The executive under the Prime Minister should be tasked with ensuring that the governance machinery of the country is operational and delivering. The third arm of government, which is the judiciary, should be free from manipulation and be totally independent to administer justice for all.
Swaziland needs to ensure that the separation of powers is guaranteed. No one person should amass supreme control over the three arms of governance because such could be concluded to mean dictatorship reigns supreme in this country. It is time for change and our people should be set free.
Freedom of the Press
The media has been referred to as the forth estate and, therefore, should be enabled to operate without interference and manipulation. It should be professionally run and avail platforms and opportunities to all citizens without fear or favour.
If for any reason the media is seen promoting only one ideology and supporting the status quo without being critical then it is not truthful to its mandate.
Professional bodies like a Media Complaints Commission [MCC] or Press Ombudsmen should be put in place to ensure media accountability and professionalism and respect for human dignity. No media should be abused for selfish ambitions. People should be given information in order to make decisions. The media should be seen contributing to good governance and accountability. This is only possible in a democratic dispensation that respects democratic ideals.
I hope civil society is ready to give guidance and direction to this anticipated new order. Are the masses ready for change? If not, then it means we as civil society are speaking in different tongues.
Unless we are availed with a grand Marshall plan meant to bring about meaningful change, we are destined for yet another hopeless five-year cycle of parliament that will continue to be a rubber stamp and a judicial system that is under the control and manipulation of a chosen few and a government that is dancing to the music of the monarchy.
How long will our Swaziland continue to be run like an animal farm where some animals are more equal than others?
Comfort Mabuza is National Director of MISA – Swaziland.
First published in Khulumani, the newsletter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Swaziland chapter, issue 11 (January – March 2008).