Saturday, September 21, 2013


How to democratically vote for a dictatorship
The year  2013 did not begin like other years in Swaziland. It was a year known as election year and there were no prices for guessing that there would be a tense standoff between the government and pro-democracy movement.

The government did not speak in words but in action as there was a clear stepping up of security alertness and clamp down on dissent. Democracy activists were arrested for the weakest of dissenting views and activities, and even religious gatherings were abruptly dispersed if there was so much as a whiff of the gathering being associated with the democracy movement.

The zero-tolerance-to-election-disturbances brief given to the Swazi security forces was regarded as so important that in over-eagerness the police banned a march of women who's intention was to protest against the ill of a man who had paraded his partner naked for three kilometers. The police later apologised for the blunder but not after it had generated negative publicity in international media for a Tinkhundla system that was clearly bending over backward to put its best foot forward.

The content of the "classified" brief was also to leak through the stepped-up blatant propaganda which saw the independent Times of Swaziland competing on an almost equal footing with the royally owned Swazi Observer, with the times going as far as labeling the pro-democracy campaign called Global Week of Action ON Swaziland, as Global Week of Action AGAINST Swaziland.  It was clear to even the least attentive of observers that Tinkhundla regime under the leadership of Mswati 111 had dictated a no-nonsense brief that left no doubts as to the liberty to disobey to the briefed.

For obvious reasons it was also clear that the flagship promotion tool for the government in 2013 was to be the elections. From as early as the last months of 2012 almost every government official who had something to say about anything had to incorporate the “values” of the elections in his/her speech. The king regularly urged his subjects  to go out in numbers to vote for their representatives, and advising on “only” Christian candidates as the preferred religious orientation.

The Democratic movement  not only intensified it campaign on boycotting the election inside Swaziland in 2013 but it  also formulated common demands which the umbrella bodies were mandated as the coordinating bodies to package the demands and distribute them for public consumption on behalf of the pro-democracy organisations. One of the strategies identified as important in the planning meeting was the need to step-up the pro-democracy campaign regionally and internationally.

2013 also saw very successful attempts at unifying the pro-democracy movement. PUDEMO, NNLC and TUCOSWA embarked on a campaigning trip to Germany as a unit to speak in one voice on the lack of democracy and the respect of Human Rights in Swaziland. PUDEMO further took the campaign to some of the Nordic countries. Political parties and civic organisations from all walks of Swazi life gathered together to formulate a common campaign that will serve as a single voice of a united pro-democracy movement of Swaziland.

Within the Swazi political labyrinths, there are those that feel that boycotting the elections is tantamount to letting the Tinkhundla regime rule undemocratically without a challenge, and they feel that this challenge would have better traction if it was to be exercised from within the government structures, hence their choice of partaking in the elections that critics refer to as selections.

Most of democracy activists feel that the idea of “fighting from within”, is unlike lending one’s efforts to strengthening and legitimising a system that is undemocratic, and repressive. Sive Siyinqaba; Sibahle Sinje a registered-cultural-group-come-unregistered-political-party, and an unapologetic supporter of  monarchism is a leading proponent in the strategy of fighting from within.

 Pro-democracy activists have on several occasions called  Sive Siyinqaba to task on the change that they have effected in the well over fifteen years that they have fought the Tinkhundla system from within, but the only tangible evidence is that they - according to Musa Hlophe, who is a leader of SCCCO (Swazi Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations) - in coalition with SCCCO were able to stop the purchasing of a plane for king Mswati 111. But what puts a damper to this achievement is that thereafter Mswati 111 did acquire a private jet under mysterious trade manoeuvres, and that a strategy whose single achievement was to only stop the purchase of an aeroplane in over fifteen years is not a strategy that imbues confidence, when the expected progress is a change in legislation and policy in the direction of democracy.

The fight from within has always been disregarded as an indulgence for pro-monarch “activists”, but when Jan Sithole, a former unionist, with the financial backing from a Danish political party,  entered the political scene advocating for the “within” strategy, the fight from within earned itself the right to be debated as a legitimate subject. The debate continues, maybe with the hope of a conclusion now that Jan Sithole, a President of SWADEPA which is a known political party, has been elected to parliament. The joke is that Mswati 111 might appoint him as the minister of labour as a way of teaching unions the lesson of irony.

During the time that Sibahle Sinje has been fighting from within, there has been almost nothing, if not nothing at all, to show that the fight from within has had any impact; besides if Sibahle sinje is yet to divulge, but that too is doubtful considering that overall there hasn’t been change within the Tinkhundla regime that would suggest that there has been some covert advocacy for legislation and policy change.

So it becomes clear that the real opposition continues to be the pro-democracy activists that are advocating for democracy from without, and the clamp down from government security forces on organisations that are fighting from without is a credible pointer as to the opposition that is really opposing.

The Tinkhundla Regime’s fortification of the the political space is a credible pointer that pro-democracy activism has grown in leaps and bounds in Swaziland, because it is common sense that the strength of the clamp-down on dissent is more or less directly proportional to the strength of the dissent.

So as Swaziland watches on of what will become of the “fight from within” experiment, where Jan Sithole has volunteered as the prominant guinea pig, it is indisputable that real dissent will only come from outside, as it has been this very outside dissent that has educated Swazis, that now, the word democracy is spoken in abundance even though at times it may not yet be fully  understood.

 It is also indisputable that it is the "fight from without" that has created an environment where some Swazis have found it possible to "fight from within", but it may then seem that new politics are suggesting that the child called "fight from within" is now suggesting to its mother, "fight from without" to abandon the strategy that brought it into existence to pursue a strategy that seems to be permanently arrested in infancy.

In 1982, one would talk about democracy and people would think of anything from a kind of high end coffin to speculating that it might be a name of an organisation that deals in food aid. Gradual direct and indirect political education has ensured that the people are gradually exposed to lessons in politics, even if it may be elementary and informal lessons in quality, but the reality is that there is progress even if at times it seems like the progress is travelling at a snail's pace.

The results of the final 2013 elections have helped in proving that Swazi people are not the submissive ignorant subjects that they have been modeled as, but that they are an intelligent, assertive and a people very much ready to determine their destinies. Most MPs, especially those that had clearly shown to have developed swollen heads and had embarked on self-gratification sprees were not reelected, even though it is not known how the king might deprive the people even the scraps of freedom that fell off the master's table by appointing those that the people rejected. The final voting of 2013 has proved that were the Swazi Nation to be given total democracy, they would choose well, especially if they were allowed to choose their own Prime Minister.

That democracy that incorporates a people's government will exist in Swaziland is not a matter of debate because in appreciating recent history, the logical conclusion is that what progresses, regardless of the speed, will in time reach its destination, even if the destination is the beginning of further progress. The fact that Mswati 111 is presenting a half and half of a name, regardless if it was a product of a vision, a dream or a nightmare, is significant enough to give confidence to foresight that democracy is the future regardless if such will be achieved through removing Monarchical from the king's version, or coining it as the democracy that is practiced in almost all first world countries.

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