Media in Swaziland have once again misrepresented events in order to deflect criticism of King Mswati III.
The latest in a long line of cases happened at the Swazi High Court in the case of Thulani Maseko, the human rights lawyer who, along with Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine, are on trial for contempt of court, following the publication of articles critical of the judiciary in Swaziland.
Maseko made a submission in court in which he contended he was innocent of the charges. This was reported in the Swazi Observer and the Times of Swaziland, the only significant newspapers in Swaziland.
But both newspapers, and the broadcast media which with two exceptions are all state controlled, refused to report the main thrust of Maseko’s speech which was a criticism of the political system in Swaziland and King Mswati’s role.
Maseko said that in August 2012 the King convened what is known as ‘Sibaya’. The Swazi Constitution states, ‘The people through Sibaya constitute the highest policy and advisory council (Libandla) of the nation.’ The King is the Chairman of the meeting.
Maseko said the King was ‘at the centre of it all’. He added, ‘This means that he
bears the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the people’s resolutions are executed and implemented.’
However, Maseko said, the ‘overwhelming majority of those who spoke’ at Sibaya called for multi-party democracy in Swaziland. At present King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
He added, ‘The question that arises is whether this recommendation / resolution were implemented, or even worse, whether there are any plans to implement same? The answer, as far as we are concerned, is in the negative. It is our respectful submission that the failure or refusal to give effect and meaning to the people’s resolution and aspirations to move towards a People’s Democracy, as opposed to the much talked about vague Monarchial Democracy, is contemptuous to the people of this land.’
In 2013, King Mswati claimed to have had a vision in which he was told the right form of government in his kingdom was ‘Monarchial Democracy’, but when he was asked to explain what it was, he said it was the same as the present ‘tinkhundla’ system.
Maseko also criticised King Mswati as being ‘above the law’. He said ‘Pronouncements by the King become Swazi Law when they are made known to the nation, especially at Esibayeni or Royal Cattle Byre. The King is referred to as umlomo longacali manga (“the mouth that never lies”). That is before any pronouncement or/proclamation, the King will have consulted and will have been advised.
‘We respectfully submit that such an arrangement is inconsistent with constitutionalism and the Rule of Law which embody democratic governance. For the King is not subject to judicial review, making him above the law.’
He added, ‘Rule of Law means that it is the law which ultimately rules, not a monarch, not a president or prime minister, clearly not a dictator, not even a benevolent dictator. Under the Rule of Law no one is above or beyond the law. The law is the ruler.’
He added. ‘In so far as the people have called for a democratic process of forming a government under the Rule of Law, they have been treated contemptuously. We surely need leaders who better understand the Rule of Law.
Maseko also criticised King Mswati for appointing Barnabas Dlamini Prime Minister. He said Sibaya had asked ‘King Mswati III and the leadership of this country to give them their right to elect a Prime Minister’.
King Mswati appoints the prime Minister and Government; none are elected by the people.
He added, ‘Is it not contemptuous that while the people called for the removal from office of the Right Honourable Dr. Sibusiso B. Dlamini in the last term, he was instead, re-appointed without their consent?’
He added, ‘I respectfully argue that the failure and refusal by the highest authority of this land [King Mwsati] to remove the Prime Minister and instead, re-appointing him is highly contemptuous of the people’s will and aspirations.’
In Swaziland the monarch only appoints a man from the Dlamini family, which includes the Royal Family, to the position of Prime Minister.
Maseko said, ‘In any case, what is the criteria or basis for appointing a Prime Minister? Is it not Royal Dlaminism supremacy and superiority? We contend that this is the kind of evil domination of a people by another, which moved and inspired men of conscience and goodwill, to rise up and challenge such immoral social orders. Tinkhundla [the present system of government in Swaziland] is our Swaziland version of South Africa’s grand Apartheid and racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. It must be dismantled, it is inhumane.’
Maseko also said that at the Sibaya meeting people asked for ‘Circular No.1 of 2010’to be abandoned. This policy document allowed for substantial payments to government ministers, members of parliament an d civil servants when parliament was dissolved in 2013.
He said, ‘We listened and heard, speaker after speaker, condemn and attack this document as illegitimate in the face of massive poverty and unemployment.
‘The natives of this land saw this, not as intended to eradicate and alleviate poverty, but meant to secure the comfort of self-serving politicians while we the poor, suffer terrible poverty and unemployment.
‘What level of contempt of the masses of the people can we speak of? I insist that I am not guilty, but the leadership of Swaziland, jointly, collectively and severally should be in the dock for contempt of the people.
He said is Sibaya was considered to be the kingdom’s ‘annual general meeting’ then ‘failure to execute and implement such decisions and resolutions invite and warrant a vote of no confidence on the leadership. More than just a vote of no confidence, the non-implementation and intransigent refusal to give effect to the People’s resolution in the light of section 232 [of the Swaziland Constitution] amounts to the suspension and or abrogation of the section.
‘Consequently this is an act of treason.’