During the height of the Apartheid era, Swaziland lobbied the US and UK Governments not to support economic sanctions on South Africa, a confidential communication from 1978 has revealed.
The then Swazi Prime Minister Maphevu Harry Dlamini said the sanctions would be ‘disastrous’ for the Swaziland economy.
The information contradicts the present-day belief that King Sobuza III and his Swazi Governments were stanch supporters of the struggle for freedom in South Africa during the Apartheid era.
Dlamini was said to have ‘pleaded strongly’ with the US and UK not to support sanctions.
This was revealed in a confidential electronic telegram sent from the United States State Department on 7 November 1978. It was distributed to the UK, Zambia, Mozambique and France.
The electronic telegram said, ‘During 30-minute meeting in his office November 2, Prime Minister pleaded strongly with UK and US reps to urge our governments to prevent adoption of UN sanctions against South Africa, especially on oil, on ground that sanctions would be not only suicidal for Swaziland but also extremely detrimental to blacks.’
The writer of the cable, who was not named, but was likely to be the US Ambassador to Swaziland said the US and UK representatives at the meeting agreed to seek clarification of positions from their governments ‘soonest’.
The confidential message added, ‘In unprecedented move, Prime Minister Maphevu summoned British High Commissioner and me jointly to his office November 2 for urgent approach on issue of UN sanctions against South Africa.
‘Prime Minister said that from series of telexes and telecons from Swazi UN representative Malinga, he understood that United Nations was on brink of voting on sanctions issue and that Western powers, possibly reflecting disenchantment with South Africa’s posture on Namibian election question, were leaving impression in New York that they might not repeat not veto a sanctions resolution.
‘Although worried about effect that any kind of sanctions would have on Swaziland’s economy, Prime Minister was principally concerned about oil sanctions.
‘Prime Minister said he did not have to remind UK and US reps in Mbabane, who saw situation first-hand, how dependent Swaziland economy is on South African economy.
‘Oil sanctions would be “disastrous” for Swaziland.
‘He added that one could be sure that not only Swaziland’s population, but also blacks in South Africa itself, would be the first to feel the pinch if sanctions were imposed; he gave the example of black entrepreneurs in South Africa, who he said would certainly be treated far less favorably by South African authorities when rationing began.
‘Several times in his forceful half-hour presentation the Prime Minister talked as spokesman for blacks in all of Southern Africa and not merely for Swazis.
‘He said sanctions would be “indirect killing of black people in Southern Africa”.
‘For Swaziland to vote for sanctions would be “suicidal.”
‘Prime Minister asked rhetorically which black leaders in South Africa itself would support sanctions. He hoped that Western policy-makers were not taking advice from “blacks who left South Africa ten to twenty years ago and who are now living comfortably in Europe and America.”
‘He downplayed any hard-line advice that might be given by front-line leaders, who continue their own economic dealings with South Africa (as Swaziland does) because there is no alternative to such cooperation; he cited Zambian railroad move as one recent example.’
Maphevu Harry Dlamini was Prime Minister of Swaziland from 31 March 1976 until his death on 25 October 1979.
The telegram was classified confidential when it was written in 1978, and was declassified in 2014. It is now publicly available through the Wikileaks’ Public Library of US Diplomacy.