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Eswatini opposition parties call for the urgent return of SADC troika

Opposition parties in eSwatini have called for the immediate return of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation to help prevent the kingdom relapsing into open conflict. 

In a letter to the SADC executive secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, opposition parties have asked that the regional delegation return to eSwatini within a week and meet all stakeholders under one roof. 

This comes after the SADC regional leaders, South Africa’s Naledi Pandor, Botswana’s Lemogang Kwape and Zimbabwe’s Frederick Shava, representing SADC’s politics, defence and security organ, met the eSwatini government last week. 

Opposition parties who were not invited to the meeting disrupted it, demanding a seat at the table.  

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, who is representing the signatories to the letter, said the problem facing eSwatini is a political problem and requires a political solution.

“It is our appeal that the SADC troika need to please appreciate that the problem facing Swaziland is a governance crisis. In this regard, any initiative or intervention process must ensure that all interested parties, whether they be political parties as well as civil society, deserve a place on the table as equal partners and on an equal basis as the Swaziland government as a matter of right and necessity. 

“Your Excellencies, any process that excludes any of the stakeholders will not succeed but dismally fail. It cannot be that a process intended to broker genuine peace and to bring a lasting solution to the crisis relegates political parties and civil society to mere spectators or to by-the-way interlocutors,” Maseko wrote in the letter, dated 6 July.

He added that the repressive practices of the state continue unabated and human rights continue to be violated, prolonging the tension in the country. 

Last week the M&G reported that sources with intimate knowledge of the negotiations said eSwatini’s prime minister, Themba Masuku, would call on King Mswati III to open negotiations with opposition parties, which have been outlawed since 1973.

Maseko said the crisis in the country is the result of the government and authorities refusing to recognise the importance of meaningful discussions with those who have, for a long time, been calling for good governance based on genuine democratic governance.

“The multi-stakeholders look forward to the urgent return of their excellencies, to continue with the process of engaging with all sectors of the Swazi society as the situation is volatile as well as urgent and important. A SADC, African Union and United Nations supported resolution of the current crisis and a lasting solution to the pro-longed governance crisis is needed,” Maseko said.

Opposition parties have accused law enforcement agents of using lethal force. 

Images of pro-democracy protesters marching in defiance of the country’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations and curfew have appeared in the international media. Images of men in military gear beating residents in their homes have led to an international outpouring of outrage. 

The eSwatini government has denied using excessive force.

The people of eSwatini are calling for an end to the king’s absolute rule and reforms. 

Dissent over Mswati’s lavish lifestyle, while citizens live in poverty, has simmered for many years, with calls for a democratic state and the abolishment of the monarchy increasing.

He was crowned king 35 years ago at the age of 18. The parliament is considered to be toothless because Mswati has the power to dissolve it at will. 

The king appoints parliamentary members for two-thirds of the seats in the upper house and about 12% of those in the lower house. 

The remaining seats are approved by chiefs who appear to exercise power on behalf of the king in their respective chiefdoms and can also contest the elections as individuals and not as representatives of political parties. 

Until the early 2000s, the law deemed those with membership of outlawed opposition parties to be criminals.

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.

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