End three decades of Swazi silence

On April 12 Swaziland entered its 32nd year under an effective state of emergency. The king’s 1973 proclamation stripped Swazis of many basic human rights, including their right to political participation, and snuffed out any embers of popular political activity.

It banned political parties, concentrated all judicial, executive and legislative powers in the person of the king and expunged the entire Bill of Rights, which enumerated the protections and entitlement of citizens.

The 2004 Constitution Bill does not restore those rights. It entrenches the status quo and prevents the separation of powers essential to fairness and good governance.
This “Constitution” fails to introduce checks and balances against corruption and does not address the crisis in the rule of law. If passed, it will enshrine as law the current climate of impunity, corruption and disenfranchisement.

Ironically, the government has in the past 32 years signed a plethora of conventions, charters and other international instruments with the basic intent of guaranteeing participation in a democratic political discourse.

In the current Bill, freedom of association is affirmed, but the opportunity to run for political office has been closed to political parties. Swazis will thus have no power to choose between different visions for the country.

The lack of alternatives is a recipe for disaster in a nation where a lack of accountability has led to an estimated R40-million lost every month to corruption and squandered resources. This at a time when the country has the highest HIV infection rate in the world, no comprehensive education system and no clear national priorities.

Citizens should insist on open and genuine dialogue on the Constitution, complete with guaranteed separation of powers, checks and balances and an enforceable Bill of Rights. It is essential for Swazis to make their voices heard before they are silenced for another three decades.

Musa Hlophe is coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations

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