Eswatini’s political and civil society opposition has firmly rejected King Mswati’s offer, which followed his meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoy on Thursday, 21 October 2021, to hold a national dialogue to discuss the troubled country’s political future.

Eswatini’s main political party, the banned PUDEMO, vowed this weekend to continue with protests and strikes to force Mswati into real democratic negotiations. The country’s traditional leadership, the Indvuna Yenkhundla, announced Mswati’s acceptance of a national dialogue on Friday, 22 October, after a regional delegation led by Ramaphosa’s special envoy, former Cabinet minister Jeff Radebe, had met the king.

The delegation representing the security organ of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which Ramaphosa currently chairs, also met Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini, PUDEMO, members of Parliament, diplomats, trade unions and other political and civil society groups.

Ramaphosa announced that all the stakeholders which Radebe’s delegation met had agreed that “a national dialogue should be the appropriate platform to address the ongoing challenges facing the country. In this regard, they recognised the need for a peaceful and conducive environment for the dialogue to take place.” He added that as Mswati had accepted the need for national dialogue, “I appeal for calm, restraint, the respect for the rule of law and human rights on all sides to enable the process to commence.”

However, PUDEMO and the Swaziland Multi-Stakeholders Forum (MSF), representing a broad range of political and civil society organisations, rejected Mswati’s offer of dialogue and vowed they would not attend his meeting.

The MSF, chaired by human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, said after meeting in Manzini on Saturday, 23 October, that Mswati’s call “was a ploy to mislead the SADC troika into believing we are a dialogue-driven nation and to create the impression that the national authorities do engage the people on issues of national importance, which is not the case”. The forum noted that the king was calling for calm, but said there could be no calm or peaceful dialogue “as long as the security forces continue to kill and maim the people of Eswatini”.

“It is unfathomable that a person responsible for the mass murder of citizens can decide on the process of dialogue or any other interventions going forward,” the MSF said.

“We will not allow the King, who has blood on his hands, to call the shots of how and where the dialogue will be held. Only the will of the people can be used to forge the way forward for the country. MSF is calling for a neutral venue that would be acceptable and approved by all key stakeholders. It added that since the king and his government had “lost any semblance of legitimacy and credibility, the MSF believes that the time has come for an interim government that will ensure that the transition process is managed and the resources of the country are not abused”.

PUDEMO rejected a Sibaya as a platform for meaningful dialogue. PUDEMO had told Radebe’s SADC delegation on Friday 22 October, that there should be a dialogue among all Swazis and that the king would be subject to whatever decision emerged from the dialogue. “There must be an all-inclusive Dialogue through a national Convention, which must be held and be presided by a neutral body in a neutral venue,” PUDEMO said in a statement. Makhanya expressed appreciation to SADC for meeting Pudemo on this visit which it had not done on a previous visit in July after the first eruption of rioting and a violent response by the security forces. On that first visit, “all this disgraceful delegation did was to hobnob with the murderous dictatorship”.

Pudemo had little confidence in SADC to resolve Eswatini’s crisis because of the organisation’s lack of urgency. “The question of Eswatini is a long overdue question for SADC, which has shamefully buried its head in the proverbial sand when the problems of the country were staring it in the face. SADC has a huge responsibility to inspire the democratic and peace-loving citizens of the region.”

At least 29 people have died since June in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history.

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