Introduction

Swaziland has some fascinating unique facts, at least in the context of the African continent. For instance, the country has a dual governance system, where modern and traditional systems co-exist. It remains the only country that still has an absolute monarchy with King Mswati III at the helm of the system of governance.. The year 2018 is a special year for the Swazis as they have a 50 – 50 celebration. 50 years since King Mswati III was born and 50 years since Swaziland got independence. Besides the fascinating facts, the country has some contextual challenges that tend to compromise the living standards of the general populace. In this perspective, the country is prone to droughts, still facing the scourge of HIV and AIDS pandemic, high unemployment rates and general political apathy among the general populace of the country.

In consideration of the above facts, this report intends to point out that the politics of the country are stagnant, the security is unstable. The socio-economic development of the country is having some positive outlook. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has been reinstated to Swaziland by America and this has an implication of the jobs and economic growth of the country.


The Political Situation

In October 2017, the people of Swaziland went to the polls to elect councillors for all the cities and towns throughout the country. As no political parties are allowed to contest in the local government and national elections, the prospective public officials contest as independent candidates. The elections took place on the 28th October 2017 in a relatively violent-free political environment. Those who were elected as councillors have a five-year mandate given to them. The elections went on quietly with some places such as Mbabane (capital city of Swaziland) bringing back some of the former councillors. In some towns, new councillors were voted in. The elections were declared “free and fair” in the Swazi eyes. Outside Swaziland, this was a non-event and was hardly covered by the international media. The banned opposition political parties’ voices were missing during the local government elections so as to take a decisive stand on whether they endorse such a sham of an election or not.

This year, 2018, another election is expected to go ahead and this is the national elections in which the members of parliament will be elected. The same way of contesting elections will be observed where people stand as individuals to be elected as MPs and they do not necessarily represent political parties. The opposition parties are silent in many issues currently going on such as bringing out their views on the multi-party system, condemning the King’s business interests and the fact that many Swazis are struggling to eke out a living. This silence of the opposition parties with their long-serving leaders is surprising to many activists. Divisions among the different opposition political parties remain the order of the day.

There is no sign of changes in the current status quo in Swaziland. The move to a democratic state is unlikely and those who advocate for the current system describe it a monarchical democracy. The institutions of the state such as legislature and judiciary do not provide any checks and balances on the monarch or the executive. Internationally, there seems to be fatigue about Swaziland’s situation. Not much pressure is being exerted on the country to change. South Africa has made some noise about Swaziland especially at the African National Congress meeting but their policies towards the country remain unchanged.

How the Swazi politics are reported by journalist is starting to put them at risk. Recently (January 2018), Zweli Dlamini who is editor of Independent Business newspaper fled to South Africa after he reported that the King had opened a new telecommunication company called Swazi Mobile which was being run by businessman Victor Gamedze. In January 2018, Victor Gamedze was gunned down by an unknown assassin. Many journalists are becoming afraid of reporting on matters that touch or affect the monarch or try to hold the government to account. Another example is that of a photojournalist of Swazi Observer: Simon Shabangu who is being forced to give evidence “on behalf of the police against two school teachers who are charged with a public disorder offence during a protest march in Mbabane in February 2016.” This action has been called an attack on the journalism profession by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

Given the political challenges and complexities, it does appear that the Southern African Development Conference (SADC) and the African Union (AU) are not giving Swaziland the attention that it deserves. Perhaps there political situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan are considered as more pressing and enormous.


Security forces’ conduct

The police continue to use tear gas and rubber bullets as part of keeping law and order. About 8 students were arrested for arson on the 23rd October 2017 when Minister Dumisani Ndlangamandla’s home was attacked. In November 2017 over 100 employees vandalised and burnt their employers’ property. They had to face teargas and rubber bullets. The Swazi Revenue Authority workers who have been on strike since 13 December 2017 resolved to go back to work even when their grievances had not been addressed. They were demanding a 13.3% salary increases while the executive members received 20% salary increase. There have been two incidents of prisoners rioting in prisons because of being dissatisfied with food. These security issues paint a picture that even within the kingdom, there are few offshoots of dissatisfaction that are going on.


Socio-Economic Development

The economy of Swaziland is stagnant with a positive outlook for this year even up to 2020. The Business Monito International (BMI) focused on the growth of the economy at 0.7% in 2017, 1.0% from 2018 – 2020. The domestic debt is around E6.7 Billion which is 11.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The government is currently in need of E60 million per year to look after the elderly. The population of Swaziland has also been stagnant with an increase of 0.7% in the last 10 years to reach 1 093 238 population.

The dominance of the network provider MTN has been shaken with the arrival of a competitor called Swazi Mobile. The confusing issue is that King has shares in this new network just as he has shares in MTN Company.

King Swati III said that around 159 000 people required food aid in Swaziland. Schools are facing financial challenges as the Minister of Education and Training: Phineas Magagula said around E33 million was needed to employ 169 extra teachers. From January 2017, Swaziland declared that only Christianity should be taught in government schools.


African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)

After many years of being secluded from (AGO), President Trump’s administration restored the trade benefits from Swaziland. The US government mentioned that Swaziland had met the benchmarks that it was supposed to meet which included improving its space for political freedom.

In 2015, Swaziland had lost its AGOA status because of concerns “over restrictions on the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression.” The reinstatement of the AGOA status is very good news to around 25 000 Swazis who had lost their jobs in the textile industries especially around Matsapa will be re-employed. This will however do little to encourage improved political freedom or human rights.


50 – 50 Celebration

This year, 2018 is a special year in Swaziland. It marks what has come to be known as the 50 -50 Golden Jubilee celebrations. This year, King Mswati III turns 50 years old and Swaziland as a nation gained its independence in 1968 hence it’s also turning 50 years. These double celebration will take a lot of money ending up becoming a celebratory ‘pursue drain’.


Conclusion

Not much progress towards constitutional democracy should be expected from Swaziland as long as the king has absolute authority, even when this nation goes to the polls later this year. The AGOA status restoration is a welcome relief for workers, their families and the economy in general. This does not and should be seen as an affirmation that Swaziland is now complying with the benchmarks needed. The labour situation in Swaziland remains unstable with some sign of resistance in some quarters but it still remains weak and disjointed. The same can be said of the students. The winds of change taking place in the region should be encouraging signs to the Swazi people to fight on especially when the Angolan President, dos Santos stepped down after 38 years, Mugabe of Zimbabwe did so after 37 years. Zuma seems to be on his way out but as for King Mswati, his reign seems secured and undeterred.


Danisa Khumalo

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