International Affairs minister, Dr Lemogang Kwape, whom President Mokgweetsi Masisi has appointed as SADC’s point-man to resolve the Eswatini unrest returns to the kingdom today, this time focussing on meeting aggrieved parties left out of the weekend visit. Kwape faces a tough task of facilitating dialogue in the country, Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI observes
Critics of King Mswati III and his government say the authorities attempted to prevent opposing voices from meeting up with SADC ministers who travelled to Eswatini over the weekend to engage in the unrest in the kingdom with a view to find a solution to the problem.
For at least two weeks, violence raged in Eswatini, with pro-democracy protestors demanding constitutional changes to end the monarchy, provide for multi-party politics and institute the rule of law. The police and the military have sought to crush the protests, with reports that more than 50 citizens have been killed, amidst incidents of looting and burning of property in the country.
On Sunday, Kwape landed in Mbabane leading a team of his peers from South Africa and Zimbabwe on the instruction of SADC Politics, Defence and Security chair, Masisi. Kwape’s brief was to meet stakeholders on all sides, find the facts around the crisis and offer a solution, which SADC wants to be a national dialogue on the issues fuelling the protests.
However, reports from the kingdom indicate that Kwape and his team met a carefully curated set of authorities and pro-government groups, while those against the monarchy and the government were not invited by the Eswatini government.
In fact, Thulani Maseko, a prominent lawyer in the kingdom and member of a multi-stakeholder committee seeking change in the country says they had to take extraordinary measures to get a brief meeting with Kwape and other ministers.
“They were not able to meet with the various factions of political parties,” he told Mmegi. “The government was supposed to coordinate all of us in the meetings, but they failed to do so and an attempt was made at the 11th hour.
There are some individuals in government who were invited to the meeting who raised the alarm on whom they believed should also be part of the meeting and people in their various efforts decided to go and see for themselves, not that they were ready for the meeting, but to see how it was going to unfold.
The SADC ministers saw that people who managed to get in late had not been informed about the meeting and the ministers adjourned with the hope that they will come back and get more information,” he said. Maseko added: “We believe it was an honest oversight on the part of the ministers, but quite deliberate on the part of government so that the ministers go back with the version of government and a few NGOs that government believes support its position.”
Added to the much publicised criticisms labelled against the monarchy by the vocal Swaziland Solidary Network, Kwape and the other ministers’ return to Eswatini will meet an environment of scepticism on one hand and hope in the other.
Formerly a British protectorate, Eswatini became an independent kingdom in 1968 called Swaziland at the time. The kingdom has brutally repressed attempts to establish a constitutional democracy or republic over the years, with opponents of the monarchy accusing King Mswati III of accumulating obscene wealth for his family and living in luxury, while the rest of the citizens remain poor.
This week, pro-democracy social media activists circulated a 2011 article about an HIV positive rural Eswatini woman who had resorted to eating cow dung to survive and have enough strength for her medication.
The activists also shared the luxurious watches, vehicles and lifestyles of King Mswati and his extensive royal family enjoyed while the citizenry not only suffers poverty but is unable to find democratic expression due to the banning of political parties.
Meanwhile, a journalist in Mbabane, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Mmegi this week that ordinary citizens there are running out of patience with SADC due to its inability to reign in King Mswati over the years or prevent the brutality of his law enforcement.
While SADC officially advocates for democracy in the region, multi-party politics, freedom of expression and the protection of human rights, Eswatini has remained the continent’s last absolute monarchy, with King Mswati freely participating in SADC affairs without sanction.
“Some people even believe because King Mswati is supporting Botswana for SADC executive secretary, the interventions may not have that much will power,” the journalist told Mmegi. Masisi earned the wrath of the Swaziland Solidary Network for issuing a statement saying SADC acknowledged one official death from the unrest.
Maseko, who on Tuesday said multi-stakeholders had evidence of 54 people killed and scores other injured, said the official pro-democracy groups retained their faith in SADC’s ability to find a solution to the crisis.
“We know that in other countries, people say SADC has not been able to find lasting solutions for them, but we must have faith in the process,” he said. “This is the first time for Eswatini and we hope the ministers will come back and engage.
“We very much support SADC’s call for dialogue. Dialogue has always been a way many of us have said the problems in this country can be resolved. “This is a political and good governance problem and the solution can only come with a serious dialogue for a people-centred solution.”
On Tuesday, a Mbabane-based NGO, the Institute for Democracy and Leadership, sent a letter to SADC executive secretary, Stergomena Tax outlining its proposals for the national dialogue. The NGO wants an all-inclusive mediated political dialogue/negotiation, total unbanning of political parties, a Transitional Executive Authority, a new democratic constitution and a multiparty democratic dispensation. It is unclear whether the letter has reached Masisi’s attention but the SADC security chair is known to be eager to find a resolution to the kingdom’s crisis.
This week in Parliament, Kwape fended off accusations by legislators that the ministerial team had purposefully failed to engage all relevant voices in the kingdom’s troubles. Kwape acknowledged that the ministerial team had only been able to engage government voices, due to time constraints, and would be returning to engage other actors on Masisi’s instruction.
“It’s true that we did not have enough time there, but there are reasons including COVID-19 which limits the amount of time for meetings,” Kwape said. “President Masisi gave us an urgent instruction to attend to the situation there before things got out of control and we returned to say we have seen a little bit of the situation and we need to go back to find out more.
“We will be meeting with all the parties in order to give a full picture to those who have sent us there.” Kwape and his ministerial team are expected to visit the kingdom between today (Friday) and Saturday and while violence appears to have subsided, tensions remain high over the changes desired by the majority of citizens. A SADC Secretariat team was due to have left on Thursday as an advance party to “develop a programme for the consultations with stakeholders”. Activists in the country, meanwhile, continue to collate the actual number of those killed and injured in the unrest, with the expectation that SADC will also lead an enquiry into actions taken and punishment to be meted out.
“When we say 54 have died, we mean those we have identified,” said Maseko who spent 15 months in jail a few years ago for criticising the country’s judicial system and the absolute monarchy. “There may be other people killed, but they have not yet been identified by relatives in mortuaries. It may be that up to 100 people were killed, not even counting the ones injured,” he explained.