BY Zwelethu Dlamini
The broad stakeholders have expressed concern on the recent visit by SADC Troika to Eswatini which was supposed to be on a fact-finding mission following the outbreak of violence unleashed on pro-democracy campaigners calling for political change.
The civic groups have described the visit as nothing but a vacation to get the government’s side of the story.
They claim that they were sidelined and allege that the government hand-picked people to masquerade as representatives of civil groups. They said they were assisted by their intelligence who tipped them off the ongoing meeting and they rushed to the Royal Villas where the meeting was held to demand that they should also be heard.
Siphofaneni Member of Parliament, Mduduzi Simelane, who is one of the three MPs calling for political reforms and PUDEMO President, Mlungisi Makhanya speaking to South African news channels, said they were sidelined and disappointed with the SADC Troika mission. Simelane in an interview with NewsAfrika television station said the SADC Troika only met with government officials.
“We call upon the Troika to take the Eswatini matter more seriously. Eswatini is a butcher or an abattoir; once people go to the streets they are killed by the army. May the President of Botswana who is the chair of SADC Troika take the people of Eswatini seriously. How would you go on a fact-finding mission and not see the people who are calling for change but only meet the government and then decide to go back and leave such a volatile situation in our country? I am really starting to see that SADC is not committed to helping our people,” he said.
Similarly, Makhanya in an interview with SABC said he was very disappointed with the SADC Troika mission.
“There was no fact finding mission here, this was a vacation. They did not visit any hospital, they did not make any attempts to see the hundreds of young people who have been detained since Monday and Tuesday who are deprived and denied access to medical help. They did not make attempts to visit the families of the victims who had been shot and murdered by Mswati’ soldiers.
“I must say thanks to our intelligence forces on the ground, some of the leaders managed to go into that meeting albeit very late when they were about to leave and insisted on registering our extreme disappointment on how contemptuous they treated the people of Swaziland to the extent that they made an undertaking to the few members who managed to go in that they will be coming back sometime this week because they realized that they have been fooled by government. They were clearly misled and given wrong people that were brought in as so-called civil society leaders,” he said.
However, government spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini denied that the government had sidelined the civil society leaders in the fact finding mission. Instead he said the government had no right to determine who the SADC Troika team met when and how as that was determined by the team.
He said the team had limited time on the day and promised to come back to get the views of the groups that have not been engaged. He then directed further questions to the Executive Secretary of SADC saying she was best placed to respond.
SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Tax said their Sunday visit was the initial meeting and an urgent one. They will be back soon for the fact finding mission.
“This was an initial mission and an urgent one. In addition to interaction with the government the mission briefly met other stakeholders, noting that the list was not inclusive enough, and time was not adequate, the mission undertook to return and engage extensively with stakeholders, and the youth is among the group that the mission will engage,” she said.
Dr Tax said the team managed to meet briefly Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA), Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO), Council of Swaziland Churches, Eswatini Conference of Churches, League of Churches in Eswatini, People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Law Society of Eswatini, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Swazi Democratic Nurses Union, and Human Rights Commission.
“Nonetheless, it should be noted that this was a very brief interaction on the understanding that the mission will return for detailed interactions,” she emphasized.
Responding to the criticism by the civic groups and members of the public, she said SADC has been, and continues to take developments in Eswatini seriously, as it is the case in any of the SADC member States.
“Stability, peace and security are high on SADC cooperation, integration, and development agenda, and that is why we are seized with the developments, committed to work with the Kingdom of Eswatini, and SADC encourages dialogue, calm and peace, and for the people of Eswatini to remain peaceful as are known to be, and resolve any grievances in a peaceful manner through engagement and dialogue for the benefit of Eswatini, people of Eswatini, and as such the SADC as a region,” she said.
She further assured the region that SADC had been able to restore and maintain peace and stability in strife-torn member states.
“SADC has managed to resolve a number of political and peace and security challenges in the region, including bringing political stability and constitutional normalcy in the republic of Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; contributing to peace and security in the DRC; facilitating the formation of a coalition government in Zimbabwe following elections that were contested; restoring peace and security in the Kingdom of Lesotho and facilitating dialogue and constitutional reforms in Lesotho. It should also be understood that such milestones are facilitated by respective courtiers (both government and stakeholders/citizen) by resorting to peaceful means, dialogue, and accepting to be supported by SADC,” she said.
Members of the public have taken to social media raising their concerns over the immediate departure of the SADC Troika.
EmaSwati reacted to the Facebook post by Eswatini government where it informed the nation that the team had left after hours of being in the country. The post was accompanied by photos of those who met the team which included mainly government officials.
One of the users said “If only the youth was invited. I see a lot of grown-ups yet we need to hear young people’s voices”,
Another user said; “They should have just stayed in their respective countries. Their ‘visit’ changes nothing for emaSwati. How were the civil society representatives selected? Who represents the youth and the families that have lost loved ones at the hands of the army and police? Anidzinwa ngulokudlala yebonine (are you not tired of joking).”
Another user said; “It has always been about them who are in power, they protect each other not the oppressed citizens….All African leaders are corrupt, some are in power and they are hanging in there even when the masses are against them. And here in Swaziland we have a dictator, who has murdered our people.”
Yet another added his voice: “If Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and our three MPs were not in attendance they haven’t started yet.”
The last user said; “So no representative from the youth groups who, according to me, are the ones who started this whole movement, where are all the parties calling for the democratic reforms, why leave them out? Mxm this is just window dressing.”
Zwelethu Dlamini is an IJ Hub fellow attached to Inhlase Centre for Investigative Journalism