By Nimrod Mabuza
At the height of calls for wholesale political changes by many emaSwati and by pro-democracy campaigners, King Mswati III missed an opportunity to address, once and for all, the issues at the heart of the recent violence.
Instead of giving hope, he brought despair and planted doubts in the minds of many emaSwati. He sought to blame everyone but himself for the unrest. He also displayed an attitude of sarcasm and arrogance. Angry, he may have been.
In his first public address following the violent protests, King Mswati, sitting inside the Ludzidzini royal cattle byre on a chair with golden trimmings, pointed an accusing finger at three Members of Parliament as the genesis of the unrest. The three MPs had challenged the King’s manner of appointing the Prime Minister, calling for changes to the process. They desired a PM elected by citizens, through Parliament.
The MPs are Bacede Mabuza of Hosea, Mduduzi Simelane of Siphofaneni and Mthandeni Dube of Ngwempisi.
“If you look at how this situation began and developed to the level it came to it is known that some men were talking in parliament. Parliament, it is known, is a place where laws are made…,” said the king adding that in this case the Constitution was flouted.
In his speech, the King blamed the MPs and emaSwati generally for failing to understand the Constitution. The irony of this remark needs no explanation given the King has been appointing Prime Ministers outside the provisions of Constitution since it came into effect in July 2015.
King Mswati completely ignored the Constitution by appointing Senator Cleopas Sipho Dlamini as the new Prime Minister following the death in December last year of Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini. The King appointed the Prime Minister from the Senate, as opposed from the House of Parliament, as stipulated by the Constitution.
Section 67 (1) of the Constitution reads: “The King shall appoint the Prime Minister from among Members of the House acting on recommendation of the King’s advisory council.”
Attorney General, Sifiso Khumalo, defended the King saying that last October he appointed Senator Dlamini as a Member of the House of Assembly. He said this was done through a legal notice. According to the Attorney General, this therefore means that at the time of his appointment as Prime Minister, Cleopas Sipho Dlamini was an MP.
While the King may have done this, what remains is that the new Prime Minister was not a fully-fledged MP at the time of his appointment because he had not taken the oath in accordance with section 128 (1).
The King’s speech was largely sarcastic, arrogant and failed dismally to address the grievances of emaSwati. Instead of calming the brittle mood in the country, the King has left us on tenterhooks.
He was highly critical of social media, which he accused of reporting untruths about him. “First it was reported that King Mswati has fled the country. Then it was reported that King Mswati fled to Mozambique. Whilst looking at that it was reported that King Mswati has sent his troops to kill people. You asked yourself when did he return from Mozambique…At times I asked myself if these people smoke dagga…,” he ranted.
At the heart of the emaSwati’s calls for change are for the constitutional appointment of the country’s Prime Minister and the unbanning of political parties. These are not new grievances, but they have fallen on deaf ears for many years. The 2005 constitution allows freedom of association and assembly, but political parties are not allowed to contest for power. Indeed, there is also no law recognising political parties.
As calls for change have gone ignored, more and more emaSwati have fallen into abject poverty, whilst King Mswati and the royal household have continued to live large. The King has at his disposal two private jets and a fleet of luxury cars.
The King was at pains to justify his long silence over the riots while emaSwati were crying out for his voice to quell the situation. He said it was as if it was “fashionable to call for calm and, if you don’t, it’s like you have committed a crime.”
He seemed desirous to blame everyone but himself for the situation in the country. He even blamed Covid-19, saying he adhered to advice by scientists and could not have called sibaya because of the pandemic, yet he spoke all this at sibaya at the peak of the third wave.
The King sarcastically criticised the violent riots and described the rioters as being in a state where they were incapable of adhering to any command or voice of reason.
The King’s address was in disharmony with a previous statement issued by his eldest daughter and Minister of ICT, Princess Sikhanyiso at the height of the riots. She was purportedly commanded by the King to issue the statement. Pleading for calm, the princess was more reconciliatory and preached peace. An apologetic Princess Sikhanyiso had accepted blame and declared that royalty has heard the cries of emaSwati – siyeva. She acknowledged and apologised for comments and the flaunting on social media of the family wealth by princes and princess.
King Mswati announced E500 million for reconstruction, but this rings hollow in a country desperate for political direction in the form of democratic reforms.