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By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact's Swaziland group
“I believe that king Mswati III is under immense pressure even from his closest buddy, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma,” says Sikelela Dlamini from the Swaziland United Democratic Front, an umbrella organisation of the democratic movement in Swaziland.
The recent spate of pro-democracy demonstrations against the regime in Swaziland, which so far culminated in the mass demonstrations in March and April of this year, shows the increasing willingness of Swazis to face intimidation and police brutality to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the regime.
The reason for this dissatisfaction, says Sikelela Dlamini, is the monarch’s spending on prestige projects and personal luxuries, and the regime’s financial mismanagement and corruption. “Mswati III’s major handicap has to be his continuously lavish lifestyle when the majority of his people languish in untold suffering.”
Jacob Zuma is married to Mswati’s niece, however, and has therefore thus far been unwilling to criticize Swaziland’s absolute monarch Mswati III publicly. But others in South Africa, including Zuma’s son, Edward Zuma and members of his cabinet are more critically outspoken about Swaziland.
“We have spearheaded democratic change all over Africa,” said Edward Zuma in an interview with the South African Sunday Tribune, “and yet our neighbour is the one in need of democratic change. People complain about Mugabe and yet he has a more legitimate country because there is a democratic process. Mugabe is far better than Mswati.”
The South African Trade Union Federation, COSATU has been a staunch supporter of the Swazi democratic movement for years, and recently “condem[ed] the Swaziland government for its naked show of brutality and intensified repression” in a press statement.
And the ANC are seemingly following suit, although more carefully. "We call on the government of Swaziland to work towards the normalisation of the political environment by unbanning opposition political parties, releasing political activists and engaging in a meaningful dialogue with opposition political and trade union leaders to find a collective solution to the socio-economic situation faced by that country," Ebrahim Ebrahim, the deputy International Relations Minister, said in a statement commenting on the Swazi regime’s violent clamp down on the peaceful April 12 protests.
This is all well and good, but South Africa is Swaziland’s main trading partner, with over 90% of Swaziland’s imports and 60% of its exports coming from trade with South Africa, and could therefore shut Swaziland down in a matter of days if the political will to do so was really there.