It is interesting to note that contrary to the furore that has been generated by Zimbabwean political developments, there is general silence, and even justification of the repression in Swaziland. In our country the few exceptions have been the SACP, COSATU, the ANC Youth League, the Young Communist Leagues, some progressive NGOs and a few mass formations inside our country.
There are even patronising suggestions that Swaziland’s political system is based on the culture and traditions of the Swazi people, a justification similar to that used by the apartheid regime in dividing the African population into different tribal groups through the bantustan system, and the colonial-apartheid imposition of the rule of chiefs as instruments of oppression. It is a justification which essentially suggests that African traditional systems are inherently repressive and based on accumulation by the chiefly or royal elites at the expense of its ordinary peoples.
The repression in Swaziland cannot be justified under any circumstances. It is a system based on the rule by a wealthy royal elite and its networks, vicious suppression of human rights, wealth for a few in the midst of extreme poverty, rising rates of HIV/AIDS infections and deaths, and lack of human rights, including the suppression of political parties. Swaziland probably has the longest state of emergency in modern history, declared 33 years ago, yet the region, the African continent and the world is silent about this severe repression.
It is for the above reasons that the SACP wishes to salute all the members of the Swaziland Solidarity Network, including the SACP and COSATU, in leading protests at all the border gates between South Africa and Swaziland on 12 April 2006. These actions were an important demonstration of solidarity with the oppressed people of Swaziland by progressive South African formations. These actions were jost importantly a call to all democrats and progressive forces in the world to be counted in the struggle for democracy in Swaziland.
The SACP however wishes to strongly condemn the actions of the police at the Matsamo border gate which resulted in a number of demonstrators being injured, hospitalised or arrested. Such actions have no place in a democratic South Africa.
The SACP also wishes to point out that the situation in Swaziland requires urgent attention by, in the first instance, our own government, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), and indeed the entire world community. There is absolutely no justification that whilst preaching values of good governance, multi-party democracy and poverty eradication we allow a royal dictatorship to continue to thrive in our own midst. Swaziland, under the current dispensation remains a serious blight on efforts towards building democracy on our continent, and a reflection of unacceptable selectivity in holding all African states to the AU’s protocols on democracy. This calls for urgent and decisive action, not least from our own government. Concretely, pressure must be brought to bear on the government of Swaziland to start genuine constitutional negotiations for a democratic state.
Perhaps what we identify as hypocrisy around the silence on the repressive nature of the Swaziland regime can be explained as an expression of the logic of capitalism as a system. It is a living proof that capitalism is not, as we are often told, an inherently democratic system or that it functions optimally under democratic regimes. We know that capitalism has grown and consolidated itself through wars (like the illegal invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain), dictatorships, fascism and through all other repressive methods.
The history of capitalism over its more than 500 years of existence has been a history of all these things. It is only when the capitalist class feels comfortable about its dominance and hegemony that it has allowed some ‘democratic’ forms. It is only when repressive methods begin to undermine the survival of capitalism, that the system is forced to make changes and concessions towards some forms of democratic rule. We know this from our own history of apartheid, that it was only when the continuation of the apartheid regime was beginning to pose a threat to the survival of South African capitalism (as a result of instability and crisis brought about by the deepening national liberation struggle), that the apartheid regime entered into negotiations.
Of course the collapse of the Soviet Union was a further impetus which led to a change in strategy by imperialism, urging and pressurising what it saw as its (economic) satellite states to change, whilst ensuring that their capitalist economies remained intact. Despite the end of the Cold War, there was no need for such pressure in a country like Swaziland as internal opposition was weak (due to severe internal repression) and as such no immediate threat of a mass uprising against the regime.
Why has the world been silent about Swaziland? The main reason for this is that Swaziland, under its monarchist rule is a haven for capital accumulation, including South African capital itself. The Swazi state is essentially an alliance of the royal family, its traditional leadership networks, a small local bourgeoisie and a middle class that continues to benefit from monarchical rule. This ruling bloc is firmly supported by imperialist monopoly capital.
Bongani Masuku, the President of the Swaziland Youth Congress living in exile in South Africa, in his political report at its June 2004 national congress aptly defines the current situation in Swaziland thus:
“Swaziland is a semi-feudal and neo-colonial society, organized by and in the interests of capital accumulation for a few. It is a backward outpost of the global regime of social organization, in which profit rules all spheres of life. It was integrated into the global economic system as a marginalized part of the world imperialist system. It however, is very much part of the imperialist predatory system, which benefits a few and has radically transformed every sphere of society into an object of profit maximization for multinational companies”.
In short, the silence about repression in Swaziland can be directly traced to the fact that the country is a haven for private accumulation by both domestic, South African and international capital. The above reality has been sustained through, amongst other things, an ideological appeal to Swazi culture (including women’s oppression), ban on political parties, torture and violence against democratic and worker movements, political persecution and imprisonment of democracy activists, and total control by the monarchy over all institutions of state and major economic institutions.
The socio-economic outcomes of this state of affairs is an economy in decline, with an estimated 69% of the population living in dire poverty, an estimated 20% incidence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, declining rural standards of living, mainly due to lack of capacity of rural households to produce food. It is this crisis that has also led to attempts by the monarchy to attempt some kind of (Commonwealth-sponsored) constitutional reform process, which however still keeps Swaziland an undemocratic state.
Unlike in Zimbabwe, where the interests of private capital are threatened by some of the policies of the Mugabe government, especially land reform, Swaziland still remains a haven for capital accumulation and the mornarchic rule is the best defender of these capitalist interests, both domestic and foreign.
However, the primary responsibility for the struggle to build a democratic order in Swaziland lies with the Swazi people themselves. International solidarity, whilst important, on its own cannot bring about the fundamental changes needed in that country. It is therefore important that this expression of solidarity by the South African people must support intensified internal struggles by Swazi progressive forces themselves.
The lessons from our own struggle against apartheid are that international solidarity tends to mirror the ebbs and flows of internal struggle. When there is minimal internal struggle, international solidarity tends to be at its weakest, whilst if there is intensified internal mass struggle, such solidarity tends to peak. Indeed this does not mean that it is not important for progressive forces in the region, the continent and the world to look into ways and means of assisting in the internal mobilisation of the people, without substituting itself for the leadership of that struggle by the Swazi people themselves.
The key political challenge lies with the People’s United Democratic Movement of Swaziland (PUDEMO), acting together with progressive forces within the trade union movement and other democratic formations, to provide the necessary leadership in the mobilisation of the Swazi people for a democratic Swaziland. The SACP, as it has done over the years, pledges its full support to all the progressive forces in Swaziland, and through our solidarity, we shall never fail them in their quest for freedom and democracy.
We also call upon all our fraternal parties and other progressive organisations throughout the world to join in solidarity activities with the struggle for democracy in Swaziland. This should be done by, amongst other things, holding demonstrations at, and sending petitions to, Swazi embassies calling for the lifting of the state of emergency, allowing free political activity and call for a genuine process of democratisation involving all the people of Swaziland.