- In a rare interview, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch King Mswati of Swaziland said this week his country is not ready for political parties and criticised foreign governments for meddling in its internal affairs. Although King Mswati lifted a royal decree banning political activity in the kingdom, he said the nation's economy must improve before parties may be permitted.
"Most countries that adopted multi-party systems of government and succeeded to rule without internal strife had healthy economies, while the poor nations have continued to experience conflict," King Mswati told 'The Times' of Swaziland.
"What we need to do right now as a country is to build our economy to a sustainable level where the introduction of multi-parties can operate with a reasonable degree of success," he said.
King Mswati – who turned 38 this week declaring his birthday a national holiday - criticised the governments of Britain and the Netherlands, and South Africa's trade unions, for interference in the internal affairs of the country he has ruled for 20 years.
He expressed his shock when envoys from Britain and the Netherlands, presenting their diplomatic credentials to him at Lozitha Palace last month, dismissed the new national constitution which institutionalised the King's powers as inadequate. They reportedly called for political parties to operate within a democratic system of government.
"How do they turn around to start criticising a document that they had the opportunity to scrutinise well before? They come from the school of majority rules, but here we have a case in Swaziland where the majority of people have said they do not want multi-parties, and we are supposed to take a minority view over and above the majority?" the King asked.
"The manner of approach [by the envoys] has the potential of inciting the people against the state that may lead to serious internal conflict," he added.
The King was also angered by a border blockade by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Swaziland Solidarity Network, an umbrella body of pro-democracy groups. The protest was held on 12 April, the anniversary of a 1973 palace decree that banned multi-party democracy.
"Blockades should never be allowed to happen. Despite this, the South Africa unions continued with the action, and this needs some serious attention by the South African government," said the King. South African police broke up the blockades and union protests.
Swaziland is a small landlocked country of one million people almost completely surrounded by South Africa and economically dependent on its giant neighbour. The Pretoria government keeps friendly ties with the kingdom, but South Africans at large are growing more sceptical to the political oppression in Swaziland.
Despite King Mswati's remarks that the nation was not economically mature enough to sustain multi-party democracy, a powerful group of government officials and MPs met last week to create an organisation that some members told the Swazi press was a political party.
One organiser was Minister of Health Mfomfo Nkambule, who was appointed by King Mswati. Other members were royalists belonging to the Swazi National Council, King Mswati's handpicked group of senior advisors.
No organisation name or mandate was released, but officials were elected. Members told the press they were organising to counter the influence of another group of powerful government insiders known as Sibahle Sinje, which they said dominates parliament.
Sibahle Sinje called itself a "cultural organisation" when it began recruiting among parliamentarians in 1997. Like the new, unnamed political group, these organisations function as alliances of government insiders.
They do not put forth a slate of candidates during elections or otherwise canvass the public for votes. However, members said they were prepared to register as political parties when this was allowed.
Pro-democracy political groups, meanwhile, have not been able to operate since the promulgation of the new constitution. Police blocked a rally of the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) in Manzini last month. The Women's League of the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) was turned down by government officials when they attempted to register as an organisation.
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