Swaziland

It's been a week now since the Swazi parliament voted overwhelmingly to boot out the country's Cabinet. And yet nothing has happened. MPs remain steadfast in their determination to remove the executive, while the widely-loathed Prime Minister remains in office - as do his equally unpopular ministerial colleagues. And King Mswati III remains silent and undecided. Meanwhile, Swaziland suffers - adding a constitutional crisis to its already existing economic, social and judicial crises.

Suddenly Swaziland is in the news - from South Africa to the UK. But as per usual, it is in the news for all the wrong reasons. The latest weird and wacky story from the country concerns an apparent ban on witches flying on broomsticks above 150 metres. Cue a host of cut and pasted reports in newspapers and online sites far and wide about the quaint customs of the world's favourite crazy Kingdom.

Want to know how to curry favour with Swaziland’s King Mswati? The best way to butter him up? Just ask Michael Ramodibedi, who has just presented Africa’s last absolute monarch with three cows. Clearly he is very keen to stay in the king’s good books, which in Swaziland is sensible (just ask the civil society leaders who are in the king’s bad books) but which in any democratic society would be a serious problem because Ramodibedi is the country’s Chief Justice.

For a man who's often seen flashing a lot of flesh in his traditional monarchical garb, King Mswati III seems to have very thin skin. Even the tiniest criticism seems to upset him. His sycophantic ministers and cronies have tried everything to shield him from complaints - stuffing parliament with supporters, ensuring all chiefs are compliant, beating up protestors, muzzling the printed media and banning any independent radio stations from broadcasting - but they still can't prevent the rising tide of discontent and anti-Mswati sentiments from reaching his sensitive ears.

It is not often that the Swazi people get to say what they think about anything - let alone their King. Their elections are little more than 'selections' given the ban on political parties. And their press is not allowed to be much more than a praise-singer for the monarchy. But a Gallup poll conducted late in 2011 has at least given an idea of what Swazis think - and it won't be happy reading for the King and his clique since more than 40% of Swazis disapprove of the King's performance.

Once again, a story from Swaziland has suddenly caught the media’s attention. Hunger it seems knocks 3 percent off the country’s economy each year. It is an alarming fact – but the other statistics are far more shocking:

Swaziland is in the midst of such a severe financial crisis that King Mswati III called on all Swazis to do what they can to help the nation. Everywhere you look belts are being tightened. For starters, MPs are facing a 10% salary cut. The elderly are digesting 3 million dollars worth of cuts to their already meagre state assistance. And there better not be any natural disasters this year as the National Disaster Management Agency has had its budget halved.

Swaziland's absolute monarch probably had a pretty restless night last night - wrestling with a very tricky decision that his usually submissive parliament had forced upon him. By voting to kick out his Cabinet with a thumpingly huge majority, King Mswati's pet MPs had surprisingly and shockingly bared their teeth and left him with difficult choice - to side with the Constitution (which says that he must dissolve his cabinet if -- as happened - more than 3/5ths of MPs support a no-confidence motion) or with his cabinet cronies?

You would think – considering how often everyone is told that all Swazis love their king – that he wouldn’t mind them seeing a documentary about The King and The People. Surely it would be something that every good Swazi should see?

The judicial system in Swaziland has failed once again – failed to uphold the country’s constitution, failed to stand up to the unlawful actions and greed of the powers-that-be, and failed to protect the basic human rights of the poor and the vulnerable. Indeed, people should no longer talk about the judicial system in Swaziland. There is no real ‘judicial’ aspect to it. It is simply part of the system – a system that ruthlessly exploits the majority for the benefit of a tiny political, economic and monarchical elite.

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