Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) and the Swaziland Human Rights Network UK (SHRNUK) work closely together in support of human rights, equality and sustainable development in Swaziland. We are united in our belief that none of these noble objectives will be realised unless the country experiences genuine democratic transformation.
The Commonwealth’s performance in relation to Swaziland is little more than a joke. Officials at the Commonwealth Secretariat have stopped pretending that the Commonwealth is doing anything useful to promote democracy in the country.
Foreign diplomats like to give two excuses for why they do not do more in support of democracy in Swaziland. First, they argue that, as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) are reluctant to act against Swaziland, non-Africa actors can only take limited action without appearing to be neo-imperial. This is nonsense. It is true that SADC and the AU are both pathetic when it comes to defending human rights and democratic governance. Yet this does not change the fact that human rights and democracy are fundamentally anti-imperialist. If non-African governments and multilateral institutions were to do the right thing, they would not just help Swazis, they would also show up SADC and the AU – a win-win.
Second, the diplomats lament the weaknesses of the Swazipro-democracy movement and say these shortcomings limit what can be done by external actors. This represents a partial truth wrapped up in more nonsense. The weaknesses of the Swazipro-democracy movement do not stop international actors from directly challenging autocracy. In addition, the international community could and should do far more (in a coordinated manner) to help pro-democracy forces in Swaziland unite.
At the same time, we do believe that those working for democracy within Swaziland need to be more effective. We were heartened to see the formation of the Political Parties Assembly (PPA). However, we were not given information about this in advance, and have not received any information about the PPA since its launch. We would like to see civil society organisations advocating for democracy to improve coordination, and both civil society and the PPA to better communicate with their friends overseas. History tells us that united in-country movements that are strongly aligned with international solidarity movements can bring about real and lasting positive change.
Paraphrasing Theodore Parker, Martin Luther King Jr famously said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” If this is true, it is only because of visionary, inclusive and self-critical leadership on the part of individuals and organisations pursuing justice. Those involved with Swaziland’s liberation struggle – wherever in the world we may be – have much to do if we are to live up to standards set by our predecessors.
For our part, ACTSA and SHRNUK recognise that we need to redouble our efforts to press key international actors to change their approaches and provide maximum support to the people of Swaziland. If they do not, current and future generations of Swazis will judge them most unkindly.
Sunit Bagree is senior campaigns officer at Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA)
Goodwill Mathonsiis secretary of the Swaziland Human Rights Network UK (SHRNUK)
Protesters in eSwatini