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Swaziland: Liberation movement proposes path to democracy

By Skhumbuzo Phakat, PUDEMO secretary general

November 15, 2011 -- The only solution to the current crisis is a transition to democratic governance. The financial crisis, judicial crisis, education crisis, health crisis and the entire deep-seated structural crisis the Swazi regime is under can only be solved by democratisation.

The time has come for King Mswati to swallow his pride and succumb to the demands of the people. The king must unban political parties as a matter of urgency, to pave way for a democratic dispensation. A genuine political dialogue must begin that involves all political parties and other major stake holders. The problems in Swaziland are political and require a political solution.

The People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) believes that a genuine political dialogue process must be preceded by the unbanning of political parties, release of all political prisoners, return of all exiles. We reaffirm our profound conviction that real solutions to the challenges facing our country will come from a peaceful, genuine negotiation process based on real and effective participation by the people.

Democracy is not the preserve of a selected few; it is by its very nature a process guided by the principles of freedom, co-determination and shared responsibility. Essentially, therefore, we must engage all the various interests in our country in a process that will sufficiently address the political, economic and socio-cultural dynamics at play in Swaziland.

Nothing short of this broad-brush approach will address the fundamental fears, concerns and aspirations of the vast majority of our people. In keeping with this noble resolve, we welcome any genuine invitation to all organised civic formations, registered and unregistered, to a properly constituted and representative constitutional forum that will be mandated to chart the way forward for Swaziland.

In this context we are of the view that the following steps can be taken

To ensure full and genuine participation by the vast majority of our people, the ground must be level and to achieve this, the following fundamental pre-conditions must be met.

1. The king must openly and unconditionally commit himself and the government of Swaziland to the peaceful transition to democracy and change.

2. The constitution-making process must be a broad based, all-inclusive process involving government, traditional authorities, political organisations, organised labour, business, the youth, women’s organisations, the church and other civic formations. However, it must not be turned into a social-fun club without any clear political identity and objective.

3. The independence of the judiciary must be upheld.

4. There must be clear terms of reference defining the purpose, objectives and the modus operandi of the forum, including;
a) Appointment of independent chairperson.
b) Dispute/conflict resolution mechanisms.
5. There must be freedom of the press and all parties must enjoy equal access.
6. The process itself must be transparent and open to the press and public.

As the nation sets out to cut its own niche in history, it is of paramount importance to have a dear view of the road ahead. This demands much more than good intentions. To ensure that the process is properly focused and directed, we should identify the distinct steps to be covered and adopt appropriate approach and time frame for each step.

We believe that the main steps in the process must include but not limited to:

1. The preliminary negotiation process

The first step is the creation and implementation of a preliminary negotiation process whose main objective will be to remove all impediments and create a conducive climate for popular participation. The main product of this exercise will include the following.

A memorandum of Intent whereby the king as head of state openly and unconditionally commits himself and the government to a peaceful and properly constituted negotiation process towards the democratisation of Swaziland. The tasks of the memorandum of Intent are:

a) The setting out of an agenda for the negotiations.

b) The identification of an independent facilitator for the negotiation process.

c) Setting up of a conflict/dispute settlement mechanism.

d) Time frames covering the various stages in the process.

e) The reinstatement of the Bill of Rights.

f) The establishment of a National Convention

g) The unbanning of all political parties.

h) The unconditional return and indemnification of all political exiles.

i) The dissolution and dismissing of all “shadowy” cabals that surround the king.

j) Such pre-conditions have to be declared in a formal legal instrument.; and

k) Any other matters that the parties may deem necessary for the success of the process.

2. The National Convention

The National Convention shall be an all-inclusive forum covering all the principal stakeholders mainly; the government, traditional authorities, political parties, organised labour, organised business, the youth, the churches and other civic groups. Its principal objectives will include, among other things:

a) To conduct the negotiations and seek common solutions that shall accommodate all fundamental concerns and interests. Unlike the Tinkhundla models, this forum will deal with the real issues and arrive at practical time framed solutions.

b) To establish an interim authority that will see to the affairs of state and government during the period of transition to democracy.

c) To negotiate and agree an interim constitution for the land.

d) To set clear guidelines for election processes.

e) To prepare the country for a general election under the new interim constitution.

f) To have clear representation proportion that must not give unfair advantage to other parties at the negotiations.

3. The constituent assembly

A constituent assembly is a body elected by all the people and its main responsibility will be to draw up a constitution for the democratic Swaziland. It is our fervent belief that there can be no genuine political dispensation and constitutional dispensation founded in such a system (Tinkhundla). A new political and constitutional dispensation can only be arrived at, in a properly constituted constituent assembly, where there can be a genuine participation of thepeople, ensuring that any future political dispensation will not be dominated by royalty or minority.

The position of PUDEMO is that a new constitution for the country needs to be drawn up and adopted by the people through a properly constituted constituent assembly. The electoral process of the constituent assembly will be defined at the national convention.

The reason why PUDEMO supports the idea of elected delegates to draw up a constitution is to ensure that the new constitution reflects the interests of the people, and that those responsible for drawing up the constitution must be elected by the people in free, and fair elections. Only such an elected constituent assembly can ensure that the process of drawing up a democratic constitution is itself democratic.

The main product of the constituent assembly will include the following:

a) Setting time frames for the final constitution-making process.

b) Setting up mechanisms for public debate and education.

c) Setting up of a committee to gather views from the people as input into the democratic constitution.

d) Setting up technical teams comprising experts in the field.

e) Drawing up and arranging adoption of the constitution as the supreme law of the land.

Time frames

Although it remains our firm conviction that the setting up of time frames for the process is not the prerogative of any particular party, we believe that the first two stages should be completed without undue delay. Six months is adequate for these preliminary steps in the process.

The third and last stage of drawing up of the final constitution will require some time. However, critical as it may be a period of 12 months is reason for completion of this final mile.

Conclusion

Once a new constitution for the Kingdom of Swaziland has been adopted by the people of Swaziland, the process will result in the following:

  • Dissolution of the constituent assembly.
  • Elections to be held for the constitution of a popular elected government based on the will of the people.
  • Dissolution of the interim government.
  • Repeal of all laws inconsistent with the constitution.

Swaziland is at a stage where we as a nation can choose to sink or swim. Either way we are in it together.

PUDEMO is ready for the transition to democracy. Our struggles over the years have been centered on the demand for democracy. The regime has continued to deny there is a need for democracy. Where we are today there is nowhere to hide. The sooner we move towards democratic governance, the better for the whole nation, the SADC region and the world.

We are therefore calling on all our mass organisations inside Swaziland to exert the last push for the regime to succumb. We are on the last mile to freedom.

The non-payment of civil servants is the last straw for the regime. It's time we intensify our mass action and build unity of purpose among the democratic forces and guard jealously for opportunistic elements that seek to divide the forces for change at this critical moment.

The time for the international community to play their part has come. It's time to support the democracy forces to push the regime to the grave.

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