De Klerk can teach Swazi king lessons in survival

2011-04-09 14:39

It seems plausible that the current ­uprisings in North Africa are giving ­Swaziland’s King Mswati III sleepless nights.

This is further compounded by the fact that Swazi pro-democracy movements have earmarked April 12 as the day for rising up against the monarchy.

The irony is that what the king fears – ­democracy – is actually what he and his royal family need the most.

The current political crisis in the Arab world is not a consequence of democracy but of the denial of democracy.

If reports are true that the monarchy is strengthening its military machinery to deal with protesters on April 12, it can be concluded that it fears democracy.

The problem, really, is Mswati’s fear of ­democracy rather than democracy itself.

Democracy is not the ideal system of ­governance. Actually, there is no ideal system or form of governance. Democracy does, however, provide the most plausible system of managing relations in any society.

While the North African mass uprisings present major lessons for Mswati and his ­regime, he should actually call South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk.

White South Africans are beneficiaries of the current South African democratic ­dispensation.

In retrospect, the overwhelming majority of whites realise they should never have feared and resisted democracy.

This is actually a lesson for Swaziland’s monarchy: do not fear democracy; ­rather learn to appreciate and manage it.

Here are the “De Klerk lessons” for Mswati:

» First, by the time De Klerk unbanned political parties and liberalised political activities, the white political and economic regime had lost much of its power;

» Second, apartheid South Africa was ­declared a pariah state by the international community;

» Third, the massive military might of the apartheid regime was unable to quell the liberation movement;

» Fourth, by the time De Klerk decided to democratise and manage the process by ­underhanded tactics, he found he could not do so due to the change in the balance of forces in ­favour of the pro-democracy movement; and

» Fifth, due to De Klerk’s participation in the transformation process he was rewarded with some relevance in the new ­dispensation.

In contrast, Zambia’s founding president and Africa’s revered liberation leader, ­Kenneth Kaunda, sought to remain in power for good and when he was forced out of ­power he lost it all.

On April 25, King Mswati will be celebrating 25 years in power.

He will be wise to consider that the balance of forces in the kingdom is changing. While he still wields considerable power, the pro-democracy ­forces are also gaining momentum.

Moreover, the international media is also now focusing on Swaziland, which means ­repression in Swaziland will draw the ­international community’s ire and possibly lead to international isolation.

Given the growing poverty in the country, King Mswati’s regime cannot afford this.

Interestingly, it may not necessarily be a growing democratic consciousness among the masses that propels the protests, but growing poverty and the prospect of salary cuts for bureaucrats, nurses, teachers, the ­police and the army.

African history shows that most of the ­pro-democracy protests in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, and the current North African uprisings, were sparked by mass ­economic difficulties.

Once the masses feel that they have ­nothing left to lose, they revolt viciously against the regime.

These economic hardships could be ­curtailed in a democratic Swaziland with the following bare minimums: a non-executive monarch; a popularly elected prime minister;

the institutionalisation of the rule of law through the supremacy of a democratic constitution; an independent judiciary;

an independent media; freedom of expression and association; and regular elections managed by an independent electoral commission.

These are not threatening principles to the king and his family.

For one thing, the majority of Swazis ­appreciate the monarchy as an institution.

The problem is when the king’s position is fused with that of the executive head of state.

Thus, rather than the monarchy becoming a unifying force, it actively gets subsumed in factional politics.

Given that the monarch also appoints the prime minister and the cabinet, it is just all in one: executive head of state, the ­cabinet, the judiciary and the media police. And it is accountable only to itself.

The current economic protests in South ­Africa are clear evidence that conflicts in society are better dealt with through a systematic democratic dispensation. In short, King ­Mswati must forget about the Gaddafi route.

He must call De Klerk and Cyril Ramaphosa.

» Hlophe is a political scientist and blogger

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