King Mswati III calls for open forum to discuss unrest, but activists call for boycott

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King Mswati III, Head of State of the Kingdom of Swaziland, known as eSwatini.
King Mswati III, Head of State of the Kingdom of Swaziland, known as eSwatini.
PHOTO: Timothy A Clary/AFP
  • King Mswati III has called for dialogue to discuss unrest in the country.
  • Sibaya is a constitutional forum that forms part of Eswatini’s monarchical democracy.
  • Activists say the forum is not inclusive and have called on citizens to boycott it.

After days of deadly protest, King Mswati III has called for a sibaya – an open forum discussion unique to what Eswatini has called a "monarchical democracy".

The Eswatini government said the sibaya would be held on Friday at the Ludzidzini Royal Residence. The invitation is nationwide, inviting all citizens to voice their discontent. The sibaya is the first time King Mswati III has publicly addressed the violent demonstrations that led to at least 50 people killed and R3 billion in damage to property.

The sibaya will take place while a delegation from the Southern African Development Community is visiting the country.

A delegation from the SADC’s troika on politics, defence and security arrived in the country on Wednesday.

It will be followed by a technical fact-finding mission that will remain in the country until Thursday, 22 July, the government said.

The SADC previously visited the country for a day, but were criticised for failing to meet with civil society.

READ | Civil groups 'gatecrash' SADC meeting in eSwatini, accuse government of staging talks

The sibaya, a meeting at the royal kraal, was formalised in the 2005 constitution as a form of public participation in which citizens, regardless of political affiliation, can air their grievance to the king and other leaders. According to the constitution, "the people, through Sibaya, constitute the highest policy and advisory council (Libandla) of the Nation".

Activists and members of civil society, however, plan to boycott the event. Instead, they are planning to participate in a nationwide march planned for the same day.   

"If the king wishes to engage in dialogue, he should start by calling off his army from the streets and ending the curfew which has become unbearable to many Swazis," the Swaziland Solidarity Network said in a statement.

No nation can have any meaningful dialogue in a state of emergency.

Civil society groups also point to the sibaya’s contravention of Covid-19 regulations, by allowing more than 50 people to gather. The government said everyone attending would be screened, and has requested participants to arrive at least three hours ahead of the 10:00 starting time.

ALSO READ | 27 dead, 5 000 jobs lost during Eswatini protests - govt

Every adult in Eswatini can participate, and in a show of inclusivity, all participants sit on the ground, but critics say King Mswati is firmly in control of the process.

"He has mastered the art of manipulating this structure by making sure for instance that he lines up his known supporters in such a way that no other view can be heard, but that which parrots his position," said civil society organiser Muzi Masuku.

Instead, Masuku called on citizens to attend the sibaya and, once inside, "put up such a huge protest and toyi toyi, such that the whole thing gets called off".

"We will have shown that our calls for multi-party democracy can be made even in spaces that they consider sacrosanct."

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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