The summit that was. 

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) communiqué after the Heads of State Summit in Kinshasa, the Capital City of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, may have seemed to be one of those resolutions, devoid of hope insofar as the eSwatini political situation is concerned, but there is something different this time around.

Reads the communiqué of the 42nd Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government, in part:

Summit welcomed a brief report presented by the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, regarding the security situation in the country, and while condemning the violence, it mandated the Chairperson of the Organ to convene an Extra-ordinary Summit of the Organ Troika plus Eswatini, at a date to be determined, aimed at finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the security challenges facing the country.

For the uninitiated, SADC’s Organ Troika on Politics, Defence, and Security (Organ Troika) was charged with intervening in the eSwatini political and security situation after the June 2021 civil unrest that left no less than 67 people killed by the Swazi state police and army and injuring many. 

At the height of the unrest, a technical team from SADC Organ Troika came into eSwatini on a fact-finding mission and met with the government and what many perceived to be state-aligned civil society players, and not with the broader civil society at the centre of the political conflict. Subsequent to this, acting in his capacity as the Chair of Organ Troika, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sent an envoy in that country’s former Minister Jeffrey Thamsanqa Radebe who met separately with King Mswati and civil society under the auspices of eSwatini’s Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF).

The final push was the arrival of President Ramaphosa himself who had a private conversation with King Mswati, after which a statement was made to the effect that the eSwatini government had agreed to hold a national dialogue to address the political question. It was also mentioned that Terms of Reference would be drafted and that in three months’ time the process would start. 

The MSF, in partnership with eSwatini’s Letfu Sonkhe Institute for Strategic Thinking and Development, convened the country’s civil society in Boksburg, Johannesburg, to come up with their input into the Terms of Reference and to establish how they collectively view the proposed dialogue process as civil society players, ultimately leading to what is now known as the Boksburg Declaration.

However, the eSwatini government has been avoiding the dialogue process – first citing the Incwala ceremony. After the Incwala ceremony, the King said there is no money for the dialogue but when the European Union (EU) country office set aside a budget for the dialogue there was no reasonable excuse from the King anymore. After this, the king is said to have talked about kuvuwna kwemabele (harvesting of the royal fields), then of late citing that the environment was not conducive because of the violence around the killing of the police by the Swaziland International Solidarity Forces.

Leading to the Kinshasa meeting of the SADC Heads of State last week, many Swazis looked at the meeting as a platform to discuss the political situation in the country, as well as give direction in relation to the dialogue. This is after the eSwatini government had snubbed about 4 meetings of the Organ Troika to discuss the dialogue.

It is also important to underline that this led to the SADC governments, in particular the South African one, developing attitudes towards eSwatini. The king of eSwatini and his government are playing a ‘hide and seek’ game and being arrogant – they do not want to be assisted, is the view that most of them hold.

During the Kinshasa meeting, President Ramaphosa reported on work done by the Organ Troika. He presented on Mozambique, DRC, and Lesotho. On eSwatini, he was quite frank and mentioned that they have not made much progress because they are waiting for eSwatini to respond to the Terms of Reference on the inclusive national dialogue. 

He then urged the incoming Chair of the Organ Troika to continue with the process. Sources told The Bridge that immediately after Ramaphosa had reported on this, King Mswati raised his flag to respond. In his response he gave a long-winded eulogy, narrating the events around the unrest, something which many people were not interested in as they already know about it.

In his remarks, King Mswati kept accusing the pro-democracy movement of burning houses and businesses, pointing an accusing finger at the citizens, and refusing to accept that government was also at fault. Organ Troika leaders recommended that the Swaziland intervention could be like that of Lesotho. Lesotho reported to the meeting that, although their process was long and not without challenges but was, in the final analysis, a success. They did not understand why Swaziland was not accepting the same.

After King Mswati’s defensive remarks, President Ramaphosa took the floor again and recommended that SADC should send the organization’s Panel of Elders for purposes of trust-building between the political players in the Kingdom of eSwatini. The Panel of Elders is led by a seasoned statesman in former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete. The Elders are supported by a Technical Reference Group. In the final analysis, it was agreed that there be an extra-ordinary summit of Organ Troika plus eSwatini, which might be in September 2022 because eSwatini asked that it should be sooner than the initially proposed October 2022.

What became clear during the meeting is that eSwatini’s counterparts in the region are increasingly becoming impatient about the kingdom’s failure to introduce political reforms. For instance, when King Mswati suggested another fact-finding mission during the summit, President Ramaphosa reminded him that already there were 2 fact-finding missions. Instead, Ramaphosa recommended the Panel of Elders, saying this may broker the issues of trust that has been lost, giving the Lesotho example where the Lesotho government worked on it through the SADC intervention. Furthermore, sources reveal that the cold attitude towards eSwatini was apparent since it did not even enjoy the traditional cordial side-line meetings as was the case in the past. As the royal family members were enjoying their stay at the expensive Fleuve Congo hotel, the king and his delegation had a difficult moment in the meeting.

The Bridge has been informed that, while the SADC dialogue process is being implemented, eSwatini is facing unprecedented pressure to align with the SADC Protocols on democratic elections, ahead of the country’s elections next year. This, juxtaposed with the elections observer mission reports on eSwatini’s previous elections, points to an organization that is coming of age as a decisive regional body occupied with finding lasting solutions to the issues of the region.

In a recent interview with The Bridge, eSwatini’s MSF Spokesperson Mary Pais Da Silva acknowledged that the country was at crossroads. “It’s either the path to peace and stability through meaningful dialogue processes or the violence we have been witnessing since June 2021 escalates,” she said.

Eswatini is in the midst of a political crisis; it is Africa’s last absolute monarchy - political parties remain banned and not allowed to contest for political office; the king appoints a Prime Minister and the entire government; the state uses violence to beat up and kill protesting civilians and currently two Members of Parliament (Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube) are in prison for calling for democratic change. There are many Swazis who are living in exile in fear of being persecuted for demanding their rights to political freedom.