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Swaziland King Open to Dialogue with Opposition, Says Adviser

  • Peter Clottey

King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Extraordinary Summit in Johannesburg, June 11, 2011.

King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Extraordinary Summit in Johannesburg, June 11, 2011.

An adviser to Swaziland’s King Mswati III has denied accusations the country’s leader has refused to meet with opposition groups demanding democratic forms.

Obed Dlamini, who is also a former prime minister, said he has been in meetings where the king has called on his government to hold talks with the opposition about possible political changes in the country.

“I have heard him talk in my presence in addressing meetings that the government must give an ear, even to opponents of the system, so that we hear the discerning view. This is what I have heard him say. I have never heard him say the contrary,” said Dlamini.

Dlamini said he knows nothing about opposition claims that the government has refused several requests for talks about democratic reforms.

“I’m not so sure whether they have been denied such audience or not. If they have been, I think it must have been a mistake, unless they were forcing issues. But, if they wanted peaceful negotiations [on] the future of the country, this is what we all crave for,” said Dlamini. "The time has come for Swaziland to discuss the future of its people or allow the people to discuss the future fervently and honestly."

At a recent meeting with advisers, the king was quoted by Reuters as saying “some from the Western world have been waiting patiently and nursing hopes that the people of Swaziland will revolt and bring about regime change… Swazis are known the world over for being peace-loving and I would like to urge you to remain like that.”

Dlamini said he is aware that some foreign countries wish Swaziland was not a monarchy.

“I have been in meetings where ambassadors of Europe, in particular, have stated clearly about that,” he said.

But, Mario Masuku, leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a banned opposition group, says the king’s recent pronouncement is an indication of his unwillingness to implement any democratic reforms.

“I believe that the king’s response was misplaced [and] it was unfortunate. It is only the people of Swaziland that have been calling for reform towards a democratic peaceful and prosperous Swaziland. But from his speech, [he] scorned at people from outside, who are influencing the people of Swaziland to seek for democratic changes, which I believe is wrong,” said Masuku.

He said the Swazi administration has stifled the political opposition by pressuring human rights organizations, trade unions, and civil society groups and banning all political parties.

Some analysts say King Mswati III’s concentration of power is so great - despite the 2006 reintroduction of a constitution - that the country can be considered an absolute monarchy.

Masuku said the government has often used state security agencies to crush peaceful protests calling for democratic reforms.

“We have been calling for a constructive dialogue… it is our fundamental human right to express ourselves to associate. But, they respond by unleashing the security forces against the people,” he said.

Masuku said opposition groups will continue to put pressure on the administration for democratic change.