11 September 2012

Swaziland: Peoples Charter Drafted in Swaziland

analysis

The Swaziland Week of Action might be over but the campaign to transform Africa's last absolute monarchy into a more open and democratic society clearly is not. With momentum - and international awareness about the abuses of the ruling regime - growing, pro-democracy activists will continue to press for change.

And now they have a People's Charter to use as the basis for their demands.

The Charter was created at a historic People's Summit in Manzini, where over 1000 people - from community based organisations, women's movements, youth and students, workers, political parties, faith based organisations, people with disabilities and other minority groups - gathered to call for a new system of government and to highlight the 'urgent priorities for a new, people's government'.

Signed exactly 44 years after Swaziland gained its independence from Britain, the Charter is an expression of the participants' 'aspirations and desire to be free from hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and all other forms of social, political and economic deprivation'.

The preamble to the Charter makes it clear that current system has failed. 'After 44 years...we have nothing to show for our so called freedom and independence. We continue to suffer the legacy of colonialism, underdevelopment and oppression which today manifests itself through a surrogate tinkhundla royal minority regime. Our independence remains a pipe dream, a mockery to the poor and heaven for the rich and well-connected few. We continue to believe that freedom for some is freedom for none'.

The Charter then lays out seven key demands:

A people's government

  • There must be an end to the current repressive Tinkhundla state of governance and a new People's Government drawing its legitimacy from an all-inclusive multiparty democratic state and a new and democratic constitution that guarantees equal rights and responsibilities for all;
  • All structures, instruments and systems perpetuating royal minority rule and inherent corruption, favouritism and nepotism must be dismantled in favour of democratic systems of governance that will serve the interest of the people;
  • State sponsored violence and torture as well as the abuse of the security apparatus, intelligence and the judiciary for the protection of the royal minority must end, and instead serve the entire Swazi nation with equal dedication and respect for human rights; and
  • The free flow of ideas and an open, independent, fair and broadly accessible media must be ensured.

Decent quality jobs and a state led people's centred economy

  • The state must play a leading role in the growing of the economy; the attainment of full employment, the creation of decent quality jobs, a decent living wage, the right to representation and minimum social security protection for all;
  • There must be democratisation of economic patterns of ownership from exclusive royal monopoly to broad based mass empowerment and inclusive growth and development. This must include nationalising Tibiyo and Tisuka to combine these resources with those of Swazi Bank to fund the development of the economy and the poor; and
  • A comprehensive industrialisation policy must be developed that will put an end to the elite's control over the economy and ensure basic accountability for the use of national resources.

Quality and affordable education, health and other social services for all

  • Education must be codified as a basic human right for all Swazi's and be relevant, compulsory, accessible, and free for all, from early childhood development through to primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as vocational training for workers. Dedicated resources must be set aside towards this end;
  • 15% of the national budget must be allocated to health care to ensure free, accessible, quality health delivery for all; and
  • Decent monthly social grants must be set aside for the unemployed, disabled and the elderly that enables them to live quality lives, with dignity.

Full and equal participation of women in all aspects of society

  • The continued subjugation, oppression and minor status of women that is characteristic of the current undemocratic, deeply patriarchal and sexist society, entrenched and perpetrated by the royal regime must end;
  • All Swazi women must be afforded equal access and opportunities, including access to basic resources like land, employment, credit facilities and other opportunities to advance their development; and
  • Early childhood development must focus on the girl child to ensure her full and equal integration into Swazi society.

Genuine rural development and land reform

  • A robust national plan to revive agriculture and the direct recapitalisation of poor farmers on Swazi nation land with state financing for seeds, fertilizer, ploughing; and the rebuilding of irrigation dams and infrastructure to restore their capacity to produce must be put in place;
  • Agrarian reform and shifts in the patterns of land and mineral ownership in order to improve on economic activity and agricultural productivity for job creation and food security through sustainable and environmentally friendly methods must be enforced;
  • Rural land that was taken away from poor farmers by Tibiyo, the colonial government and private companies without compensation must be returned; and
  • The current autocratic tinkhundla local governance structures must be dismantled for more people centred, democratically elected and accountable structures of governance.

Equal rights, opportunities and recognition for people with disabilities and other minority groups

  • Specific care must be taken of disabled members of society, through amongst other things establishing a special desk at parliamentary level, the setting up of a specific and decent social grant for the disabled, increasing the budget allocations to education of disabled children, the creation of disabled friendly buildings and infrastructure for easy access, as well as establishing and promoting an inclusive education system; and
  • There must be an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and a constitutional right for people with different sexual preferences to be treated with equality, dignity and respect as afforded to all Swazis.

Development and support for young people and those active in the arts, sports and culture

  • A specific and comprehensive policy for youth development with the active participation of all youth structures and formations, and the removal of media censoring in order to enable youth to access information freely must be developed; and
  • Culture must be defined by Swazis and not by narrow, abusive interests of the royal elite.

The participants at the Summit also agreed to use the People's Charter as the guiding document for the next phase in the struggle for freedom and democracy in Swaziland.

There is still a long road ahead and King Mswati's regime shows no signs of giving an authoritarian inch let alone a democratic mile. But now pro-democracy groups and activists and ordinary Swazis will have this Charter to base their demands on - and a set of targets that they can collectively work towards.

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