Open letter to Chiefs and Pirates
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The Swaziland Solidarity Network calls on Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates to boycott Swazi King Mswati’s Super King’s Cup.
Durban - When the manager of the English national team, Roy Hodgson, was appointed to his post, his past was brought up to remind the public of the social role sports personalities cannot escape.
At the height of apartheid, Hodgson had naively and insensitively allowed himself to be used by the apartheid regime in its public relations tactics to reverse its pariah state status by participating in a football match.
Today, human rights violations continue and despotic regimes still desperately seek unsuspecting sports and music personalities to use as pawns. Where this unfortunate situation exists, the conscientious world has responded by boycotting and isolating these ignoble regimes.
King Mswati is one such dictator and he has found perfect pawns in two of southern Africa’s biggest sports clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
These two African giants need to understand the blot they might have on their impeccable record if they allow themselves to sell their souls and be “bought for 30 pieces of silver” by participating in the forthcoming public relations hoodwink, dubbed Super King’s Cup, in Swaziland.
It has long been widely known in South Africa and beyond that Swaziland’s government has no respect for human rights and that the country has no political freedom.
Swaziland is a dictatorship. It continues to evade the international media radar mainly because the country is so miniscule, with even less prestige internationally.
The country has no democracy at all. All power is vested in the monarchy, which rules by decree, despite the existence of a worthless constitution which was imposed on the citizens 10 years ago.
As an absolute monarch, the king only delegates his judicial, executive and legislative powers to powerless institutions which may make one believe the country is run like a modern state when it is run more like the king’s personal farm.
While there is no law that explicitly bans the formation and functioning of political parties, they are effectively rendered useless by the fact that they cannot contest state power as that power is vested exclusively in the king who appoints the prime minister, deputy prime minister, all cabinet ministers, a third of parliament, all senior civil servants and members of the diplomatic corps.
As another king’s appointee, the country’s senate president recently pointed out, the king is the state.
With all this power vested in him, the king of Swaziland has not held back on abusing it to fulfil his selfish personal greed. This has resulted in him forcing all major investments in the country to guarantee him and his family’s trust fund, Tibiyo, shares in their businesses. As a result of this he owns virtually half the country’s economy. Despite his hold on so much personal wealth the king still draws royal emoluments from the state which is over a fifth of the nation’s budget.
It is these kleptocratic tendencies which have resulted in the country’s economy growing sluggishly, while the rest of the region’s economies make major strides. It is worth pointing out, for example, that the country remains the only one in the region with a sole mobile phone operator, MTN Swaziland, a company that retains its monopoly primarily because the king has substantial shares in it. All attempts by other companies to break into the market have been futile. This is perhaps the reason why some cellphone operators may wish to sponsor an event like the Super King’s Cup to gain favour with the country’s despot.
Human rights abuses in Swaziland are endemic because the people have no government of their own.
At every level of society people are denied basic human rights. Political dissenters are detained arbitrarily or with spurious charges levelled against them. Like the apartheid regime, King Mswati’s regime has gone to great lengths to tarnish the image of those who call for democracy in the country and there are legal instruments used to achieve this end such as the infamous Suppression of Terrorism Act, which gave the country’s government legal authority to declare any entity a terrorist organisation.
Once declared terrorist organisations, such formations are proscribed and any association with them results in severe sanction including harsh prison sentences.
It was due to this act that political activist Sipho Jele was arrested on May 1, 2010 for merely wearing a T-shirt inscribed with the name of one proscribed entity, Pudemo. He never lived to see his day in court as he died in custody, possibly due to police torture.
There are other oppressive laws also used to suppress dissent such as the law against sedition. The president of the same organisation (Pudemo), Mario Masuku, and the secretary-general of its youth league, Maxwell Dlamini, were also arrested in 2014 for what the state claims were seditious statements made at a Workers’ Day rally.
In the same year their arrest was followed by that of editor Bheki Makhubu and columnist Thulani Maseko who were charged and later convicted of criticising the manner in which the country’s then chief justice had handled the detention of a government cars inspector.
They remain behind bars while, ironically, the chief justice and the presiding judge in that case have been arrested by the country’s authorities for abuse of power and corruption. The manner in which this arrest was conducted was also flawed as it saw the country’s prime minister appointing himself the state prosecutor, withdrawing and reinstating charges against those who had been arrested in the state’s publicity stunt.
Political activists are not the only ones denied basic human rights as even those who choose to shy away from political involvement end up on the wrong end of the country’s suppressive institutions.
Poor Swazis are evicted for one reason or another, without compensation for their ancestral lands. All their attempts to seek redress from the courts are futile as the king is effectively above the law and so immune to prosecution or civil charges.
The most important thing worth considering about Swaziland is that the country’s population has made sincere attempts to change the country’s governance. As already pointed out, these political activists have been brutally dealt with, resulting in despondency and fear.
Yet despite this general fear within the population, the country’s Mass Democratic Movement thrives underground and continues to mobilise the population to struggle against the dictatorship.
It is this brave population that convinced those outside the country to provide solidarity for the struggle in Swaziland.
It is in this spirit of solidarity with the people of Swaziland that the Swaziland Solidarity Network appeals to the two teams, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, not to honour the invitation to participate in the Super King’s Cup. It is clear from the name of the event this is not just a sporting event meant to promote goodwill, but rather a political event meant to legitimise a despot who has lost credibility in the eyes of the world and the country he rules with an iron fist.
We have provided the background into why being in bed with this despot will blot the teams’ record in history, but should they need further information our organisation will facilitate a meeting with them to elaborate on such.
The very least they can do is to hear both sides of the story before making a decision on whether to participate in this one-day political publicity stunt or not.
* Lucky Lukhele is the head of communications at the Swaziland Solidarity Network.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.