Johannesburg - Spare a thought for the citizens of eSwatini. For more than a month they have braved a brutal crackdown from a monarch who refuses to loosen his grip on power.
In eSwatini, King Mswati III’s word is interpreted as the law of the land.
Welcome to Africa’s last absolute monarchy, where 2021 resembles France before the French Revolution.
In a tiny kingdom ensconced between South Africa and Mozambique, Mswati’s police and military have violently suppressed an uprising that started over a call for democratic reforms. The king has ruled his land since 1986 with an iron grip, and while a majority of his subjects are impoverished, Mswati, his family and those in his orbit live lives of luxury.
While everyone else has had to tighten their belts, especially during the austerity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mswati, his 15 wives and their children have not eased up on the bling life, paid for by the country’s limited resources.
When South Africa made a democratic turn in 1994, the ANC government and the SADC bloc turned a blind eye to Mswati’s excesses.
This could perhaps be credited for the sympathetic role his father, King Sobhuza II, played in accommodating fleeing freedom fighters, particularly after the June 16 uprisings of 1976.
While ANC administrations have tolerated Swati liberation movements operating from within South Africa, it has used “quiet diplomacy” in dealing with Mswati’s oppressive rule. But the most recent protests accompanied by images of butchered civilians coming out of eSwatini might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Earlier this week, an SADC delegation spent one day in the country without meeting the king, or representatives from the protest movement.
While the ANC government heralds those who brought us freedom, their foreign policy has instead served to aid and abet dictators and human rights abusers across the continent, instead of fanning the flames of liberty.
While no one is calling for the SANDF to march into eSwatini and depose a brutal king, South Africa as the regional power should not be shy in asserting democratic values close to home.