By Fortune Ncube
Outlawed opposition parties in Swaziland have taken a determined stand to challenge Swaziland’s monarch, King Mswati III, to make changes in the country’s political system. Previously operating underground, the parties have surfaced in the wake of mounting pressure from internal and external forces calling on the 24-year-old monarch to introduce political reforms.

At the forefront of the political movements is the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) which unbanned itself in February this year in unreserved defiance of a 14-year-old Jaw which prohibits any form of political association.

Pudemo’s president, 35-year-old Manzini lawyer Kislon Shongwe, announced the unbanning of his party in a statement in which he demanded the lifting of the state of emergency imposed in 1973, the unbanning of al] political parties and the unconditional return of exiles, inclusive of indemnity.

Scenes previously unthinkable in the small land-locked Kingdom are now a weekly event as people, mainly youths belonging to the Pudemo-aligned Swaziland Youth Congress (Swayoco), converge every weekend on urban townships to hold political gatherings, singing banned political songs and calling for multi-party politics.

Focus of criticism has been the indirect electoral system called the Tinkundla introduced in a decree by the late King Sobhuza II in 1978. The Tinkundla electoral system came into effect after the abolition of the British Westminster system — which allowed the existence of the monarch alongside a democratically elected parliament.

The Tankundla is a system where regions are presided over by chiefs. Non-secret ballot elections are held (in a chief’s village or kraal} to elect three representatives who will represent the people in an electoral college which will in tum elect members of parliament from a list of nominees. The system stipulates that all executive, legislative and judicial powers are vested on the king, rendering parliament answerable to him and banning all forms of political activity outside the drawn up system.

Some analysts have said that the complicated Tikundla system is undemocratic and has resulted in some parliamentarians representing areas from which they do not come and to which they pay little attention.

Discontent over the system and the limitations of political activity have culminated in the formation of political movements, among them, Pudemo. Pudemo was formed in 1983 after the death of the current monarch’s late father, King Sobhuza II. Its aims included developing and strengthening civil rights and democratic structures in the country.

Other opposition parties which either existed before the ban or surfaced in the last few years include, the London-based Swaziland Liberation Movement (Swalimo). The Ngwane National Liberation congress (NNLC), the Ngwane Socialist Revolutionary Party (Ngwasorep), the Swaziland United Front (SUF) and the Swaziland National Front (Swanafro ).

Swanafro and the SUF have joined the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) in un-banning themselves” whilst the other parties have promised to move back into the country gradually.

King Mswati Ill has reacted to the growing pressure for political reforms by appointing a committee to find out the views of the people on the matter and also to look into ways of reforming the Tinkunda system. The committee, called Vusela 11. is named after a similar unsuccessful committee which was appointed last year. It is expected to report on public opinion and table recommendations of its mm to the king within a few months.

The committee has, however, had problems in arranging its first meetings because the king had appointed its members in their individual capacities. At least four of the members turned out to be leaders of the opposition political movements which do not recognise Vusela II.

The move by the king to appoint these individuals to the committee remains debatable in some political circles and analysts argue that the King is using the appointments as a ploy to divide the opposition.

Those chosen for the 11-member committee include Pudemo’s fonner treason trialist and current national organising secretary, Mandia Hlatshwayo, whose acceptance of the appointment may fuel resentment from other Pudemo members totally opposed to the committee.

There is also Human Rights Association of Swaziland (Humaras) president, Michael Mukombe, as well as established political figure. Arthur Khoza, who has publicly opposed the Tinlamdla system and called for its review. There nevertheless is a significant number of conservatives who are determined to retain the monarch and the traditional way of government.

Pudemo has dismissed Vusela 11 as a waste of money and alleged that the scrapping of the Independence Constitution in 1973 and introduction of the Tinkundla arc the root of the country’s problems. The movement has called for a referendum on the issue of the continuation of the system.

Swaziland’s estimated 800 000 people, currently hard-hit by the drought crippling the whole of the sub region and the economic recession associated with it, await the views of the various political parties as they seek constitutional change.

In the meantime police in Swaziland have not taken any action against the political parties or the youths And say that they have not been asked to do so by the government. The government, led by Prime Minister Mfanyana Dlamini, has chosen to take a wait-and-see attitude while awaiting orders from the king and his advisory council. (SARDC)