Another SADC summit to discuss a national dialogue in Eswatini is cancelled

King Mswati would only attend the Pretoria summit virtually, so the other presidents called it off.

Regional efforts to resolve the crisis in Eswatini hit another major stumbling block this week when a second summit intended to discuss a national political dialogue in the troubled kingdom was cancelled at the last moment. 

Ministers and officials had been meeting for days to prepare the summit of the security organ of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for this Thursday, which would have been chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who currently heads the security organ. 

Sources said Eswatini’s King Mswati had at the last moment said he could only participate virtually, but the other members of the SADC security organ troika, including Ramaphosa, Namibian President Hage Geingob and Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Mswati on such an important issue. 

And so the summit was officially “postponed”, but with no indication of whether it would take place later, or when. Swazi opposition forces are furious and have demanded that SADC step up the pressure on Mswati to negotiate.  

Previous pull-out

In April, Mswati also pulled out of a planned SADC summit to discuss the national political dialogue, which he had agreed to in principle in a meeting with Ramaphosa in Eswatini last November.

Just before the April summit was due, he told South Africa that he was not yet ready to attend the meeting as he first needed to consult further with his own people about the draft terms of reference — or draft framework — for the national political dialogue that SADC had produced.  

It seems very likely that he pulled out of this week’s summit for the same reason. The “Draft Framework for Inclusive Multi-Stakeholder National Dialogue in the Kingdom of Eswatini” provides for Mswati and his government to hold an “inclusive” dialogue with all political stakeholders. It strongly suggests this should include political parties which are now banned.

Mswati and his ministers suggested over the past few months that they would only enter into a national dialogue within the “Sibaya” format; the traditional forum where the king engages with his subjects in his palace and on his terms.

The political and civil society opposition in Eswatini made it clear that they would not participate in a Sibaya as they believe it is a format for a monologue and allows the king to control the discussion. They demanded a proper dialogue under neutral SADC supervision.

SADC’s draft framework accepts the role of Sibaya and the Eswatini Parliament as a basis for the dialogue, but proposes going further. Officials said Mswati clearly feared that he would lose control of the process if this happened.

SADC criticism

The SADC framework was also sharply critical of Mswati’s government for failing to address many of the issues and grievances that erupted in the worst-yet violence in the country in June last year when about 100 people, mostly protesters, were killed and many government and business buildings were destroyed or damaged.  

It was this violence that prompted SADC to become involved and to send several delegations to Eswatini to meet the government, the opposition and other players last year to discuss a way out of the growing political crisis. Among the grievances that sparked the violence was the death of student Thabani Nkomonye — allegedly at the hands of the security forces — as well as a government ban on Swazi citizens petitioning their members of parliament over issues.

The government arrested two MPs who had supported the right of their constituents to petition them and charged a third MP who had fled the country. The violence continued to simmer and then flared up again in October last year.

Ramaphosa, acting as the chair of SADC’s security organ, then sent a SADC mission led by former Cabinet minister Jeff Radebe to investigate. It found there had been “no substantive progress” by the government to implement its commitments to investigate the deaths and injuries in the June 2021 violence. It also found that the delivery of petitions to MPs by their constituents remained banned.

Radebe’s delegation reported an “overwhelming call from stakeholders and the international community” for a national dialogue, but little support for Sibaya as the appropriate structure for this dialogue.

SADC’s draft framework was produced in February. It envisaged a timetable for the national dialogue, starting with an announcement in April by Eswatini’s prime minister to Parliament or to the nation, of the start of a “pre-dialogue” in which the participants in the dialogue proper would be identified.

During May, a Multi-Stakeholder National Dialogue Committee would have been established, would have begun its plenary assembly and would have adopted and implemented its decisions or recommendations. None of this has happened.

Call to increase pressure on Mswati

After Thursday’s summit was cancelled, Thulani Maseko, the head of Eswatini’s Multi-Stakeholder Forum which is coordinating political and civil society forces pushing for a proper national political dialogue, called on SADC to increase pressure on Mswati to negotiate.

“It is clear that we are dealing with a king and government that are self-serving,” he told Daily Maverick

“A leader and government that have neither regard nor respect for the people that he rules with an iron fist. He also is treating the leadership of the region and the world with sheer and utter contempt. He is rendering SADC as an ineffective organ.

“While we, the people of Swaziland, are determined to continue the struggle for our liberation, the fundamental question is: what will SADC do to call the king to his proper senses?

“It appears that the king is equally committed to let the country slip into a violent civil conflict and to destabilise the region.

“Tomorrow we will continue with our planned march to the SA High Commission [in Eswatini] to deliver a petition to impress on the SADC organ’s chair to be decisive in dealing with the Swaziland question.

“The King and his tinkhundla [traditional government] regime must not be allowed to hold everybody [to] ransom. We appeal to the SADC leaders and the global community to step up pressure towards future dialogue.” DM


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