Below is an article that appeared in the Swazi Times on Sunday 21st October 2012 (http://www.times.co.sz/News/80908.html).
British PM listens to Swazi ‘exiles’ By Mduduzi Magagula
MBABANE – David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) has promised unhappy Swazis living in his country that he will act on their concerns regarding mistreatment by the Swazi government.
This is arguably the very first time a sitting PM in the UK has given an official response to a petition from Swazi protestors.
About five months ago, the Swazis calling themselves ‘exiles’ asked Cameron’s office to put pressure on Swaziland to allow political reforms.
Cameron had been asked to help Swaziland to democratise and allow political parties to operate freely.
He was further petitioned to ensure that Swaziland respected freedom of the press and the rule of law. This is contained in a letter and petition written by a group of Swazis who live in the UK.
The group of ‘exiles’ asked Cameron to facilitate the suspension of Swaziland from the Commonwealth until human rights were implemented.
They identify themselves as the Swaziland Vigil group.
Swaziland Vigil holds regular demonstrations outside the Swaziland High Commission in London located at 20 Buckingham gate, in protest at alleged human rights abuses in Swaziland, among other things.
They carry placards with various slogans denouncing the Swazi government.
The group petitioned the British PM in May but they say they only received a response a few weeks ago.
"Exiled Swazis and supporters urge you to put pressure on (the Swazi government) to allow political freedom, freedom of the press, rule of law, respect for women and affordable AIDS drugs in Swaziland," reads the petition in part.
The petition was allegedly signed by the exiles and sympathisers of the group.
Cameron’s office responded to the petition, saying it would forward both the letter and petition to the Commonwealth office to make them aware of the group’s concerns.
In a letter dated May 12, from Cameron’s Direct Communications Unit, the PM’s Correspondence Officer who only provided a signature and no full name, said, "I have been asked to forward your letter and petition to the foreign and Commonwealth office, so that they too are aware of your views."
This newspaper is in possession of a copy of the letter.
The Swaziland Vigil also wrote a letter to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
"We are a group of Swazis driven into exile because of the arbitrary behaviour of government," reads their letter in part.
"In Swaziland women with HIV are reduced to eating cow dung because they do not have food yet they must have something in their stomachs for the anti- retroviral medicine they must take," reads the letter. They said political parties and political activity remained banned in the country such that people were left without a voice. "We stage a regular protest outside the Swaziland High Commission just down the road from Buckingham Palace.
We realise that your hands are tied by protocol and wish to assure you that the protests we plan are against the government of Swaziland," they said. They asked her, as the ‘Mother of the Commonwealth’, to take action so that "we can return home in freedom to a democratic country observing international human rights." Tintswalo Ngobeni, spokesperson of the group also said she had an opportunity to speak about Swaziland problems to the British Parliament.
She said in her speech, she mainly highlighted problems faced by Swazis in their own country and also about lack of opportunities especially for the youth.
The meeting was organised by Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), a well-known human rights group.
In an interview Ngobeni, who hails from Manzini, said their unhappiness stemmed from the fact that it appeared that the British monarch condoned what was happening in Swaziland’s political landscape. "We recently received a response from Cameron and we are happy that he recognised our concerns and accordingly responded. We hope action will now follow to help Swaziland democratise," she said. "We value his response because it is very rare that you receive a reply from the British government, especially on such matters."
"Our aim is to be heard. We want government to belong to all of us as Swazis and we do not want the Tinkhundla system of governance."
Let them come home – Mtiti
MBABANE – Mtiti Fakudze, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, says the Swazis who hold public protests at the Swazi embassy in Britain should come back home.
He said these citizens were stranded and probably lacked funds to purchase tickets they would use to fly back to Swaziland.
Fakudze said there was no need for them to panic and reduce their status to beggars in a foreign country when they had their own country which was peaceful.
"Why would you want to be a refugee when you have a great country like Swaziland?" he wondered.
The minister said Swaziland was full of opportunities and was ready to welcome them back.
He said Swaziland does not have people in exile.
"We have said it before. Swaziland is a peaceful country where we all live in harmony," he said.
The minister said the country was not bothered by the protest action at the UK embassy.
He said if there was something they were not comfortable with in the country, the protestors should come and have it addressed through available structures.
"We cannot allow Swazis to go on exile when their problems could be amicably resolved here," he said.
He said government was working hard to avail job opportunities to the nation and if they come back they would be integrated into the country’s employment sector.
The minister did not want to comment specifically on the fact that the UK Prime Minister’s office had received and responded to a petition from the Swazi ‘exiles.’
He insisted that the Swazis should just return home.
Minister Mtiti . . . What is in your hand? - Response from the Swaziland Vigil
We read minister Mtiti's piece in the Swazi Times on Sunday 21st October 2012, concerning the Swazi Vigil in the UK and we are disappointed at his thinking. The huge price attached to those who ignore the lessons of history is that ultimately they get punished. In leadership positions, this is even more critical.
Mtiti's argument that the people living abroad should come home is utter nonsense. What does he want them to come home to? To looting of public funds, non-payments to the elderly, non-payment of pensions, corruption, human rights abuses, impositions, wastages, huge unemployment, anarchy, Tinkhundla abuses, no palatable water ( drinking emanti netinkhomo netimbuti), poorly funded schools and hospitals to name a few. Is that what we should come home home to, Mtiti?
Mtiti does not put forward an intelligent argument – he refers to us as beggars or even stranded abroad. What we want to make clear to Mtiti is that in the United Kingdom at least we don't go to bed without food. Begging is not part of our agenda.
Swaziland is undemocratic that he knows for sure. His children know that too because they go to school abroad, and he goes to hospitals abroad, thanks to the Tinkhudla government that he serves. So who must stay in Swaziland and watch that? We therefore advise that Mtiti should not be allowed to criticise others' ideas or theses just for the sake of feeding his ego. Very often the Swazi government has come under heavy criticism from the international community, Swazi people including the Swazi Vigil – this criticism is justified. For these critics it is mainly because the Swazi government has performed below expectations. This has prompted the Swazi Vigil to be born. It is therefore no surprise we feel so disappointed at the performance of this government of which Mtiti is part, something that has prompted the opposition also to label them, "uncooked products".
How can a Foreign Affairs Minister refer to Swazi Vigil, which has been invited to deliver speeches on several occasions at the House of Commons, 10 Downing Street be classified as beggars? It looks like the minister has lost touch with reality. These may be be harsh words, but they express the profound frustrations and disillusionments of many with the way we are governed.
This Minister inspires little confidence. He lacks firmness of character, a real belief in himself and the power of the office he occupies. This much, is also plain in Mtiti because he talks just to please his boss. That is how is he is and he seems powerless to tell the truth about the whole situation.
Now that you want us to come home, what is in your hand Mtiti? When the Egyptian besieged the Israelites at the Red Sea, Moses the leader was terrified, he called on to God for immediate help, but what did God tell him? "What is in your hand" Moses found that the solution was right there with him. IT WAS THE ROD IN HIS HAND. He used it to divide the sea. He saved his people and defeated their enemies and God was honoured. So ke Mtiti wena uphetseni esandleni usifuna Ekhaya nje?
Leadership must connect and inspire followers to alleviate their doubts and meet their aspirations. Today Swaziland is in a state of paralysis and Mtiti is one of those causing it. Do we have have to borrow leaders from our neighbouring countries then, ye bekunene?
Press Release from the Swaziland Vigil – 9th September 2012
The British trade union group, the Trades Union Congress, says it is to call on the Commonwealth to suspend Swaziland because of human rights abuses. The call echoes an appeal in a petition to the Commonwealth signed by hundreds of people at a regular vigil held outside the Swaziland High Commission in London (www.swazilandvigil.co.uk).
The co-ordinator of the Swaziland Vigil, Thobile Gwebu, told a committee meeting at the Houses of Parliament (on 5th September) about the oppression by the country’s absolute ruler King Mswati III who, she said, had recently bought an airliner while his people starved. She said women were particularly victimized because they had few rights.
‘Swazis are reduced to eating cow dung so they can fill their bellies as required for the AIDS medicines provided by NGOs’, she said.
Tony Dykes, Director of the NGO Action for Southern Africa, said something must be done before the situation in Swaziland gets even worse. Polly Jones of Unison, Britain’s biggest public sector union, said workers in Swaziland had had no pay rise in years despite annual inflation now reaching 9%.
The Labour Shadow Minister for International Development, Rushanara Ali MP, said Swaziland was not being challenged enough by the outside world about its human rights record.
Speech by Thobile Gwebu, Swaziland Vigil Co-ordinator
I am the co-ordinator of the Swaziland Vigil which has been protesting outside the Swaziland High Commission in London since January 2010. We are Swazis who have had to leave our country because of the oppression there and we want to draw attention to gross violations of human rights by the current regime.
We have protested at King Mswati’s visits to London for the royal wedding and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee because of the vast expense at the cost of our lives at home.
King Mswati III is Africa’s last absolute monarch – and has, at the last count, about 13 wives. He does not represent Swazis. King Mswati was educated at Sherbourne public school in Dorset. We do not know of any other Swazis who have gone to this school and few Swazis have a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at more than $100 million.
This may be a piffling amount when compared to the greed of many African leaders, but Swazis are reduced to eating cowdung so that they can fill their bellies as required for the AIDS medicines provided by NGOs.
The same people who are eating cow dung, tend the king’s fields and build his traditional houses and are paid nothing by the rich king after such hard work, and he calls it culture. This is modern day slavery looking at me in the eye without a blink. The king has recently taken delivery of a DC-9 twin-engine aircraft claiming it was a gift from ‘anonymous sponsors’. Teachers are on the streets protesting because they haven’t been paid for months. Meanwhile he is enjoying a luxury life instead of giving a future to the young generation by investing in their education. There are no basic drugs in hospitals – patients are dying prematurely.
I ask all the leaders of the world: would you act differently? Would you keep silent and do nothing if you were in our place? Would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country? Women are oppressed to the core by King Mswati. Human rights for swazi women is something that they have heard and seen somewhere not something that they have experienced in their lives. They have no rights at all.
One might ask why I am addressing the British parliament on the Swaziland issue? Well it is about human rights. I believe they are universal and I believe wherever there are human rights abuses the world should stand as one and condemn it with one voice.
Women in Swaziland are subjected to the most horrendous levels of gender-based violence. If they are raped by their husbands they have no legal protection. There are no laws against domestic violence. On the rare occasions where a rape case ends up in court, the law even allows a rapist to claim that the victim appeared to be 16 or appeared to be a prostitute as grounds for defence or even that he married her traditionally. In 2009 research found that almost one third of women and girls aged 13 to 24 had experienced sexual violence before their 18th birthday. Another survey found that 60 per cent of men believed it was acceptable to beat their wives and that 18 per cent of women (between 13 and 44) had contemplated suicide, primarily as a result of domestic violence.
To see the discrimination facing girls you only have to open the papers. Recently in the Times of Swaziland I read comments by a minister saying that the blame for male teachers sexually abusing young girls in their care is down to the length of their skirts. A change in uniform policy would resolve this problem.
Young girls in rural areas are forced by their chiefs to attend the infamous reed dance where they dance for the King in nothing but a grass skirt so he can pick a new bride. This event which attracts thousands of tourists is not only notorious for abuse of these girls, its practices have been twisted to allow soldiers in the name of tradition to demand that girls in short skirts attending royal events remove their underwear. Many are then raped and abused.
Under traditional law a Swazi woman is always a minor, a girl, the property of her father or her husband and his family. Under the custom of Tolena she can be kidnapped, raped and married by a man and his family and her family simply informed of the wedding and paid a dowry.
Women when married are expected to live with their in laws and raise a family. What is shocking is how common abuse is. A matter that cannot be spoken about, a matter that shows a man cares – he is paying you attention. Also common is the number of women who are expected to look after their children, their in-laws, cook, clean and farm whilst their husband goes off to raise another family elsewhere. If the men return HIV positive, their wives have no right to negotiate over condom use. I spoke to a woman whose husband had returned from South Africa after ten years, living with AIDS. She had no choice but to nurse him until he died, pay for his funeral and then be chucked out of her home by her in-laws as a woman under traditional law cannot own property. Sadly this tragic story is not uncommon.
When a woman is widowed she is forced into a period of mourning for up to two and a half years during which she must wear black and is not allowed in public places. So you can lose your land, your home and be forced into a position where you cannot speak, or work but will still be expected to take on the burden of care for your extended family. In one meeting I went to eight out of ten women were looking after orphans. Hardly surprising when there are 80,000 orphans left parentless by a missing generation, lost to AIDS.
So what is the government doing? Nothing.
For the last six years the Swazi government have been kidding women’s organisations and the international community that they would reform their sexist and repressive laws. They have happily accepted funding and support from the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations to write new legislation but have no intention of implementing it.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. Be brave!
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
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