- Following royal orders, Swaziland's Prime Minister Bheki Dlamini has banned the regional Southern African Social Forum (SASF), to be hold in the kingdom later this week. The King feared the regional civil rights meeting could become "destabilising" for the monarchy.
The Social Forum is a regional version of the World Social Forum, the world’s biggest space for civil society organisations and peoples of the world to reflect on the challenges facing humanity and the share experiences, so as to develop a concrete way forward. It is a people’s parliament, where regional activists from all over Southern Africa were to gather to plan joint action and develop common platforms.
Swaziland's absolute monarch, Mswati III, however ordered the cancellation of the event at short notice as it became clear that many organisations being critical to his regime would attend. The Forum was to be held on Thursday, coinciding with the day scheduled for Mswati's appointment of a new government following last month's "elections".
The banning of the regional event today caused outrage among Southern African civil society organisations, demonstrating solidarity with their repressed counterparts in Swaziland. Most vocal was South Africa's trade union - affiliated to the ruling ANC party - telling the Swazi Consular General "siyaya Eswaziland!" ("We are definitely going to Swaziland!") in a open letter. Also two Swazi trade unions, SFTU and SUDF, signed the petition against "this act of desperation by an internationally discredited regime."
According to these trade unions, other Southern African civil society organisations and the ANC Youth League, the banning of the Social Forum was "consistent with the regime's historical record of silencing workers and the poor people of Swaziland, which has been the case since 1973 when king Sobhuza II banned political parties and criminalised all political activities, thus monopolising all political power and access to public decision-making as the exclusive preserve of the royal family."
The organisations promised to take action against King Mswati's regime. The organisations urged all participants to defy the ban and travel to Swaziland as planned, while Swazi groups are to try the ban in court. COSATU is meeting Swazi unions as part of a long standing plan for a boycott campaign against goods destined to Swaziland, scheduled for the period of 27 October to 1 November. Further, trade unions promised to put pressure on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to ban Swazi officials from important positions in the regional body.
For the Swazi government, the Forum indeed comes at a delicate timing as regional and international focus had turned on to the kingdom after the poor holding of elections. The 19 September polls were widely condemned as highly manipulated and "a parody", resulting in the total loss of confidence in King Mswati's announced democratisation scheme. In Swaziland, trade unions have represented the strongest challenge to the King's totalitarian rule, triggering solidarity from COSATU and other regional trade union movements.
King Mswati thus expected the Forum to become a nucleus of protest against his announcement of a new government on Thursday, ordering PM Dlamini to ban it. Mr Dlamini yesterday issued a statement, saying that is was "of the view of the Swaziland government that the hosting of the meeting in the country will not be in national interest, and will compromise peace, security and stability of the kingdom of Swaziland."
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