Freedom of expression highly restricted in the Kingdom of Eswatini
This week I took my time to look closely at one of the fundamental first generation freedoms and a God given right the Freedom of Expression, one authority defines freedom of Expression as follows,
“The right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing and other forms of communication but without deliberately causing harm to other’s character and /or reputation by false or misleading statements. I went on to look at the definition of the role of parliament representative, collectively different authorities unequivocally emphasize that they have an express right to represent the interests of the electorate through expressing themselves in parliament, as we all know parliament dialogues, due to differing opinions, disagreements are allowed, agreeing is allowed just as agreeing to disagree is allowed. It is a place where differing of opinions are allowed and expected, some if not most of the freedom of expressions, disagreements in views and opinions allowed in this arena, can be easily viewed as disobedience and disrespect culturally or traditionally more so where the other is younger or junior in age or authority.
I want to squarely blame the advisors of their Majesties in the latest composition of parliament, I am not about to argue numbers or quotas but I am going to attempt to show the existing conflict between fundamental rights, tradition and culture.
Culturally and traditionally as a people, we are hell-bent in overstressing respect as what defines a liswati citizen yet our definition of respect is largely interpreted in many different ways, parliamentary free habits of arguing and freely opposing views of another member, will be different if that member is a Chief, Prince or Princess than when it is an ordinary member without those birthright accreditation and birthright authority.
It is in our culture that “umuntfu lomdzala akaphindzilitwa,” “umuntfu lomdzala akabukwa emehlweni,” “Kubindvwa kubukwa,” “live liyengcayelwa,” this applies even in an ordinary Swazi house hold, they say “UMnumzane akahlinzi nebafana, “and these assertions and idioms are a deterrent to freedom of expression. It is even worse if the person is a chief because we regard chiefs as bobabe in all chiefdoms, as traditionally they retain the status of representing the extended authority of the monarch in all communities where they are in charge, as such they always have the last word and they have authority to discipline their subjects through chief’s councils. It is my opinion that the prevailing composition could have a tendency of putting a lot of pressure on the current parliament members who were elected, as there is quite a significant number of Chiefs and Nobles in the house of Assembly over and above the Nobles in the upper house (the Senate). In a situation such as this to avoid personal risks, it is easy for members to be too cautious or even engage a self-censorship mode, if this happened, the core business of the house of representatives would be seriously compromised and the electorate completely cheated.
Currently the parliament committees are dealing with various parts of the budget, but the only power they have support what they have been given by the Minister of Finance, if they refused and called for a more people focused budget, calling for the cut in the defense when we are not fighting any war and not threatened by anyone of our neighbours, why keep strengthening military? When teachers and nurses need posts it takes forever, armed forces do not have to even ask for those, government roadmap says there shall be no new recruitment but armed forces remain an exception to rule why is it so? I wish some members of parliament could ask this question from the Prime Minister.
If in the eyes of parliament the budget is fundamentally unacceptable, and need some review, I assure you, their view will not see light of day which means they will forever approve billions for the ACC and peanuts for service delivery to the people and their constituencies.
The last few weeks, the National Commissioner (NATCOM) threatened for further suppression of the freedom of expression on social media, over and above the already permanently existing denial of access to the public broadcaster the national radio and national television, a gross violation of the constitution and all other relevant international conventions to whom we are party.
The committed enthusiastic and drafters of the constitution after thorough consultation with the people on the ground from the state of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and through the Constitutional drafting phase and eventually through Sibaya and parliament we adopted a constitution that fully recognized that role of Chiefs and defined their role as defined in Section 233 of the constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini which reads thus,
Chiefs are the footstools of iNgwenyama and iNgwenyama rules through the Chiefs,
The general rule is that every umphakatsi is headed by a chief who is appointed by I Ngwenyama after the chief has been selected by lusendvo and shall vacate the office in the like manner,
A Chief as a symbol of unity and a father of the community, does not take part in partisan politics.
Tikhulu tiyinsika yeNgwenyama, futsi neNgwenyama ubusa lelive ngeTikhulu.
Umtsetfo lowejayelekile utsi wonkhe umphakatsi uphetfwe sikhulu lesibekwa yiNgwenyama emva kwekutsi lusendvo selumkhombile, sikhulu siphindze sehliswe esihlalweni ngaleyondlela.
Sikhulu njengenhloko yemmangokanyeneluphawu lokuhlanganisa sive asitingeneli tembangave.
Acknowledging that freedom of expression is a first generation right that which should be promoted and not stifled as a God given right, an international right for any democracy to function, It is my opinion and my contention as I choose to express myself using my constitutional right that the freedom of expression as desired by the constitution, has been significantly been stifled by overloading the house with the Kings representatives through Chiefs. More so that the former Prime Minister Dr. Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini led administration decided to deny parliamentarians the right to express themselves in the public broadcaster is still not lifted.
Stifling the House of Representatives is tantamount to stifling the voice and representation of the electorate who the parliament and government is expected to represent and serve primarily. I believe next time it should be a requirement for all who are given the opportunity to advise their Majesties to understand the constitution as a basic requirement. This is just my opinion as a citizen empowered by section 24 of the constitution on the freedom of Expression and section 63 on the duties of the citizen.
I bring this subject because in accordance with section 2 of the constitution the constitution is Supreme law and should be respected and upheld by all citizens and violation or deliberate defiance of the constitution is treasonous. This is a political agenda that needs a national political dialogue to be compliant with the constitution a topic that needs urgent attention.
Jan J Sithole