Swazi Kings and Greek Titans: Implications for Regionalism

By Liepollo Pheko · 4 Aug 2011

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Picture credit: dearkitty.blogsome.com
Picture credit: dearkitty.blogsome.com

Given the democratic deficit in Swaziland, South Africa’s 2,4 billion Rand bailout to the kingdom throws open a question about the nature and exigency of neighbourliness within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and begs some comparisons with Europe’s problem child Greece. 

Questions have been raised about the extent to which South Africa ought to have taken responsibility for bailing out Swaziland in the midst of service delivery protests, wage strikes and deep concerns about the assault on our own constitutional sanctity. 

The Swazi situation is linked to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) cuts, fiscal mismanagement and the King’s personal spending habits. 

As far back as 2008 difficulties were anticipated for several members of SACU, including Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland. This should have signalled worries for countries such as Swaziland, since the SACU revenue pool had already shown an estimated 9 billion Emalangeni shortfall for the year-end to March 2009. SACU receipts comprise up to 60% of Swaziland’s annual revenue.

According to recent reports, South Africa might also have to finance other SACU member states, including Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana, since our state would have to assume responsibility for the deficit in the SACU revenue pool.

However, on the trade front, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland have signed interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the European Union (EU), much to the frustration of South Africa and Namibia, who have deep concerns about European goods flooding our markets and have refused to sign the agreements. Implementation of the interim EPAs could strongly undermine the customs union, as South Africa and Namibia would need to enforce border controls to prevent leakage of interim EPA goods into our markets. South Africa could also decide to go its own way on trade issues since SACU’s common negotiating mechanism is weak. This might lead to SACU’s ultimate dissolution.

If this were to happen the bailout question would be even more complex.  

Moreover, in light of both Swaziland and Zimbabwe voting against South Africa getting a seat at the United Nations Security Council, what impact does and should this have on our government’s decision to bailout the Swazi Kingdom? It certainly calls into question the assumption of inherent loyalty among SADC nations. 

Perhaps there are lessons to be drawn from the Greek Titans, as we struggle with the limits of our own sense of regionalism.

Greece‘s austerity measures have been marked by tumultuous protests as its aggrieved citizens make it clear that their lifestyles, incomes and basic needs are not the collateral for Greece’s shoddy financial management. The first bailout amounted to helping Greece raise 30 billion Euros from global debt markets. Big sisters Austria and Germany were and remain particularly vocal and have vowed that Greece will not be “let off the hook.” They made good on their word by removing Greece’s national sovereignty over their tax and budget vote last year. Some German hardliners even suggested that Greece’s vote on any matters in the EU be entirely removed until their financial house is in order.

Striking in this is the clear tribalism between northern, southern and eastern Europeans and the sense that northern Europeans clearly remain class prefects. Perhaps another reason for Greek citizens’ unbridled disgust.

A trip through memory lane reminds us that a lot of the original EU did not fancy Portugal, Greece and Spain as ‘viable’ members of the ex-colonialists’ club.  What they do now recognize, despite their intra-regional tribalism, is that their fates are tied together and that the contagion could take the Eurozone into almost irreversible crisis. As one writer put it, “left untreated the cancer can spread and engulf the entire organism.” It is not a pretty analogy and by all means underscores latent family problems in the EU.

What is most striking is that both regions, the SADC and the EU, espouse principals of neighbourliness and cohesion. However, both have failed to reach a collective or cohesive agreement on how to handle their problem children. Unconditional family love seems to be a costly exercise reported the Boston Globe. A hundred and fifty five billion Euros have been committed through gritted teeth to avert a “political crisis with economic implications.” Since Greece sits on the cusp of Turkey, the Balkans and the Middle East, it is a geopolitical nugget, however costly. Observers agree that its plum geographical position may have precipitated premature membership to the EU.  

Swaziland is not a geopolitical nugget in the same way that Greece is. It is, however, part of the complex and often intertwined history of the SADC and offers insight into the symbiotic relationship of the SADC countries. Ever since the transition of the frontline states into the SADC, it has been a critical and reciprocal relationship based on a shared history, mutual trade, investment and economic interests, historical intra regional migration and notably, the historical collective effort to remove South Africa from the grasp of its own brand of colonialism, apartheid. Very importantly, much of the bedrock of today’s South African economy stands on about one hundred years of migrant labour mainly from Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

There is no escaping the symbiotic relationship between the economies of SACU. If Swaziland sinks, the geo-economic fallout will inevitably reverberate across the region, as Zimbabwe’s has over the last decade.

Thus, it can be appreciated that Swaziland cannot and should not be abandoned by South Africa.

However, it is disappointing to note that support has been given without severe condemnation of and calls for the immediate reform of the country’s absolute monarchy - an archaic and unjust system of authority wholly unsuited to our modern democratic era where freedom and justice is cherished.

Attempts by spirited Swazi social movements to evoke an Arab spring have been quashed by state sanctioned police force. The anger of the Swazi people is as much about the democratic deficit as it is about extravagant Royal expenditure.

As a democracy, South Africa’s solidarity should lie with the democratic aspirations of the people of Swaziland, and not with the country’s overlord. Our efforts ought to be more strongly directed towards ending Swaziland’s antiquated system of governance that violates people’s basic human rights.

While one might not in essence agree with the principal of cuts to social spending in an era of rising unemployment and inequality, the EU has taken the Greek bailout as an opportunity to dispense some “tough love” to a troubled family member by demanding that Greece reduce social spending in return for the bailout. Similarly, this should have been the opportunity for South Africa to make strong demands on Swaziland regarding fiscal reform, police brutality, suppression of opposition politics, and most importantly constitutional reform regarding the monarchy.

By attaching vague and minimal conditions to the Swaziland bailout, is the South African government not condemning the people of Swaziland to an extended future of bondage as “royal subjects” under a repressive kleptocracy?

Liepollo Lebohang Pheko is Executive Director at NGO/think-tank, the Trade Collective and is Africa co-convener of the World Dignity Forum.

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Malose wa ga Mothabela
6 Aug

Sinister Loan

The fact that the loan was negotiated in secrecy and that the IMF refused to lend Swaziland any money makes one think otherwise. The closeness of the Zulu monarch to the President and the fact that the monarch is related to the Swazi king, coupled with the fact that the president is also married there, leaves much to be desired. Someone please dig deep into the whole thing, we might be suprised about what we find.

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