Swaziland turned to South Africa for a loan request. The two countries concluded and signed a R2.4 billion loan agreement in June 2012. South Africa had built in key conditions to the loan agreement including a demand for an inclusive political dialogue and economic reforms. Swaziland indicated in January 2013 that they would no longer pursue the loan. For South Africa, the loan was still on the table only if Swaziland implemented the required conditions and submitted documents like a loan book as requested by National Treasury and Reserve Bank.

Date published on SAFPI: 
Monday, 4 March, 2013
Date published on source: 
Wednesday, 27 February, 2013
Source organisation: 
Parliamentary Monitoring Group

Current political situation in Swaziland: DIRCO briefing

Cape Town:   The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) briefed the Committee on the current political situation in Swaziland. The briefing was undertaken by DIRCO Director General Ambassador Jerry Matjila, assisted by Ms Liezel Castleman, Director: DIRCO.

In 1973 political parties were banned in Swaziland by decree. In 2006 political parties were banned in terms of its constitution. This led to an escalation in tension in Swaziland. There was a call for the unbanning of political parties. The Swaziland authorities passed anti-terrorism legislation and clamped down on unrest. The political unrest in Swaziland has caught the attention of the international community and South Africa has been called upon to assist Swaziland in dealing with its challenges.

Apart from the fact that Swaziland’s currency was pegged to the South African Rand and thereby subsumed the country’s monetary policy to South Africa, Swaziland received 85% of its imports from South Africa and sent almost 74% of its exports to South Africa.

The economic crisis presented a serious challenge to the country’s stability as evidenced by strikes. The 2008/9 global economic crisis has had a severe impact on the country’s economy. This was followed by a dramatic reduction of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) revenue allocations during the financial year 2010/11.

For example, Swaziland had received a R1.9 billion revenue allocation in 2010/11 compared to R5.1 billion in 2009/10. For 2012/13, the SACU revenue allocation to Swaziland increased to R7.1 billion, thus cushioning the country from a potential economic collapse. However, this may not be sufficient to cover all government expenditure as well as previous financial commitments.

In response to this situation, Swaziland has since approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain financial assistance. The IMF has made a set of recommendations to the Swazi authorities. Swaziland had subsequently developed an intervention strategy called the Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap (FAR).

 However, the Kingdom had implemented only a few recommendations, namely the collection of tax and the introduction of VAT and a fuel levy. Swaziland had not met the key targets set by the IMF for the implementation of FAR which was the reduction of the wage bill by reducing and freezing salary increases and also merging certain ministries. Another requirement was to reduce the King’s household spending.

Swaziland turned to South Africa for a loan request. The two countries concluded and signed a R2.4 billion loan agreement in June 2012. South Africa had built in key conditions to the loan agreement including a demand for an inclusive political dialogue and economic reforms. Swaziland indicated in January 2013 that they would no longer pursue the loan. For South Africa, the loan was still on the table only if Swaziland implemented the required conditions and submitted documents like a loan book as requested by National Treasury and Reserve Bank.

Swaziland was the only Southern African Development Community (SADC) country where political parties were banned.  Not withstanding the security clampdown, the banned political parties were expected to continue calling for democratisation. They were expected to call for the boycott of the elections expected to be conducted during the second half of 2013.

From the foregoing, it seemed that Swaziland would continue to face severe political and economic challenges which admittedly the country may not be able to overcome on its own. Therefore, there was a need for some external support by way of mediation or facilitation from SADC preferably. South Africa would also need to consider an engagement strategy to help Swaziland overcome its political challenges.

Discussion

Mr Sulliman had a suspicion that Swaziland received assistance from abroad. The problems of Swaziland directly affected South Africa. How could Swaziland be convinced to unban political parties? Ambassador Matjila said that perhaps an option was to use the SACU arrangement as a bargaining chip. A solution could be found whilst still taking the monarchy into consideration. Lesotho for example was a democracy but the king was still supreme. There were many options that could be discussed.

Ms Castleman did not wish to speculate whether Swaziland received financial help from abroad. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to the tune of an R2.4bn loan had already been signed by Swaziland with conditions. Some financial reforms and political issues were accepted in the MOU.

Ms Jacobus said that if Swaziland was dependant on the SACU Budget could it not be pressurized to unban political parties. Why was the offer of the loan to Swaziland still on the table? Why did South Africa not withdraw the loan? Ambassador Matjila noted that South Africa stuck to its commitments. Swaziland was after all its neighbour. The loan was still on the table with the conditions attached to it. The question was how the move was to be made towards a constitutional monarchy.  

Mr Davidson considered Swaziland to be a renegade state. The Constitution of South Africa encouraged democracy. Why did South Africa follow the approach that it did with Swaziland? He commented that South Africa had not followed the same approach with Zimbabwe. South Africa needed to be consistent. DIRCO had nevertheless been consistent thus far. Ambassador Matjila responded that Members themselves needed to debate the issue of South Africa being more consistent.

Mr Shah noted that his constituency was close to the Swaziland border. It was common practice for Swazis to cross the border into South Africa to collect social grants and pensions. Why should South Africa take care of Swazis when their own king did not care about them? Why was the king even tolerated?

Ambassador Matjila explained that South Africa had an arrangement with its neighbours. Where people who had lived and worked in South Africa moved back to countries like Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia, they would be allowed to collect their pensions in South Africa. The concept of dual citizenship was not only European; many Swazis had dual citizenship and hence could collect pensions. The broader issue needed to be looked at. 

Mr Skosana pointed out that if an inclusive political dialogue was to be had with Swaziland a special envoy of people with different interests were needed. It was true that Swaziland was a collapsing state but other institutions like the monarchy had to be taken into consideration.

The Chairperson emphasised that there was no contradiction in having a constitutional monarchy and a democracy. The Committee supported the conditions set out in the MOU between South Africa and Swaziland. He remarked that the King of Swaziland had in his state of the nation address mentioned the political instability in Swaziland only twice. It was concerning how the king dealt with civil and political issues. South Africa was directly affected by what happened in Swaziland.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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