William Dared to Challenge the King
Not many Swazis dare to criticize Swaziland’s absolute monarch openly, but 82-year-old William Mkhaliphi did, to the monarch’s face, last month. In response to this, he now suddenly faces charges under that Public Order Act and for theft.
There were many complaints about an array of issues, ranging from small grants for the elderly to cattle roaming the streets, at last month’s Sibaya People’s Parliament in Swaziland.
But the presentation of one man, 82-year-old William Mkhaliphi from Vuvulane, stood out. He actually dared to criticize the root of Swaziland’s problems, absolute monarch King Mswati III, and the land, economic, and social policies that he dictates, that keep two-thirds of the population in desperate poverty, in front of thousands of people and the monarch himself.
All lands and farms are for the king
“Even today the king has everything to himself, all lands and farms are for the King,” Mkhaliphi told king Mswati and the thousands attending the Sibaya People’s Parliament last month—an event that, according to Swaziland’s constitution, is the “highest policy and advisory council” in Swaziland, and according to the monarch an important part of what he refers to as “Swazi democracy.”
“Where is the land for ordinary Swazis? We had an agreement with the late king Sobhuza II [Mswati’s father,] but the current king has dispossessed us. People from Vuvulane [an impoverished part of Swaziland’s sugar belt] have been evicted because the Queen Mother has designated land for construction of a new town, people have had their water supply cut, which has destroyed the food crops,” he continued.
And he added impetus to his words by telling the king; “I fear no-one. Even if you kill me after this I am fine.”
Evicted from his land
Mkhaliphi has himself been evicted from his land, he told Afrika Kontakt last week, and has been falsely accused of stealing farming equipment belonging to the Royal Swaziland Sugar Company (RSSC)—the same company that facilitated the eviction of himself and others in Vuvulane that Mkhaliphi had complained about at Sibaya. He also faces charges under the Public Order Act for criticizing Mswati during Sibaya.
In 2014, about 30 farmers and residents from Vuvulane learnt that land they had farmed and lived on for decades had been sold to the RSSC and that they had to vacate it or face forced eviction.
Mkhaliphi, and the other small-scale farmers that Afrika Kontakt spoke to, said that the RSSC has systematically bullied small-scale farmers in the region, amongst other things by closing down their water supply and refusing to honor agreements whereby the company would buy their sugar cane.
The small-scale farmers say that the reason for the actions of the RSSC is to enable the company to force them away from land that they have occupied and cultivated legally for over 50 years.
“Farmers were granted this land for cultivation of sugar cane by King Sobhuza II. But the ruling of the courts in this matter has been ignored by both the government and the RSSC, who continue to evict small-scale farmers from their land,” Mkhaliphi told Afrika Kontakt.
An old activist
William Mkhaliphi says he and the other small-scale farmers will not budge, and that they are organizing a march to Swaziland’s High Court to seek justice for the wrongdoings of the RSSC and the Swazi government. He insists that he is not afraid of any response from the government or the sugar company, as it is not the first time he has tried to get the attention of them or the king.
In 2011, local newspaper, the Times of Swaziland, reported that the Vuvulane Farmers Association, led by Mkhaliphi and Mpisi Dlamini, had sought audiences with Mswati, and had generally resisted attempts to evict them from their land. At the time, the newspaper quoted Mkhaliphi of saying that “the king is our only hope in this matter.”
In 2012, Mkhaliphi had also complained to Mswati about the land evictions at Sibaya, wrote the newspaper, and had told him that he was “not comfortable with the fact that a king is capable of evicting people.”
Vuvulane is an impoverished area in Swaziland’s sugar belt where many locals are employed as casual workers in the sugar cane fields and paid between 400 and 600 rand a month, not enough for medicine, proper food or school fees for their children, the workers tell Afrika Kontakt. Many subsequently survive on food aid and many local children do not go to school.
American research NGO Freedom House ranks Swaziland as the least free country of the 15 members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that Mswati has just assumed the chairmanship of, in regard to political rights and civil liberties, below countries such as DRC Congo and Zimbabwe. In 2013, Freedom House condemned “the unlawful arrests...[and] unlawful evictions” of farmers in Vuvulane. Swaziland is the only country in SADC where political parties are banned from taking part in elections.
—Afrika Kontakt, September 16, 2016