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Pastoral Letter on the Current Situation in Swaziland

Pastoral Letter on the Current Situation in Swaziland
12 March 1996

The week - long stay-away of January is still very fresh in our memories. It was a week of suffering and pain for us all. It did not matter whether we were workers on strike, employers, members of government or simply ordinary citizens not directly involved in the events of that week: we were all affected in one way or another.

We need to reflect on why the stay-away took place and on what has happened since then. The stay-away was essentially a clash between government and workers. The workers and many other ordinary citizens of Swaziland are saying that they are not happy with the government. They are demanding that the Swazi government, as with all governments, must work and care for the good of the people. The workers are demanding reform in the economy so that they can earn just wages and fair conditions of employment. They are also demanding reform in political life. They want free political activity and a multi-party democracy as the original constitution guarantees. They want a constitution suited to the democratic needs of modern Swaziland.

Some people may find it strange that a pastoral letter from their bishop deals with what they may regard as politics. They say that the Church should keep to the Gospel. But the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus is a Gospel about love and unity, justice and peace among people. Unity, justice and peace should be the aim of all political activity. It is the duty of Church leaders to point this out and to promote this Gospel understanding of politics. It is not the Church's responsibility to get involved in the exercise of political power. But the Church has a duty to comment on how political power is exercised and on what is happening in the social and economic spheres. That is why this letter has been written. The members of the Church are also responsible citizens of Swaziland. Christians cannot run to Church and stand aside from current events. If they are ordinary citizens they must say if they are not happy with the way they are governed. If they are politicians they have a duty to listen to the voice of the people.

We are thankful that it was decided to put off another stay-away pending the outcome of talks among government, business and workers. We welcome the discussions that are taking place among these three parties on the 27 issues that the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) has laid before the government. We again want to encourage the parties to continue along the line of genuine negotiations about the future. A very heavy responsibility lies on them to work for a solution that will promote lasting peace and prosperity in our land. On those issues where it is difficult to reach agreement all parties must commit themselves publicly to independent mediation. The common good of all Swaziland's people demands this. Government, business and the SFTU can rely on the assistance of the Church, and indeed on that of all people of goodwill, as long as there is a genuine effort to find a just solution to the problems that exist.

Two paths lie ahead of us. In the words of the Prophet Jeremiah "Look, I offer you a choice between the way of life and the way of death" (Jer. 21. 8). The way of death lies in a stubborn adherence to the status quo regardless of the consequences. This path will inevitably lead to further confrontation, violence and further loss of life. The way of life lies in realistic negotiations leading to a new dispensation for all in our land. The negotiations process must not be allowed to fail.

We all long for peace and prosperity. We also acknowledge the state's responsibility to ensure the security of society and its members by morally acceptable means. However the basis for security and peace can only be justice. Peace is the fruit of justice. There will be no lasting peace in our land unless solutions are sought and found that are both just and promote the common good of Swaziland as it struggles to honour its traditions but also to find its place in the modern world.

People in a modern society want to live in a democracy. Democracy places control of political power in the hands of all the people of a country so that they can, together with leaders of their choice, begin to realise their hopes and aspirations. Democracy also allows people to take part freely in the economy. It allows people to run business and to make a profit. It allows workers to form trade unions to protect their rights. A well-run democracy also makes provisions for its poor and vulnerable people, especially children and the aged. Justice is needed in the economic and social spheres, as well as in the political. Recent years have seen country after country espouse democratic government. In our own region South Africa and Malawi have done this successfully. The concept of a one party state has given way to that of multi-party democracies as has happened in Zimbabwe and Moçambique. What of Swaziland? What is our future? The present authorities will not be able to put this issue off indefinitely. The people of our land deserve and are owed a clear commitment on the part of the authorities to the establishment of a truly democratic form of government within the foreseeable future. A clear time-frame is essential. The aspirations of people cannot be satisfied by promises that are indefinite.

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council which took place more than thirty (30) years ago said "One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom." In today's world democracy is not a privilege that governments can give to or withhold from the people they are there to serve. It must be a choice of the people themselves.

As we enter this critical time in the life of our nation I urge you all to pray without ceasing for those in positions of leadership. May God grant them the wisdom to see and understand what is required of them in our country today and the courage and strength to do what is required to promote that peace and prosperity that is the ardent desire of us all. We pray in a very special way for His Majesty, King Mswati III. On his shoulders rests enormous responsibility. We assure him of our loyalty. His position as our King is not in dispute. We pray that he will be able to guide our nation to lasting peace and stability.

Issued by: SACBC President
& Bishop Ncamiso Louis Ndlovuof Manzini