Sedition Trial

Swaziland Mario Masuku
Mario Masuku (R) faces sedition charges for allegedly calling for a multiparty democracy in Swaziland (Photo: AFP).

It is in many ways a battle between modernity and tradition. In one corner is King Mswati III who, at the age of 33, supports eight wives, 15 children, and 200 siblings, and whose taste for absolute monarchy has led him to ban opposition political parties. In the opposite corner is Mario Masuku, the leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement, who is currently facing sedition charges for allegedly calling for Mswati’s removal in favor of a multiparty democracy.

The 51-year-old Masuku, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, has been in jail since November awaiting trial for anti-monarchist comments. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. But getting his day in court is proving to be difficult. Having been subject to repeated delays, his trial finally began on Feb. 4 but was stopped abruptly on Feb. 6 when it was revealed that the presiding judge’s contract had expired in December. “I do not know why the government decided not to renew [Judge] Josiah Matsebulas’ contract in time,” Masaku’s wife Thembi told The Guardian of Swaziland (Feb. 20). “For now it looks like my husband has to suffer the consequences of mistakes by the government.”

“I don’t know what to think of the country’s judicial system anymore,” wrote a commentator in the Times of Swaziland (Feb. 7). “A High Court that has judges with questionable work contracts...and an attorney general who seeks to charge the chief justice with contempt....At the rate we are going, we may just as well be regarded as another Zimbabwe.” Despite his intolerance for political opposition, King Mswati III remains popular. But the longer Masuku languishes in prison, the more momentum his banned political party seems to be gaining.

There is no word yet on when the trial might be resumed. But for Musa Magagula, writing in the Times of Swaziland (Feb. 10), the outcome is preordained. “Whether it is finally proven that Masuku uttered seditious statements and he is convicted or released...[he] will be viewed by the international community as a symbol of an oppressive Swazi government.”