Land is power in eSwatini

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By Peter Kenworthy

A new Amnesty International report focuses on forced evictions of poor farmers in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) carried out by local police.   

Land and forced evictions are central to eSwatini’s undemocratic system, says an activist who grew up in eSwatini’s rural areas.

“Land is life”, a new Amnesty International report on forced evictions in eSwatini called “They don’t see us as people” declares. This is to be taken very literally in the small absolute monarchy, as “the majority of the population rely on substance farming” to feed themselves.

The forced evictions are a symptom of “a deeper, underlying problem” as they violate international and regional human rights law, Amnesty International clearly states in the report. But the issue of land is also central to the power of eSwatini’s absolute monarch.

“The discussion about land ownership in eSwatini has been suppressed for too long. The evictions in eSwatini are not just a legal limitation but are central to the country’s undemocratic and irresponsible political system,” says activist Bheki Dlamini.

Dlamini has a degree in Public Administration from Bergen University, but grew up in Mpofu in the rural areas of Northern eSwatini.

 

Unlawful evictions

The Amnesty International report focuses on two cases of forced eviction, both of which are unlawful and constitute a gross violation of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing, according to the organisation.

In the Malkerns, 60 people, 33 of them children, were evicted without warning in April. 

They had been living on the land since 1956, they told Amnesty International.

And in Nokwane, 180 people were evicted and their homes demolished to make way for the Royal Science and Technology Park in October 2014.

According to the report, the government had “failed to provide essential services to those affected by the forced eviction: food, potable water and sanitation, basic shelter and housing, appropriate clothing or means of livelihood” in Nokwane.

“They don’t see us as people. They left us out in the open like we were animals or something to be thrown away,” a women who had been evicted in Nokwane told Amnesty International.

 

More to come

eSwatini’s government believe they have done nothing wrong and are planning further forced evictions, even though Amnesty International recommends that they stop the evictions until legal safeguards are in place that ensure that all evictions comply with international law.

According to Amnesty International at least three other communities are facing imminent eviction later in 2018.

In a written response to a letter from Amnesty International eSwatini’s Ministry of Information claims that those evicted were squatters and that the evictions were “legal and procedurally correct and sanctioned by the court of the land”.

 

Land reform and democracy 

According to Bheki Dlamini, the problematic nature of land ownership in eSwatini has its roots in the colonial era and the power of the monarchy that followed it.

The Land Partition Act of 1907 gave most of the arable land to white settlers. 

And after eSwatini’s independence from Britain in 1968, most of the land became so-called “Swazi National Land” that is administered under unwritten customary law and thus controlled by the king.

“The confusion about land ownership is deep in eSwatini.

The Amnesty International report alludes to the fact that despite those who were evicted from their land having taken the matter to court to seek redress, the courts could not protect their rights,” Dlamini says.

He believes that land is central to the power of the monarchy, and that questioning land management is seen as a challenge to the powers of the monarchy.

“Land reform in eSwatini therefore cannot be fully addressed until a free and democratic political dispensation is in place,” Dlamini concludes. – Pambazuka News

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