Bishops find lack of governance and human rights

SWAZILAND: Bishops find lack of governance and human rights


Anglican bishops on a visit to Swaziland

MBABANE, 12 Jul 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - A high-powered delegation of Anglican bishops from five nations completed a two-day fact finding tour of Swaziland at the weekend, examining issues such as constitutional reform and the high HIV/AIDS rate.

The Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane, led a delegation that included Bishop David Beetge of the Highveld (South Africa), John Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC, Brian Smith, Bishop of Edinburgh in Scotland and representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev. John Peterson, Secretary General of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Rev. James Rosenthal of the US.

Commenting on his country's controversial palace-driven constitutional reform process, Swaziland's Anglican Bishop Meshack Mabuza said: "It is not the content of the constitution that bothers us, it is the process of the constitution - it will only be legitimate if the people have a hand in the process."

King Mswati III has forbidden political opposition and human rights groups from making submissions to the Constitution Drafting Committee headed by his brother, Prince David Dlamini.

Mabuza described the trip as "more than a fact-finding mission", saying, "We seek to engage Swazis in issues of governance and AIDS. We were encouraged by the number of creative thinkers we met here - they must be listened to by government."

Bishop Dinnis Sengulane of Mozambique said: "Church groups are involved in AIDS in Swaziland, but having so many bishops come here shows the whole world is concerned."

The bishops met with Swazi civil society, diplomats, Prime Minister Themba Dlamini and Queen Mother Ntombi Dlamini. Pro-democracy groups and political opposition party representatives affiliated to the Swaziland Democratic Alliance and the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations also met with the delegation.

However, King Mswati cancelled a scheduled meeting with the bishops.

Reverend Chane said although Swaziland had a huge AIDS problem, the country did not qualify for funding from the US government and some international donor bodies because of governance and human rights failings.

"It has to do with the development of the constitution," Chane told PlusNews. "There is concern about the development of the economy, and the lack of investment confidence in the country." Swaziland's deteriorating economy also lessened government's ability to deliver health and social welfare needs in a country with the world's highest HIV prevalence rate.

Civic groups told the delegation that only a return to the rule of law would reassure investors wary of Swaziland.


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