Swaziland
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STATE AND THE CHURCH

Government must hang its head in shame that, while it is still procrastinating and undecided over the decriminalisation of cannabis because of its inherent fatuous habit of always wanting to reinvent the wheel, neighbouring South Africa is reported to have issued a permit to a liSwati to commercialise the herb for the production of a drug for the treatment of HIV that mankind has to date failed to find a cure for more than three decades since the first case of HIV was diagnosed in the world.

As a result Sol Dlamini told this newspaper’s sister publication, Eswatini News, that his company, The Fish Face, intended to employ a staggering 17 000 people for the project. Meanwhile, the Eswatini Government is still struggling to untangle itself from colonial-era legislation that criminalised the production and use of cannabis and, therefore, making it impossible for the kingdom to participate in the close to E100 billion – and growing – global cannabis industry. While the domestic cannabis industry is striving in the black market, government is expending thousands of tax Emalangeni trying to root it out, culminating in millions of Emalangeni-worth of the herb being destroyed annually thus robbing the kingdom of a rich source of revenue to drive the national development agenda not to speak of creating a better life for ordinary emaSwati.

As I see it, were government’s performance in developing this country since independence to be compared to its handling of cannabis decriminalisation and exploitation for medicinal, cosmetic and other purposes outside recreation, it would not be farfetched to arrive at the conclusion that it has not been catalytic but a barrier to unleashing the economic potential of this country. Were it otherwise, Eswatini should have been ahead in creating an enabling environment for exploiting the herb for its 1 001 uses to spur economic growth and development. The massive economic benefits of cannabis need no emphasis, hence government’s posture is baffling yet this country occupies a pride of place among the beggar nations of the world.

Using the cannabis prism to determine government’s performance in the overall governance and development of this country and the people exponential to the outlay of resources since independence in 1968, it does not require rocket science to come to the only conclusion that it has failed with an underwhelming performance. It is, therefore, not surprising that today we are facing possible load-shedding because this country, a whole of just 17 360 square kilometres in size with a negligible population – measured against its resources, including minerals – of just 1.2 million people, is almost entirely dependent on imported electricity. I dare not mention food insecurity, grinding poverty, runaway unemployment, an inadequate and crumbling road infrastructure, the list is simply infinite. Government has failed emaSwati in all of 55 years of independence, hence economic independence remains a dream.

Chosen

As I see it, this apparent underperformance can correctly be attributable to the architecture of the body politic introduced since 1973 that essentially excluded from the national intellectual pool all emaSwati opposed to the new political order or not sired from the right stock (bom’sawabani). Consequently, the chosen few have, out of necessity for self-preservation, selected to embed a culture of mediocrity constructed on a foundation of praise singing, groveling, etc, that is not only celebrated to this day but richly rewarded with positions of great responsibility. The outcome of this was, and is, predictable and is called bad governance leading to stunted economic development that has birthed poverty, disease, wide scale unemployment and other social ills. It is in fact this cocktail of failures that, nuanced by the emergence of the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020, underwrote the June 2021 political explosion in the form of pro-multiparty democracy protests that was followed by an orgy of reprisal killings of protesters by the State.  

The one thing that remained untouched by the 1973 Decree, the King’s Proclamation that criminalised political pluralism as represented by the existence of political parties and further outlawed fundamental human rights and freedoms, was religion or the church. EmaSwati could still pursue their religious beliefs and worship as they pleased post the 1973 Decree. But that is about to change in the face of an announcement by Home Affairs Minister Princess Lindiwe that government was finalising a policy that will regulate the operations of the church. We should be very afraid! Admittedly there is a lot of rot in many of today’s churches, especially the so-called charismatic churches, where fraudsters, conmen and other criminals hide under the cloak of ministers, pastors and the many other biblical titles they have christened themselves with. These churches are about money and wealth, subjects that are the mainstay of gospel and ministering while some are simply registered as companies. And companies are established for the sole purpose of making money and profits.

The emergence of these churches was pioneered by foreigners who arrived to a virgin territory and quickly built their wealth from the sweat of their congregants. All they preached was the gospel of wealth, wealth and more wealth. With no interventions coming from the authorities then to stop the rot before it became cancerous, floodgates opened for more foreign tricksters parading as men of the cloth flocking into the country to turn their economic fortunes around. And in no time they were driving in the latest sports utility vehicles (SUVs) while their congregants were dug deeper into poverty. Not to be left out in what had transformed into get-rich-quick schemes, locals soon followed suit and established their own churches for the express purpose of profiteering.

But does the fact that the church has lost its path justify government’s objective of regulating how we ought to worship God? This is a question church leaders and everyone else should be preoccupied in finding an answer to. As it were the lives of emaSwati are already over regulated, including an increasing number of professional pursuits. Over regulation tends to interfere with the private lives of individuals and I am not sure if this is what emaSwati want. As I see it, while regulation of sorts may be desirable when people are being abused but only if this was a democracy and not the unique democracy of the Tinkhundla Political System, in which the exercise of one’s inalienable human rights and freedoms constitutes the high crimes of subversion and terrorism. The Church and the State were never meant to enjoy a cosy relationship because if and when that happened, this meant the former (church) had strayed from its path.