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Speaking my mind

by .

Pic of Bheki Makhubu this month taking issue with the Prime MinisterOn April Fool’s Day, the country’s editors met the for what was supposed to be the usual monthly breakfast meeting. It had been five months since we had last held a meeting with the premier when we met on the day.

I must say that I left that meeting quite thoroughly depressed. Two things disappointed me. The first was what I understood to be a threat by the prime minister towards this publication.

The other was our attitude as journalists, government officials and cabinet ministers towards how the prime minister has chosen to approach this country’s financial and political problems. Let me start with the second point. The prime minister’s response to the problems facing this country was very flippant. He really, truly and honestly does not understand why some of us are worried about the present state of affairs. He told editors that Swaziland does not have a financial crisis but is faced with challenges. He sees his government as a victim of world economic circumstances, a storm we should all ride and hope for the best.

While he was still waving the Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap as the solution to our problems, what got me concerned was that he created the impression that he still holds on to the old political rule in this country that those in authority know best what is good for us.

This, despite that as the country’s longest serving prime minister he has presented on King Mswati III’s 25 year as the monarch a country that is dead in the water.

In 2005, I was at a similar meeting in London where then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, fielded questions from local and international journalists about England’s plans to help Africa. I must say, the attitudes between the two prime ministers towards matters of public interest cannot even be compared. Our prime minister does not see why he should explain, in clear detail, with a measure of seriousness, what government really intends to do to get us out of this mess.

Tony Blair spoke to journalists with an attitude I have never seen before. He seemed to appreciate the fact that an informed public is important in executing government policy and that people are not just pawns in an agenda set up by a few people who have the privilege of running a country.

Much sadder, though, was our reaction as journalists, editors and Swazis to the charade the prime minister was running. There were not many of us in that conference room at the Mountain Inn Hotel. There were also government officials, both senior and junior and cabinet ministers in well attended numbers.

If you were to use those numbers to gauge the feelings of Swazis towards the problems we are faced with, then I will say that we don’t seem to want to deal with this mess.

As the prime minister dismissed one question after another with his flippant attitude, I got the sense that we were happy to get the assurance from him that things were not as bad as we believe.

We seemed desperate to believe that all the rules of economics, finance and mathematics which tell us this country is on a downward spiral were not true. All we needed was someone of the premier’s standing to reassure us. He did and we were happy.

Now, the issue of the threat. Essentially, the prime minister told me that we should tone down our writing. At face value, this sounds like an innocuous statement. However, because I was already in the media and a newspaper editor when Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini took over as prime minister in 1996, I know this was a threat.

When King Mswati III appointed him premier on October 16 2008 I walked away from the cattle byre at Ludzidzini with a knot in my stomach. Among many reasons, I had the feeling I would not last long as a journalist in the five years he would hold office.

You see, the prime minister and I have a history. Whenever he has been in office I have lost my job, been arrested and he has had this magazine banned. That’s just how he and I engage in discourse.

I have a feeling that the countdown to him to fire another salvo at me has begun. With his words on Friday, April 1 2011 he was simply giving me notice for things to come.

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