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Engage “renowned negotiators, mediators” to End Instability in Eswatini: Catholic Bishop

Bishop Victor Hlolo Phalana of South Africa's Diocese of Klerksdorp / Credit: Courtesy Photo

If any planned dialogue toward an end to the growing instability in Eswatini is to result in “an acceptable agreement,” there is need for the parties in conflict to engage notable “negotiators and mediators”, a Catholic Bishop in South Africa has said.

In a video message published Wednesday, October 27, Bishop Victor Phalana uses the example of South Africa’s former President, Frederik Willem de Klerk who facilitated the end of apartheid through “a negotiated settlement” to underscore the need for professional personalities.

“I think the government of Eswatini, the king and the other parties and stakeholders must employ the services of renowned negotiators and mediators to assist them to facilitate this discussion so that it can come with an acceptable agreement and a negotiated settlement,” Bishop Phalana says.

The government of Eswatini announced King Mswati III’s call for Sibaya, the country’s annual national general meeting, to be used as a from to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Africa’s only absolute monarch. 

The king’s call followed his meeting with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegates on October 22. The country that was previously known as Swaziland has been engulfed by protests  since June as citizens call for a democratic rule to replace the monarchy system of government.

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In his video message, Bishop Phalana contrasts king Herod in the scriptures and a former President of South Africa who facilitated the end of apartheid and racial segregation saying, “I feel that king Mswati has a choice to make; he must choose to follow the example of Herod or to follow the example of Frederik Willem de Klerk.”

The South African Bishop called upon king Mswati “to consider one of the achievements of Frederik Willem de Klerk which was to lead this country (South Africa) to a negotiated settlement.”

Engaging “renowned negotiators and mediators” would save the parties in Eswatini’s conflict from sliding into what the Bishop termed as “dirty tricks” and dishonesty.

“We don't use dirty tricks but we become open and honest with each other when we search for a settlement that can benefit the people of Emaswati especially the poorest of the poor,” the Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Klerksdorp Diocese who doubles as the chairperson of the social action department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) says in his video message published October 27. 

Bishop Phalana went on to cite professionals who have provided parameters of conflict mediation and negotiation, specifically Roger Fisher and William Urry. 

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Negotiation needs to focus on interests and not positions, the South African Bishop says, adding that all parties in conflict need to “share basic interests or needs such as the need for security and economic well-being.”

In negotiations, he further says, “discussions should look forward to the desired solutions rather than focusing on past events.”

“Parties should keep a clear focus on their interests but remain open to different proposals and different positions and that is what I think the negotiating teams must really focus on,” the Bishop advices, and adds, “When the parties’ interests differ they should seek options in which those differences can be made compatible or even complementary.”

He advocates for “objective criteria” in conducting negotiations explaining that while negotiators are expected to be “reasonable”, they “must not give in to pressure, threats or bribes.”

“When the other party stubbornly refuses to be reasonable, the first party must shift the discussion from a search for substantive criteria to a search for procedural criteria and there is the need for mediators,” Bishop Phalana further explains in reference to “objective criteria” in conducting negotiations. 

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He also advocates for an attitude that prompts negotiators to work for solutions that will benefit the participating parties and “a climate that stimulates both parties to realize that they are more likely to attain their objectives if they work together than if they battle one another.”

Bishop Phalana further advised for “a set of strategies that facilitate the process of securing mutual advantage so that it leads to a win-win situation and also speaking the truth and standing for democratic principles.”

The political instability in Eswatini has resulted in refugees, “most of the refugees coming to South Africa, some going to Mozambique,” the Catholic Bishop says. 

In a message during their solidarity visit to Eswatini earlier this month, representatives of the SACBC delegation underscored the need for the people of God in the only absolute monarch in Africa to understand the severity of the instability in their nation and make conscious efforts to build “a peaceful and just society”.

Addressing Eswatini Prime Minister, Cleopas Dlamini, the head of SACBC delegation, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka was quoted as saying, "The purpose of our solidarity visit, Your Excellency, is to appeal to everybody, their majesties, the three arms of government, civic groups, and every individual, to be convinced of the seriousness of the present challenges and make efforts inspired by solidarity and love that will help in building a just and a peaceful society."

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During the October 8 meeting with the Premier, Bishop Sipuka who serves as SACBC President added that efforts toward a peaceful Eswatini “is what we see as demanded by the present moment and above all by the very dignity of the human person, the indestructible image of God the Creator, which is identical in each one of us.”