Without a doubt the cultural boycott has polarised discussions in Swaziland, questions arise about the effectiveness of this strategy in piling pressure for democratic change in the country.
On the one hand the entertainment starved middle class feels strongly that this strategy is misplaced while the pro-democratic forces believe this is nothing but a non-violent means of putting the issue of change in the public discourse.
What good could it possibly do to discourage artists from around the world from performing in Swaziland as part of a Cultural Boycott?
This is the question that has been deliberated upon by many Swazis this past week as it came to light that renowned South African musician Ringo Madlingozi pulled out of performing in Swaziland at the last minute in support of the Cultural Boycott started by the Johannesburg-based group Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN).
Many asked who gave SSN the authority to speak ‘on behalf of Swazis?”.
Others asked if the boycott is working and if it is, whom it is working for?
They even asked whom the boycott is targeted at because it seems the ‘ordinary’ Swazi is being affected more than the leaders "who can easily afford to travel to South Africa to see these artists performing," some said.
“What is the purpose of this cultural boycott?” some asked.
Relevance of Boycotts in Political struggles
Cultural, academic and economic boycotts or sanctions have been part of our human rights history for the longest time. They are effective tools for exerting pressure to bring about change –political, economic etc.
They put pressure on the oppressive ruling government to relieve their stranglehold on State power to allow for a democratic system that honours respect of human rights to prevail.
The cultural boycott on South Africa during Apartheid was effective because it isolated the middle class and elite in that country from the rest of the world.
When white South Africans couldn't participate in the Olympics and other global social events they started to agitate for change themselves against a white government that advanced white interests.
Who has authority to calls for boycotts?
When are boycotts appropriate? Who decides? And what gives an unelected group or individual the moral legitimacy to demand or ask a party to observe a boycott?
By their nature boycotts should not be an individual personal protest but a considered position with indigenous collective support from within the host country itself.
Sometimes questions asked when deciding on calls for a boycott are; does the planned cultural event receive government funding and if so, what actions are potentially worth protesting? Are there calls for a boycott – or at least a protest – from citizens of the particular country?
Examples of boycotts
Today, the best example of a vigorous cultural and academic boycott movement is that directed at Israel for its ongoing violation of Palestinian human rights.
In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a major call endorsed by the vast bulk of Palestinian civil society groups:
“Since Israeli academic institutions (mostly state controlled) and the vast majority of Israeli intellectuals and academics have either contributed directly to maintaining, defending or otherwise justifying the above forms of oppression, or have been complicit in them through their silence … We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid.”
In a country like Swaziland where the people feeling the brunt of a host of injustices are lower income earners who have limited access to information because the dominant media in Swaziland is State-controlled, there needs to be different and creative ways to get people active and aware about the injustices they face and the source of that injustice; and to encourage them to take action, they are not that powerless.
So it would seem fair that any group that seeks to highlight the plight of the majority who are voiceless and without means to fight for their rights do so, even at the discomfort of some in the country.
It seems obvious that for a boycott to work it has to have indigenous support from within the country, even if it is just a small group that is calling for the boycott or sanctions, if their call resonates with the international community because of agreed international human rights, then it is a legitimate call.
Whom does the boycott target?
Another pressing question raised by some Swazis is whether the boycott is fulfilling its objectives and with what impact.
Whilst many will argue that cultural boycotts have minimum effect, in truth what boycotts do, and what the boycott being called for against Swaziland is doing, is to break middle class apathy.
Apathy allows middle class Swazis to live as if there is no greater injustice occurring in their backyard, to live as if the majority (75%) of Swazis who live in rural Swaziland are not living in hopelessness, poverty and struggling on a daily basis to survive - a situation which shouldn't exist in a country of 1.2 million people.
Politics shouldn’t affect social life?
Others will argue that politics shouldn't be mixed with entertainment/sport/business because largely these are in some instances operated by ‘ordinary’ citizens trying to earn a living income.
Popular musician Sir Elton John played at a concert in South Africa at the height of Apartheid and the cultural boycott.
He also played at a concert in Israel in 2010 even though there's an ongoing cultural boycott against Israel.
He is quoted as saying "musicians spread love and peace. And bring people together. That's what we do. We don't cherry pick our conscience."
That is the truth about most artists; they resent moral pressure and will say "we're doing it for our fans!" The truth is they don't care about human rights, they're getting paid.
But the counter-argument is that if entertainment/sport/business promote injustice by allowing the status quo to continue, then pressure should be exerted on those that promote continued existence (including artists) under the guise that all is normal whilst many go hungry and can't access minimum health care.
The existence of any government that doesn't allow it's people to make key decisions about the country or input on the budget, a government system that sees itself as more important than the people it is meant to serve should not be allowed to persist.
The evolution of the values espoused in the International Human Rights Charter took time as people around the world came to agree that there are common threads that should exist in a society for each individual to experience freedom to pursue a life of their choosing.
Even though ANC Spokesperson Keith Khoza, in an interview with Metrofm radio station this week, distanced the organization from the current cultural boycott on Swaziland, the ANC supports the democratisation of Swaziland as captured in its 51st Conference Resolution:
INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY NOTING THAT:
1. There are a number of crises, some of an intra-national nature and others imposed on countries by external forces.
2. The right of Palestinians to self-determination, recognized in numerous Resolutions of the United Nations, is constantly subverted including by the wanton genocidal activities of the Israeli government.
3. The decades-long economic blockade against Cuba continues even today.
4. The struggle for the democratisation of Swaziland is legitimate and in accordance with the principles of the African Union on the promotion of democratic institutions, popular participation and good governance,
5. The impertinence of the USA to unleash war against the people of Iraq and to remove its President and government is in fundamental breach of International Law and the UN Charter.
6. Progress is being made to resolve the civil strife ensuing in Sri Lanka.
7. The struggles of oppressed peoples in the South continue
8. Right-wing governments are on the rise internationally.
AND BELIEVING THAT:
1. Conflicts should be resolved through multilateralism, rather than by unilateral action.
2. The people of Palestine, like the Israelis, have the right to self-determination and a national territory within secure and defined borders
3. The US economic blockade against Cuba violates the right to peaceful development of the people of Cuba and that Cuba has the right to defend itself.
THEREFORE RESOLVES THAT:
1. The ANC continues to support the struggle of the Palestinian people for self -determination and the creation of a Palestinian state,
2. The ANC reaffirms its solidarity with Cuba and continues to campaign for the lifting of the US embargo, and the release of five Cuban nationals convicted of espionage.
3. The ANC shall endeavor to promote dialogue amongst all the stakeholders in Swaziland to promote the process of democratisation.
4. The ANC shall continue to oppose any unilateral military and other action while requiring that Iraq complies with United Nations Security Council decisions.
5. The peace process in Sri Lanka should be supported.
6. The ANC reaffirms its solidarity with progressive forces in Burma in the struggle for peace and democracy against the military regime.
7. The NEC will have to assess from time to time whether to support and pledge solidarity with progressive forces in their struggles for peace, democracy and justice.