From Swazi Media Commnetary
Here’s a question for you: In Swaziland what’s the difference between a soccer club and a political party?
The answer: When the Swazi Constitution talks of ‘freedom of association’ it means being able to join a soccer club, not being able to form political parties.
This is according to the chairman of Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission, Chief Gija Dlamini.
The chief, who was recently selected to chair the Commission under controversial circumstances, says that the new Swazi Constitution never intended to allow political parties. When the constitution speaks of ‘freedom of association’ it had in mind clubs such as Mbabane Highlanders soccer team, he said.
When he was appointed, the chairman was widely criticised by groups and individuals in Swaziland for not being qualified for the job (the Constitution says the chair should be a top judge but Dlamini is an electrician). Many believed that Dlamini had been appointed because he was close to the King Mswati III.
Yesterday (9 April 2008) The Swazi Observer reported Gija addressing chiefs and traditional authorities at a ‘civic education’ session in Siteki.
The Observer, a newspaper that is in effect owned by the king, missed the absurdity of the chief’s remarks and allowed them to go unchallenged.
The Observer reported that Dlamini said the national constitution did not say people would go to the polls by political associations.
The Observer reported, ‘People will be elected as individuals. If the community picks an individual and feels he qualifies to represent them, they can just vote him in, as long as he or she is Swazi.
‘The chairman was responding to a question from Chief Sibengwane Ndzimandze who wanted to know what would happen in the event that some people use political affiliation to canvas for parliamentary seats.
‘Petros Masina of Enceka also asked: “What are we going to do when people who affiliate with political parties eventually win the elections and go to parliament? Whilst there, they may try to change the system of governance.”
‘Chief Gija said the chiefs should not be concerned about political parties.
‘“Emaphathi akhona emoyeni nje. Emtsetfweni akabusiswa. Kwasho emaSwati kutsi afuna tinkhundla,” he said, meaning “political parties are not founded on the law. Swazis said they needed the Tinkhundla system of governance.”’
‘The chairman explained that in parliament no one could claim to be representing a political party.
‘He read section 79 of the constitution: “The system of government for Swaziland is a democratic, participatory, tinkhundla-based system which emphasises devolution of state power from central government to tinkhundla areas and individual merit as a basis for election or appointment to public office.”’
I notice that Dlamini didn’t actually answer the question, ‘What are we going to do when people who affiliate with political parties eventually win the elections and go to parliament?’
There is a growing call within Swaziland for political parties to be made legal and as this call gets louder it is going to be very difficult for the traditional authorities to resist. The only real option open to them is to forcibly stop political groups from meeting, by quite literally breaking up their gatherings.
If the police or the army do this during an election time it will attract international attention on a scale that Swaziland has never seen before. The very idea that the kingdom is having an election but not allowing people to meet to discuss who to vote for would show up what Swaziland’s traditionalists call the kingdom’s ‘unique’ democracy for the con trick that it is.
First published 10 April 2008