From Swazi Media Commentary
Journalists were banned from a meeting held by the Swaziland Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) because its chairman doesn’t like the way the media is reporting its activities.
Police, including at least one from the intelligence branch, were called to eject any reporters who tried to get into the meeting.
In another twist in the long-running controversy over the way members of the EBC were chosen and the Commission’s activities since then, the announcement of the date of the election has been postponed.
Chief Gija Dlamini told the Times Sunday today (13 April 2008) that the reason the meeting was held behind closed doors was because ‘the media had failed to report truthfully about their previous meeting at Siteki.’
The Times Sunday reported that the meeting at a hotel was with traditional leaders from the Hhohho Region of Swaziland and was part of ongoing ‘civic education’ being undertaken by the EBC.
The Times Sunday reported that more than 40 chiefs from different areas of the region ‘were given the special privilege of meeting the EBC behind closed doors and protected by the presence of the police.
‘Police officers, who were deployed at the hotel, were told that journalists were not welcome to cover the meeting.’
The Times Sunday continued, ‘Apparently, Chief Gija was not happy with one of the dailies [Swazi Observer] after it quoted him saying political parties were not allowed at the in the upcoming elections.
‘He said they were now careful with who participates in these meetings as they do not want to expose themselves to “manufactured” stories in the media.’
It is significant that Dlamini did not say that contrary to the Observer story; political parties indeed were allowed to participate in the election.
The Times Sunday reported that the EBC had already met privately with chiefs in other regions of Swaziland.
Dlamini went on (unwittingly, I suspect) to admit that not all people in Swaziland were to be afforded the same opportunities to learn about the election. Chiefs were to be given special privileges.
The Times Sunday reported, ‘Chief Gija said their meeting with the Chiefs was meant to respect traditional protocols before they can start the process of civic education to the ordinary masses.
“You will know that Swazi culture dictates that we respect chiefs as heads of communities and we could not therefore be seen to be doing something without the knowledge of the chiefs”, Gija said.’
The Times Sunday in an editorial comment said, ‘By holding such secret meetings, for a process that determines who will govern us for the next five years, the EBC has compromised the transparency that should encompass such an important election process.
‘To cut a long story short, the Commission has indicted to all that the elections, or selection, will not be independent.’
The EBC is under attack on several fronts at the moment. During the past week it was announced that civic organisations are going to court to get the appointment of the EBC members ruled unconstitutional. The Swazi Constitution states that members should be judges, but none of the people appointed are. The chairman himself is variously described in the media as an ‘electrician’ or ‘an electrical engineer.’ Whatever his formal job title is one thing is for sure: he has no legal training.
Following Chief Gija’s statement that political parties remain banned, the African Union Democratic Party announced it had petitioned the Swaziland House of Assembly to make a law allowing political parties to operate.
According to a report in the Swazi Observer (10 April 2008), ‘The petition alternatively states that the House of Assembly should amend provisions of the Constitution which prohibit political parties from standing for local and or general elections and from managing and directing public affairs at government level.’
Meanwhile, there is mystery about the actual date of the election. Recently, Chief Gija called a press conference to say that a date would be announced last week. The date for the announcement has come and gone but we still do not know when the election will be held.
First published 13 April 2008