From Swazi Media Commentary www.swazimedia.blogspot.com
Here’s more proof that in Swaziland only the ruling elite are allowed to speak on matters of national importance.
News is beginning to filter out that the Swazi Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has decided that it is the only one to be allowed to engage in ‘civic education’ about the forthcoming national election in Swaziland.
This means that no other person or organisation will be permitted to inform the public about the process of the election.
The ECB chair Chief Gija Dlamini told the Swazi Observer newspaper (30 April 2008) that this was the ‘sole prerogative’ of the ECB. He particularly said that local chiefs had no right to ‘usurp the powers of the ECB’.
Chief Gija and his board at the EBC were selected under controversial circumstances. It is widely believed that he is not sufficiently qualified for the post. The constitution states that the ECB chair should be a judge, but Chief Gija is variously described as an ‘electrician’ or an ‘electrical engineer’. The law courts have been asked to rule the chief’s appointment illegal.
In an interview with the Observer, the chief is reported saying that chiefs were not allowed to conduct civic education on the elections, as this was the sole perogative of the EBC.
‘I believe every chief knows this. We recently held a get together with chiefs where we informed them that the EBC would be visiting their communities shortly to conduct civic education on the elections,’ he is quoted saying.
The Observer further reports him saying, ‘Logic dictates that the chiefs communicated this message to their subjects, to avoid surprises when the EBC comes along.’
Chief Gija added, ‘It would be unfortunate for any chief to usurp the powers of the ECB and start teaching people about the elections.’
The role of the ECB since its inception has been heavily criticised by the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO).
Bishop Meshack Mabuza, Chairperson of SCCCO, in a media statement, criticised the ECB’s ‘stunning lack of respect for civil rights’.
‘The Board was set up on 10 March and in its first six weeks of operation has already trampled on our constitution and our rights to due legal process, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and good practice in interpreting statutory law.
‘So far it has banned reporters from public meetings solely because it does not like the way they report – how very thin-skinned from people who are constitutionally supposed to show “demonstrable competence in the conduct of public affairs”. A competent authority would understand the role, nature and workings of the press and get its message across - professionally.’
Bishop Mabuza added, ‘Much has been made of the former Deputy Attorney General’s professional qualifications and the government’s opinion that his advice will be the legal bedrock on which the commission can stand. This is most worrying since this is the self same “legal eagle” who imagines that the Commission’s constitutional duty to “facilitate civic or voter education” gives it the right to curtail our freedoms of speech and of assembly that are in the constitution. Its recent pathetic attempt to ban anyone other than it from providing civic education is not only repugnant to those of us who respect constitutionalism and human rights but shows the true nature of the commission’s attitude to those rights – it doesn’t know or it doesn’t care.’
The Bishop added, ‘The Coalition will continue with its programme of civic and voter education and it will defend its right to do so robustly. Any interference with this programme will be taken as an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and the perpetrators will personally find themselves answering to a judge.’
That’s fighting talk from the SCCCO. But the Bishop does have a point about the way the ECB is conducting itself. We still do not have a date for an election. An announcement was promised in April, but was not forthcoming. The Observer (30 April 2008) reported Chief Gija saying there were still some loose ends to be tied up before an announcement could be made, but it was not reported what these loose ends might be.
It is now May and the election must be held by the end of the year. The fact that the ECB is not even able to announce a date for the poll does not inspire confidence that it is fully in control of events. The suspicion must be that the election, when it comes (or maybe even ‘if’ it comes) will be a mess and we cannot be sure that any result that comes from it will be reliable.
SWAZI ELECTION BOARD BANS REPORTERS
First published 2 May 2008