5 August 2008
Swaziland newspapers have attacked the kingdom’s forthcoming elections as ‘a mockery’.
In separate comment articles the editors of the Swazi News and the Times Sunday both used the term ‘mockery’ to describe the way in which the elections have been run. This past weekend saw nominations for candidates open and close, but people were only given three days notice to prepare for them.
Meanwhile, the Swazi High Court was asked to rule whether the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), the organisation tasked with overseeing the election, was legal under the Swazi constitution. The High Court dismissed the application and reserved judgment.
The editor of the Times Sunday Mbongeni Mbingo, writing in his own newspaper (3 August 2008), said, ‘The elections have always been presented as a mockery, since the day Chief Gija [chair of the EBC] and his commissioners were handed to us.’
He went on, ‘Right now, I am convinced they cannot do the job and they are an embarrassment. I hope they know this, because we cannot disguise it anymore.’
Mbingo went on to say, ‘My frustration today has a lot to do with why the elections are made to be such a mess. I am wondering if people are deliberately doing things to embarrass our king and country and to make sure that the elections flop. I wonder what is there for them when they achieve their goal, but it is perfectly clear right now that there are dark forces pulling this country back.
‘I can’t fathom how we could get things this wrong—so embarrassingly wrong! This week, our EBC decided—or should we say they realised—that there needed to be the nominations, the first step toward the elections. The people were not given enough time to prepare, and shockingly, the EBC, its polling officers and everyone else expected to help, were not ready.
‘It was like we were all caught off guard. This shocked me. Who decided that this weekend should be the beginning of the elections, and when was this decision taken? Why was it not communicated to the public in time?
‘I am assuming this latest comedy of errors goes to show that people were right to question Chief Gija’s leadership qualities.’
Mbingo went on, ‘This is frustrating because it gives the world the idea that we are not capable of putting our house in order, or in fact of getting people who could run things properly and efficiently. The world always has to look at us as the laughing stock, people who couldn’t be serious, and a country lacking in leadership.’
Thulani Thwala, editor of the Swazi News, writing in his own newspaper (2 August 2008), said, ‘The elections have become a mockery before they begin.’
He went on, ‘... no one is certain on whether these elections are legal or illegal. My immediate thinking is that they are illegal. We go to nominations today without the voter’s roll. We begin the nomination with a certain section of people still firmly occupying public office and they might be nominated. Some law-abiding citizens have already taken leave of absence from their respective work places to contest the elections but we still have a group of men and women who still call themselves Cabinet ministers. Why are they still in office? Should they be in office really?’
In a direct plea to Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Thwala wrote, ‘We go to the nominations today Your Majesty a confused lot. As you read this letter we are not sure whether we are going or coming or both. We do not know whether what we are doing is right or wrong. Your country needs direction now and it can only be you to lead us. The people you entrusted with such a task have failed.’
In a news report headed Confusion, chaos, controversy, the Times Sunday reported (3 August 2008) on the first day of nominations, ‘Some of the problems that elections officers had to surmount were rowdy voters who learnt on the day that they were “not eligible” to vote.
'They were later allowed after the EBC allegedly admitted it made a blunder. In other areas, such as Kwaluseni, land or chieftaincy disputes delayed the nomination process, while in some cases, elections officers were forced to postpone. In Northern Hhohho, a number of nominating venues had to cancel due to problems that came to the fore just before starting time, while some delayed but proceeded later.
‘The EBC offices at Nkhanini were inundated with calls from elections officers and returning officers who came across different kinds of problems, some of which forced them to postpone.’
The report went on, ‘While some of the people were rejected as nominees because they were currently employed in public office some who are in similar positions were nominated without a fuss. Although some had to show proof that they had resigned from employment, one teacher from Nhlangano lied to election officers, claiming that he is employed in a shop in Nhlangano. His name was not immediately revealed, however, he is currently being probed for fraud.’
The Times of Swaziland yesterday (4 August 2008) in a report headed Shock, surprise, chaos at nominations said, ‘Though preliminary reports from the EBC show that it has so far been smooth, various reports from across the country show otherwise.’
It went on, ‘While many ended the weekend on a good note, toasting to a possible seat in the august house, television star Themba Xaba saw his dream up in smoke after he was disqualified, while numerous other civil servants with no leave forms were also turned back.’
The report added, ‘At Butfongweni area, residents were, however, stunned when a chief’s daughter allegedly tried to use her connections to get nominated.’
A separate report in the Times (4 August 2008) gave details of the incident, ‘According to the polling station’s presiding officer, identified as Mrs Mthupha, people had to be dragged from their homesteads in order for them to “second” the princess’ supposed nomination.
‘“She came here with instructions, which she said were from the Elections and Boundaries Commission. The instruction was to the effect that we should include her name in the list of nominated candidates,” she alleged.
‘The presiding officer said the incident caused a temporary halt to the election process as the polling officers would hear none of what the chief’s daughter was saying.
‘Mthupha disclosed that the “Princess” first arrived at the polling station on Saturday but was turned back by the polling officers because she had no proof of registration with her.
‘“On Saturday her name was raised but it was later discovered that she was not eligible to participate here since she was registered under Mbekelweni,” she explained.
‘The action by the polling officers did not go down well with the royal family member who then took up the matter with the EBC, which later sent word that she must be allowed to participate in the election. The message was communicated through Returning Officer Driven Nkhambule.’