22 September 2008
AU condemns detaining of union leaders
By Njabulo Dlamini
AN observer mission from the African Union which monitored the elections, has expressed concern about the detaining of union leaders during the Ngwenya border blockade last Thursday.
The mission, in its preliminary report, noted that the detaining of the unionists was a shortcoming and needed to be dealt with as the country embraced democracy.
It was noted that the constitution had enshrined in it freedom of expression thus the detaining of the unionists was an infringement of their right to express themselves.
"We have taken note that some people were detained whilst attending the blockade organised by trade unions to contest the holding of elections under the prevailing circumstances.
"This shortcoming and other issues pertaining to the wider political environment would need to be addressed to strengthen the democratic culture in Swaziland," the team stated at a press briefing held at Matsapha Inn.
Jan Sithole of SFTU, SNAT Secretary General Dominic Nxumalo and Sibongile Mazibuko were some of the unionists who were detained by the police and went through interrogation whilst attending the blockade.
The African Union team comprised four teams of two persons each that was dispatched to the four Regions of Swaziland.
The team observed the elections on Friday and thereafter the counting of votes at different polling stations on Saturday.
"The people of Swaziland have exercised their right to vote in a peaceful and orderly atmosphere. Most of the polling stations opened on time, however, the Observer Mission noted some delays in few stations visited.
"This was due to the late arrival of election materials, candidates and/or their agents. The polling officers showed professionalism and worked round the clock, at times in difficult conditions e.g. the overcrowded rooms. They knew the procedures and interacted with the voters and other stakeholders at all times. The procedures regarding the closing of the polls were complied with at the stations where we were present," said Ochieng Gilbert Mbeo who spoke on the AU Observer Mission team's behalf.
The secrecy of the ballot was more or less assured in most of the polling stations visited according to the team.
Not withstanding the shortcomings listed above, the AU team said its overall assessment was that the 2008 Legislative Elections were well conducted.
His team also met with members of political formations and civil society representatives.