Thursday, September 18, 2008


Independent Online, South Africa

19 September 2008

Swazi: Voters promised Heaven and Earth

Candidates in Swaziland's election were making promises "off the top of their heads" to get votes in Friday's parliamentary elections, widely derided as a joke and meaningless as political parties are not allowed to form a government.

Police were on tenterhooks and have been arresting opposition members, fearing a repeat in recent weeks of demonstrations against King Mswati III's autocratic rule.

The South African Communist Party called "shameful" the arrests and brief detention of unionists and activists who were on their way to blockade the border posts on the South African border.

SACP spokesperson Malesela Maleka was scathing about the silence of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, which, he said, should ensure that Swaziland applies democratic principles. Swaziland is the chair of SADC's organ on politics, security and defence.

"How opportunistic that the rest of the region and the continent has chosen to keep quiet while thousands of people in Swaziland are subjected to poverty and the brutal dictatorship of the king," he said.

"South African government's deafening silence speaks volumes about the cornerstone of our foreign policy, more so because many Swazis died in the struggle against apartheid," Maleka said. SA is the current chair of SADC.

A civil-society advocate, who preferred not to be identified for fear of victimisation, said wild promises were being made by the about 350 candidates. Candidates stand as individuals, and are nominated by 55 "nkundlas", or groups of chiefs, who can each nominate one person.

Some candidates were promising communities buses and all manner of other goods that they will never be able to provide, unless they pay for them from their meagre parliamentary salaries.

The electioneering is fierce, but only because candidates are trying to outdo each other.

Nevertheless, a high turn-out was expected, as chiefs would act against people not voting, Maleka said.

Voter registration cards were routinely demanded when social security, food aid and other largess were dealt out.

A new constitution adopted in 2006 guarantees freedom of association, and the country's attorney-general claims political parties can be registered. But as they are not allowed to form a government, and have to work within tight restrictions, few care to operate.

Opposition politics have been dominated by unionists and activists.

On September 3, on the eve of Mswati's "40-40" celebrations of Swaziland's independence and his birthday, about 10 000 people gathered in the commercial capital Manzini, and reassembled the next day. Their prime target was the cost of the celebrations, estimated at 100-million emlangeni (about R100-million).

"We are elated by the historic outpouring of ordinary people to say to the royal government 'Enough!'," said the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions' Andrew Simelane.

Recently, a thousand HIV-positive women, galled by reports that Mswati's 13 wives had been sent on shopping trips to the Middle East and Asia, led a march in Mbabane.

Local newspapers widely reprinted a recent list published by Forbes magazine, in which Mswati was named one of the 15 richest royals in the world.

    • This article was originally published on page 6 of The Star on September 19, 2008


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