Voice of America
19 September 2008
Swaziland Protesting Union Leaders Arrested Ahead of Parliamentary Election
By Peter Clottey
The people of Swaziland go to the polls Friday to elect members of parliament amid government crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators who are calling for political reforms under King Mswati III. Swazi police arrested several protest leaders Thursday, saying the protesters were causing Anarchy.But the demonstrators say today’s parliamentary election is a façade calculated to deceive Swazis into believing that absolute monarch, King Mswati III, is interested in democracy.
Vincent Dlamini is the main proponent of the protest march. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from the capital, Mbabane that the protests would continue unabated until their demands for democratic reforms are met.
“Some of the union leaders were arrested during our protests and demonstration around the country’s border post yesterday. Some of the were released later on after their detention, but I’m not quite sure what happened to the others. We are still trying to locate where they are at the moment. What we can also report is that quite a number of workers, in the southern part of the country in Mshangano were brutally assaulted by the police as they were conducting the demonstration against the election that would be held this morning in our country,” Dlamini said.
He said the union workers are protesting against he called an undemocratic system, which he said clamps down on their right to a free democratic society.
“We are protesting against the current Nikunda system, which we believe is undemocratic, and we are demanding that elections must be held under a multi-party democratic system. This current system came into place by the banning of the political parties in 1973 by the previous King Sobhuza II. In this particular state of emergency, one significant thing that happened was that all three branches of government were transferred to the king. That is the judiciary, legislature and all other executive powers were vested in the king by that particular decree, which banned political parties in the country,” he said.
Dlamini said the protesters want to enjoy democracy just like most people in other parts of the world do.
“We are saying that we want elections to be conducted in a multi-party democratic environment,” Dlamini pointed out.
He sharply denied that Friday’s parliamentary election is an attempt by the government to bring about some democratic reforms.
“No, no, no, there is no reform at all. What is happening in our country is that the majority of the people reside in the rural areas, which is about 70% of the population. And therefore quite a number of them are participating in this election because they are intimidated by the chiefs who are appendages of the monarch. The chiefs run the rural areas and the villages on behalf of the monarch and they tend to intimidate and evict people who do not conform to the dictates of the regime,” he said.
Dlamini accused the government of not educating the masses on the benefits of democracy.
“What is happening is that the regime in our country currently thrives on the ignorance of the masses. In the rural areas there are high level of poverty and people are being abused in the sense that what is happening, they are given food passes and all that and are being bribed so to speak,” Dlamini noted.
He said union workers would not stop protesting to ensure their voices for democratic reforms are heard.
“What we are going to do next is that we will continue in engaging in mass action, we will have mass demonstrations at certain intervals. And we are going to be educating our people in terms of what is best for our country, as well as making sure that the international community understands our plight and understand that Swaziland is still an undemocratic country,” he said.
Some political observes say although the monarch remains popular among many of his subjects, there is rising discontent over his extravagant lifestyle, refusal to adopt democratic reforms and to tackle Swaziland’s numerous social problems.