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Sunday, 23 September 2018

Violence, corruption, vote-buying reported in Swaziland election. Journalists barred from entering counting centres

Violence and allegations of corruption and malpractice in Swaziland’s election have been reported from across the kingdom.

There were chaotic scenes in polling centres on Friday (21 September 2018), the APA news agency reported . Outbursts of violence started as early as noontime and intensified in the evening when the counting of votes was about to resume.

APA reported, ‘In some areas protesters who were not satisfied with certain procedures blocked vehicles transporting ballot papers to counting stations, resulting to delays in starting the counting process.

‘The bone of contention varied from last-minute change of counting centres to suspicions of malpractice by some candidates or their campaigning agents.’

APA reported at Manzini North, Manzini South, Sigwe and Ekupheleni centres the police had to request for backup from the Operational Services Support Unit (OSSU) after vehicles from the Elections an Boundaries Commission (EBC) were forced to turn back to polling stations for safety after roads leading to counting centres were blocked with stones and tree trunks by protesting crowds.

At Malindza in the Lubombo region, an intoxicated member of the army drove over a male voter and further crashed onto two cars that were parked within the polling station premises, APA reported.

Police fired gunshots in the air and grenades and rubber bullets as voters at Sigwe protested against completed ballot papers being taken away from a polling centre.

Social media platforms have been awash with accounts of vote buying and bribery, naming names and making detailed allegations. Mainstream media which are heavily censored have been more discreet following the vote in Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by absolute monarch King Mswati III.)

The Observer on Saturday reported police were called to the Manzini South constituency where one of the candidates for the House of Assembly ‘was accused of literally buying votes’ at the Divine Ministries auditorium, near St Michaels School.

It did not name the candidate. It reported one of the candidates had been tipped off that voters were being given E100 each to vote. In Swaziland seven in ten people are so poor they have incomes less than E30 a day. The newspaper reported that voters who had taken the money fled when police ‘stormed the auditorium’.

Agents for candidates were also reported to be giving away E20 notes at both Nkhanini and Sitjeni polling stations in Lobamba.

Gospel artist Mduduzi Simelane, the leader of Emagawugawu gospel group, won the election at Siphofaneni Inkhundla, but only after allegations of vote rigging at the so-called special election held on Tuesday for members of state forces and people who would be working at the election, according to the Swaziland News Facebook page.

The police riot squad was called to Makholweni polling station in Manzini North after a defeated candidate alleged a witchdoctor was present and was using muti (‘magic potions’) to influence people to vote for a particular candidate. He was also said to have illegally voted himself, the Observer on Saturday reported.

Some journalists were reportedly barred from entering voting counting centres and told they must sign a declaration of secrecy form, the News on Africa website reported.

It reported the declaration would prevent them from publishing or disclosing information gathered during the vote counting process.

It reported that according to state-controlled radio, Mhlume polling station was one of the polling stations involved. EBC Chairperson Chief Gija Dlamini confirmed the restriction.

News on Africa reported, ‘He explained that this was done to protect things that can happen during the counting of votes, things that are not supposed to be publicized. When asked to make an example of those things, Chief Gija made an example of a crying candidate or a conflict between two candidates which is something that a journalist can find to be newsworthy and report about it.’

The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) reported that police closed bars, entertainment events and church services during the afternoon of election day in the Kwaluseni constituency of the Manzini region where earlier in the week police had twice violently attacked workers demonstrating for pay increases. SUDF said police were trying to force people to go and vote.


The front page of the Swazi News, 22 September 2018
See also

Swaziland Police Fire Gunshots, Set Off Grenades and Rubber Bullets as Voters Protest During Election

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Swaziland Police Fire Gunshots, Set Off Grenades and Rubber Bullets as Voters Protest During Election

Police fired gunshots in the air and grenades and rubber bullets during Swaziland’s election as voters protested against completed ballot papers being taken away from a polling centre.

It happened late on Friday (21 September 2018) after voting had ended in the kingdom’s national election.

It was the third time in a week that police violently attacked people making legitimate protests in the kingdom recently renamed Eswatini by absolute monarch King Mswati III.

The latest violence was at Sigwe inkhundla. The Observer on Saturday newspaper reported police fired ‘several gunshots in the air’ to disperse a crowd.

It added police denied firing gunshots but admitted to firing rubber bullets and what spokesperson Superintendent Phindile Vilakati reportedly called ‘hand grenades’.

The Observer on Saturday reported, ‘Last night’s skirmish reportedly led to several people injured, with one supposedly had a rubber bullet “riddling” his chin and had to be rushed to hospital in a critical state as he was bleeding profusely.’

It added the Operation Support Service Unit (OSSU) was called. The scene then became ‘a battleground’.

The newspaper said the trouble started after voting finished at the Lulakeni chiefdom and a group did not want the ballot boxes taken from the hall to Lulakeni High School for counting. They forced gates to be locked.

The newspaper reported spokesperson Superintendent Phindile Vilakati saying, ‘I have been informed about the violence which led to the police using hand grenades.’ The newspaper did not comment on this, but it is assumed she meant stun grenades. 

There was tension across Swaziland in the days leading to the election as workers headed by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) took to the streets in support of a pay claim. Police were videoed viciously attacking unarmed fleeing demonstrators in Manzini. 

The city was also described as a ‘warzone’ when police turned stun grenades, teargas, teasers and rubber bullets on protestors. 

There was tension across Swaziland during election day. In the kingdom political parties are banned from taking part in the election. People are only allowed to elect 59 members of the House of Assembly; another 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.

King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister and Cabinet members. He also chooses top civil servants and judges.

See also

Police Turn Swaziland City Into ‘Warzone’ as National Strike Enters Second Day
Widespread Condemnation of Swaziland Police Brutal Attacks on Workers
Vicious Attack by Swaziland Police on Defenceless Workers Captured on Video
Swaziland (Eswatini) Election 2018: Links to Information and Analysis From Swazi Media Commentary
Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic

Friday, 21 September 2018

Swaziland Heading For Lowest Election Turnout as Ordinary People Support Democratic Change

Swaziland could be heading for the lowest election turnout in its modern history on Friday (21 September 2018).

Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by King Mswati III) is ruled by an absolute monarch, political parties are banned from taking part in the election and no members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.

The King chooses the Prime Minister and Government. The people are only allowed to elect 59 members of the House of Assembly with another 10 appointed by the King. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.

This will be the third election since Swaziland’s constitution came into effect in 2006 and there is mounting evidence that ordinary people in the kingdom want more democracy.

In the first round of this year’s election for seats in the House of Assembly (held on 24 August 2018) 156,983 people voted (of the 600,000 the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) said were eligible). That compared to the 251,278 people who voted in the final round of elections in 2013 and 189,559 who voted in 2008.

In June 2018 after revising the figure the EBC announced that 544,310 people had registered to vote this year. In the first round (known as the Primary Election) only 26.16 percent of those eligible voted.

People head for the final round of elections on Friday and there is no evidence of a surge in interest. The turnout in elections is important as voting is the only way people in Swaziland have to demonstrate their support (or lack of it) for the political system. The King and his supporters say that the ordinary people in Swaziland support the system that the King calls ‘Monarchical Democracy,’ and which he says is a partnership between himself and the people.

All debate on democratising the kingdom is ruthlessly crushed by King Mswati’s state police and security forces. Meetings called to discuss democratic change are routinely disrupted by police and prodemocracy activists are jailed. Groups that support democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. 

No news media in Swaziland support allowing political parties to contest elections.

Despite the closing down of political debate in Swaziland, one independent international group called Afrobarometer has run a number of polls in recent years surveying the views of ordinary Swazi people.

In 2015, it reported only seven in a hundred Swazi people said they were ‘very satisfied’ with the way democracy worked in Swaziland.

More than half (51 percent) did not think the kingdom was a democracy or it was a democracy with major problems.

Nearly six in ten people (59 percent) said they were ‘not at all free’ to say what they think.

And nearly three-quarters (73 percent) said they were ‘not at all free’ or ‘not very free’ to join any political organisation they wanted.

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across more than 30 countries in Africa. It conducts face-to-face interviews.

This was not the first time Afrobarometer found a desire for democracy in Swaziland. In 2014 in a report called ‘Let the People Have a Say’ it said more than six people in ten in Swaziland said they were not satisfied with the way democracy worked in the kingdom.

The research surveyed 34-countries in Africa and asked a series of questions about what people thought about democracy and how democratic they thought their own country was.

But, only in Swaziland were researchers not allowed to ask a question about whether people rejected ‘one man rule’. In its report Afrobarometer said this was because ‘a near-absolute monarch resists democratization’ in the kingdom.

A total of 22 percent of people interviewed in Swaziland said they believed non-democratic governments can be preferable to democracies.

Dissent in Swaziland is often put down by police and state forces, but 86 percent of people rejected military rule for Swaziland.

In 2013, Afrobarometer reported two thirds of Swazi people wanted the kingdom to become a democracy and they wanted to choose their own leaders ‘through honest and open elections’. They also strongly disapproved of allowing King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, to decide on everything in Swaziland.

An opinion poll conducted by Afrobarometer asked 1,200 Swazis aged 18 or over from across the kingdom how democratic they thought Swaziland was. Only 12 percent said that at present Swaziland had ‘high levels’ of democracy. When asked where they would like the kingdom to be ‘in the future’, 67 percent said they wanted to see ‘high levels’ of democracy.

Afrobarometer reported that 75 percent of people interviewed agreed with the statement, ‘We should choose our leaders through open and honest elections.’

Despite King Mswati’s stranglehold on political life in Swaziland, 46 percent of respondents agreed that, ‘Members of Parliament represent the people; therefore they should make laws for the country, even if the King does not agree.’

A total of 77 percent of respondents disapproved of abolishing elections and Parliament, ‘so that the King can decide on everything’.

In 2016, Afrobarometer reported that Swaziland came a long way last in a survey of 36 African countries looking at political freedom. Of those asked, ‘In this country how free are you to join any political organisation you want?’ only 7 percent responded, ‘completely free.’

In addition, only 18 percent of those surveyed said they had complete freedom of speech and 56 percent said they had complete freedom to vote.

Afrobarometer reported that its survey coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). With the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), it formalizes the right to peaceful assembly (Article 21) and freedom of association (Article 22), among other fundamental human rights. 

The report quoted the UN Special Rapporteur saying, ‘freedoms of assembly and association “are a vehicle for the exercise of many other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, allowing people to express their political opinions, engage in artistic pursuits, engage in religious observances, join trade unions, elect leaders, and hold them accountable.” As such, they play “a decisive role” in building and consolidating democracy. 

Richard Rooney

See also

Low Turnout At Swaziland Election Fuels Doubts About Support For King’s Absolute Monarchy
Swaziland (Eswatini) Election 2018: Links to Information and Analysis From Swazi Media Commentary 

Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic
Women Election Candidates in Swaziland Forced to Address Voters on Their Knees to Show Respect For Men
Vote-Rigging Claims During Swaziland’s Election Grow. Calls For Some Polls To Be Re-Run
Swaziland’s Independent Observation Group Says Election ‘Free And Fair’ But Identifies Many Shortcomings

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Police Turn Swaziland City Into ‘Warzone’ as National Strike Enters Second Day

Police in Swaziland turned the city of Manzini into a ‘battlefield’ and a ‘warzone’ on the second day of the national strike in the kingdom.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, said the bus rank in Swaziland’s major commercial city was ‘turned into a warzone as stun grenades, teargas, teasers and rubber bullets became the order of the day’.

It happened on Wednesday (19 September 2019) as workers across Swaziland continued their protests against poor pay and other working conditions. They are on a three-day stoppage coordinated by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). 

The Observer, one of only two daily newspapers in Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by the King) where the media are heavily censored, said the bus rank was a ‘serious battlefield’ for more than four hours as armed police and other state forces and workers ‘engaged in fierce confrontation’.

The Times of Swaziland called it an ‘open battlefield.’

The Observer reported, ‘The situation got out of control when public transport drivers and conductors joined the protesting workers and clashed with the police.’

The Observer reported, ‘The town was totally shut down as shops were closed and street vendors halted business. Some terrified and frightened commuters sought refuge in offices and shops as the “war” between the police, bus conductors and workers took centre stage, unabated.’

The Times of Swaziland reported police threw explosive grenades and fired tear gas canisters at the protestors.

The Observer reported police threatened ‘everybody who was wearing a red T-shirt’. People in Swaziland wear red to show their support for trade unions. It reported, ‘TUCOSWA quickly understood this strategy and changed their red T-shirts and wore other clothes.’

It added, ‘Efforts by the police to chase away onlookers proved futile as the public made it clear that they are not going anywhere until the strike is over and the kombis [buses] were back at the bus rank.

The Observer reported, ‘As early as 7 am, police officers and warders were sweeping the streets of Manzini, insulting and threatening to beat up anyone who was wearing a red T-shirt.

‘This prompted some TUCOSWA members to change their red colours and wear different T-shirts. The police went on to block any worker who tried to make an entrance to Somhlolo Park where members were supposed to join other workers.’

It added, ‘Police tried firing stun grenades and teargas at the protesting workers who were marching towards the Manzini bus rank. In that moment, a police officer threw a stun grenade at kombi conductors who had mingled with protesting workers.

‘This sparked trouble for the police as conductors made it clear that they will not watch while their customers were being abused by the police. The public transport operators said since the roads were blocked, they could not carry out business anymore. All hell broke loose when conductors threw stones at the police officers and burnt tyres on the road.’

Police attacked members of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) at their union headquarters in Manzini. The Observer reported TUCOSWA Secretary General Mduduzi Gina, ‘said they received reports that some of the police officers stormed the SNAT Centre and ordered the teachers out of the premises but they told the police that they were in a meeting as the place was a private property, to which the police retaliated by throwing grenades at them inside the premises.’

The newspaper reported him saying, ‘While the teachers were running away for cover, they were assaulted by the police and some are reportedly missing.’

It added, ‘Gina said according to the report they received, one of the injured teachers was apprehended while trying to get medical attention from the paramedics who were at the scene when the attack happened.

The Times of Swaziland reported, ‘The protesting workers were stuck at SNAT Centre as the armed police surrounded the building and threw stun grenades, while firing tear gas canisters at anyone leaving the venue.’

Protests have been taking place in major towns and cities, including Mbabane, Manzini, Nhlangano and Siteki.

In Nhlangano, several union leaders were detained by the police, including SNAT Secretary General Sikelela Dlamini. The Observer reported, ‘There was pandemonium earlier in the morning when protesters clashed with the police at Zheng Young textile factory. Teargas was fired to disperse the strong crowd of workers. In town, police prevented people from walking in groups.’

The Observer reported that in Siteki, ‘people wearing red shirts had difficulty getting into town as uncompromising police officers prevented them from stepping foot into town. Also, people in the same T-shirts were told to immediately leave town.’

Armed police were deployed in Siteki as early as 8 am and union leaders who were known to the police were barred from entering the small town.

The Observer added, ‘Meanwhile, members of the public were also barred from entering the Siteki Park as it was used as a meeting point by protesters.’ Most schools in Siteki remained closed.

Swaziland holds its national election on Friday (21 September 2018). Political parties are banned from taking part. People are only allowed to elect 59 members of the House of Assembly; the King appoints a further 10. No members of the 30-strong Swazi Senate are elected by the people. The King chooses the Prime Minister and Cabinet members. He also chooses top civil servants and judges.

Burning tyres at Manzini bus rank

See also
Widespread Condemnation of Swaziland Police Brutal Attacks on Workers

Vicious Attack by Swaziland Police on Defenceless Workers Captured on Video
Swaziland Police Fire Gunshots During Textiles Dispute, Third Attack on Workers in a Week