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15 Sep 2008 06:00
Mediation between the Swazi government and labour movements and opposition parties is due to start within weeks in an attempt to resolve the country’s growing political crisis.
Jan Sithole, the general secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), said the country’s labour advisory board had acquired the services of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town to mediate.
This is the first time that political mediation will take place in the kingdom of Swaziland, where parliamentary elections are held regularly, but the reigning monarch, King Mswati III, governs absolutely.
The proposed mediation is due to start in Mbabane after the parliamentary elections on September 19.
A South African expert on Swaziland, who prefers to remain anonymous says the situation in the country is volatile.
“It is worse than Zimbabwe, any small thing can just trigger it; we have to be careful.”
The elections next Friday will cost R22-million. International bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union declined to observe this year’s poll because the Swazi elections are perceived as undemocratic since the Constitution does not allow opposition parties.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Commonwealth will be sending observer teams.
“In practice, they [the king and his family] are the government, a government which the people cannot change, even though there are direct elections,” the Commonwealth observer mission said in a 2003 report.
The mediation efforts among government, civil society and the political opposition come after the recent mass demonstrations and bomb blasts which accompanied the country’s 40th anniversary celebrations in Mbabane which doubled as King Mswati’s 40th birthday party.
Despite the high HIV rate—43% of pregnant women were HIV positive in 2005—and poverty, Mswati treated his 13 wives and their children, servants and bodyguards to a shopping trip in Dubai, sparking widespread criticism.
The celebrations were marred by two car-bomb blasts at the stadium where the celebrations were held. No-one was injured or took responsibility.
Before the celebrations the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) had threatened to make the country “ungovernable” if the king did not agree to change.
Although he denied that his party was involved, Pudemo President Mario Masuku said the bombings were not “the work of anyone outside of Swaziland — Nobody came from the United Kingdom or from America to effect the bombing, it was done by the people of Swaziland,” he said.
Masuku said that despite dissatisfaction with the king, Swazis will vote next Friday.
“It is the culture and nature of the regime; people are told that if you don’t go to the elections, you are not a Swazi.”
Masuku said candidates are campaigning because being an MP provides a regular income and the prospect of a good life: “If you are an MP you are closer to the king and have a chance to be in Cabinet.”
The SFTU is planning mass demonstrations in the run-up to the elections, setting up border blockades with South Africa’s Cosatu.
According to Masuku, they have appealed to the SADC for help.
“SADC likes quiet diplomacy. We know that there are engagements between the government and SADC leadership but we were not invited to that. Leaders know that if Swaziland is unstable, South Africa and Mozambique are unstable, so they can’t just sit back.”
Read more from Mandy Rossouw
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