January 20, 2012

Parties remain banned for polls / South Africa to build rail link

King Mswati III of Swaziland is to fly in the face of international opposition and continue his ban on political parties at the national elections in 2013. Political parties have been banned since 1973 when Mswati's father, King Sobhuza II, tore up the Swazi constitution and ruled by decree. Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in the Swaziland Government, handpicked by King Mswati, confirmed that also next year there would be no changes to the way the national elections would be run. This means parties are banned and only candidates standing as individuals can compete for election. This flies in the face of international opinion. At the last election in 2008, the European Union refused to send a delegation to monitor the fairness of the election. It said at the time that it was clear that Swaziland was not a democracy

The Pan-African Parliament, which did monitor the election, reported, 'The non-participation of political parties makes these elections extraordinary from any others but we hope with time things will change.' In 2003, the Commonwealth Expert Team (CET) which observed that year's election, concluded, 'We do not regard the credibility of these National elections as an issue: no elections can be credible when they are for a Parliament which does not have power and when political parties are banned'. After the 2008 election the CET repeated its view that Swazi elections were not credible and called for Swaziland's constitution to be rewritten to unban political parties and 'ensure that Swaziland's commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal'. Since the 2008 election there have been many mass protests in Swaziland calling for the unbanning of political parties and other reforms.

These calls have been supported by international organisations. Among them is the International Commission of Jurists which says people in Swaziland have a fundamental right to form political parties. At present the Swaziland Parliament has few powers. Of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, 10 are chosen by King Mswati and 55 are elected as individuals by the people. In the senate King Mswati chooses 20 of the 30 places. The other 10 are chosen by members of the House of Assembly. None are elected by the people.
In the meantime it got known that a 146-kilometre railway line would be established between South Africa and Swaziland. This should help reduce the cost of doing business between the two countries. Swazi traders, who import most of their wares from South Africa, feel the new railway infrastructure will also have positive spinoffs for the consumer by lowering the prices of commodities because of the potential reduction of transport costs. "Trains are not widely used in the country because the capacity of the rail industry is limited and hence confined to few of the big companies," said Sibusiso Sibandze, an entrepreneur.

The railway will run from Lothair in Mpumalanga, South Africa to Sidvokodvo, Swaziland. Swaziland imports more than 80 percent of its goods from South Africa, which in turn imports about 70 percent of Swaziland's exports, which include coal, sugar, beef and citrus fruits. However, the new railway line will predominantly transport coal. Recently the country revived its iron ore mine and Salgaocar Swaziland is in the process of setting up an iron-ore reprocessing factory to extract the mineral from disused mine dumps. But the reprocessing factory is yet to be constructed and Salgaocar currently transports the iron ore to Mozambique via road for processing.
Daily, 30 trucks travel between Swaziland and Mozambique and many citizens are concerned about the number of heavy vehicles On the roads. Business people hailed the new railway line between South Africa and Swaziland, called the Swazilink Railway Line, as a breath of fresh air in the transport industry in the region because it will not only create jobs for many but it will also boost the economies of the two countries. (IPS/Swazi Media Commentary)

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