Elected members of parliament in Swaziland have been told they are not above chiefs, because chiefs are appointed by the King.
King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The MPs were put in their place by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Wednesday (29 March 2017), ‘The EBC told residents that it was not acceptable have elected politicians to behave as if they were above community leaders.’
It added, ‘Chiefs remain superior to any other person in communities as they are the administrative arm of His Majesty King Mswati III.’
This was said by the EBC during a voter education exercise at Engwenyameni Umphakatsi.
Swaziland is due to hold its national elections in 2018. Political parties are banned from taking part and King Mswati’s subjects are only allowed to pick 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly; the other 10 are appointed by the King.
None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.
The King choses the Prime Minister and cabinet members. Only a man with the surname Dlamini can, by tradition, be appointed as Prime Minister. The King is a Dlamini.
He also choses senior civil servants and top judges.
Khethiwe Vilakati, one of the educators reportedly told residents of Engwenyameni, ‘Chiefs represent the King, so people must make that distinction. For someone to feel superior to the chief is very wrong and we don’t encourage it.’
In Swaziland chiefs do the King’s bidding at a local level. People know not to upset the chief because their livelihood depends on his goodwill. In some parts of Swaziland the chiefs are given the power to decide who gets food that has been donated by international agencies and then the chiefs quite literally have power of life and death in such cases with about a third of the population of Swaziland receiving food aid each year.
Chiefs can and do take revenge on their subjects who disobey them. There is a catalogue of cases in Swaziland. For example, Chief Dambuza Lukhele of Ngobelweni in the Shiselweni region banned his subjects from ploughing their fields because some of them defied his order to build a hut for one of his wives.
Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a Swazi street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers against his orders.
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