Police in Swaziland have said people must not hold meetings – even social gatherings – without the permission of their chief.
This was said at a three-day workshop for inner councils covering the areas of Somntongo and Matsanjeni South parliamentary constituencies.
It comes as Swaziland is preparing for national elections later in 2018. Political parties are banned from taking part in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Public debate during election time is severely curtailed.
Chiefs are appointed by the King and are considered to be his eyes and ears at the local level. Chiefs are more important than elected members of parliament, according to the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
Police Assistant Inspector Sakhile Mncina told 150 members of the inner councils that it was important for any activity that was held in their respective areas under chiefs to be reported.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported (26 March 2018) Mncina said, ‘Even visitors should be known to the leaders of the community. No event should take place without the chief’s permission. It’s important to seek permission for ceremonies that take place in communities.
‘There are social gatherings which also have to be brought to the attention of elders before taking place. This is done in order to make sure that in the event something else happens, no one should have an excuse.’
Chiefs in Swaziland wield tremendous power over their subjects and can, for example, determine whether people are allowed to live in the area, or whether children can attend universities and colleges. In some cases they decide who lives and who dies as they are in charge of distributing international food aid to starving communities. About a third of the population of Swaziland receive 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 street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers.
In November 2013, the newly-appointed Chief Ndlovula of Motshane threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a E5,000 (about US$500 at the time) fine, the equivalent of more than six months income for many in Swaziland.
In March 2017 the Swazi Observer reported the EBC told residents during a voter education exercise at Engwenyameni Umphakatsi, ‘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.’
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