17 February 2013

Swaziland: Police Say Prayers Were 'Political'

Swaziland police say they broke up a prayer meeting at the Manzini Cathedral because the congregation wanted to sabotage the kingdom's forthcoming election.

Charles Tsabedze, the police Manzini Regional Commander, said, 'We heard that the prayer was aimed at strategizing logistics that will be used to sabotage the national elections.'

About 60 armed police forced their way into the Our Lady of Assumption cathedral yesterday (16 February 2013) while a prayer meeting was taking place. They broke up the prayers giving the congregation seven minutes to vacate the building.

The prayer was jointly organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). It had originally been scheduled to take place at the Bosco Skills Centre in Manzini. The venue was changed to the cathedral at the last minute after organisers realised the police intended to block people entering Bosco.

Earlier in the week organisers in a public statement had said the prayer would be part of their campaign for a people's government and would call for a boycott of the national election in Swaziland later in the year (2013).

Tsabedze told local media in Swaziland that prior to the prayer meeting police met with organisers and told them that the event would not be allowed to take place.

'We told them that we would not allow the prayer to take place at Bosco Skills Centre or any other place within Manzini,' the Times Sunday reported him saying.

After the police broke up the meeting the organisers issued a statement. 'The prayer was aimed at launching our nationwide campaign for a people's government using peaceful means and in a language that every Swazi understands; Religion.

'The security forces were up in arms well before the date for the prayer and intimidated and harassed the workers at the venue at which the prayer was to be held. As such, we had to abandon the Bosco Skills Centre at the last minute and try to find an alternative venue.

'As early as 07.00hrs, the police were all over the town of Manzini with a large concentration being around the Bosco Skills Centre, Salesian and St. Theresa's schools, Caritas and the Catholic Church; these being in close proximity to each other.

'Prodemocracy activists were turned away from the Bosco Skills Centre and threateningly told to "go pray in their homes" and patronisingly told that today is a Saturday and therefore not a day of worship.

'The activists and the ordinary Swazi defiantly regrouped under the leadership of the SUDF/SDC and proceeded to seek refuge at the Catholic Church and they were welcomed and the Cathedral availed to them to hold their prayer.

'However, the police came swooping in and ensured that this plan too was thwarted. The church was completely surrounded and invaded and the police threatened everyone telling them to vacate "or else".

'Bishop Paul Verryna intervened with at least a closing prayer, but mid-way he was told his "time is up" and he should "shut up" and everyone was forcefully herded out of the church.'

Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, holds elections every five years. No political parties are allowed to take part and ordinary Swazi people are only allowed to elect 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly: the rest are chosen by the king.

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. The king also chooses the prime minister and senior government ministers.

Parliament has no powers. In October 2012, the House of Assembly passed a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and cabinet. In such circumstances the constitution requires the monarch to sack the government (he has no discretion in the matter), but King Mswati ignored this and put pressure on the House to re-run the vote, this time ensuring that it did not have the required majority to pass. Members of the House did as they were told and the government continued in office.

King Mswati has yet to announce the date of the election.

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