Swazi king throws public forum open

2012-08-07 22:40
Swazi teachers protesting. (Jinty Jackson, AFP)

Swazi teachers protesting. (Jinty Jackson, AFP)

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Ludzidzini - Swazi King Mswati III on Tuesday opened a three-day "People's Parliament" where his subjects can voice their opinions in Africa's last absolute monarchy amid a teachers' strike.

Discussions started in earnest at Mswati's royal palace in Ludzidzini, north of the capital Mbabane, as people vented frustrations and discussed the direction politics must take in the tiny nation.

The opposition and activists slammed the forum as an empty move since it has no power, and the kingdom's only trade union federation called a meeting to discuss a response.

"This is nothing but a window dressing exercise to make the international community believe that Swazis are allowed to shape the direction of the country, when in truth in such forums the speakers are specially selected and the agenda not known," said Zakhele Mabuza, spokesperson for the banned opposition party Pudemo.

Mswati had summoned people to his palace on Monday, sparking rumours he might announce democratic reforms but instead he called for a forum, known as a Sibaya.

Mswati last called a Sibaya seven years ago before passing a new constitution.

Civil society groups boycotted it then, and Mswati snubbed a similar colloquium set up by non-governmental organisations last year.

The talks come as a teachers' strike enters its sixth week.

Protests have grown since last year in the traditionally peaceful kingdom, which is bordered on three sides by South Africa, where trade unions and the banned political movements are calling for democratic reforms.

The country's problems are partly blamed on Mswati's extravagant lifestyle, supporting his 13 wives each in her own palace and high-flying international shopping trips, all paid for by state funds.

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