Makhosazana Shongwe – Swaziland

Date: June 25, 2012
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05719_makhosazana_shongwe.jpgCouncillor Makhosazana Shongwe, a councillor in the Ngwenya Town Board is one of only two women in her council in the Hhohho Region., at the time of the interview in December 2008 she had only been in council for less than one term, after taking over leadership of the constituency from a male councillor.

Shongwe shared her experience as a woman candidate trying to gain entry into a constituency previously held by a man and revealed how a woman from the community expressed the view that they wanted to elect the previous male councillor because they were sceptical about her ability to handle herself once in Council: “They said that they feared that I might not be able to handle myself in Council as I might be overwhelmed or might not be able to represent the community issues as expected by the people”.

She recalled how after hearing this from the community and after being elected that she was certain the some community members had begun to plot her demise by spreading lies about her, “I was not surprised at this because during the induction process we were told that there are some in communities who will not be happy with our success and will attempt to derail us from focusing on communities. We were also warned that some might even tell lies about us to the media in order to get us removed as this might ultimately lead to a vote of no confidence.”

Feeling despondent by the underhanded actions of the community, she contemplated quitting local government. Fortunately there were some members of the community who did support her and asked her to reconsider her decision, which she did, “They told me that they wanted me to stay on to help develop the area and that after 5 years, they want to be able to see specific changes to the area which I would have brought to their area.”

Limited access to transport is a security issue in her community. She shared with researchers how she had to walk to many of the households as she campaigned in her locality: “The houses are far apart, I often had to walk long distances in order to get to people’s homes. I also timed my visits so that I would catch those who work in town on their return from work.” Her strategy was to leave her house at about 4 pm in order to meet with those returning from work by about 18:15. She adds that she was careful mot to be out too late at night because she was alone and, while her area is relatively safer than other areas there is always the risk of being raped because gender based violence in Swaziland is a problem.

Housing is another key concern of her constituents. “The community does not own the land it is currently occupying and people are prohibited form building brick houses,” she said. Every year, during the rainy season, the houses leak, and people raise children in mud and stick houses. “This must change,” the Councillor says.

“I raised the issue of the provision of brick houses with the CEO and the general lack of development in the area; the response was that the community, through the councillor should state their need as a first step. This will be the basis upon which the Minister of Housing can be invited to respond to issues raised directly.”

This response surprised Shongwe. She wondered why this engagement with the Minister of Local Government, councillors and communities had not happened sooner, during the terms of the previous councillors. It was also the first time that she learned that councillors and communities could make such requests to see the Minister of Local Government in order to present their case, “If I had known, then I would have this request earlier, it is just that I did not know.”

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