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Swaziland:

Striving for Freedom

As seen through the pages of Swazi Media Commentary

Volume 15: July to September 2014

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

CONTENTS

Introduction

2

1 ‘Nation’ magazine

3

2 Media

20

3 King Mswati III

26

4 Wasteful spending

29

5 Africa Growth Opportunities Act

32

6 Industry

38

7 Human Rights

42

8 Airport

49

About the author

53

Books by Swazi Media Commentary

54

Occasional Paper series

55

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom, previous editions

56

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

INTRODUCTION

An editor and a human rights journalist were jailed in Swaziland for two years after writing and publishing articles in a tiny-circulation magazine critical of the kingdom’s judiciary. The case of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko is the most serious attack on freedom in the kingdom in living memory. The case caused outrage across the world and the two men have been nominated for an international Human Rights Defenders Award.

Elsewhere, the media in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, continue to be fiercely controlled. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King was forced into making a humiliating apology after it wrote about his latest (believed to be the 15 th ) bride. Elsewhere, Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Dumisani Ndlangamandla, reminded the King’s subjects that broadcast media existed primarily to serve the interests of the state.

These are just two of the stories from Swaziland from the past three months published by Swazi media Commentary and brought together in this latest edition of Swaziland: Striving for Freedom, Volume 15.

This publication documents many of the struggles for freedom presently taking place in Swaziland; including a legal crisis as lawyers take on the judges; industrial disputes for better pay and working conditions. Hundreds of women workers at a textile factory were exposed to poisonous fumes and some were denied medical treatment because they were too poor to pay. Young girls were flogged because they did not attend a ceremony at which they were expected to dance half-naked in front of the King.

Swazi Media Commentary has no physical base and is completely independent of any political faction and receives no income from any individual or organisation. People who contribute ideas or write for it do so as volunteers and receive no payment.

Swazi Media Commentary is published online updated most days bringing information, comment and analysis in support of democracy in the kingdom.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

1. ‘NATION’ MAGAZINE

‘Nation’ magazine banned in jail

14 July 2014

Swaziland’s only independent comment magazine has been banned from a jail in the kingdom because it is ‘political’, while the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati is allowed.

The Nation magazine, which is currently at the centre of a High Court case involving freedom of the media, is banned at Zakhele Remand Centre, where a number of pro - democracy activists are in jail awaiting trial.

The ban came to light after visitors to the remand centre took a copy of the magazine and copies of Swaziland’s only two daily newspapers, the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer to give to members of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) and the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) who are incarcerated awaiting trial.

The Observer is a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Media in Swaziland are heavily censored with nearly all radio and television controlled by the state. The Nation is considered to be the only truly independent journalism in the kingdom. Its editor Bheki Makhubu and a writer Thulani Maseko are presently in court on contempt charges after writing and publishing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

The Times of Swaziland reported that correctional officers refused to allow the Nation to be handed to inmates because it ‘was political and as such was not allowed into the facility’.

The newspaper reported that Correctional Services Public Relations Officer (PRO) Bongani Khumalo confirmed the fact that the magazine was not allowed into the remand centre.

The newspaper reported Khumalo saying, ‘The officer in charge at Zakhele used his discretion not to allow the magazine into the facility as it would not only be read by the two men but by all the other men they share a cell with.’

He denied that the magazine was branded as political, stating that officers did not know what constituted political reading material.

Court convicts editor and writer

17 July 2014

Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine in Swaziland, and writer and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were convicted of contempt of court by the kingdom’s High Court on Thursday (17 July 2014).

This followed the writing and publication of articles critical of the Swaziland judiciary and in particular of the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

In delivering his verdict, Judge Mpendulo Simelane rejected evidence given during the trial by Thulani Maseko, saying it was irrelevant and a political gimmick. Maseko had delivered a statement in open court in which he criticised King Mswati and outlined ways in which Swaziland could not be considered a democracy. The judge said the statement amounted to a call for regime change in the kingdom.

Judge Simelane also said that constitutionally there was no absolute right to freedom of expression in Swaziland. He said that both accused men incited the public against the courts.

The Nation is a monthly magazine which only prints 3,000 copies a month that circulate in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The judgment was reported live across a number of social media platforms, something unprecedented in Swaziland where mainstream media are heavily censored. Nearly all broadcasting is state controlled and one of only two daily newspaper groups in the kingdom is in effect owned by King Mswati.

Sentence will be imposed after statements of mitigation from Makhubu and Maseko have been heard.

Editor and lawyer ‘face 10 years jail’ 18 July 2014

The Swaziland editor and human rights lawyer convicted of contempt of court could face up to ten years in jail, according to a media report.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of the independent news magazine The Nation, and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, were convicted on Thursday (17 July 2014). Their lawyers say they intend to appeal.

Makhubu and Maseko were arrested in March 2014 after writing articles critical of a ruling by Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

The Independent Online newspaper group in South Africa reported they now faced a possible ten years in jail. A date for sentencing has yet to be set.

The conviction has been condemned by pro-democracy voices across the world. Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’

In a statement she said, ‘We call on authorities in Swaziland to release Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko immediately.’

CPJ reported, ‘CPJ research shows that most of Swaziland’s principal media outlets are controlled by the state or choose to self-censor. King Mswati III owns one of the two daily newspapers and employs the editor of the other as an adviser. Media freedom advocates

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

regard The Nation, which is owned and published by Swaziland Independent Publishers, as the only independent voice in Swaziland.’ Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’

Cox added, ‘After a three-month show trial, Swaziland’s High Court conviction of two of the country’s most prominent human rights activists shows that Swaziland’s court system has lost its last shred of credibility.’

In a statement the organisation said, ‘Freedom House joins opposition groups, civil society organizations and international organizations in demanding authorities swiftly and unconditionally release Maseko, Makhubu and all of Swaziland’s political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.’

CPJ reported Makhubu had previously been convicted of contempt of court. In April 2013, the Swaziland high court sentenced him to a fine of US$20,000 or two years' imprisonment in connection with stories he published in 2009 and 2010 that criticized Ramodibedi. Makhubu appealed the sentence successfully in May 2014 when the Supreme Court handed down a fully suspended three-month sentence, provided that he is not convicted of any offense of scandalizing the court over the next three years.

Support for convicted journalists 19 July 2014

Support grows throughout the world for the two journalists in Swaziland who were convicted of contempt of court and may face up to 10 years in jail.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer who contributes to the small-circulation monthly journal, wrote and published articles critical of the Swazi judiciary and in particular the Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

They were convicted at the Swaziland High Court on Thursday (17 July 2014) and are in jail awaiting sentence. Media speculation in South Africa is that the pair could face up to 10 years in prison.

Amnesty International, which declared the pair ‘prisoners of conscience’ after they were arrested in March 2014, said the verdict was, ‘a violation of international human rights standards as well as the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland’. It said in a statement the pair were exercising ‘freedom of expression’.

It called for the immediate release of the men and is urging supporters to write to Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe to protest, ‘the arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and impartial proceedings’ surrounding the trial.

Part of the letter reads, ‘I urge Swaziland authorities to protect, respect and fulfil the right of freedom of expression for all people; to cease all harassment, intimidation and unlawful legal proceedings against human rights defenders; and to ensure that the persons responsible for such human rights violations are held accountable.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a statement said, ‘The Court’s ruling and events that transpired before it fall short of Swaziland’s international obligations to respect the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial.’

It added, ‘The conviction of Thulani and Bheki shows that the law as implemented in Swaziland does not adequately protect the right to freedom of expression and that it unduly shields the courts from public scrutiny.’

The ICJ statement continued, ‘The ICJ and others have consistently raised concern that the arrest of the two human rights defenders, their detention and proceedings against them were inconsistent with international standards.

‘The legality of the arrest, detention and charges against Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu were successfully challenged before High Court Judge Mumcy Dhlamini, resulting in their release from custody for two days.

‘However, the men were rearrested and detained when the State appealed Judge Mumcy Dhlamini’s ruling. But were retained in custody when the two had cross-appealed that decision.

Their trial was also been characterized by numerous, often-long postponements.’

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, based in Washington, said that during the trial, ‘the presiding judge disallowed much of the defense testimony and reserved judgment on sentencing “indefinitely,” meaning the two will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future and raising further questions about the independence and fairness of Swaziland’s judicial system’.

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center, said in a statement, ‘This arbitrary decision makes a mockery of justice and deals a severe blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland. King Mswati III must act swiftly to reaffirm the rule of law in his country and to ensure that his citizens’ fundamental human rights are protected.’

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and appoints the judges in his kingdom.

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy partners for Human Rights, said, ‘A judicial system that is ready to deny freedom of expression to shield itself from criticism cannot legitimately claim to be administering justice.’

Canton added, ‘Public officials, such as judges and magistrates, by the very nature of their position should be freely scrutinized by the population.’

Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’

What convicted journalists wrote 19 July 2014

A magazine editor and human rights lawyer in Swaziland face up to ten years in jail after being convicted of contempt of court for criticizing the judiciary and the kingdom’s Chief Justice in articles published in the Nation, a tiny-circulation monthly news magazine.

The conviction of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko has sparked outrage around the world. In his judgment, High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane said, ‘the Constitution does not grant an absolute right of freedom of expression’.

Media are heavily censored in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The court judgment delivered on Thursday (17 July 2014) contained the specific words in the articles complained of.

These are the words as published that could land two men in jail for ten years.

‘The Accused persons, [Makhubu, Maseko and Independent Publishers, the publisher of the Nation] are charged as follows:-

“COUNT ONE Accused 1, 2 and 3 are guilty of the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT In that upon or about the month of February 2014 and at or near Mbabane area in the Hhohho Region, the said accused each or all of them acting jointly in furtherance of a common purpose, did write and publish an article entitled “Speaking my mind” about the case which was first dealt with before the Chief Justice His Lordship Justice Ramodibedi of THE KING VERSUS BHANTSHANA VINCENT GWEBU HIGH COURT CASE NO. 25/2014, a criminal matter currently pending before the High Court of Swaziland and therefore sub judice, which article’s passages are quoted:-

(a) ‘Like Caiaphus, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi seems to have chosen to use his higher station in

life to bully those in a weaker position as a means to consolidate his power. Like Caiaphus, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi seems to be in a path to create his legacy by pushing the small man so that he can sleep easy at night well knowing that he has sent a message to all who dare cross him that they will be put in their right place. Let us not forget that Caiaphus was not only the high priest of Judea. He was the chief justice of all Jewish law and had only the immense power to pass judgment on anyone among his people who transgressed the law. Ditto Ntate Justice Ramodibedi in Swaziland.’

(b) ‘When this lowly public servant from Bulunga appeared before him on Monday after a warrant

for his arrest had been issued, Gwebu was denied the right to legal representation because, Ntate Justice Ramodibedi is reported to have said, the lawyer was not there when the car was impounded

at the weekend.’

(c)

‘Like Caiaphus, our Chief Justice “massaged” the law to suit his own agenda.’

(d)

‘What is incredible about the similarities between Caiaphus and Ntate Justice Ramodibedi is

that both men had willing servants to help them break the law.’

and did thereby unlawfully and intentionally violate the dignity, repute or authority of the said Court before which the matter is pending, and thereby commit the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

COUNT TWO Accused 1, 2, 3 and 4 are guilty of the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.

In that upon or about the month of March 2014 and at or near Mbabane area in the Hhohho Region, the said accused each or all of them acting jointly and in furtherance of a common purpose, did write and publish an article entitled “Where the law has no place” about the case which was first dealt with before the Chief Justice His Lordship Justice Ramodibedi of THE KING VERSUS BHANTSHANA VINCENT GWEBU HIGH COURT CASE NO. 25/2014, a criminal matter currently pending before the High Court of Swaziland and therefore sub judice, which article’s passages are quoted:-

(a) ‘The arrest of Bhantshana Gwebu early in the year is a demonstration of how corrupt the

power system has become in this country.’

(b) ‘We should be deeply concerned about such conduct displayed by the head of the judiciary in

the country. Such conduct deprives the court of its moral authority; it is a demonstration of moral bankruptcy. A judiciary that is morally bankrupt cannot dispense justice without fear or favour as the oath of the office dictates.’

(c)

‘Many will say that what we saw is nothing but a travesty of justice in its highest form.’

(d)

‘In more ways than one, this was a repeat of the Justice Thomas Masuku kangaroo process

where the Chief Justice was prosecutor, witness and judge in his own cause.’

(e) ‘It would appear as some suggest, that Gwebu had to be “dealt with” for sins he committed in

the past, confiscating cars belonging to the powerful, including the Chief Justice himself. It is such perceptions that make people lose faith in institutions of power, when it appears that such institutions are used to settle personal scores at the expense of justice and fairness.’

and did thereby unlawfully and intentionally violate the dignity, repute or authority of the said Court before which the matter is pending, and thereby commit the crime of CONTEMPT OF COURT.”

In his judgment, Judge Simelane said by writing and publishing the words, ‘The Accused persons scandalized, insulted and brought to disrepute the dignity and authority of the Chief Justice.’

Judge restricts press freedom 22 July 2014

Swaziland’s High Court has sent a chilling warning to journalists in the kingdom that the law courts can determine what they are permitted to write and what they are not.

High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane ruled that Section 24 of Swaziland’s Constitution that includes guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of the press can be overridden by judges.

In a ruling in which he convicted a magazine editor and a writer of contempt of court, Judge Simelane said, ‘No one has the right to attack a judge or the Courts under the disguise of the right of freedom of expression.’ He said this was ‘because it is in the public interest that the authority and dignity of the Court is maintained’.

Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko had written and published articles in the Nation, a monthly magazine in Swaziland, that were critical of the Swazi judiciary in general and Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi in particular.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The pair are awaiting sentence on a date yet to be set.

In his judgment, Judge Simelane said, ‘The rule of law is meant to benefit everyone. Some journalists have this misconception that just because they have the power of the pen and paper they can say or write anything under the disguise of freedom of expression.’

The judge’s ruling has been criticized across the world. Amnesty International said, ‘Their detention and trial violate their right to exercise freedom of expression as guaranteed under Swaziland's domestic and international human rights obligations.’

The International Commission of Journalists said, ‘The right of freedom of expression is a right which is foundational to free societies.

‘Its respect is recognized as a necessary condition for the realization of transparency and accountability that are essential for the promotion, protection and realization of human rights.

‘It includes the right to impart information to others in almost any form. It covers both facts and opinions.’

Committee to Protect Journalists Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine called the ruling, ‘an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression’.

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy Partners for Human Rights said, ‘A judicial system that is ready to deny freedom of expression to shield itself from criticism cannot legitimately claim to be administering justice”, and added, ‘Public officials, such as judges and magistrates, by the very nature of their position should be freely scrutinized by the population.’

Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) Campaigns Manager Mark Beacon said, ‘This was a highly politicised trial and yet another example of how the Swazi regime uses the judicial system to crush anyone who dares to criticise them.’

Cléa Kahn-Sriber, head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, said, ‘This is clearly a political verdict designed to gag Swaziland’s only independent publication. It will also send a chilling message to all other Swazi journalists.’

Innocent Maphalala, editor of the Times Sunday, a newspaper in Swaziland, where nearly all broadcast media are state-controlled and one of the kingdom’s only two newspaper groups is in effect owned by King Mswati III, called the court ruling, ‘a sad day for Swazi journalists’.

Dr. Maxwell Mthembu, a journalism and mass communication lecturer at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) told local media the judgment suppressed media freedom ‘at a time when the media has already been turned into a lap dog’.

The Observer Sunday quoted him saying, ‘The judgment is oblivious of the fact that the media has to monitor and keep check of the three arms of government. It concludes that the judiciary is beyond reproach. That is not proper because the media has to ensure those checks,’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

He added, ‘This is really bad for the media because it breeds censorship. What this judgment means is that the media can no longer touch the judiciary.’

US backs convicted Swazi journalists 23 July 2014

The US State Department has joined the growing chorus of outrage at the High Court conviction of an editor and a human rights lawyer in Swaziland for publishing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.

In a statement the State Department said, ‘The United States is deeply concerned by the convictions of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Makhubu for contempt of court in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

Makhubu and Maseko will be sentenced on a date still to be announced.

The State department said, ‘Their convictions for contempt of court for publishing an article critical of the High Court of Swaziland and their ongoing prolonged detention appear to undermine respect for Swaziland’s human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Swaziland’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States strongly supports the universal fundamental freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the actions of the Swazi Government.’

Last month (June 2014) the United States withdrew preferential trading status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) from Swaziland because the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was not ‘making continual progress’ in enacting civil, political and workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders described the conviction of Makhubu and Maseko after articles appeared in the Nation magazine, a monthly comment magazine with a print run of only 3,000 copies, as a ‘shockingly unfair decision in Africa’s last monarchy by a judicial system that claims to be independent but is not’.

Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, said, ‘This conviction is completely absurd. Makhubu and Maseko have been convicted of criticizing irregularities in the judicial system by a man who is plaintiff and judge at the same time. ‘The way these proceedings have been conducted is proof of the accuracy of the articles for which they have been convicted. This is clearly a political verdict designed to gag Swaziland’s only independent publication. It will also send a chilling message to all other Swazi journalists.’

In the UK, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) Campaigns Manager Mark Beacon said, ‘This was a highly politicised trial and yet another example of how the Swazi regime uses the judicial system to crush anyone who dares to criticise them. ACTSA joins with voices in Swaziland calling on the government to release Thulani Makeko, Bheki Makhubu and all human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

In the Swazi High Court, Justice Mpendulo Simelani said that despite the Constitution of Swaziland the right to freedom of expression was not absolute but limited.

Reacting to the verdict, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) said, ‘The SAHRDN restates the well-founded and recognised position that the freedom of expression, and in particular freedom of the media and press, is critical to maintaining an open and democratic society.

‘The SAHRDN is of the considered view that in convicting the two for allegedly authoring articles critical of actions of the judiciary, by narrowly reading and interpreting the right to freedom of expression in the Swazi Constitution, Justice Mpendulo Simelane has exhibited the stark intolerance of the judiciary to criticism and impacted negatively on the perception of the ability of judicial officers to protect all citizens equally and without fear or favour.

‘These developments in Swaziland have exposed the judiciary and made a mockery to the state of democracy in Swaziland, SADC [Southern Africa Development Community] and indeed Africa as a whole. As one of the arms of government, the Swazi judiciary is expected to protect the fundamental rights of citizens and not contribute to their violation through court decisions.’

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in Geneva, in a statement said it was ‘concerned by Messrs. Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko’s conviction, as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities, and calls upon the Swazi authorities to release Messrs. Maseko and Makhubu immediately and unconditionally, and to put an end to the continued judicial harassment against them.’

In Swaziland itself, the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo said of the conviction, ‘It spells doom for the future of journalism and practicing journalists in the country," he said. "It further stifles media development because it instils fear in journalists and citizens who want to express their views.’

In a statement Hlatshwayo said, ‘MISA-Swaziland appeals to the Swazi authorities to uphold and respect section 24 of the Constitution, which protects free speech and media freedom. They must know that a free and independent media is the catalyst for the social economic development of any country. Because if people are not allowed to express their views on issues affecting their daily lives, there is no way the decision makers can make informed and relevant policies.

‘MISA-Swaziland reaffirms its position that dissenting views are healthy and are not to be confused with disloyalty. MISA-Swaziland continues to stand by prisoners of conscience Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko.’

Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’

Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a statement said, ‘The Court’s ruling and events that transpired before it fall short of Swaziland’s international obligations to respect the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial.’

It added, ‘The conviction of Thulani and Bheki shows that the law as implemented in Swaziland does not adequately protect the right to freedom of expression and that it unduly shields the courts from public scrutiny.’

Amnesty International, which declared the pair ‘prisoners of conscience’ after they were arrested in March 2014, said the verdict was, ‘a violation of international human rights standards as well as the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland’. It said in a statement the pair were exercising ‘freedom of expression’.

It called for the immediate release of the men and is urging supporters to write to Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe to protest, ‘the arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and impartial proceedings’ surrounding the trial.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, based in Washington, said that during the trial, ‘the presiding judge disallowed much of the defense testimony and reserved judgment on sentencing “indefinitely,” meaning the two will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future and raising further questions about the independence and fairness of Swaziland’s judicial system’.

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center, said in a statement, ‘This arbitrary decision makes a mockery of justice and deals a severe blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland. King Mswati III must act swiftly to reaffirm the rule of law in his country and to ensure that his citizens’ fundamental human rights are protected.’

Journalists critical of regime jailed 25 July 2014

Magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced to two years in jail on Friday (25 January 2014) after they wrote articles for the Nation magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary.

They were not given an option of a fine.

The sentence was immediately condemned by Freedom House, the global human rights organisation as ‘shameful’ and a ‘brazen contempt for the free press’.

There had been protests across the world after the pair were convicted by the Swazi High Court of contempt of court a week earlier.

When they appeared for sentencing High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelenae said the sentence should serve as a deterrent for others.

Judge Simelane singled out Maseko because during the trial he had read out a statement in his defence that criticised the lack of democracy in Swaziland.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Judge Simelane said this amounted to a call for regime change in Swaziland. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Journalists ‘jailed to deter others’ 26 July 2014

Swaziland High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane sentenced an editor and a writer to two years in jail to deter other journalists from criticizing the state.

He made this clear in remarks from the court on Friday (25 July 2014) when he sentenced Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, to two years in prison without an option of a fine.

The pair had written articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swaziland judiciary.

Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Judge Simelane said, ‘I find that the interests of society far outweigh the personal circumstances of the Accused.’

He added that publishing articles in the Nation critical of the judiciary was ‘a defiance campaign against the Courts and the administration of justice. The Courts have an obligation to discourage such conduct in the interest of the stability of our country.’

In a clear warning to all journalists and other critics in Swaziland, Judge Simelane said, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did. Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively. The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’

He added, ‘Swaziland is a sovereign state. Her laws and constitutional structures must be respected. It is the fundamental responsibility of the Courts in this country to ensure that this is achieved through appropriately stiff sentences as a deterrent.’

The prison sentence has been criticized across the world. The US State Department said the harsh sentence appeared to be in conflict with Swaziland’s human rights obligations.

Amnesty International called it ‘a deplorable attack on freedom of expression in the country’.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Makhubu’s ‘only crime was to express a point of view and to publish criticism of alleged abuse of resources by certain members of the Swazi judiciary’.

The South Africa National Editors Forum (Sanef) said, ‘This is a massive blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland and will have a chilling impact on the work of journalists in that country.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Court silences Swazi journalists 27 July 2014

A threat by a Swaziland High Court judge to jail jo urnalists that criticise decisions made by the law courts has hit home.

Chair of the Swaziland Editors’ Forum Mbongeni Mbingo declined to comment on the statement by Judge Mpendulo Simelane for fear of committing a contempt of court.

Mbingo had been asked by local media to comment on the jailing for two years of Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer. The pair had written articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swaziland judiciary.

Passing sentence Judge Simelane said that publishing articles in the Nation critical of the judiciary was ‘a defiance campaign against the Courts and the administration of justice. The Courts have an obligation to discourage such conduct in the interest of the stability of our country.’

He added, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did. Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively. The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’

He added, ‘Swaziland is a sovereign state. Her laws and constitutional structures must be respected. It is the fundamental responsibility of the Courts in this country to ensure that this is achieved through appropriately stiff sentences as a deterrent.’

Mbingo, who is chief editor of the Swazi Observer newspaper group, which is in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was reported by a rival newspaper, the Swazi News, saying, ‘he couldn’t comment on the judgment because doing so would probably constitute contempt of court but insisted that he was at pains, following yesterday’s events’.

The Swazi News quoted Mbingo saying the two-year sentences were ‘alarming’.

Mbingo said, ‘Bheki Makhubu is a member of the Editors’ Forum, he is a senior editor and he is highly regarded in the profession. Therefore, today has been a very sad day for all of us in the profession.

‘The sentence is alarming to us in the industry. I have been following the case as a journalist, as editor and a colleague to Bheki, but I never saw this coming. I didn’t think the sentence could be this drastic.’

He added, ‘I think we will obviously have to look at it and study it as media personnel to understand where the judge is coming from and to understand where the infringement was in order to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in the same situation.

‘More than anything it’s important for us to understand what we stand for as a profession; it’s

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

important to understand our role in society. We need to perform our role in society as respectfully as we can and also as unafraid as possible.’ Meanwhile, the Lawyers for Human Rights in Swaziland (LHRS) expressed ‘shock and disbelief’ at the jailing of the two journalists.

Secretary of the LHRS Sipho Gumedze said, ‘The tone that was used by the court was very unfortunate. Somewhere within the judgment, the court said it wanted to send a clear message to all journalists in Swaziland. As an association, we have serious misgivings about that.

‘The use of that tone was unwarranted.

‘The court was supposed to confine itself to the matter at hand and not to be political and personal because the court’s fundamental duty is to serve justice.’

Chairman of the LHRSMaxwell Nkambule said Judge Simelane’s sentence had dashed hopes on the independence of the judiciary and the role of courts to uphold the Constitution.

‘True we saw it coming but to think the court would unashamedly disrespect the basics on the protection of rights. Such is disgusting to say the least. The court is essentially saying there is no freedom of expression and free press,’ he said.

Vincent Ncongwane, Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), said, ‘The arrest, conviction and sentence of Maseko and Makhubu is very unfortunate and has no space in the modern democratic society.

‘The federation was seriously shocked at the tone the court used when delivering the judgment, it was scaring to say the least.’

Maseko calls on US to sanction King 31 July 2014

Thulani Maseko, the human rights lawyer and journalist jailed for two years in Swaziland because he wrote a magazine article critical of the Swazi judiciary, has written from his jail cell at Sidvwashini Prison to US President Barack Obama, asking for the United States to impose sanctions against King Mswati III.

In the letter that was written while Maseko was awaiting trial, the lawyer quoted Obama himself who once said, ‘I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:

the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.’

Maseko wrote to President Obama, ‘We are happy that the American government, under your administration, has noted that these things are not available to the vast majority of the people of Swaziland. They are not available because we are living under a dictatorship of a supreme

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

monarchy that abuses the people’s customary and traditional practices to stay in power. Yet we know that tradition and customary practices should not impede on basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and civil liberties. As far as we in the democratic progressive movement understand, human rights are God-given; they are inalienable, inherent, indivisible and inviolable.

‘In the Kingdom of Swaziland, we live under an oppressive regime where it is said “rights and freedoms which we accept must not conflict with our traditions as the Swazi nation.” Such a notion is obviously inconsistent with the rule of law, democracy and good governance.’

He added, ‘Mr. President, in the context of Swaziland, dissenting and opposing voices are silenced, harassed and thrown into jail. The system of government is based on one man [King Mswati III] with all political authority, which is sanctioned by the constitution; this is the supreme law of the land. Section 79 of the 2005 Constitution prohibits the lawful existence and recognition of political parties, which effectively undermines democracy and democratic governance.’

He added, ‘President Obama, I believe that it is now generally accepted that no country can be a democracy when political parties are banned, and where basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are unreasonably restricted and contained. Such is the case in Swaziland.’

Maseko called on President Obama and the American people and partners around the globe to put pressure on King Mswati (who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch) to help put pressure on the King to agree on constitutional talks.

He also asked President Obama to influence countries of the European Union and the United Nations ‘to take a firm stand on Swaziland’.

Maseko wrote, ‘Our country exports huge amounts of sugar and beef to the countries of Europe; a threat to such a market will send shivers to the king, forcing him to reconsider his hardline positions.

‘What is more, our King is very fond of traveling the world. We reckon it is about time for targeted sanctions against him and a select few members of his inner circle to be considered.’

He added, ‘I am afraid that if democratic and progressive governments do not take a timely stand against the Swaziland monarchy, then we have the danger of a violent confrontation, due to the intransigence of His Majesty King Mswati III and his courts.’

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which circulated the letter on the Internet said it was ‘a testament to not only his unwavering courage in the face of unconscionable repression, but to the spirit of all of Swaziland’s people who yearn for democracy and the rule of law.’

Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, said, ‘Freedom of expression is a basic human right that must be protected. By violating Thulani’s rights as a citizen, authorities in Swaziland have infringed on the rights of everyone, setting a horrible precedent in an already dire situation.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Swazi ‘Nation’ vows to fight on 6 August 2014

The Nation magazine in Swaziland, whose editor has been jailed for two years for publishing articles critical of the judiciary, has vowed to continue with its campaign for freedom in the kingdom.

Meanwhile, a fighting fund has been launched to raise the E100,000 (US$10,000) the magazine was fined and other legal costs. The magazine intends to appeal the decision in the Swazi Supreme Court sitting in November 2014.

Bheki Makhubu, the magazine’s editor, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, were jailed for two years after a Swazi High Court judge found them guilty of contempt of court.

The monthly magazine is considered by observers to be one of the few independent voices in the kingdom which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. In an editorial in its August 2014 edition it said it refused to ‘toe the line’.

The magazine which only has a print run of 3,000 copies said, ‘The two-year jail term imposed on our editor, Bheki Makhubu, and columnist, Thulani Maseko, will not deter the management and staff of this magazine from doing what it considers best for our country. The right to freedom of expression and the media is one that we will continue to pursue whether it is interpreted as absolute action or not.

‘We might be a small publication with very limited resources but the recent case against The Nation has shown that we are not to be taken lightly by those in power. For the state to commit so much resources over four months, in its endeavour to deal with two commoners whose crime were just words on paper, is an indication that The Nation might be small in its operation but big on impact to those opposed to hearing what others think.’

The magazine said that while Makhubu and Maseko languished in jail, ‘our staff will continue with the good work. Although a difficult period for the staff and the duo’s families, we are consoled by the fact that they remain resolute and still refuse to toe a line visible only to the powerful.’

The jailing of the journalists has caused an outcry across the world, with criticism coming from the United States, the European Union and a number of prodemocracy groups. The pair have been a regular topic of debate at the United States Africa Summit that has been taking place this week.

Meanwhile, a ‘Friends of the Nation’ fighting fund has been launched by the magazine to raise money to pay its fine and other legal costs.

In a statement, the magazine said, ‘For generous people who would like to contribute towards the legal assistance for The Nation contempt of court case, the publisher has set up the Friends of The Nation Fund. Deposits can now be made to First National Bank of Swaziland, Account Number: 62024928155. Branch Code: 280164. Swift Code: FIRNSZMX.’

In a statement, the Media Institute of Southern Africa said, ‘The Nation magazine is one of

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Swaziland’s few sources of independent news and opinion. By sticking to its mandate of “speaking truth to power” it is no stranger to the courts. For many years, the small but reliable publication has been outspoken in supporting Swaziland’s shift to a more open and tolerant country that respects its own constitution.’

Jailed magazine editor to appeal

20 August 2014

The Swaziland magazine editor Bheki Makhubu, jailed for two years for writing articles critical of Swazi judges, is to appeal against his sentence.

In the appeal papers lawyers for Makhubu say the High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane erred on several matters when convicting the editor of the Nation magazine.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa reported, ‘Many local and international observers condemned the sentence of Makhubu and his co-accused Thulani Maseko, saying that the trial highlighted the crumbling state of free speech while raising more questions over the independence of the justice system.’

The Nation magazine and the Swaziland Independent Publishers (PTY) Ltd, which were also found guilty on two counts of contempt of court and sentenced to a fine of E50,000 (US$5,000) on each count, are also to appeal sentence.

In his appeal statement Makhubu said the sentence had stifled ‘vibrant journalism’ in Swaziland. Broadcast media are almost entirely state-controlled and censorship is endemic.

In his appeal, Makhubu said Judge Simelane’s sentence was ‘so harsh that it has the effect of discouraging critical and vibrant journalism in this country’.

In his judgement at the High Court, Judge Simelane had said, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did. Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively. The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’

Jailed journalists up for award

29 September 2014

More than 50 trade unions and civil society organisations from across the world have joined to nominate two jailed Swaziland journalists for a human-rights award.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation magazine, and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and writer, are serving two-year jail sentences after writing and publishing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

They have been nominated for the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award which honours exceptional individuals who peacefully promote and protect universally recognised rights.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

A statement announcing the nomination said. ‘Thulani is a human rights lawyer and a pro- democracy activist who repeatedly defended political activists and trade unions in and outside the courts. He represented Mario Masuku, president of the banned opposition party, the People’s United Democratic Movement, and Sipho Jele on their pro-democracy struggles, which the state had termed treasonable.

‘Recently, he challenged the constitutionality of the de-registration of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland at the High Court.

‘Bheki is the editor of The Nation magazine, a monthly periodical that is one of the few independent voices in the country calling for government accountability and democratic change.’ Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The statement continued, ‘Thulani and Bheki were arrested and detained on 17 March 2014 and 18 March 2014 respectively for writing articles about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of government vehicle inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu, and the lack of integrity, impartiality and independence of the Swaziland judiciary. After a trial with numerous flaws and irregularities demonstrating a bias against them, both of them were convicted of contempt of court on 17 July 2014. However, instead of the ordinary 30-day sentence, they were sentenced to two years imprisonment on 25 July 2014, underscoring the political (and jaundiced) nature of their trial and sentence.’

The winners of the 2014 Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award will be selected by an independent jury and announced at the occasion of the ordinary session of the Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Niamey in October 2014.

Among those organisations making the nomination are: Action for Southern Africa; African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation; Afrika Kontakt Denmark; American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations; Botswana Federation of Trade Unions; Canadian Labour Congress; Central Organisation of Trade Unions Kenya; Congress of South African Trade Unions; Danish Confederation of Trade Unions; Federation Of Somali Trade Unions; International Trade Union Confederation; International Transport Workers’ Federation; Nigeria Labour Congress; Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions; Sierra Leone Labour Congress; Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations; Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders; Swaziland Lawyers for Human Rights; Trades Union Congress (GB); UNI Global Union Africa; Unifor Canada; Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

2. MEDIA

Facebook ‘bypasses censored media’ 25 July 2014

Young people in Swaziland are turning to social media sites such as Facebook because it allows them to enjoy ‘the fundamental rights to freedom of expression’ that is denied to them elsewhere in the kingdom, a research report has found.

They also bypass mainstream media such as television, radio and newspapers in favour of social media, the report jointly published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said.

In Swaziland media are heavy censored, with nearly all broadcast media under direct state control and one of only two daily newspaper groups is in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The report called Youth Usage of Social media in Swaziland concluded, The young people have welcomed the emergence of the social media because, among others, it affords them an opportunity not only to inter-act but also enjoy the fundamental right to freedom of expression provided in Section 24 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland adopted in 2005.

Much to the delight of the young social media users, the social media has changed the face of the media landscape by making information sharing ‘easier, faster and quicker.

They can now easily and freely bypass the severely censored mainstream media to access, produce, distribute and exchange information and ideas.

More importantly, the social media has afforded the young people an opportunity to speak in their own voices, not mediated by the mainstream media.

It added, ‘They can use this empowering force as a source of information relevant to their social lives. It has become their reliable source of educational, social, political, economic and cultural information.

The research surveyed 100 people aged between 10 and 24 years old in all four regions of Swaziland. It found the most popular social media sites were Facebook, Whatsapp and Mxit.

The report also said many young people were concerned about ‘immorality’, including ‘the posting of pornographic materials, vulgar language, seditious information and character assassination.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

No let up on Swazi media censorship 20 August 2014

The Swaziland Government will not let up on its control of state radio, Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Dumisani Ndlangamandla said.

He said state media, which includes television and radio, existed primarily to serve the interests of the state.

This would mean that the strict censorship that existed in Swaziland would continue. Ndlangamandla was speaking in the Swazi parliament in response to questions from MPs about the future control of media in the kingdom which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub- Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are not allowed to stand in elections and most are banned outright. The King appoints the Prime Minister, who also serves as editor-in-chief of state media.

Some MPs wanted to remove Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS) and Swazi TV from government control.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported Manzini North MP Jan Sithole saying radio and TV, ‘only cover news which the State wants covered and they are not open to the public as they should, yet they are run with taxpayers’ money’.

The newspaper reported, ‘The MP also raised concern about the silent censorship of politicians by the State media, since no MP is ever interviewed or shown on TV.’

The Times reported, ‘Matsanjeni MP Phila Buthelezi said SBIS Radio, for instance, was not primarily for its listeners.

‘He clarified that it was disappointing that news which one would expect a national radio station to run is not broadcast by the station. Buthelezi wondered how the editing of news went on in the station.’

The Times added, ‘Meanwhile, the minister was unambiguous in saying that State mediums cannot be delinked from the State because it would be detrimental to the country.’

Censorship of radio and television in Swaziland is not new. In August 2012 the government announced that in advance of the national election in September 2013 radio would be banned from broadcasting news and information that did not support the government’s own agenda. All radio in the kingdom, except one Christian station that does not broadcast news, is state- controlled.

New guidelines also barred ‘public service announcements’ unless they were ‘in line with government policy’ or had been authorised ‘by the chiefs through the regional administrators’ or deputy prime minister’s office’.

The guidelines said the radio stations could not be ‘used for purposes of campaigning by individuals or groups, or to advance an agenda for political, financial popularity gains for individuals or groups’.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Media in Swaziland are severely censored. There are only two TV stations in the kingdom, the state-controlled Swazi TV and the independent Channel S, which has a publicly-stated policy of supporting King Mswati.

There is a long history of censorship on state broadcasting in Swaziland. Strikes and anti- government demonstrations are usually ignored by broadcasters. Sometimes live radio programmes are censored on air. In July 2011, the plug was pulled on a phone-in programme when listeners started criticising the government for its handling of the economy. Percy Simelane, who was then the boss of SBIS, and went on to become the government’s official spokesperson, personally stormed the radio studio and cut the programme.

In April 2011, Welile Dlamini, a long-time news editor at SBIS, challenged the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini at an editors’ forum meeting on why the state radio station was told by the government what and what not to broadcast. Welile Dlamini said that at the station they were instructed to spike certain stories such as those about demonstrations by progressives and strike action by workers. The PM responded by saying editors should resign if they were not happy with the editorial policies they are expected to work with.

In March 2011, SBIS stopped broadcasting the BBC World Service Focus on Africa programme after it carried reports critical of King Mswati III. In the same month, SBIS failed to cover the march by nurses that forced the Swazi Government into paying them overdue allowances.

In 2010, Swazi police told SBIS it must stop allowing people to broadcast information about future meetings unless the police had given permission. Jerome Dlamini, Deputy Director of the SBIS said this was to stop the radio station airing an announcement for a meeting that was prohibited.

He said, ‘It’s the station’s policy not to make announcements without police permission.’ In 2006, the minister for public service and information, Themba Msibi, warned the Swazi broadcasters against criticising the king.

MISA reported at the time, ‘The minister’s threats followed a live radio programme of news and current affairs in which a human rights lawyer criticised the king’s sweeping constitutional powers.’

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, had been asked to comment on a visit by an African Union (AU) human rights team which was on a fact-finding mission to Swaziland.

‘In response, Maseko said that, as human rights activists, they had concerns about the king’s sweeping constitutional powers and the fact that he the king was wrongfully placed above the Constitution. He said they were going to bring this and other human rights violations to the attention of the AU delegation.

‘Not pleased with the broadcast, the government was quick to respond. Msibi spoke on air the following day to sternly warn the media against criticising the king. He said the media should exercise respect and avoid issues that seek to question the king or his powers.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

‘The minister said his message was not directed only to radio but to all media, both private and government-owned. He said that in government they had noticed that there was growing trend in the media to criticise the king when he should be above criticism and public scrutiny,’ MISA reported.

Maseko, a long-time campaigner for human rights, was jailed for two years along with Nation Magazine editor Bheki Makhubu in July 2014 for writing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

King forces newspaper apology 15 September 2014

The Swazi Observer newspaper has been forced to make a ‘humble’ apology to the kingdom’s King and Queen Mother after publishing a report without their permission on what clothes a Princess had worn.

In Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, media are strictly controlled. The Observer itself is in effect owned by the King. Most broadcast media are state censored and Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation, Swaziland’s only independent comment magazine, is presently in jail alongside writer Thulani Maseko for criticising the kingdom’s judiciary.

The latest attack on press freedom comes after the Observer published a report on 2 September 2014 about the Reed Dance ceremony at which tens of thousands of virgins dance half-naked in front of the King.

The newspaper reported that Princess Temaswati, one of King Mswati’s daughters, ‘wore different traditional attire from the rest of the Imbali [dancers]’.

The newspaper continued, ‘The princess was spotted wearing tidvwashi underneath, while many of the maidens wore indlamu. In the past, the princess would also wear indlamu along with the thousands of the maidens. Questioned what this symbolised, Acting Imbali Overseer Hlangabeza Mdluli said this meant that the princess had reached a certain stage of a girl child’s life.

The Observer quoted Mdluli saying, ‘A girl undergoes different stages when she grows up. She starts off as litjitji, to being intfombi, ingudlela and then ingcugce. For the first two stages, a girl wears indlamu at events like these but after some time she moves on to being iZungela and that is when she may start wearing tidvwashi in the opposite direction.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

According to the newspaper, ‘Mdluli said the princess’ attire could also mean that there were now people that the princess respected, or that he has seen a potential spouse (sowubukiwe). ‘The attire that the princess wore is similar to the one that was worn by Inkhosikati LaFogiyane at the Shiswelweni Reed Dance where she was unveiled as His Majesty King Mswati III’s fiancé (Liphovela). At the previous reed dance, she was clad in indlamu along with the Miss Cultural Heritage contestants as she was also a contestant.’

This report so inflamed the King that the Observer was forced to make an unreserved apology.

On Monday (15 September 2014) the newspaper published this retraction, ‘APOLOGY TO THEIR MAJESTIES.’

‘In our recent articles on the Reed Dance, we made particular reference to the dress / attire of Princess Temaswati. While the articles quoted Imbali Overseer, we wish to apologise for not seeking comment from the relevant authorities who are best placed to comment on issues of royalty. We humbly apologise and retract these articles unreservedly.’

This is not the first time the Observer has been forced to publicly apologise to the King. In March 2012 it carried an abject apology to King Mswati III relating to an article that was said to have ‘brought the institution of the Monarchy into disrepute’.

It went on to say restate that it remained ‘committed to its mission statement which is to protect the institution of the Monarchy in particular His Majesty King Mswati III and the Queen Mother and to promote the image and the interests of the Kingdom of Swaziland without prejudice to the people of Swaziland’.

The article was an obituary for Inkhosikati LaMasuku and included information about the love life of King Sobhuza II, King Mswati’s father.

It is not only the Observer that fears the King. The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper group, also apologies to the King when told to. The most startling example of this was in 2007, when the King threatened to close down the newspaper group after it published part of an article sourced from Afrol news agency in Norway. The report included these words, ‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family.’

The article went on to say, ‘The growing social crisis in the country and the lessening interest of donors to support King Mswati’s regime has also created escalating needs for social services beyond the scale of national budgets.’

After the report appeared in March 2007, King Mswati threatened to close down the whole Times of Swaziland newspaper group, to which the Times Sunday belongs, unless an abject apology was published.

He also demanded the sacking of the Times Sunday features editor for allowing the report to appear in the newspaper.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

King Mswati got what he asked for.

On the Thursday (22 March 2007) following publication an ‘unreserved apology’ to the king was published on the front page of the Times of Swaziland (repeated in the following week’s Times Sunday).

The apology signed by both the publisher and managing editor of the Times Group said the article ‘was disparaging to the person of His Majesty in its content, greatly embarrassed him and should not have passed editorial scrutiny.’

It went on, ‘Our newspapers take great care with matters regarding the monarch, being conscious always of the unbreakable link of the King with the Nation. What occurred is reprehensible and we will renew our vigilance in editorial matters with the utmost vigour.’

To make absolutely certain that there was no doubt of the newspaper group’s subservience to the King, it finished the apology, ‘Once again your Majesty, our sincere and humble apologies.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

3. KING MSWATI III

King lives lavishly on firms’ dividends 16 July 2014

King Mswati III of Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is personally benefitting from monies paid by international companies to operate in his kingdom.

The King is receiving millions of dollars a year from companies including the cell phone giant MTN; sugar conglomerates Illovo and Remgro; Sun International hotels and beverages firm SAB Miller, the South African newspaper Sunday Times has reported.

The newspaper says this money helps prop up the Swazi Royal Family and finances the King’s lavish lifestyle which includes palaces, a fleet of luxury cars and international holidays. Meanwhile, about seven in ten of his 1.4 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 a day.

The details revealed of the King’s income are not new, but media in Swaziland have been scared to publish details for fear of retribution from the monarch. At present a magazine editor and writer are on trial in Swaziland after publishing mild criticisms of the kingdom’s judiciary which is hand-picked by the King.

Previous reports on the King’s income have appeared on the Internet; however the Sunday Times, which is published in Johannesburg, circulates in Swaziland and this is the first time Swazi people without Internet access have been able to read about the King’s finances.

In the past state authorities have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to block copies of newspapers from South Africa that contained reports critical of the King. It is not known if similar attempts were made to restrict circulation of the Sunday Times which was published on 13 July 2014.

In its report the Sunday Times said the companies, which are based in South Africa, ‘have all brokered cosy relationships with the monarchy’.

It added, ‘These companies have either given large chunks of the shares in their Swazi businesses to Mswati directly or to Swaziland’s investment institution, Tibiyo Taka Ngwane over which Mswati has absolute control.’

It reported that MTN, which has a monopoly of the cell phone business in Swaziland, paid dividends directly to the King. He holds 10 percent of the shares in MTN in Swaziland and is referred to by the company as an ‘esteemed shareholder’. It said MTN had paid R114 million (US$11.4 million) to the King over the past five years.

The newspaper also reported that the King was receiving income from Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, which paid dividends last year of R218.1 million. The newspaper reported ‘several sources’ who said it was ‘an open secret’ that although money generated by Tibiyo was meant to be used for the benefit of the nation, Tibiyo in fact channelled money directly to the Royal Family.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The newspaper quoted a report from Freedom House which stated, ‘Foreign companies wishing to enter Swaziland must bribe Mswati with shares or cash in varying amounts depending on the potential for profitability of the proposed venture and the new business’s possible impact on Mswati’s own business interests.’

The Sunday Times reported that MTN had a monopoly in Swaziland and was used by 57 percent of the population. It said MTN was able to keep prices high, citing the cost of 300 megabytes of data in Swaziland as R149, while in South Africa the same amount of data cost

R79.

King Mswati holds substantial stakes in numerous companies. The Sunday Times said sugar giant Illovo owned 60 percent of Ubombo Sugar and Tibiyo owned the other 40 percent. Tibiyo also owned 40 percent of Royal Swazi Spa hotel of which Sun International held an ‘indirect’ 50.6 percent stake.

Remgro’s sugar subsidiary TSB owned a 26.4 percen t stake in the Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation and Tibiyo held 50 percent. SAB Miller, which owned 60 percent of Swaziland Beverages was in business with Tibiyo, which owned the remaining 40 percent.

King, 46, takes virgin, 19, as 14 th wife 1 September 2014

Swaziland’s King Mswati III has finally married the 19-year-old former beauty pageant contestant dubbed by foreign media as ‘Naughty Sindi’

The King, aged 46, chose the teenager as his wife from among thousands of young virgin girls who danced semi-naked in front of him at the kingdom’s annual Umhlanga or Reed Dance in 2013.

The Observer on Sunday (31 August 2014), a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported that Sindiswa Dlamini had been seen in public at the opening of a trade fair and this indicated that she was now officially the King’s wife. It had been announced in September 2013 that Dlamini had been chosen to be the King’s 14 th wife.

Media in Swaziland predictably reported the event as if it were quite natural for a middle- aged man to wed a ‘virgin’ who was younger than many of his daughters.

But outside the kingdom, which King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, the media have been more candid.

They reported Dlamini as the king’s 14th bride, although some counted her as wife number 15. The confusion was excusable since the number of wives the king has is considered a state

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

secret in Swaziland and it is considered ‘un-Swazi’ to talk openly about King Mswati’s polygamy.

Media outside Swaziland reported that ‘Naughty Sindi’, as the Sunday Sun newspaper in South Africa described her, has had affairs with two of King Mswati’s sons, Prince Majaha and Prince Bandzile, who are both in their early twenties.

One unnamed source told the newspaper, ‘Sindi has dated both these boys. She’s a party girl used to having fun.’

Another informant told the Sunday Sun, ‘Sindi is no virgin. She drinks and smokes a lot and has tattoos on parts of her body I cannot mention.’

One source told the newspaper, ‘She is only doing it [marrying the king] because she comes from a poor background.’

The media in Swaziland never report about the King without his permission. This means people across the world are better informed than the King’s subjects, the Swazi people. Most media in the kingdom are under direct state control, opposition political parties are banned as ‘terrorist’ organisations and any political dissent is quickly crushed by police and the army.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

4. WASTEFUL SPENDING

Cars come before dying children 28 September 2014

Just months after the Swaziland Government said it could not afford to buy life-saving drugs to prevent Swazi children dying from diarrhoea, it has spent US$1.7 million on top of the range BMW cars for itself.

At least 40 children have died and hundreds have been hospitalised in a diarrhoea outbreak in which more than 3,000 cases have been recorded. About 680,000 doses of life-saving rotavirus vaccine could be purchased for the cost of the BMW cars, which would be enough to treat every child in the kingdom.

It was revealed at a media conference on Monday (22 September 2014) that the Swazi Government has bought 20 new BMW X5 sports utility vehicles which are to be used by government ministers and top officials.

The purchase is just another example of irresponsible spending in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

In March 2014, US$600,000 was spent on the opening ceremony for the Sikhuphe Airport which was renamed King Mswati III Airport. No commercial flights have ever flown in or out of the airport. It has been widely criticised outside of Swaziland as a vanity project for the King.

Earlier this year, the Swazi Minister of Health Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane told the Swazi Observer newspaper that distributing the vaccine was not the top priority.

The newspaper reported, ‘The minister said the rotavirus, vaccine was expensive; therefore rolling out the immunisation programme cannot not be done overnight since “it is a process and a strong budget is needed”.’

In August 2014, Swazi Media Commentary revealed that if money were diverted from the Airport opening ceremony the Swazi Government could afford to save the lives of the kingdom’s dying children.

According to the website of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a 10-pack of one dose vials of rotavirus vaccine costs US63.96 at commercial rates. That means US$600,000 could buy 93,750 doses of vaccine. However, a World Health Organization Bulletin stated that GlaxoSmithKline has offered to provide its vaccine at US$2.50 per dose.

At that price 680,000 doses could be purchased for the cost of the BMW cars. Typically, a child would need two doses for protection against diarrhoea.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Homes destroyed for King’s vanity 29 September 2014

Homes have been demolished against residents’ wishes to make way for another of King Mswati III’s ‘vanity projects’.

The King wants to build a Royal Science and Innovation Park/ Biotechnology Park at Nokwane.

Residents of ten homesteads tried to get a court order to stop their homes being demolished but were told by the Attorney-General the courts were powerless and only the King himself could stop the destruction.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The homesteads, which were mostly stick-and-mud houses, were bulldozed on Thursday (25 September 2014). Local media reported that residents were traumatised when about 20 armed police officers forced them out and at least three residents needed hospital treatment. Some people had lived at Nokwane for at least 20 years, the Swazi Observer newspaper reported.

The newspaper reported, ‘The [police] officers, who were armed with pistols, rifles and batons moved from one homestead to another as the sheriff informed the residents of the demolitions which were to be effected in a matter of time.’

The clearance was to make way for the building of a Royal Science and Innovation Park/ Biotechnology Park. When the project was first announced in 2010 it was criticised by observers as another ‘vanity project’ for the King. It runs alongside the Sikhuphe International Airport (now renamed King Mswati III Airport) which was officially opened in March 2014 after costing at least E3 billion (US$300 million) to build. No commercial airlines have used the airport, but Swaziland Airlink, a company controlled by the Swazi Government, has been forced to abandon using Matsapha Airport and will move to Sikhuphe in October 2014.

In 2010, Moses Zungu, the Project Manager for the Royal Science and Innovation Park/ Biotechnology Park, said the first phase of the project, which would involve basic infrastructure such as roads, drainage, landscaping and other works, would cost E850 million (US$85 million). He said the first phase would start in April 2011 more than three years ago.

No needs analysis for the development has been published, but Zungu said in 2010 the science park was the initiative of the King.

In July 2011 it was revealed that the Swazi Government had taken out a US$20 million loan to part-finance the science park. The loan, in the form of a line of credit, was from the Export-Import Bank of India.

More than seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day. The kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and earlier this year the Swazi Minister of Health Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane said there

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

was not enough money to pay for drugs to prevent the death of children from diarrhoea in the kingdom.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

5. AFRICA GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES ACT (AGOA)

PM says ‘strangle’ workers’ leaders 8 August 2014

A reported threat by Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini that workers’ leaders should be strangled when they return to the kingdom from the US Africa Summit has been condemned by prodemocracy campaigners.

According to a report in the Times of Swaziland newspaper, the Prime Minister said that Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) General Secretary, Vincent Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze, should be strangled because they spoke against his government in Washington.

Swaziland is not a democracy and Dlamini was not elected PM. He and all his government ministers were directly appointed PM by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

In June 2014, Swaziland lost its preferential trading status under the US Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of its appalling human rights record.

The Times reported that Dlamini told the Swazi Parliament in a debate about AGOA that the workers’ leaders had gone to Washington to discuss workers’ rights without first telling the government they were going. He was reported saying, ‘They leave your constituencies and do not even inform you where they are going and once they come back and you find out that they are from your constituency you must strangle them.’

Prodemocracy activists reacted with anger to the statement. In Swaziland campaigners are routinely beaten and arrested by police. In May 2010 Sipho Jele was killed in custody by state forces. He had been arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the name of the banned political party PUDEMO written on it.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said, ‘We call on governments to immediately urge the Swazi government to publicly withdraw its threat and to ensure the safety of these courageous activists upon their return. Further, we urge other countries which grant trade preferences to Swaziland to join the US in initiating procedures to withdraw them until such time as fundamental worker rights are respected in law and practice in Swaziland.’

Burrow added, ‘Mr Dlamini has absolutely no one to blame for the potential loss of these [AGOA] benefits but his own government.’

Labour Start has started an online letter writing campaign to PM Dlamini calling on him to ‘publicly and immediately rescind the threat and ensure the safety of those leaders upon their return’.

Dlamini has made violent threats against political enemies before. In 2010 Dlamini faced condemnation from within Swaziland and the international community after he said that he wanted to use ‘sipakatane’ (otherwise known as bastinado, a form of torture that involves

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

flogging the bare soles of a person’s feet with a spiked wooden or metal implement to temporarily or permanently cripple them) on people who campaigned against his government. Dlamini had been annoyed that trade unionists from South Africa had visited Swaziland to show solidarity with Swazis fighting for their human rights as part of a Global Day of Action for democracy in Swaziland.

PM withdraws ‘strangle’ threat 11 August 2014

Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini has apologised ‘unconditionally’ for saying workers’ leaders should be ‘strangled’ for opposing his government. This followed an international campaign of condemnation.

Dlamini told the Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in Swaziland in effect owned by King Mswati III, that he did not mean to be taken literally.

‘Basically, I withdraw the comments I made on the union leaders. I withdraw them unconditionally,’ the newspaper reported him saying.

This came after the United States Department of State called Dlamini’s comment ‘threatening’.

In a statement it said, ‘Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

It added, ‘The United States continues to support and defend fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, and the human rights defenders who fight for these values each day. We call upon the Government to renounce the Prime Minister’s remarks and to ensure respect for the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens.’

According to a report in the Times of Swaziland newspaper, the Prime Minister had said that Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) General Secretary, Vincent Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze, should be strangled because they spoke against his government in Washington.

Dlamini made the comment in a parliamentary debate about the African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA). Swaziland has lost its preferential trade status with the United States under the Act because of its poor human rights record. Dlamini blamed workers’ leaders for not supporting his government and the King. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub- Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, political parties cannot stand in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and the government.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Swaziland has a history of state violence against prodemocracy campaigners and in 2010 Sipho Jele died in custody after being arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the name of PUDEMO (a banned political party) written on it.

A campaign against Dlamini was launched on the Internet and the United States powerful union bloc the AFL-CIO also condemned him.

In a statement it called on the ‘Swazi government to immediately end threats and attacks against unionists and human rights activists, release imprisoned leaders and take the needed steps to comply with international commitments’.

Explaining the U-turn, the Observer reported, ‘He briefly explained, however, that he had realised that his comments were taken in the literal sense and therefore had caused unnecessary attention.’

King misleads on AGOA withdrawal 15 August 2014

King Mswati III is misleading his subjects and the world at large when he says he does not know why the United States is withdrawing a preferential trading status from his kingdom.

The United States decided that Swaziland could no longer receive trading benefits under the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). The decision was made in June 2014 after Swaziland failed to meet the United States’ requirements on human rights issues.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and political parties are banned from contesting elections with many outlawed under anti-terrorism legislation. The King handpicks the Prime Minister, government ministers and the judiciary.

King Mswati returned from the United States Africa summit in Washington this week and told media in Swaziland that he did not know why the United States withdrew the preferential trading status. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect own by the King, reported him saying the United States did not make it clear why Swaziland lost its eligibility.

However, the reasoning was widely reported at the time, including by newspapers in Swaziland. The US withdrew Swaziland’s AGOA privileges after the kingdom ignored an ultimatum to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

The US Trade Representative Michael Froman, said, ‘The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly.

‘We have made our concerns very clear to Swaziland over the last several years and we engaged extensively on concrete steps that Swaziland could take to address the concerns.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Since the announcement of the withdrawal, which starts on 1 January 2015, the United States has continued to criticise Swaziland’s poor human rights issues.

Last week, the United States criticised Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini after he called for two workers’ leaders to be ‘strangled’ after they criticised his government’s human rights record. It called the comment ‘threatening’.

In a statement the United States Department of State said, ‘Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

It added, ‘The United States continues to support and defend fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, and the human rights defenders who fight for these values each day. We call upon the Government to renounce the Prime Minister’s remarks and to ensure respect for the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens.’

Last month (July 2014) the US State Department criticised the jailing for two years of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko after they wrote articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

In a statement the State Department said, ‘Their convictions for contempt of court for publishing an article critical of the High Court of Swaziland and their ongoing prolonged detention appear to undermine respect for Swaziland’s human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Swaziland’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States strongly supports the universal fundamental freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the actions of the Swazi Government.’

The US regularly draws attention to human rights failings in Swaziland. In a public statement in April 2013, the US Embassy in Swaziland said it had ‘deep concern’ about the way police engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights.

The statement came after armed police, acting without a court order, barricaded a restaurant in Manzini to stop people attending a public meeting to discuss the national election in Swaziland.

The US embassy said it had deep concern about the manner in which representatives of political organisations and lawyers for human rights were treated by police.

The police blockade of the restaurant took place on 12 April 2013 and was intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the Royal Decree in 1973 by King Sobhuza II that tore up the constitution and allowed the king to introduce any law he wished and to change existing ones.

The decree has never been rescinded and his son, Mswati III today rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.

The US Embassy said it was, ‘[C]oncerned that a group of people were prevented from entering a restaurant, where they had planned to hold their meeting and were forcibly removed from the premises by police’.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The statement added that the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

It further said Swazi security forces had a duty to protect the rights of citizens to, ‘communicate ideas and information without interference’.

This was not the first time the US Embassy in Swaziland has criticised the Swaziland ruling regime. A year earlier in April 2012 it said, ‘We urge the Swazi government to take the necessary steps to ensure the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Swazi citizens as outlined in the Swazi constitution, including freedom of conscience, of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, and of movement.’

The statement went on, ‘The United States government is deeply concerned about increasing infringements on freedom of assembly, as evidenced by the recent actions taken by Swazi security forces to prevent peaceful citizens from gathering for a prayer meeting on Saturday, April 14 in Manzini as well as reports of those same forces preventing people from gathering in groups of more than two people in Manzini and Mbabane on April 11 and 12.’

Police stop workers from praying 27 August 2014

Police in Swaziland stopped an open-air prayer meeting because leaders of workers’ unions were present.

They said the gathering was illegal.

It happened outside the textile firm Tex Ray in Manzini on Tuesday (26 August 2014) where local media reported about 1,500 textile workers had gathered to hear a local pastor, Zandile Hlophe, preach.

The workers are concerned for their jobs after the United States dropped Swaziland from the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) which allowed the kingdom to export goods at preferential rates. The US made the move because Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has a poor record on political and workers’ rights.

Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom’s textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015.

The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported the prayer meeting was ‘supposed to last for an hour. The prayer was organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) in partnership with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA)’.

The newspaper, which is the only daily newspaper in the kingdom independent of the state, said, ‘While the pastor was preaching the word of God to the workers, the police came and ordered them to vacate the venue within two minutes. The first reason that the police gave to

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

the organisers was that the gathering was illegal and it could not be regarded as a prayer because of the presence of union leaders.’

It added, ‘SUDF Coordinator Wandile Dludlu, who was with TUCOSWA Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane and ATUSWA Secretary General Wonder Mkhonza, questioned the police’s reason of stopping the prayer. Dludlu asked why they regarded the gathering as illegal and not a prayer because there was a pastor preaching.’

Police regularly break up prayer meetings in Swaziland, claiming they are ’political’. Political parties are barred from contesting elections in the kingdom and most are banned outright under an anti-terrorism law.

In the run up to the 2013 national election a number of prayer meetings were broken up by police and state forces.

In February 2013, about 60 armed police forced their way into the Our Lady of Assumption cathedral while a prayer meeting was taking place. They gave the congregation seven minutes to vacate the building. The prayer was jointly organised by 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.

In March 2013, the Swazi Government banned a prayer meeting due to take place in Manzini to mark the first anniversary of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). Without recourse to the law courts, the government announced that the intended meeting was illegal because the Industrial Court had recently decided that TUCOSWA could not be a registered federation in the kingdom.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

6. INDUSTRY

‘Poison fumes strike 500 workers’ 6 September 2014

About 500 workers at a textile factory in Swaziland needed medical treatment after inhaling poisonous chemicals, according to the kingdom’s trade union federation.

The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) said the incident happened at the Taiwanese-owned Tex-Ray factory in Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city on Friday (5 September 2014).

According to a TUCOSWA press statement doors at the factory were locked making it difficult for workers to escape the fumes. It said, ‘close to 500 workers collapsed and had to be treated in various medical institutions’.

Mduduzi C. Gina, TUCOSWA First Deputy Secretary General, said, ‘It is more disturbing to learn that the management of the company locked the exit points of the factory shell when workers wanted to escape from inhaling the lethal substance.’

Gina said the incident happened at the same time that TUCOSWA had announced it wanted

to address Tex-Ray workers on workers’ rights and the lack of political freedom in

Swaziland.

Last week, police prevented TUCOSWA and the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) from holding a prayer meeting outside Tex-Ray. Swazi media reported at the time that 1,500 workers had gathered.

The workers are concerned for their jobs after the United States dropped Swaziland from the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) which allowed the kingdom to export goods at preferential rates. The US made the move because Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has a poor record on political and workers’ rights.

Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom’s textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015.

There are about 25 Taiwanese-owned factories operating in Swaziland, mostly textile and garment manufacturers, paying salaries described by workers as close to slave wages. There have been numerous strikes by workers trying to get decent wages, where the pay is so poor that many women workers are unable to feed themselves properly and have to resort to prostitution.

Wages in textile factories in Swaziland are so low that companies in South Africa threatened to move their factories to the kingdom to avoid paying the minimum wage in that country.

A report in 2010 stated that employees in Matsanjeni typically earned E160 a month and

were forced to turn to prostitution to survive.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Some women textile workers reported they earned E5.50 per hour (about 85 US cents) and had to live six to a room and three to a bed to get by. They tried to share food as the cheapest meal for one person costs E10 and a piece of fruit costs E1.

But, wages in Swaziland were still too high, according to Mason Ma, director and vice president of Tex-Ray. He told reporters in 2010 that recent increases had pushed ‘wage levels higher than in some Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia’.

In August 2010, Lutfo Dlamini, who was then Swazi Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, told Taiwan journalists that all profits made in the textile factories for Taiwan-owned companies could be taken out of the kingdom. He said that this made Swaziland a better place to set up factories than anywhere else in Africa.

And, the then Taiwanese ambassador to Swaziland Peter Tsai told reporters a distinguishing feature of Swaziland in terms of investment ‘is that it allows full repatriation of profits and dividends of enterprises operating in the country’.

Dlamini said in Swaziland, ‘We believe in this country. You invest your money. You make profits and you are able to take the profits away.’

Poison victims ‘denied treatment’ 8 September 2014

Hospitals in Swaziland refused to treat poverty-stricken workers affected by poisonous fumes at a textile factory because they could not afford to pay.

Meanwhile, the Swaziland Government said the number of workers exposed to the fumes was 1,600 more than treble the number previously reported by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).

Hospitals were inundated with sick people after the incident at the Taiwanese-owned Tex- Ray factory in Matsapha, near Manzini, on Friday (5 September 2104).

Jim Wang, a spokesperson for Tex-Ray was quoted by the Observer on Sunday newspaper in Swaziland saying that the doctors had refused to give medical attention to some of the workers because they did not have money.

Wang said ‘I told them we would give them the cash after they had attended to the employees.’

Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula was quoted in local media saying, ‘We have received a report on the catastrophe at the factory. A total of 1,600 employees were exposed to the fumes from a spilled chemical.’

She added, ‘Currently we do not have more information on the deadly substance, we are yet to conduct thorough research on its effects and the cause of its spill.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Magagula also told the newspaper the chemical was spilled in the clothing mixture room and that a full report that would disclose its name, effects and the extent of damage it had caused was awaited.

Police clash with sugar strikers 3 July 2014

Police in Swaziland fired teargas and water as a peaceful strike turned ugly.

Workers at Ubombo Sugar (also known as Illovo) have been on strike for more than three weeks for more pay. The company is partly owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

One newspaper said 1,000 workers were involved, while a second newspaper put the figure at 2,000. The Swazi state police the Operational Support Services Unit (OSSU) were guarding the sugar plant on behalf of the company’s management when the attacks took place, according to local media reports.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, blamed the workers for the violence, but workers’ leader Swaziland Agricultural Plantations and Allied Workers Union (SAPAWU) Secretary General Archie Sayed said peaceful negotiations were taking place when the police attacked.

He told the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, if the police had not fired tear gas towards the demonstrating workers, the situation could have remained calm.

Workers on Swaziland’s sugar plantations are among the most heavily exploited sections of the working class. Workers at Ubombo are paid R1,500 (US$150) a month with the possibility to increase this to R2,000 if they work Sundays a full seven-day week.

Workers want a 14 percent pay increase, which would bring their basic pay to R1,710 a month.

In a statement, the Communist Party of Swaziland said, ‘Low pay and bad working conditions typify the entire sugar-producing sector in Swaziland.’

It added, ‘Last year, Ubombo Sugar made a profit of R272 million, making it the third largest contributor of profits to the Illovo group.

‘Illovo’s profits for 2013, meanwhile, were over R1.9 billion, way up from R1.1 billion in 2012. Ubombo increased its share of profits for the corporation by 17% for the first half of last year alone, double that of 2012.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The statement added, ‘In 2013 it expanded operations at Ubombo in a drive to intensify production and profits.

‘These profits come from the surplus value generated by Swazi workers, whose pay is many times less than the value of their output.

The statement added that 40 percent of the shares in Ubombo were owned by King Mswati through the conglomerate Tibiyo Taka Ngwane.

Sugar strikers win pay increase 5 July 2014

Striking workers at Swaziland’s Ubombo Sugar Company have won a 10 percent pay increase, despite suffering intimidation by the Swazi Army and state security forces.

The workers had been on strike for more than three weeks at the sugar company which is 40 percent owned by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland.

The management of the company, which is also known as Illovo, had successfully obtained a court order to restrict the workers pickets away from the main sugar plantation estate, near Big Bend.

Earlier, state police the Operational Support Services Unit (OSSU) had used teargas and water canon to disperse protesting workers.

Media in Swaziland reported that soldiers, warders and police were deployed throughout the small town to stop workers from disrupting the sugar plant.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, estimated the strike had cost Ubombo E2.4 million (US$240,000) since it began on 13 June 2014. The management had originally offered a 7.5 percent pay increase.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

7. HUMAN RIGHTS

King’s paper attacks US Ambassador 7 July 2014

The Swazi Observer has accused the US Ambassador to Swaziland Makila James of violating diplomatic protocol and the Vienna Convention for supporting pro-democracy voices in the kingdom.

The attack by the newspaper which is in effect owned by King Mswati III is unprecedent ed.

In a report headed ‘US Ambassador crosses the line’, the Observer accused James of ‘interfering in Swaziland’s internal affairs’.

The Observer reported (6 July 2014) that James had personally attended the trial of Bhekhi Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, who are accused of contempt of court after articles critical of the Swazi judiciary were published by the Nation, a small-circulation independent comment magazine.

In a report written by Welcome Dlamini, the Observer said, ‘The ambassador’s actions are viewed as interfering in Swaziland’s internal affairs yet she has to be guided by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which prevents her from such involvement.’

The newspaper also quoted James at a celebration to mark the US Independence Day on 3 July 2014.

The newspaper said, ‘At the event, she delved on the arrests of Makhubu and Maseko and blamed the judiciary for having charged the duo with contempt of court, arrested, shackled and subjected them to prolonged detention “because they dared to question the judiciary’s irregular handling of a legal case against a public servant who was arrested for executing his official duties.

“This case compels all of us to consider what are the consequences for Swaziland, or any country, if no one is allowed to question the actions of the judiciary? What other mechanism exists to keep its power in check? If the actions of the judiciary are in accordance with the law, then surely they will stand up to scrutiny. And if they are not, then they deserve to be exposed for what they really are. I would guess that most people would not want to live in a society in which sincere and earnest questions are answered with shackles and the isolation of a jail cell. The greatest countries are those which protect the rights of all citizens, even and perhaps especially, those who are critical of it.”

The Observer went on to say ‘These comments are viewed as a direct attack on the judiciary and suggesting how it should run its affairs.

‘Further, they are viewed as inciting the Swazi citizens against the judiciary.

‘Ambassador James is also viewed as having failed to follow the laid down diplomatic communication channels when she felt there was something of concern that had to be passed on to government.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

However, the newspaper failed to quote single source making these allegations, suggesting that the criticism comes directly from the newspaper itself.

A US Embassy spokesperson told the newspaper that it had received no criticisms on the

Ambassador’s conduct.

The attack by the Observer comes days after the US withdrew its preferential trading status with Swaziland under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). This was as a direct result of the kingdom’s refusal to make reforms around civil, human and workers’ rights. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

It was widely reported that no representatives of the Swazi Royal Family or the Government

which was handpicked by King Mswati attended the US independence celebrations, an action described by the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper as

‘unprecedented’.

The US regularly draws attention to human rights failings in Swaziland. In a public statement

in April 2013, the US Embassy in Swaziland said it had ‘deep concern’ about the way police

engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights.

The statement came after armed police, acting without a court order, barricaded a restaurant

in Manzini to stop people attending a public meeting to discuss the national election in

Swaziland.

The US embassy said it had deep concern about the manner in which representatives of political organisations and lawyers for human rights were treated by police.

The police blockade of the restaurant took place on 12 April 2013 and was intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the Royal Decree in 1973 by King Sobhuza II that tore up the constitution and allowed the king to introduce any law he wished and to change existing ones. The decree has never been rescinded and his son, Mswati III today rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.

The US Embassy said it was, ‘[C]oncerned that a group of people were prevented from entering a restaurant, where they had planned to hold their meeting and were forcibly removed from the premises by police’.

The statement added that the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

It further said Swazi security forces had a duty to protect the rights of citizens to,

‘communicate ideas and information without interference’.

This was not the first time the US Embassy in Swaziland has criticised the Swaziland ruling regime. A year earlier in April 2012 it said, ‘We urge the Swazi government to take the necessary steps to ensure the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Swazi citizens as outlined in the Swazi constitution, including freedom of conscience, of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, and of movement.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The statement went on, ‘The United States government is deeply concerned about increasing infringements on freedom of assembly, as evidenced by the recent actions taken by Swazi security forces to prevent peaceful citizens from gathering for a prayer meeting on Saturday, April 14 in Manzini as well as reports of those same forces preventing people from gathering in groups of more than two people in Manzini and Mbabane on April 11 and 12.’

Law Society takes on top judges 5 August 2014

The Law Society of Swaziland is taking on the kingdom’s judiciary, arguing that King Mswati III has appointed judges in violation of the constitution.

An attempt to challenge the appointment as a High Court Judge of Mpendulo Simelane failed on Friday (1 August 2014) when a case at the High Court was dismissed before the Law Society’s lawyers arrived at the court.

The Law Society argues that Simelane is too inexperienced to be a High Court Judge. It says the constitution states that a High Court Judge must have at least 10 years’ experience in legal practice. The Law Society says Simelane only has five years’ experience, which the judge disputes.

In Swaziland, King Mswati rules as an absolute monarch and he chooses the judges. Critics say that Swazi judges tend to do the bidding of the King, rather than uphold the constitution.

The King reappointed Michael Ramodibedi as Chief Justice in contravention of the constitution that states the holder of this position should be a Swazi. Ramodibedi comes from Lesotho.

The three judges on the High Court bench in the Simelane case were themselves inexperienced. The chair, Judge Abande Dlamini, sits in the Industrial Court and had been sworn in as an acting High Court Judge only the day before.

The other two judges on the bench, Justices Mbuso Simelane and Bongani Dlamini are also only acting judges.

Together they dismissed the Law Society’s case and awarded punitive damages against the organisation when at 9.30am the case was called three times and the Law Society failed to answer. The Law Society’s legal team arrived at the court 15 minutes later.

The Law Society is to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, it is also to challenge the appointment of Judge Abande Dlamini, because, as with Simelane, Dlamini has not been a legal practitioner for at least 10 years.

It also says that Justices Mbuso Simelane and Bongani Dlamini should not hear a case brought by the Law Society because they are themselves members of that organisation.

Judge Mpendulo Simelane was criticised by the United States, the European Union and many human right organisations across the world last month when he sentenced a magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years imprisonment after

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

they wrote and published articles critical of the judiciary in general and Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi in particular.

Following the dismissal of the Law Society’s application, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, reported that permanent High Court judges were available to hear the case and it was not necessary to have acting judges on the bench.

It speculated that Chief Justice Ramodibedi did not trust some of the permanent High Court judges.

The newspaper reported that in May 2014 Ramodibedi issued warrants for the arrest of three High Court judges, but had to withdraw them after Supreme Court judges threatened to resign if the arrests went ahead.

The newspaper reported, ‘The move to sideline the judges is consistent too with the CJ’s recent interview in one of the tabloid weekly publications that some judges were being used to overthrow the Monarch and he would not allow them whilst he was still in charge. ‘This recent move by the CJ is a vote of no confidence to the rest of the judges of the High Court to listen to such an application,’ the newspaper reported.

South Africa expels Swazi activists 14 August 2014

Three Swazi political activists who were denied political asylum in South Africa are expected to leave the country on Friday (15 August 2014).

But, it is not clear if they will return to Swaziland, amid fears that they might be imprisoned by King Mswati III’s regime.

There is speculation that the three, all high-ranking members of the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), might try to find asylum in another country. They are CPS General Secretary Kenneth Kunene, Goodwill Du Pont and Sithembiso Simelane. Du Pont is originally from Siteki, Simelane from Manzini and Kunene from Bhunya.

The trio left for South Africa in 2005 when they faced arrest for engaging in political activism in the kingdom. Political parties are banned in Swaziland and many have been labelled ‘terrorist organisations’ by the Swazi state. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub- Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The fear for the activists’ safety in Swaziland heightened last week after the kingdom’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini called on two workers activists who spoke against the government while on a visit to the United States to be ‘strangled’ on their return home.

Dlamini later withdrew his comment after he was condemned by the United States and human rights organisations across the world.

The three activists were reportedly told by South Africa that Swaziland was a democracy and they faced no threat if they returned to the kingdom when it revoked the political asylum permits that had allowed the three to remain in the republic.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

In Swaziland democracy campaigners are routinely beaten and arrested by police. In May 2010 Sipho Jele was killed in custody by state forces. He had been arrested for wearing a T- shirt with the name of the banned political party PUDEMO written on it.

CPS National Organizing Secretary Njabulo Dlamini called for the unconditional and safe return of the exiled activists if they were forced to return to Swaziland.

Democrat leader ‘critically ill’ in jail 25 August 2014

Swaziland’s People’s United Democratic Movement’s (PUDEMO) has reported that its President Mario Masuku has fallen ‘critically ill’ in prison where he is on remand awaiting trial on a sedition charge.

PUDEMO is banned in Swaziland as a ‘terrorist organisation’ and is widely regarded as the main opposition political party in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. All political parties are barred from taking part in elections and most are banned outright in the kingdom.

PUDEMO said in a statement, Masuku was ‘suffering from pneumonia due to a combination of various horrible conditions he has been exposed to. He has grown physically weak, pale, lost weight and has lost part of his eyesight.’

Masuku has been on remand at Zakhele since 1 May 2014 when he was arrested during a police clampdown on May Day workers celebrations and charged with sedition.

PUDEMO said in a statement posted on social media, ‘Having to be subjected to a poor diet of porridge, beans and the occasional poorly cooked cabbage has contributed to his deteriorated condition.

‘Zakhele remand centre has refused to put President Masuku in a cell well secured in terms of cold and bad weather conditions since his arrest on the 1st of May 2014. He has been further denied warm clothes and access to his private medical practitioner. Visitors who come to check on him have been made to wait for nothing less than five hours, including refusal of his own son to consult him in his capacity as a lawyer.’

It added, ‘Some of his comrades have been banned from visiting him. The ban was constituted after they brought him and Maxwell Dlamini newspapers deemed too political by warders. The reading material included the Nation magazine which is a Swazi monthly publication that is normally critical of the authorities, City Press and the Sowetan which are both South African newspapers.’

When Masuko appeared in court in June 2014, alongside Secretary-General of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) Maxwell Dlamini, who was also arrested and charged with sedition following the May Day event, he was remanded in custody until 24 September 2014.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Legal challenge to Swazi terror law 10 September 2014

A legal challenge is to be made in Swaziland to declare the kingdom’s Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) unconstitutional.

People who have protested for democratic change in Swaziland have been arrested and charged under the act for ‘sedition’. No political Party is allowed to contest elections in Swaziland and all organisations that call for democratic change have been branded ‘terrorists’ under the STA.

People have been charged under the STA for a number of alleged crimes, including carrying banners displaying the names of banned organisations, wearing berets or T-shirts with slogans written on them, and praising individuals who have stood up for democracy.

The STA was introduced in November 2008 following an attempted bombing of the Lozitha Bridge, near one of the King’s 13 palaces in September that year.

Shortly after the STA came into force Amnesty International and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBA-HRI) called for its immediate repeal or amendment.

More recently in June 2014, the United States withdrew preferential trade rights from Swaziland because, among other things, it had not amended the STA.

In 2009, Amnesty and IBA-HRI said a number of provisions in this Act were ‘sweeping and imprecise’.

They said in a statement that the Swazi Government warned of heavy penalties for ‘associating’ with certain groups, which had been declared to be terrorist ‘entities’ under the law. They said this was ‘contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty and of intimidation amongst a wide range of civil society organizations’.

The statement read, ‘Amnesty International and the IBA-HRI are gravely concerned that key provisions in this anti-terrorism law are inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights law and are already leading to the violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.’

The statement also said the offences under the STA were ‘defined with such over-breadth and imprecision that they place excessive restrictions on a wide range of human rights such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly without adhering to the requirements of demonstrable proportionality and necessity.’

In June 2014, the United States withdrew a preferential trade agreement from Swaziland under the Africa African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) after the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, failed to make reforms on political and workers’ rights, which included amendments to the STA.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The legal challenge which is spearheaded by the People’s United Democratic Party (PUDEMO) is expected to be heard at the Swaziland High Court on 1 December 2014.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

8. AIRPORT

Swazis not convinced by King’s airport 14 July 2014

The head of Swaziland’s civil aviation authority has admitted that it has failed to convince the Swazi public that the new King Mswati III Airport has any use.

Solomon Dube, Director of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), was reacting to news that the airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, did not have office space to accommodate airlines using the airport nor did it have hangars for aircraft.

The airport was officially opened in March 2014 by King Mswati, but to date no airline has used it. Even King Mswati himself prefers to use the already existing Matsapha Airport when he flies the world in his private jet.

Dube told local media that a special block of offices could be built for airlines. He added, ‘This may not be possible though because we still have to convince the taxpayer that the facility is useful and functional. We cannot do that when we do not have an airline operating from there.’

The airport which cost at least E3 billion (US$300 million) to construct has always been controversial. No needs analysis was undertaken before building began and the development has been dubbed a ‘vanity project’ for King Mswati.

No airline to date has publicly announced it will use the airport and there are doubts about whether the airport has a licence to operate.

In April 2014 it was revealed the Swazi public had been banned from visiting the new airport in case they wore out floor tiles in the passenger lounge.

In an analysis of the airport’s future, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) said there were still many serious questions about the sustainability of the airport, ‘including when will it open for business, how will it lure additional airlines to use its services, how will it compete with the airports in Johannesburg and Maputo, and will it ever get close to its full capacity of 360,000 passengers each year - which is more than five times as many as currently used by the existing airport at Matsapha’.

King Mswati has repeatedly said he wants Swaziland to be a First World nation by 2022. OSISA said, ‘While the King's critics find the idea of transforming Swaziland into a developed state and economic powerhouse within eight years laughable, especially given the fact that almost two-thirds of the population still live below the poverty line, Mswati can now point to the (long overdue) airport as proof that the country is moving in the right direction - regardless of whether the airport ever attracts the desired traffic or justifies its vast costs.’

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Swazi King parties while children die 6 August 2014

The Swaziland Government spent about E5.9 million (US$600,000) on the official opening of the King Mswati III International Airport, it has just been revealed.

At the same time, at least 36 children have died from diarrhoea and more than 500 have been hospitalised after the government said it did not have money to pay for available rotavirus vaccines.

Had the US$600,000 been spent on the children, the government could have bought at least 93,000 vials of vaccine, enough for about 46,000 children.

The airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, was opened on 7 March 2014, but to date no airline has used it. It has been widely criticised outside of Swaziland as a vanity project for King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.

Among the costs for the opening of the airport was E1.2 million to hire a jet to land, stay parked and then fly off again. According to local media, the plane was owned by Antroma, a South African company that was awarded a contract without an open tender for baggage handling at the airport worth US$3.5 million per year.

According to the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, Government spent E686 840 on catering for guests; E250,683 for an air display; E200,000 on mobile toilets and E45,600 for a cake.

In 2003, when the decision to build the airport, which has cost an estimated US$300 million so far, was made the International Monetary Fund said it should not go ahead as it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes of less than US$2 per day. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. The King has 13 palaces and a personal fortune once estimated by Forbes Magazine to be US$200 million.

Today, Swaziland is in the grip of a diarrhoea outbreak that has killed at least 36 children. At least another 511 children have been admitted to hospital with the preventable disease. At least 3,042 cases in total have been recorded in the kingdom, according to the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini.

The Swazi Minister of Health Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane told the Swazi Observer newspaper that distributing the vaccine was not the top priority.

The newspaper reported, ‘The minister said the rotavirus, vaccine was expensive; therefore rolling out the immunisation programme cannot not be done overnight since “it is a process and a strong budget is needed”.’

According to the website of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a 10-pack of one dose vials of rotavirus vaccine costs US63.96 at commercial rates. That means US$600,000 could buy 93,750 doses of vaccine. However, a World Health Organization Bulletin stated that GlaxoSmithKline has offered to provide its vaccine at US$2.50 per dose. At that price

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

240,000 doses could be purchased. Typically, a child would need two doses for protection against diarrhoea.

Airlink forced to use King’s airport 22 August 2014

The Airline part owned by the Swazi Government is to be forced to move its operations to the King Mswati III Airport, which opened in March 2014 but has not seen a single commercial aircraft land since.

Swaziland Airlink General Manager Teddy Mavuso put on a brave face at a press conference on Wednesday (20 August 2014) when he announced that the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) had told the airline company that its present base Matsapha airport would close and all commercial operations must use the new airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, from 30 September 2014.

Sikhuphe which was renamed King Mswati III Airport in honour of the kingdom’s autocratic monarch is situated in a wilderness in the south eastern part of the tiny kingdom. Matsapha, the airport that is to close as a result, is close to both the kingdom’s capital Mbabane and the main commercial city, Manzini.

Mavuso told the press conference, ‘As an airline we are the first to admit that change is very difficult to accede to and manage, and yet, on the other hand, change is very necessary to allow for the reorientation of the mindset and the flexibility to explore various alternative solutions in support of developing strategies that are intended to foster growth in the country’s economy.’

He added, ‘Swaziland Airlink undertakes to rise to the occasion in this respect and will exert all possible effort to counter and mitigate any challenges that stand in the way of success in the process.’

Airlink, which is a joint venture between Swaziland and South African Airways, has consistently opposed moving from Matsapha to the new airport. At present it runs a service from Matsapha to Johannesburg. Matsapha is ten minutes’ drive from Swaziland’s commercial capital, Manzini, but Sikhuphe is about 70 km away.

A 2009 study commissioned by Airlink found air travellers would rather drive to Johannesburg than take the trek to fly from Sikhuphe.

Business Report newspaper in South Africa quoted the study, ‘The road journey takes three hours including a stop at the border post. Total travel time from Matsapha, including getting to the airport, waiting, flying, going through customs and retrieving baggage at Johannesburg and taking ground transport to the destination is on average three hours 30 minutes.

‘From [King Mswati III airport] the journey in each direction will take four hours 20 minutes. This will make air travel from a morning or a day trip unviable as the time taken for travel will amount to eight hours 40 minutes, whereas road travel will take six hours.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

The study added, ‘With 60 percent of passengers on this route being point-to-point travellers, it is estimated that as much as 40 percent of these passengers and 20 percent of connecting passengers, or 32 percent of current passengers, will opt for road travel.

‘The risk of a move to [King Mswati III Airport] is unpalatable considering that in a realistic scenario the business will run at a loss… leaving the business unsustainable and an inevitable failure.’

At present Matsapha has about 70,000 passengers a year. King Mswati III Airport needs 400,000 passengers a year to break even.

In 2013, the Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who was unelected by the people, but personally appointed by King Mswati, told newspaper editors, ‘Swazi Airlink will have to use Sikhuphe as it will be our international airport.’

After the official opening of the airport on 7 March 2014, Solomon Dube, Director of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), told local media Swazi Airlink had specifically asked not to operate from the airport for now.

Sikhuphe has cost at least E3 billion (US$300 million) so far to build and is widely regarded outside of Swaziland as a vanity project for the king. Most of the money to build it came from the Swazi taxpayer, even though seven in ten of King Mswati’s subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 a day.

No independent study on the need for Sikhuphe Airport was ever undertaken and the main impetus behind its construction has been King Mswati. He believes the airport will lend credibility to his dream to make Swaziland a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.

In 2003, when the plan to build the airport was announced, the International Monetary Fund said Sikhuphe should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland.

As recently as October 2013, a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Sikhuphe Airport was widely perceived as a ‘vanity project’ because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it seeks to serve.

In his press conference Mavuso said although Matsapha Airport would be closed for commercial purposes, King Mswati would still be able to fly his private jet from there.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Rooney was associate professor at the University of Swaziland 2005 2008, where he was also the founding head of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department.

He has taught in universities in Africa, Europe and the Pacific. His academic research which specialises in media and their relationships to democracy, governance and human rights has appeared in books and journals across the world.

His writing regularly appears in newspapers, magazines and on websites. He was a full-time journalist in his native United Kingdom for 10 years, before becoming an academic.

He has published the blog Swazi Media Commentary since 2007 and also has other social media sites that concentrate on human rights issues in Swaziland.

He holds a Ph.D in Communication from the University of Westminster, London, UK.

He presently teaches at the University of Botswana, Gaborone.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

Publications from Swazi Media Commentary available online free-of-charge

BOOKS

2013. The beginning of the End? 2012, a year in the struggle for democracy in Swaziland

This compilation of newsletters from Africa Contact in collaboration with Swazi Media Commentary contains an assortment of news, analysis and comment covering the campaign for freedom in Swaziland throughout 2012. These include the Global Action for Democracy held in September; campaigns for democracy spearheaded by trade unions and students and the continuing struggle for rights for women, children, gays and minority groups.

2012. The End of the Beginning? 2011, a year in the struggle for freedom in Swaziland

This book looks at activities in the freedom movement in 2011. It starts with a section on the unsuccessful April 12 Uprising followed by separate chapters looking at events in each month of 2011, including the Global Week of Action held in September. They also highlight the numerous violations of rights suffered by the poor, by children, by women and by sexual minorities, among others, in the kingdom.

2011. Voices Unheard: Media Freedom and Censorship in Swaziland.

This volume of pages from Swazi Media Commentary focuses on media freedom and censorship. It starts with some overview articles that set out the general terrain, moving on to look at repressive media laws. Other sections of this book relate the daily threats journalists in Swaziland face when they want to report, but are not allowed to.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

OCCASIONAL PAPERS SERIES

No. 1. 2013. Cynicism Eats Away at Swaziland Journalism: The State of Swazi Journalism, 2013

One thing that shines out about journalists and their editors in Swaziland is the deeply cynical way they operate. Swazi journalists claim to be upholders of fine ethical traditions of honesty and inquiry, but instead they are often publishing lies or playing with readers’ emotions to boost company profits.

This article explores the state of newspaper journalism in Swaziland, a small kingdom in Africa, ruled over by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Editors are deliberately misleading their readers by publishing material that is intended to provoke controversy and reaction, even though they know it also contains lies. This is done in order to boost profits for owners.

No. 2. 2013. Swaziland Broadcasting Not For The People

A review of broadcasting in Swaziland that demonstrates through research that radio in the

kingdom only serves the interests of King Mswati III and his intimate supporters. All other voices are excluded from the airwaves. The paper contrasts a ‘public broadcasting service’

with ‘public service broadcasting’ and demonstrates that changes in the kingdom’s broadcasting cannot be made until it becomes a democratic state.

No. 3. 2013. Swaziland Media Need Code of Conduct for Covering Elections

A review of how media have covered past elections in Swaziland highlighting a number of

areas for improvement. The paper includes a suggested code of ethical conduct that Swazi journalists can adopt in order to improve performance.

No.4. 2013. Swaziland Press Freedom: The case of Bekhi Makhubu and the Nation magazine

In April 2013 Bheki Makhubu the editor of the Nation magazine and its publishers,

Swaziland Independent Publishers were convicted of ‘scandalising the court’ after two

articles criticising the judiciary were published in 2009 and 2010. The purpose of this paper is

to bring together details of the story so far (May 2013). It is an attempt to bring under one

cover all the available information on the case in order to assist those people in the future who might need a quick ‘primer’.

No.5. 2013. Media Coverage of Swaziland Election 2013.

A review of media coverage of the Swaziland national election, most notably in the only two

newspaper groups in the kingdom, and at international media. It notes that generally newspapers in Swaziland ignored the real issue, that of the non-democratic nature of the elections, and concentrated instead on trying to justify the governance system to their readers.

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom

SWAZILAND: STRIVING FOR FREEDOM

PREVIOUS EDITIONS

Volume 13: Jan 2014 to March 2014, is available free of charge here Volume 14: April to June 2014, is available free of charge here

OTHER VOLUMES

Volume 1, Jan 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 2, Feb 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 3, March 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 4, April 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 5, May 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 6, June 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 7, July 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 8, August 2013, is available free of charge here.

Volume 9, September 2013, is available free of charge here

Volume 10, October 2013, is available free of charge here

Volume 11, November 2013, is available free of charge here

Volume 12, December 2013, is available free of charge here

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