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Friday, 9 October 2015


Police in Swaziland fired guns and teargas at workers engaged in a legitimate protest against employment conditions.
According to different local newspaper reports between 2,000 and 3,000 workers at the Zheng Yong Garment factory in Nhlangano had a confrontation with the company’s security guards.

According to the Swazi Observer newspaper one of the workers was ‘assaulted heavily by the guards’ which led to workers throwing missiles.

Management at the textile firm called in the police.

According to the Observer, ‘It was then that gunshots were heard which saw another stampede as the workers ran in different directions.’

According to the Times of Swaziland, ‘Witnesses said the violence was sparked by an incident, on Wednesday [7 October 2015] afternoon, where one of the textile firm workers was attacked by the security guards, following a misunderstanding with one of them.

‘Apparently, the worker had complained after he discovered that his E10 had gone missing from a table where one of the security officers was keeping guard.

‘An argument ensued when the man enquired about the whereabouts of his money from the security guard, leading to an exchange of blows.

‘Other security guards stationed at the company are said to have wasted no time and rushed to the scene upon receiving a report.

‘However, it is alleged that instead of calming the situation, they added fuel to the fire.’

Police are routinely called in during legitimate industrial disputes and there is a long history of weapons being fired at striking workers. Police in Swaziland have also been criticised for having a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy.

In June 2015, Swaziland was named as one of the ten worst countries for working people in the world, in a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Thursday, 8 October 2015


A human rights lawyer has reported Swaziland’s King Mswati III of Swaziland to the United Nations over the deaths of children and young women at the Kingdom’s Reed Dance.
At least 13 people died, but the number has been disputed, with some reports putting the figure at 65.

They died when they were loaded up onto the back of a truck used for conveying building materials. The truck was involved in a road collision on 28 August 2015. They were on their way to the annual Reed Dance or Umhlanga where they were expected to be among thousands of ‘virgins’ to dance half-naked in front of the King.

Femi Falana, a lawyer in Nigeria, has reportedly sent a petition to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan Ernesto Mendez; the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Dubravka Simonovic; and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns.

Punch, a Nigerian-based news site, reported, ‘The lawyer said it was particularly insensitive of the Swaziland monarch to have reportedly allowed the dance festival to proceed despite the news of the victims’ death.

‘He said it was also condemnable that rather than address the issues of rights violation, King Mswati III had continued to cover it up by trying to prevent publication of reports on the incidents.’

According to Punch, the petition read in part, ‘I argue that the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance itself is unlawful as it has continued to perpetuate forced marriages, entirely inconsistent with international human rights standards.

‘I also argue that religion, culture and tradition cannot be used to justify human rights violations, including violence against women, which is what the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance constitutes. The continuation of the Umhlanga Reed Dance also gives rise to other human rights abuses, including forced marriages.

‘Under international human rights law, states like Swaziland are to be held accountable if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights such as those highlighted above or to investigate and punish acts of violence against women and provide effective remedies and access to justice for victims and their families.

‘By packing the girls onto the back of open trucks, the government of Swaziland should have reasonably foreseen that this would lead to violation of their rights to life and human dignity.

‘In fact, due diligence places a strict standard of conduct upon the government of Swaziland to protect all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including the girls and women.

‘I argue that the government of Swaziland has the supreme duty to prevent acts such as those highlighted above that can cause arbitrary loss of life such as the unnecessary deaths of these girls.’

King Mswati came in for heavy criticism after the crash because journalists were prevented from reporting the event. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and media are heavily restricted in his kingdom.

There was a dispute over the number of deaths. The officially sanctioned figure was 13, but prodemocracy groups in Swaziland said it was as high as 65.

Punch, the Nigerian website reporting on Falana’s petition to the UN, caused controversy in August 2015 when it incorrectly reported that girls and young women in Swaziland were forced to undergo public virginity tests before King Mswati III decided whether to take them as his wife.

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Lawyers in Swaziland and an international human rights group have jointly called for judicial persecution, harassment and intimidation of members of civil society organisations in the kingdom to end.

In a submission to the United Nations they also call for restrictions on freedom of assembly to be lifted.

The calls come jointly from CIVICUS, a global network of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world, and Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) (LHRS), a non-partisan group of lawyers that advocates for the respect of human rights and promotes good governance, the rule of law and democracy.

The report is to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland that is to investigate Swaziland’s record on human rights next April and May 2016.

The report listed a number of violations in Swaziland over recent years. The report said it was ‘a matter of deep concern that human rights activists have been arrested and persecuted for the work and others have been threatened by senior government officials including the Prime Minister.’

In a detailed account, the report said, ‘On 26 August 2014, Vincent Ncongwane, Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), was apprehended shortly before he was due to address a prayer meeting on the effects of the withdrawal of financial assistance through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) from Swaziland by the United States Government. 

‘He had also planned to discuss the position of civil society regarding the withdrawal. The Matsapha area has many textile factories that will be affected by the cancellation of assistance through AGOA. Following his apprehension by the police, Vincent was forced to leave the venue of the meeting before delivering his address.

‘On 5 September 2013, Vincent was followed by police officers in civilian clothing and arrested while attempting to enter his office. He was whisked to the police station without any explanation or warrant and detained for several hours. He was later placed under house arrest and the authorities argued he had attempted to instigate an unlawful protest.

‘On 6 August 2014, Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini threatened human rights defenders Sipho Gumedze and Vincent Ncongwane while they participated in the civil society meeting on the promotion of democracy in Africa on the sidelines of the African leader’s summit hosted by US President Barack Obama in August 2014.

‘The activists had also participated in peaceful demonstrations aimed at highlighting threats to freedom of expression in Swaziland. While addressing the Parliament in Swaziland, the Prime Minister called for both activists to be interrogated and “strangled” when they return to Swaziland.

‘Sipho is a member of Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) and Vincent is the Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).

‘On 1 May 2014, Mario Masuku, President of the pro-democracy People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Maxwell Dlamini of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), were arrested after addressing a crowd of about 7,000 people during a Labour Day event in the capital, Manzini. 

‘They were charged with singing a seditious song and uttering seditious statements under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The state argued in court that their utterances were serious and threatened the leadership of Swaziland. They were denied bail on two occasions before they were released on bail on 14 July 2015 by the Supreme Court.’

The report said that the Swazi Constitution guaranteed ‘the rights of citizens to assemble freely,’ but these rights were being ignored.

The report said, ‘However we remain concerned that the authorities regularly suppress peaceful demonstrations, Persons considered leaders of such protests have been arrested and subjected to judicial persecution and some have been charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

‘In March 2015, security forces prevented members of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from holding their national executive committee meeting at the premises of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT). In dispersing the participants, security forces harassed the Secretary of SNAT, Muzi Mhlanga after he took pictures of the police actions against protesters. 

‘Again on 28 February 2015 security forces forcefully dispersed a meeting of TUCOSWA because the participants discussed multi-party democracy.

‘On 24 April 2014, Mlungisi Makhanya, Secretary General of PUDEMO and six others were arrested at the High Court in Mbabane as they demonstrated against the manner in which the trial of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu was conducted.

‘They were charged for contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act for wearing and being in possession of tee-shirts on which the word PUDEMO was inscribed.

‘The authorities noted that the tee-shirts reflected terrorist demands. They were also charged with chanting ‘terrorist slogans’ and for conspiring with others to commit seditious acts. In May 2014 they were all released on bail of E15,000 (approximatelyUS$1,106) and asked to pay E5,000 (approximately US$368) upfront and provide surety of E10,000 (approximately US$737).

‘On 5 September 2013, security forces in Swaziland arrested and detained Jay Naidoo, a South African trade union activist, Bishop Paul Verryn from the Methodist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa and Zimbabwean human rights lawyer and activist Alec Muchadehama ahead of a planned global inquiry scheduled for 6 September 2013.

‘Those arrested were part of an international panel of experts who had been requested by TUCOSWA and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to engage in a dialogue with workers about the effect of violations on labour rights on all Swazis. The panellists were followed from the airport and arrested at a roadblock on their way to Manzini. They were then transported to a police station where they were interrogated about the rationale for the planned meeting. They were later released after questioning and had to return to Johannesburg as the authorities closed the George Hotel in Manzini where the inquiry was scheduled to take place.’

On 12 April 2012, the police intercepted pro-democracy protests planned to be held at Coronation Park in Mbabane and arrested 15 organisers. The protests had been planned to coincide with King Sobhuza II’s 1973 Proclamation which outlawed political parties. The venue was filled with police and security offices who prevented protesters from entering. Protesters who were driving from other parts of the country were stopped at road blocks, prevented from entering Mbabane and sent back to their home towns.

‘The organisers of the protests had planned to use the day to call for democratic reforms, the organisation of multiparty election, for freedom of association to be respected and express concerns over the imposition of tax on basic goods.’

See also


Wednesday, 7 October 2015


The much anticipated meeting between Swaziland’s autocratic King Mswati III and representatives of the prodemocracy movement in his kingdom did not take place.

It was scheduled for 30 September 2015 and had been brokered by the Commonwealth. A total of 15 representatives of civil society, including some groups banned under the kingdom’s Suppression of Terrorist Act, had been expected to attend.

Swaziland is a secretive society and existence of the meeting was never officially confirmed. However, leaks about the meeting and who was attending, and who had been barred, circulated freely on social media.

The meeting attracted attention because King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups advocating for democracy are outlawed. Every major global human rights organisation has criticised Swaziland for its poor human rights record. Public meetings are routinely broken up by police and state security. Journalists critical of the regime have been jailed.

The meeting called by some ‘talks about democracy’ failed to materialise after it became clear that some participants had drawn up a list of demands for the King. These included the unbanning of political parties and a commitment to democracy.

The Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati and described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) as belonging to a stable of newspapers that was a  ‘pure propaganda machine for the Royal Family’, reported Prince Masitsela, a senior traditionalist in Swaziland, saying the Royal Family had ‘not taken kindly’ to reports that civil society representatives at the meeting had ‘demands’ for the King.

The newspaper reported (4 October 2015), ‘This has been viewed as a sign of disrespect towards the King.’

It added, ‘Senior Prince Masitsela is one of the people who have come out to state publicly that chances of the political formations meeting the King were now slim.’

The Observer also reported, ‘The 85-year-old prince said he did not see the meeting taking place as it was unheard of that Swazi citizens would openly say they have demands for the King.’

Prince Masitsela is an advisor to the King on the Ludzidzini Council.  

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Monday, 5 October 2015


King Mswati III, Swaziland’s absolute monarch, is being dragged through the courts in a case where he is personally being sued for US$1.5 million damages for his alleged part in the downfall of a mining operation in his Swaziland. The case which will be played out in the British Virgin Islands will be the first time the King has personally been sued. In Swaziland it is not possible to bring any kind of legal action against the monarch.

This is one of the continuing stories from the past three months that has been reported by Swazi Media Commentary and is included in Swaziland: Striving for Freedom, Vol 19. This compilation covering the months June to September 2015 brings together posts that originally appeared on the Swazi Media Commentary website. It is available free of charge from the scribd dot com website.

A major tragedy took place in August when a number of children (the exact figure is disputed) were killed in a road accident while being transported to the King’s Reed Dance where they were expected to dance half-naked in front of him. The accident highlighted the way that the King’s poverty-stricken subjects are often treated like cattle while the King lives a lavish lifestyle. On that note, the King’s private jet continues to bring him grief as he tries to fight a court order compelling him to pay alleged unpaid debts.

The quarter ended on an optimistic note when it was reported that the Commonwealth had brokered a deal in which the King agreed to meet representatives of the kingdom’s civil society in which were dubbed by outsiders as ‘democracy talks’.

Swazi Media Commentary website 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 regularly.

Swaziland Striving for Freedom, Vol 19, June to September 2015

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


Swaziland’s best-known opposition group the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) will take part in talks with King Mswati III on Wednesday (30 September 2015), despite a report that its leaders had been banned from attending.

PUDEMO said in a statement it had always been ‘willing and available’ to meet both the King, who is an absolute monarch, and the government which the King personally appoints.

Swaziland is a secretive society and no official announcement has been made about the meeting which has been brokered by the Commonwealth.

A report on 25 September 2015 in the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, said that PUDEMO leaders Mario Masuku and Mphandlana Shongwe had been banned from taking part. It is believed that fifteen representatives of Swazi civil society will meet the King.

PUDEMO in a statement said it would attend the meeting, although it was not stated who would represent the organisation.

In its statement dated 27 September 2015, widely circulated on social media and later picked up by newspapers in Swaziland, PUDEMO said, ‘We fully support a genuine negotiation process and we are clear about the kind of dialogue that must take Swaziland forward. It must be a dialogue rooted in the full respect for certain preliminary conditions, which are key to a lasting and meaningful dialogue; there must be a total removal of all laws that militate against political freedoms and the rights to organise and associate with any political organisation. In particular the removal of the ban on political parties and Suppression of terrorism law is key to this process.

‘In front of his Majesty we will reiterate our core demands for a peaceful transition [from absolute monarchy to democracy]:

‘Immediately drop all political charges against the leadership of the movement;

‘Immediately unban of political parties so that our member parties can be part of the process;

Convening of an all-inclusive and genuine National Dialogue Forum to discuss the modalities towards the ultimate drafting of the country’s democratic constitution;

‘Creation of an environment conducive to effective genuine negotiations through the removal of all laws that militate against free political activity, the rights to organise and associate on the basis of political views and interests. In this regard, the removal of the Suppression of terrorism Act and other such laws remain a major condition;

‘Independent judiciary and media and end of state brutality through the police and the army;

‘Unconditional return of all exiles and the full and effective participation of all the people in the process leading towards the putting in place of a new and democratic system in the country;

‘A new constitution;

‘Multiparty elections with political parties registered , contesting and with full mandate to constitute government.

PUDEMO is one of a number of prodemocracy groups banned in Swaziland under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. In Swaziland political parties are not allowed to take part in elections.

See also



Lawyers in Swaziland and an international human rights group have jointly called for media freedom in the kingdom to be respected.

In a submission to the United Nations they also call for an end to media censorship in the kingdom.

They also call for more independent newspapers and media houses to be allowed to operate in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The call comes jointly from CIVICUS, a global network of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world, and Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) (LHRS), a non-partisan group of lawyers that advocates for the respect of human rights and promotes good governance, the rule of law and democracy.

The report is to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland that is to investigate Swaziland’s record on human rights next April and May 2016.

The report listed a number of media freedom violations in Swaziland over recent years.

In the report they stated the Swazi Government, which is not elected but appointed by the King, ‘strictly controls freedom of expression and the media

They added, ‘Reporting on royal and political matters is severely restricted. Further, regular threats emanating from senior government officials and the royal family to journalists also lead to government censorship and self-censorship by the media further curtailing democratic freedoms.

The report detailed a number of media freedom violations.

It stated, ‘On 28 April 2014, Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi threatened the Managing Editor of the Swazi Observer, Mbongeni Mbingo over reports on court proceedings in the case involving the editor of Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.  

In the 30 March 2014 edition of the newspaper, Mbongeni expressed concerns that Bheki and Thulani were in jail even though the prosecuting team had not concluded its investigations. The Chief Justice ordered Mbongeni to stop reporting on the case and warned that he would be subjected to the same fate as the accused. 

The Swazi Observer is owned by King Mswati’s business holding Tibiyo taka Ngwane but the newspaper had been reporting regularly on the case. After the threats from the Chief Justice the newspaper adopted a more cautious approach in its reporting on the case.

On 17 April 2013, Bheki Makhubu, editor of Nation magazine was found guilty of contempt of court for “scurrilous abuse of the Chief Justice” based on articles he wrote in November 2009 and February 2010 in which he criticised Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. 

One of the articles commended Justice Thomas Masuku for his views in cases which focused on the evictions of Swazis from lands held by the King in contrast to views held by two other Supreme Court Judges. The other article criticised Justice Ramodibedi over comments he had made. Bheki Makhubu was handed a fine of E200,000 (approximately US$14,750) and informed that he would serve a two year jail term if he failed to pay the fine within three days.

On 30 May 2014, he won an appeal with the Supreme Court and the sentence was reduced to three months fully suspended on condition that he is not convicted of any offence of scandalising the court for a period of three years.
On 17 and 18 March 2013 human rights defender Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu were arrested and charged with “scandalising the judiciary” and for being “in contempt of court” after they published articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.
In February 2014, Thulani wrote an article in the Nation magazine titled “where the law has no place” and in March 2014 Bheki wrote an article titled “speaking my mind”. Both articles were critical of the arrest of government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Vincent Gwebu. 

Thulani Maseko is a member of the Lawyers for Human Rights (Swaziland) and Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. Bheki Makubu is a journalist and editor of Nation magazine. They were both sentenced to two years in jail on 25 July 2014 without bail. On 30 June 2015 the Supreme Court ordered the release of both journalists on the basis that they had not received a fair trial.

The Supreme Court argued that the trial judge was one of the persons criticised in the articles and had not recused himself from the case.

On 15 January 2014, the government-controlled Swazi Observer newspaper suspended its editor Thulani Thwala and weekend editor Alec Lushaba after they were accused of failing to adhere to the mandate of the newspaper by publishing negative news stories about the King.
The journalists were accused of failing to heed several warnings not to publish damaging reports about the King. Prior to the suspension, they published reports indicating that the Swazi government had solicited a financial bailout from South Africa. Eight months after their suspension, the Board of Directors of the Swazi Observer Newspaper Group reinstated them. 

The Swazi Observer newspaper is controlled by the Tibiyo Taka Ngwane conglomerate, which is owned by the King. News items published are highly censored.

In January 2012, Musa Ndlangamandla was relieved of his duties as Chief Editor of the Swazi Observer newspaper after publishing interviews in his Asikhulume column of leaders of pro-democracy movements in Swaziland.

Prior to that he had published a report about the expropriation of state land by Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini. The police confiscated his computer and in February he was forced to flee to South Africa after attempts by security forces to arrest and charge him under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
On 11 April 2012, Tumaole Mohlaoli and Meshack Dube, journalists from the private South African television channel e-TV, were detained by the Swazi authorities at a road block in Oshoek and their passports and equipment were seized after the authorities accused them of not having the proper accreditation to cover events commemorating the 39th anniversary of King Sobhuza II’s 1973 decree which outlawed political parties in Swaziland.’

CIVICUS and LHRS made the following recommendations to the UN working group.

The environment in which the media operates in Swaziland should be opened up to allow the registration and operation of more independent newspapers and media houses.

The government should stop using the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act to impede media freedoms.

Swazi authorities should respect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression and stop the practice of intimidating and persecuting journalists using unlawful legal processes.

Journalists and media representatives should be protected by the law at all times.

Public figures should stop threatening journalists and desist from interfering in state-owned newspapers.
Obsolete laws that restrict freedom of expression such as Sedition and Subversive Activities Act Suppression of Terrorism Act should be reviewed and repealed.

The Swazi authorities should stop censoring the contempt of newspapers and refrain from interfering in the editorial policies of newspapers to eliminate censorship.

See also