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Thursday, 5 March 2015


Swaziland is once again under the international searchlight after police broke up a meeting of trade unionists who wanted to discuss the need for democracy in the kingdom.

The Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) was prevented from meeting on Saturday (28 February 2015). Political parties are banned from contesting elections in Swaziland and all pro-democracy groups have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Condemnation of Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, came from all over the world.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) attacked the regime of King Mswati for its ‘latest act of anti-union repression’.

ITUC reported police used numerous tactics to intimidate workers and to prevent the meeting. It said, ‘The landlord of the Bosco Skills Centre Hall in Manzini, where the meeting was scheduled to take place, was falsely told that he was violating Swazi laws by renting the hall to TUCOSWA.

‘When the trade union meeting was relocated to the Swaziland National Teachers Association Centre, police mounted roadblocks around the country and placed uniformed and plain-clothes police in front of the centre. Despite the intimidating police presence and roadblocks, more than 100 workers made it to the SNAT centre, but police, led by Regional Commissioner Richard Mngometulu and Senior Operations Officer Josefa Bhembe, insisted that the meeting could not take place.’

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, ‘This is a clear and serious violation of both Swazi and international law which both guarantee the right of workers to assemble and to discuss socio-economic issues impacting their lives. Violations against the fundamental rights of workers have become systemic in Swaziland. The government must conduct an immediate investigation without delay, hold the responsible police officers accountable and reform its archaic anti-union laws and practices.’

Kommunal, the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, which has 550,000 members, wrote to the Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini to, ‘strongly condemn the systematic interference by police in lawful and legitimate trade union activities’.

Annelie Nordström, Chairperson of Kommunal, wrote, ‘We urge you to conduct an investigation and hold the responsible police officers accountable without delay. Police tactics to intimidate workers from holding a legitimate trade union meeting constitute a serious violation of both Swazi and international law.’

The Solidarity Center of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) reported, ‘The police action is the latest move against worker and human rights in Swaziland.  Swaziland authorities continue their nearly three-year refusal to grant legal registration to TUCOSWA, despite the federation making another application in December 2014 under the country’s recently amended Industrial Relations Act.’

It added, ‘Earlier in June 2014 the U.S. took the rare step of suspending African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade benefits for Swaziland, citing the Swazi government’s systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, including refusal to legally recognize TUCOSWA. Swaziland’s trade unions support AGOA, but maintain that the country must meet benchmarks of the agreement, which include respecting human rights and labor rights.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), said, ‘The royal family regime continues to wage a relentless attack on the rights and dignity of workers. The banning of TUCOSWA and the continued attack on the rights of workers to associate, organise and speak out reflects a regime in crisis and desperately frustrated.’

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), which is banned in the kingdom, said there was no law to stop people talking about the need for multi-party democracy. It said, ‘The reasons given by the police for refusing the meeting to take place was that “Deliberating on political parties would have bad implications for the country.”’

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015


People aged 60 and over in Swaziland will get an increase of E20 (US$2) per month in their pensions, according to the kingdom’s annual budget. This will bring it up to E240.

Meanwhile, the same budget has allowed for a house to be built for the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini at a cost to the taxpayer of E6.595 million. The house will be for Dlamini’s personal use after the 72-year-old leaves office. 

Dlamini was not elected to Parliament by the people; he was personally appointed by King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Delivering his budget speech on Friday (27 February 2015), Finance Minister Martin Dlamini announced the E20 increase in the elderly person’s grant, saying, ‘Mr Speaker, government continues to prioritise the welfare of the vulnerable in our society.’

The Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported that Finance Committee Chairperson Patrick Pha Motsa, had said after the budget was announced, ‘[W]hen working on the budget, they considered priorities, hence allocating the money to the people and the projects of importance.’

According to a Government Circular known as Circular No.2 of 2013, the Swazi Prime Minister after retirement will also be entitled to a car (whose value has been estimated at E1 million) for as long as he lives.

The Circular also allows the Prime Minister upon retirement to receive a pension which is equivalent to 80 percent of the basic salary he earned a day prior to retiring. This is in addition to the E600,000 ex-gratia payment he would get after fully serving his term in office.  

The PM will also get 10 percent of his basic monthly salary of E51,470 as an entertainment allowance.
Barnabas Dlamini will also be afforded a state funeral, even if he does not die while in office.

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Sunday, 1 March 2015


Police in  Swaziland stopped trade unionists from meeting on Saturday (28 February 2015) to discuss the need for multi-party democracy in the kingdom.

Armed police stopped supporters of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) meeting at the Swaziland National Teachers Association (SNAT) Centre in Manzini.

The Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported, ‘The main reason the meeting was stopped from taking place was the inclusion of multi-party democracy in the agenda that was to be deliberated on the day.’

Political parties are banned from taking part in elections in Swaziland and many pro-democracy organisations have been banned by the King’s hand-picked government and labelled ‘terrorist’ groups.

Police mounted road blocks to stop supporters entering Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city.

The Federation’s President Quinton Dlamini said police would not deter TUCOSWA in its fight for democracy. 

TUCOSWA now plans to hold a meeting just outside Swaziland’s borders at the Ngwenya Border Post in South Africa on 14 March 2015.

The Federation’s Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane said this would celebrate TUCOSWA’s third anniversary.

He said, ‘It is clear that we need multi-party democracy because the police are always exercising their powers over us. We have resolved that we take our meeting to where democracy is allowed and that is South Africa.’

In October 2014, the Swaziland Government banned TUCOSWA and all other employer and trade union federations in the kingdom.

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Amnesty International has highlighted the case of two journalists jailed in Swaziland for writing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary to demonstrate an ‘upsurge in politically motivated trials and the use of laws which violate the principle of legality to suppress dissent’ over the past year.

Amnesty, in its annual report just published, said that in July 2014 Bheki Makhubu, editor of the monthly news magazine the Nation, and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced by the High Court to two years in prison for contempt of court ‘after a grossly unfair trial’.

Amnesty, which has already declared the two men to be ‘prisoners of conscience’, said, ‘In March [2014] the two men were arrested after the Nation published their articles raising concerns about judicial independence and political accountability in Swaziland. The warrant used to arrest them, issued by Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, subverted the normal legal process. 

‘The police at Mbabane police station, where the men were initially detained prior to their appearance before the Chief Justice, also appeared to have been acting under instructions when they denied the men’s lawyers access to them in the police cells. 

‘The two men were remanded into custody by the Chief Justice following a brief procedure behind closed doors in his office. In April, they were briefly released, following a ruling by High Court judge Mumcy Dlamini that the warrants used to arrest them were defective. The Chief Justice immediately lodged an appeal against this ruling, the two men were rearrested and the trial against them began under High Court judge Mpendulo Simelane. 

‘The judge had a clear conflict of interest in the matter as he was named in one of the cited articles and intervened as a factual witness during the course of the trial. When sentencing the defendants, Judge Simelane criticized their “disgusting conduct”, for running a “defiance campaign” against the administration of justice with “scurrilous” articles and, in respect of Thulani Maseko, for “pursuing regime change”’

The sentences are to be appealed.

Amnesty added, ‘In May [2014], the Supreme Court overturned Bheki Makhubu’s previous conviction in 2013 for one of two charges against him arising from an earlier article in the Nation on the importance of the judiciary in entrenching respect for the Constitution and improving the lives of the people. 

‘The Supreme Court upheld the conviction on the second charge arising from an article concerning the conduct of the country’s powerful Chief Justice, but overturned the sentence of two years’ imprisonment if the editor failed to pay a fine equivalent to nearly US$45,000 within three days. The Supreme Court judges substituted a fine equivalent of US$3,000 and a suspended sentence of three months’ imprisonment conditional on not being convicted of a similar offence.’

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Only one week after King Mswati III of Swaziland publicly declared his support for higher education in his kingdom, it is reported that his Government has not paid monies it promised one of the newest universities and it cannot pay salaries.

King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and hand-picks the Swazi Government, said in his speech at the opening of parliament that his kingdom now had a ‘huge challenge to develop more institutions of higher learning for our youth in the country that will be affordable to parents and of high quality’.

He added, ‘Therefore, government should upgrade our colleges into universities as this is in line with our decentralisation policy.’

However, the reality in his kingdom is proving to be rather different. Media in Swaziland have reported the Swaziland Christian University at Mahwalala, which specialises in health-based programmes, has had to delay paying its staff wages and salaries.

The Observer on Saturday newspaper reported (28 February 2015), ‘This was disclosed by the university’s bursar Lusekwane Dlamini through an internal memorandum which was issued on Wednesday.’

The newspaper reported the memo said, ‘This memo serves to inform you that salaries for this month will be delayed due to the current financial situation faced by the university.’

The newspaper added, ‘According to highly placed sources, the school administration is accusing government of failing to render their salaries. They are alleging that government promised to give them E27 million [US$2.7 million] which was not met.’ 

It reported Minister of Education and Training Dr Phineas Magagula saying there was no money at the moment. He said the Government had paid the university E3m at the beginning of the year.

Last Month (February 2015), it was reported that armed police raided the university’s campus after students boycotted classes. There were protesting about a shortage of lecturers and inadequate teaching facilities.

It was also reported that 25 female students from the university had been raped in the past year. Students blamed the university for not providing them with secure accommodation.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


The rule of law, access to effective remedies and protection of human rights in Swaziland continued to deteriorate in the past year as a consequence of the further undermining of judicial independence, Amnesty International said in its annual report.

‘Activists were also detained and charged in several separate trials involving charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act,’ Amnesty stated. 

The report published on Tuesday (24 February 2015) said the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, revived a 2009 sedition charge against Thulani Maseko. His trial on this charge was scheduled to be heard in 2015. A challenge to the constitutionality of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, as well as the STA, was also pending in 2015. 

Amnesty reported, ‘The challenge was brought by veteran activist and leader of the opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Mario Masuku, and eight others facing charges under both laws in three separate trials. The application was due to be heard in the High Court in March 2015.’

The trial of Mario Masuku and youth leader Maxwell Dlamini was due to begin in February 2015. They were charged with sedition and remanded in custody in connection with slogans they allegedly shouted at a 2014 May Day rally. 

Amnesty reported, ‘There was considerable concern at Mario Masuku’s deteriorating health after he was remanded into custody. At the end of October there was a renewed attempt to secure his and Maxwell Dlamini’s release on bail. On 31 October the High Court judge scheduled to hear the application was withdrawn. The application was heard and rejected in November by Judge Mpendulo Simelane.’

Seven members of PUDEMO, which is banned under the STA, were also facing trial at the end of the year on charges under the STA following their arrest at the High Court during the trial of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu in April, who were later jailed for contempt of court for writing and publishing articles in the Nation magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary.

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Monday, 23 February 2015


King Mswati III of Swaziland has instructed the kingdom’s revenue authority to pursue people who live lavish lifestyles to ensure they are paying their tax.

The King, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, himself has 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars. He and his royal family regularly take expensive international trips.

The King pays no tax.

In a speech opening the Swazi Parliament on Thursday (19 February 2015), the King said, ‘Time has also come for the authority to fast track the programme of lifestyle audits.’

After the King’s speech was delivered, the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom reported, ‘[Swaziland Revenue Authority] General (CG) Dumisani Masilela told this reporter that qualified personnel had been recruited to carry out the lifestyle audit function aimed at cracking the whip on those involved in corrupt ways of generating income.’

The source of much of King Mswati’s income remains secret. In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that the King himself had a personal net fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes also said King Mswati was the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income. The trust has been estimated to be worth US$10 billion.  

In August 2014 the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa reported King Mswati personally received millions of dollars from international companies such as phone giant MTN; sugar conglomerates Illovo and Remgro; Sun International hotels and beverages firm SAB Millerto.

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 in 2013 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.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of Swaziland’s tiny 1.4 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 a day; three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.

At the last national budget in Swaziland in 2014 the King’s annual household budget increased by more than 10 percent to US$61m, this was on top of the 13 percent increase he had in 2013.

The AFP news agency reported in May 2014 that the figure also included provisions for construction work on palaces that would cost the tax payer about $12.6m.

Observers note that the King has had many chances in the past to cut back on his spending and reduce the amount of money he takes from his subjects, but so far he has increased his budget, rather than reduced it. In 2011, as Swaziland hurtled towards financial meltdown, Majozi Sithole, the then Finance Minister, in his budget demanded 10 percent budget cuts (later increased further) from government departments, but in the same budget the amount of money given to the King increased by 23 percent.

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