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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

RESPECT FOR SWAZI RULE OF LAW FALLS

‘Respect for human rights and the rule of law declined in the Kingdom of Swaziland, ruled by an absolute monarch, King Mswati III, since 1986. Political parties are banned, judicial independence is severely compromised, and repressive laws are used to target critics of the government and the King.’

These were the conclusions of Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2016, published on Wednesday (27 January 2016).
 
The report stated, ‘As in previous years, Swazi authorities severely restricted civil and political rights. In March 2015, police beat leaders of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and prevented them from holding a meeting, ostensibly because the discussions would have included calls for multiparty democracy. Among those severely beaten was a prominent trade unionist, the SNAT Secretary General Muzi Mhlanga.

‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act, the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938, and other similarly draconian legislation provided sweeping powers to the security services to halt meetings and protests and to curb criticism of the government, even though such rights are protected under Swaziland’s 2005 constitution. In September 2015, eight human rights defenders challenged the constitutionality of these security laws in the High Court of Swaziland. A final ruling has yet to be handed down.’

In a detailed analysis of Swaziland, HRW, highlighted media freedom as a particular problem.

It said, ‘Journalists and activists who criticized the government were often harassed and arrested. The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act continued to restrict freedom of expression through criminalizing alleged seditious publications and use of alleged seditious words, such as those which “may excite disaffection” against the king. Published criticism of the ruling party is also banned. Many journalists practiced self-censorship, especially with regard to reports involving the king, to avoid harassment by authorities.

‘On June 30 [2015], the Supreme Court of Swaziland granted an appeal by human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, and editor of The Nation magazine, Bheki Makhubu, and ordered their immediate release from prison. Maseko and Makhubu were arrested in March 2014 for two articles they published in The Nation questioning the impartiality of the judiciary, and sentenced to two years in prison. Civil society groups dismissed the trial as a sham.

‘In July 2014, The Nation and its publishers were fined an equivalent of US$9,500 by the Swaziland High Court for publishing “seditious” information in the two articles that Maseko wrote.

‘Authorities also barred media from reporting on issues they deemed sensitive. For example, when scores of young girls died in a road traffic accident on August 28 [2015] on their way to an annual Umhlanga festival where thousands of virgins dance before the king to celebrate womanhood and virginity, authorities blocked media reporting of the incident. The government later said 13 people had died. Regional and international media disputed the government’s figure and estimated the death toll at 65.’

See also

‘OPPOSITION TO KING IS TERRORISM
SADC URGED TO ACT ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Monday, 25 January 2016

OPPOSITION TO KING IS ‘TERRORISM’

All opposition to the rule of absolute monarch King Mswati III of Swaziland is treated as ‘terrorism’, according to a new analysis of the legal system in the kingdom.

Courts in Swaziland do the King’s bidding and lawyers regularly face intimidation.

The analysis was published by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) to mark International Day of the Endangered Lawyer on Friday (22 January 2016).

The report written by Annabel Raw and Caroline James said, ‘In Swaziland, opposition to the King and the political system which prohibits political parties is treated as terrorism and the courts have often been seen to do the King’s bidding

‘Swazi lawyers regularly face intimidation when they challenge this status quo. 


‘In August 2014, human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze attended a civil society event in Washington DC held at the White House to coincide with the US-Africa Summit hosted by American President Barack Obama. At the time, there had been a crackdown on free expression in Swaziland and a number of political and social activists were in prison or facing charges resulting from their criticism of the Swazi King and political system. 

‘Gumedze was photographed with a colleague from the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) holding a banner saying “Free Speech in Swaziland NOW!” Soon after, the Prime Minister of Swaziland, Barnabus Sibusiso Dlamini, said, in a speech to Parliament, that Gumedze and his colleague should be “strangled” on their return to Swaziland.

‘Another of these lawyers, Thulani Maseko, spent fifteen months in prison in 2014 and 2015 after he was charged and convicted of contempt of court for writing an article that was critical of the then-Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. Maseko was described as a “disgrace to the legal profession” by the presiding judge, Mpendulo Simelane, when he was sentenced. Ramodibedi and Simelane have since been charged with defeating the ends of justice – in essence what Maseko was attempting to highlight in his article.’

The analysis concluded, ‘The beauty of the law and the potential of an independent judiciary is that no matter who you are, you are beholden to the same rules as everyone else. Even kings and armies must comply with the rule of law. It is vital that lawyers are able as professionals to serve the law’s potential in being free to represent their clients independently and with zeal, being able to speak freely when shining light on violations of the law, and to defend the rights of the vulnerable, even against the most powerful. It is an idea that the international community has recognised and affirmed as indispensable to the rule of law and the realisation of human rights.’

Thursday, 21 January 2016

DRAFT RULES CENSOR VARSITY TEACHING

Universities and colleges in Swaziland will be censored in what they can teach to ensure they do not damage the ‘image’ of the kingdom, if new draft regulations are adopted.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The Times of Swaziland reported on Thursday (21 January 2016) that higher education institutions should not ‘teach things which could be detrimental to the wellbeing and image of the country’.

The newspaper reported the Executive Secretary of the Swaziland Higher Education Council (SHEC) Mboni Dlamini said, ‘this did not mean that institutions should not provide political studies, if their mission was to do so’.

The Times added, ‘He said, however, they should stick to the parameters of that particular subject. He said lecturers should stick to the approved syllabus and not teach things which could be detrimental to the wellbeing and image of the country.’

In Swaziland all political parties are banned from taking part in elections. Many groups advocating democracy in the kingdom are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In Swaziland, the King appoints the cabinet, top civil servants and judges.

Elections are held every five years, but voters get to choose only 55 of the 65-member House of Assembly. The other ten members are appointed by King Mswati. No members of the 30-strong Swaziland Senate are elected; 20 are appointed by the King and 10 are selected by the House of Assembly. 

Dlamini was presenting the Draft Higher Education Regulations to representatives of Swazi universities and colleges.

The Times quoted Dlamini saying, ‘The University of Swaziland teaches political studies, lecturers should stick to the parameters and not go outside their domain to the detriment of the country.’

The Times reported, ‘He said they should not also teach things which will harass others be it in politics, religion or local culture. He said if an institution was licensed to teach Agriculture, they should stick to that, and not be involved in any other non-agricultural activities.

‘“We do not want institutions to focus on other things that will smear the image of the country. The institutions should also not teach things which will incite students to engage in protest actions,” he said.’

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

‘GOD WILL BRING DOWN THE RAINS’

Kenworthy News Media, 11 January 2016 
Climate change has brought on a severe drought in the small absolute monarchy of Swaziland. The solution to the crisis is literally to pray for rain, says the country’s absolute monarch. No, we need a democratic government that does not treat its people as enemies, says a young activist, writes Kenworthy News Media.

In Swaziland, where two thirds of Swaziland’s population survive on less than a dollar a day, a lengthy drought has caused an extreme lack of water, subsequent falling crop yields and the death of thousands of cattle in Swaziland’s rural areas. People in the rural areas could starve to death if urgent action is not taken, two local researchers recently stated in the American Journal of Agriculture and Forestry.

In response to the increasingly precarious situation, Swaziland’s absolute monarch King Mswati III, who is one of the wealthiest monarchs in the world, said in a speech held on Saturday (9 January 2016) that the country does not need an irrigation system. “We have our irrigation system coming straight from God … God will bring down the rains to water your fields”, Mswati claimed.

An insult to the poor
A young Swazi activist whom I shall call Sibusiso says he was very dismayed when he learnt of the king’s speech. He wishes to remain anonymous because he fears reprisals in a country where freedom of expression is “severely restricted in practice” and dissenters and demonstrators “routinely face violence and arrests by police”, according to Freedom House.


“Mswati is saying all this at the height of a drought that has hit thousands of subsistence farmers in the rural areas who rely on erratic rainfall as the only source of water for their crops and animals. Most of these farmers have lost their livestock due to lack of rainfall. A sizeable number of Swazi rural farmers have not ploughed their fields because of the persistent drought”, says Sibusiso, who has himself grown up in the rural areas.

It is clear from the speech that the king clearly has no compassion for, or understanding of, Swaziland’s many poor, he says.

“I have spent my life in the rural areas where we would break our backs working hard in the fields and taking care of our livestock to make sure we had enough to eat. We did all this without any assistance from the government. These rural farmers and their families are nothing more than cheap labour in the eyes of the king and his chiefs. They are even expected from time to time to provide manual labour for them even though they are themselves struggling”.

When the people awaken from their slumber
The solution to the crisis, says Sibusiso, is thus not only food aid or a more compassionate absolute monarch, but a truly democratic government that does not treat its people as enemies.


“A government that is visionless, as this one is, cannot lead us anywhere, except to a perpetual cycle of poverty and underdevelopment. Mswati continues to celebrate the wealth that he has amassed from depriving the ordinary people a decent life, a decent education, food, health and the right to own land. But when the people awaken from their slumber and say enough is enough and demand what rightfully belongs to them it shall be too late for him to redeem himself. The party shall be over soon”, says Sibusiso.

Friday, 8 January 2016

FREEDOM DOCUMENTARY ON YOUTUBE

Swaziland – Africa’s last monarchy, the documentary about activist Bheki Dlamini by Danish journalist Tom Heinemann is now available on YouTube.  

The film describes the fight for democracy and socio-economic justice in the tiny sub-Saharan absolute monarchy of Swaziland through the eyes of Dlamini, a leading member of Swaziland’s largest banned political party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

Dlamini said, ‘The documentary on Swaziland has helped to give a voice to the suffering people of Swaziland who are in a bitter struggle for freedom and democracy. My story, as captured in the documentary, is the story of most activists in Swaziland who are subjected to torture, beatings, arrests and forced exile. The nomination of the documentary is a victory for the people of Swaziland as Mswati’s regime can no longer afford to fool the world that there is no problem in Swaziland.’

In August 2015, the film won the main prize and the prize for best short documentary at the A Film for Peace-festival in Italy as part of Tom Heinemann and Erling Borgen’s series, A Heart That Never Dies. The series has been aired on Danish-, Swedish- and Norwegian national television.

Bheki Dlamini is the President of the Swaziland Youth Congress, the youth wing of PUDEMO. He currently lives in exile at a secret location in South Africa. The Swazi police’s torture of him by way of “severe beatings and suffocation torture” was mentioned in Amnesty International’s 2011 Annual Report.

Tom Heinemann has won the Danish Outstanding Investigative Journalist of the year award twice, and has been runner up for Journalist of the year in Denmark three times. In 2007 he won the Prix Italia in the current affairs selection.

See also 

DOCUMENTARY ON FREEDOM STRUGGLE

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

SWAZI KING’S PERSONAL GOLD RUSH

Swaziland’s King Mswati III stands to personally make up to US$65 million if a reported gold mine deal in his kingdom is successful.

The Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported that a gold mine on Lufafa Mountains, near Pigg’s Peak in the Hhohho region, was estimated to contain 251,000 ounces of gold, said to be worth more than E4 billion (US$263 million). 

The newspaper said a company called Lufafa Mine Pty Ltd would run the mining operations.

In Swaziland the law is that King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, owns 25 percent of all mining companies in his kingdom. On that basis his share is worth US$65 million. In theory the King holds this ‘in trust for the Swazi nation,’ but in reality he uses the money to support his lavish lifestyle. He has 13 palaces, a private jet, a Rolls Royce car and fleets of BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of his 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day.

Lufafa Mine Pty Ltd, the company that will run the mining operations, comprises SDZ Holdings LCC, the Swaziland Government and the King.

King Mswati has been mired in controversy over his dealings with foreign investors. In 2011 the Ngwenya Iron Ore Mine was opened but was forced to close in 2014. King Mswati held 25 percent of the operating company Southern Africa Resources Ltd (SARL) ‘in trust’ for the Swazi nation.

In April 2012, the King took US$10 million from the company as an advanced dividend against future income. Within weeks, the King spent US$9.5 million on a McDonnel Douglas McDonnell Douglas DC-9-87 private jet. 

The company was forced to cease trading in August 2014 amid much acrimony. A compensation claim for at least US$141 million has been prepared by SARL against the Kingdom of Swaziland at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). 

See also

HOW SWAZI KING DESTROYED IRON MINE
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/02/how-swazi-king-destroyed-iron-mine.html

Monday, 4 January 2016

SWAZI KING IN WORLD’S SPOTLIGHT



Swaziland’s King Mswati III was in the international spotlight in the last quarter of 2015. He was reported to the United Nations over the deaths in a traffic accident of children and young women who were on their way to dance half-naked for him at the kingdom’s annual Reed Dance. It is argued that the ceremony is unlawful and perpetuates forced marriages, inconsistent with international human rights standards.

In the British Virgin Islands, the King is being personally being sued over a US$3.5 million debt relating to repairs and improvements to his private jet aircraft. His representative told the court that he had no financial assets outside of Swaziland. In the past it was reported that King Mswati had a net worth of US$200 million.

These are two stories from the past three months that have been reported by Swazi Media Commentary and are included in Swaziland: Striving for Freedom, Vol 20. This compilation covering the months October to December 2015 brings together posts that originally appeared on the Swazi Media Commentary website. It is available free of charge from the Scribd website.

Elsewhere, lawyers in Swaziland and an international human rights group CIVICUS jointly called 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.

Swaziland has become an ‘open-air prison, a militarised society and a royal farm’ in which people become mere farmworkers for the King and his family, according to research published in the international academic journal, Review of African Political Economy.

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 20, October to December 2015