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Thursday, 3 September 2015


The young children who died in a traffic pile-up on their way to Swaziland’s Reed Dance were packed into the back of a truck like cattle, photographs of the event reveal.

The girls were forced to stand up in the back of an open truck cheek-by-jowl. There was no space to sit down or even to turn around. Photographs show that at least sixty children were squashed onto the back of a single truck. Many of the trucks that transported the girls were usually used to move building materials.

Tens of thousands of young girls from across Swaziland were forced to travel in similar trucks to attend the Reed Dance where they were expected to dance topless in front of Swaziland’s King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Media in Swaziland routinely describe the girls that dance for the 46-year-old king as ‘virgins’ or ‘maidens.’

Reuters news agency has released photographs of trucks used to transport girls to the Reed Dance. They are similar to the one that transported the children to their deaths. 

The crash happened on Friday (26 August 2015) evening. Media reports of the accident are inconsistent, but it is generally agreed that the children were thrown from the back of the truck when it was involved in a collision. Police reported that not all the girls died on the spot.

The exact number of deaths in the incident is disputed. The Swazi Government said 13 people died; 10 maidens and three older people who were their supervisors. There is widespread disbelief in Swaziland that the death toll was so low. The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a prodemocracy group banned in Swaziland, citing the Swaziland Defence Force as a source, on Friday put the figure of deaths at 38. It later revised this figure to 65, citing medical officials as a source.

The official figures include an 11-year-old girl and seven girls aged 16 or under.

Media in Swaziland are heavily censored; the Swazi Observer, one of only two daily newspapers in the kingdom, is in effect owned by the King. The Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland chapter in a report on media freedom in Swaziland described the Observer newspapers as a  ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’. 

International media reported that journalists in Swaziland were stopped from gathering information about the accident. The Reed Dance, which is also known as Umhlanga, is one of the main cultural events in Swaziland and it is strongly connected with the King. In Swaziland reporting negatively about the Reed Dance would be seen to be the same as criticizing the King.

Welcome Dlamini, a senior reporter on the Swazi Observer, confirmed on his Twitter account that only ‘official statistics’ were used in compiling the report on the accident. 

(Below) A photograph issued by Reuters. The caption reads ‘Maidens riding in the back of a dump truck arrive before the last day of the Reed Dance at the Ludzidzini royal palace in Swaziland.’

Monday, 31 August 2015


There is deep suspicion in Swaziland that King Mswati III’s regime is not telling the truth about the number of deaths in the Reed Dance road smash on Friday (28 August 2015).

Official police figures put the number of deaths at 13, but one pro-democracy group has said it is as high as 65.

Police initially were reluctant to give any information about the accident on the main Mbabane to Manzini highway at Matsapha. Reports circulated on the Internet that journalists had been prohibited from reporting the incident.

The news was first broken on Friday by the Swaziland Solidarity network (SSN), a group banned in Swaziland where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The SSN said the number of deaths was 38.

The Associated Press (AP) later reported SSN spokesperson Lucky Lukhele saying members of the Swaziland Defence Force alerted the rights group to the accident and gave the number of deaths.

By Sunday, the SSN was reporting the death toll had risen to 65. Lukhele told the Anadolu Agency that 38 girls had been killed instantly on Friday when the trucks they were travelling in collided with another vehicle. 

‘And on midnight Saturday, we received information that another 27 girls had died in hospital,’ Lukhele added.  

He told the Daily Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper, ‘According to our reports from military and medical officials, at least 65 girls were dead by midnight on Saturday.’

The girls were travelling on the back of open trucks in a convoy. They were on their way to attend the Reed Dance where tens of thousands of topless virgins dance in front of the King. 

According to reports in Swazi newspapers, a car or a van hit the back of one truck which resulted in a pileup. The dead were reportedly thrown from the back of the truck which was usually used for transporting building materials and some were said to have been hit by on-coming cars.

Police spokesperson Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba told the Observer on Sunday newspaper in Swaziland that not all the girls died on the spot.

By Monday, police were insisting that the death toll was no higher than 13. It released some details, but no names, of the dead. The youngest was 11 years old and seven were aged 16 or under.

Reports circulated on social media all weekend that the figure was greater than 13 and that scores of children had been taken to hospital, some to South Africa. The Observer on Sunday, quoting government sources, reported that at least 66 girls, including the 13 dead, had been taken to Raleigh Fitkin Memorial hospital.

It was confirmed by international media that there was a clampdown on journalists who tried to report news of the deaths. 

The Daily Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper, on Saturday quoted Bheki Gama, a freelance journalist who was at the scene of the accident. Gama disputed the government’s claims that only 13 people had died. 

The Telegraph reported, ‘He said paramedics had told him that dozens of young women had died at the scene or on the way to hospital. 

‘He said he saw at least five bodies strewn across the on-ramp, which was covered with blood. 

‘“It was absolutely terrible,” he said. “There were bodies everywhere. The tar was covered with blood. Many of the bodies had been collected by the time I arrived.”’ 

The Telegraph added, ‘Mr Gama said the government blacked out coverage of the accident and is refusing to release information to journalists.’

The AP also reported, ‘Press photographers were prevented from taking pictures at the scene, said a Swazi journalist who insisted on anonymity for security reasons. However some people managed to take photographs of the aftermath of the crash with their cell phones.’

The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best-known of the banned opposition groups in Swaziland, reported in a statement on Sunday that hospital sources had said 40 people had died. It added the figure, ‘was given with the caution that there is a lot of secrecy involved with giving out numbers of those that have passed on because there is an order circulating that there should be minimum reporting on the matter.’

The Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), the PUDEMO youth wing, called on the government, ‘to provide full disclosure on how many people died and assist the families locate their loved ones.’

It said, ‘It is not acceptable that the nation can engage in public speculation and contradicting media reports on the number of deaths or those injured. Government must put the nation into confidence and make full disclosure as a sign of accountability and transparency.’

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Saturday, 29 August 2015


A rights organisation in Swaziland has called on King Mswati III to cancel the Reed Dance due to take place on Sunday (30 August 2015) and Monday out of respect for the dozens of girls and young women who were reportedly killed in a truck accident on the way to the celebration.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SNN), which is banned in the kingdom where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, made the call in a statement after it was reported at least 38 people were killed in a crash along the Mbabane to Manzini highway.

The girls and young women were among 90,000 ‘maidens’ who were travelling to take part in the annual Reed Dance at which women and girls described as ‘virgins’ dance half-naked in front of the King.

The SSN said 38 people had been killed and 20 seriously injured in the accident on Friday. The dead and injured had reportedly been travelling on the open back of a truck.

In a statement the SSN said, ‘The least that the Royal Family can do at this moment is to cancel this year’s Reed Dance and admit its responsibility in this horrific accident by helping these families bury their children.’

The SSN said ‘inside sources’ had reported that media in Swaziland which is heavily censored had been ‘barred from reporting extensively on this accident’.

It said, ‘What saddens our network is the fact that the loss of life was avoidable. To begin with, carrying people in trucks is against traffic laws. Moreover, the drivers of these trucks clearly did not have any concern for the human lives they were carrying: They were clearly negligent. 

‘This is not the first incident where young girls have been injured on royal assignments; our network once reported how a truck accident was concealed by the Royal Family by falsely claiming that unknown people had thrown rocks at a truck full of young girls. 

‘We hope that the families of the deceased girls will hold the Royal Family accountable for the deaths of their children.’

International media reported on Saturday (29 August 2015) that 38 people had died but social media in Swaziland was awash with speculation that the figure might be much higher. There was a general feeling that the regime of King Mswati could not be trusted to tell the truth on the number of deaths as this would reflect badly on the King.

Late on Saturday, Eyewitness News in South Africa reported the death toll had risen to 65.

See also


Thursday, 27 August 2015


While Parliament in Swaziland has agreed to purchase a larger private jet for the kingdom’s autocratic ruler King Mswati III that might cost US$30 million, news is circulating in the kingdom that the government is unable to distribute food aid to the starving rural population because it cannot afford to run trucks.
Maize crops have failed this year because of a drought that has hit southern Africa. Figures released in July 2015 suggest that as many as a quarter of the Kingdom’s 1.3 million population are now malnourished.

This week some members of the Swazi House of Assembly threatened to stop attending parliamentary sessions until the government acted and delivered food to hungry people in Swaziland’s rural areas.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where media censorship is heavy, reported on Tuesday (25 August 2015) that Nhlambeni MP Frans Dlamini told parliament that, ‘as legislators, they no longer had any ideas on how to rescue the hungry people and wondered why government had stopped the food distributions. 

‘“What happened to the food aid and what should we do so that government sees it fit to conduct food distributions? I do not know if we should leave Parliament and only return once the food has been distributed,” the Times reported Dlamini saying.

The Times reported MPs were told that trucks to ferry food were not available.

A few days earlier the Swazi Parliament agreed to purchase a jet for King Mswati. His present jet, a MacDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet (also known as MD87), which cost about US$17 million in 2012 is considered to be too small for the monarch to use.

The new jet, which will be purchased on a lease-to-buy contract, might eventually cost as much as US$30 million.
In Swaziland, political parties are banned from contesting elections and King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, appoints the government. The King leads a lavish lifestyle with at least 14 wives, 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars.

Last week it was reported in a newspaper in Botswana, that Prince Majaha, King Mswati’s 23-year-old son, had a watch stolen that was worth US$40,000, the equivalent of 55 years of income for seven in ten of the King’s subjects, who earn less than US$2 per day.

King Mswati’s government has a poor record in helping hungry Swazi people.

In May 2013, international media reported that starving people in Swaziland were being denied food by the government because it was punishing the kingdom’s members of parliament for passing a vote of no confidence against it.

Food intended to feed destitute families, especially those headed by single women with children, had been deliberately left to rot in government warehouses, they said. One Swazi newspaper said, ‘[T]here could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people.’

The international news agency IRIN reported the problem was being blamed on ‘bad blood’ between members of parliament (MPs) and members of King Mswati III’s cabinet. This was after the House of Assembly passed a no-confidence vote in October 2012 against Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who is both a relative and appointee of the king. The no-confidence vote was later reversed.

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, in an editorial comment said, ‘[T]here could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people’.  

IRIN reported, ‘Although the country has institutions resembling those in democracies, Swaziland's parliamentarians do not enact legislation; rather, they approve policies of the king’s appointed cabinet.

‘But MPs are still responsible to their constituents - voter registration began a few days ago for this year’s scheduled elections, although a poll date has yet to be announced. Political parties remain banned.

‘Some observers believe the disruption of food supplies was meant as a lesson for the MPs.

‘Aaron Simelane, a Swaziland-based political commentator, told IRIN, “MPs are considered community development agents by the people who vote ... Swazis want their MPs to bring roads, jobs and aid to their communities, but MPs have no power to do any of these things. [The] cabinet has this power.

‘“The people do not know this, and when things aren’t done they blame MPs, who promise to deliver this and that to get elected. By withholding food aid, [the] cabinet is teaching MPs a lesson about power.”’

Local media in Swaziland reported that ‘hundreds of 50kg bags of beans, mealie-meal and boxes of cooking oil’ had been left to rot at the government central warehouse in Matsapha.  

IRIN said the spoiled food included, ‘15,000kg of the staple maize meal, 25,000kg of beans and 600 cartons of vegetable oil.’

The Swazi Observer in an editorial comment stated, ‘[T]ons of donated staples like maize, beans and cooking oil were deliberately being allowed to rot at a government granary in Matsapha, while starving people had to contend with the pangs of hunger out there. 

‘We may be forced to agree with the honourables [members of parliament], who are now claiming there could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people and obliterate them from the face of their army worm-ravaged areas.’

The Observer went on to say, ‘Or much sinister still, it is to alienate the present crop of MPs from their constituents, so they cannot be voted back to parliament, if that was to happen.

‘Are the hungry people being used to hit back at the MPs for their still-born vote of no confidence last year? When things happen in this manner, one starts to believe even the most far-fetched theories, which is why government should avoid such embarrassing situations at all costs.’


Police in Swaziland have warned ‘random’ men not to loiter near camps housing tens of thousands of supposed virgins during the forthcoming Reed Dance or Umhlanga ceremony.

In the past men found in such situations have been illegally whipped.

About 90,000 young women and girls have reportedly registered to take part in the ceremony which concludes on Monday (31 August 2015) when they will dance half-naked in front of King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The women and girls are reportedly virgins and form a regiment known as Imbali.

The warning came from Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, that has been extensively covering the Reed Dance, reported Mamba saying, ‘The police will be there at the national event from the beginning to the end to ensure safety of the public and of the maiden. We would like to advise the public on a number of things such as appealing them to drive with caution on the roads as the Imbali will be marching.

‘The maidens are also expected to be well-behaved while camped for the event so random men are also warned against being found loitering next to the camps where they will be sleeping, as tindvuna [overseers] have also warned.’

The police officer and media did not report what the consequences would be for men found loitering. There is huge secrecy surrounding events such as the Reed Dance, since they are the mainstays of Swazi ‘traditional’ culture.

However, in 2007 the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, broke the secrecy when it reported on the mass whipping of young men during the Reed Dance.

The Times reported on 5 September 2007 that the traditional authorities who were given the responsibility of supervising the ‘maidens’ systematically detained and whipped young men who were caught at night trying to get close to the young women.

In a report starkly headlined, ‘27 men whipped at Reed Dance’, the Times reported that the men were caught, whipped, and temporarily detained after invading the camp where the maidens were staying.

The whipping was not an isolated incident and the Times reported that some men were whipped on Saturday and others on Sunday. It seemed that the detention and whipping of unwelcome visitors was an agreed method of discipline among those tasked with supervising the maidens.

The Times report quoted Muzi Dlamini, one of the men responsible for supervising the maidens, saying that the men were taken to a small tent. ‘They were beaten with sjamboks and sticks. We were disciplining them and I must say they deserved such a punishment.’

He spoke about two separate occasions when men were detained and beaten. ‘After we had detained these boys, there were no more visits from strangers. Indeed it worked for us,’ he said.

The whippings highlighted an issue with Swazi culture. In traditional custom in Swaziland, the punishers may have been entitled to act in the way that they did, but in Swazi law they were not. There was at least a case for Dlamini and the others who helped him beat the boys to face prosecution for assault.

The whipping of the boys and men was not an isolated incident of violence at that year’s Reed Dance. On 4 September 2007 the Times reported that one of the senior overseers of the maidens, Ntfonjeni Dlamini, assaulted a group of maidens with a stick. He hurt two of them so badly, the Times reports, that they had to go to Lobamba Clinic, where one of them was treated for injuries to her right leg and bruises all over her body. The other was reported to have bruises all over her body and was bleeding on her back.

Four other ‘maidens’ were also thrashed, but were not as badly injured. 

The Times followed up the story the following day (5 September 2007) reporting that the two women had reported Ntfonjeni Dlamini to the police. The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse also commented about the wrongfulness of beating children.

In an editorial comment, the Times said, ‘Ntfonjeni Dlamini … seems to believe he holds the right to beat up anybody’s child for no apparent reason.’ It called on ‘traditional authorities’ to take strong action against the blemishing of the Reed Dance, which it described as a ‘colourful event’ and an opportunity for Swaziland to make a bit of money from tourists.

As well as the two stories already mentioned the Times also gave an account (5 September 2007) of eight stabbings in isolated incidents at the Reed Dance. The newspaper reported that those stabbed were involved in brawls over ‘girls’.

In September 2014, the Times reported that more than 30 maidens were given a ‘serious hiding’ for ‘delinquent acts’ during the Shiselweni Reed Dance ceremony, a localised version of the main Reed Dance, held at the Mbangweni Royal Residence.

Most of the girls, who were caned by their headmen, were beaten for not participating in the main event, while they left their respective homes under the pretext that they were going to the Reed Dance ceremony. 

The Times reported, ‘It was discovered that while the girls were being punished by the headmen, some got seriously injured as they tried to run away. Most of them were treated by paramedics, who attended to their case overnight (Saturday).

One girl reportedly had spent a night with a ‘male companion.’

See also


Wednesday, 26 August 2015


The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, is very excited that the US cable news network CNN might be covering the Umhlanga or Reed Dance on Monday (31 August 2015).

The newspaper, described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland chapter as a  ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family,’ reported on Wednesday (26 August 2015) that a ‘well-placed source’ that it did not name, said, ‘The Reed Dance is regarded a huge event internationally, so it is no surprise that international media like CNN is interested. 

‘This will also be a good thing for Swaziland as it is accessible in many countries world-wide, all eyes will be on the reed dance.’

The Observer then went on to report that CNN ‘can be accessed by over 900 million people in the United States alone,’ a statement that is clearly false since the entire population of the United States is only 325,527,595. Indeed, in 2014, the number of viewers of CNN in the US during ‘prime time’ each day was only 515,000 on average.

It is not yet clear if CNN will be at the Reed Dance.

The purpose of the Swazi Observer article was to try to talk up King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Each year he holds the Reed Dance in which young women and girls who are supposedly ‘virgins’ dance bare-breasted in front of the King. Media reports in Swaziland suggest that about 90,000 ‘maidens’ have registered to take part in this year’s event.

Journalists at the Swazi Observer seem not to have noticed that international media cover the event each year. Unlike their counterparts in Swaziland who work under extreme conditions of censorship when reporting about the King, they tend to report the Reed Dance in context.

That means should CNN and other international news organisations attend the Reed dance we can expect them to report that King Mswati witnessed bare-breasted maids in their tens of thousands dance before him. They will also report (unlike their Swazi colleagues) that the King has at least 15 wives and some are younger than his own children. They will report that the King lives a lavish lifestyle, with palaces, a private jet aircraft, fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars and he likes to travel in luxury abroad.

They will report that in Swaziland political parties are banned from taking part in elections and that the King choses the government. They will also remind their audiences of the human rights abuses that regularly take place in Swaziland, including the jailing of journalists and trade union leaders.

They will also report that seven in ten of his 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes of less than US$2 per day; that Swaziland has the highest level of HIV infection in the world and that many people in the kingdom will this year starve unless they receive food aid donated by people who live in multi-party democracies.

We can be assured that they will report in this fashion, because that is how the uncensored international media always report when they visit Swaziland.

The journalists at the Swazi Observer might regret it very much if CNN does turn up.


Serious doubts have been raised about a plan to build a seaport in Swaziland, which has no coastline.

The Swazi Government earlier this month (August 2015) announced its support for a canal and port to be built linking Mlawula in Swaziland with the Mozambique coast. The port is planned for 15 to 20 hectares of land. The government also said a 26-kilometre-long canal would be built. The entire project is expected to cost at least US$3 billion.

Now, the Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique has reported that the plans are badly thought through. 

It reported on Tuesday (25 August 2015), ‘First, no point on the coast is a mere 26 kilometres from Mlawula. As the crow flies, the nearest point on the Mozambican coast is over 70 kilometres from the site of the proposed port.

‘Furthermore, as anyone who has driven from Maputo to Swaziland can testify, the land rises steeply. Canals are fine for transporting goods over flat terrain - but if there are hills in the way, locks must be built, dramatically increasing the costs. Building a canal with a system of locks capable of holding ocean-going vessels would be a massive engineering undertaking.

‘Such an operation is also entirely unnecessary.

‘Swaziland's main trading partner is South Africa. Over 90 percent of Swaziland's imports come from South Africa, and about 70 percent of its exports go to South Africa. So for the great bulk of Swazi trade a canal through Mozambique is simply irrelevant, as a glimpse at a map should show Moses Motsa and the Swazi government.

‘The rest of Swaziland's trade, for example with Europe or the United States, can be easily handled by the port of Maputo. There are already reasonable rail and road links between Swaziland and Maputo.

‘Upgrading these would certainly be much cheaper than building an inland port.’

It added that the Mozambican Government has not yet commented on the Swazi plan and do not seem to have been consulted on the possibility of a canal going through its territory.

The new information casts serious doubts on the Swazi Government’s ability to comprehend the complexity of the project.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where most news media are censored, had reported the plan was confirmed by Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade Gideon Dlamini. 

The Times reported him saying, ‘At government level, we are fully behind the project and we are giving it undivided support. The project owners had done presentations to Cabinet and we interrogated it and found that it is a wonderful one. Following Cabinet’s realisation that the project is good and viable, Prime Minister [Barnabas] Sibusiso Dlamini then tasked the different concerned ministries to start working together with the project owners straight away.’

See also


Tuesday, 25 August 2015


The Principal Secretary in Swaziland’s Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Thembinkhosi Mamba, has lost his job after being charged with corruption.

Mamba was due to sign a new two-year contract. Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said on Monday (24 August 2015) the contract would not now be renewed.

Mamba was charged after he was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) along with two women, Zanele Dlamini, a businesswoman and the ministry’s Senior Accountant Tivelele Shongwe. They are alleged to have acted corruptly in violating the Procurement Act.

The charges relate to the awarding of a tender valued at more than E1 million (US$100,000) to a company allegedly directed by Zanele Dlamini. 

See also


Monday, 24 August 2015


News that a Swazi Prince was robbed in a hotel room has exposed something of the lifestyle of King Mswati III’s family.
Prince Majaha, aged 23, was with his father in Gaborone, Botswana, when he went on a drinking spree.

The Voice newspaper in Botswana reported he took a woman, which the newspaper describes as ‘a street vendor’, and a man to his hotel room to continue drinking. When he woke up next morning, the newspaper reported, they had stolen US$5,000 in cash and items, including an iPhone 5 valued at US$500 and a Rodger Dubuis watch, worth US$40,000.

If the valuations reported by the Voice are correct, the watch on its own is worth the equivalent of nearly 55 years income for more than seven in ten of his father’s subjects, who earn less than US$2 per day.

The newspaper did not report why the prince was carrying US$5,000 in cash; the dollar is not the currency of Botswana.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are not allowed to contest elections and freedoms of association and speech are severely curtailed in the kingdom.

In July 2015, it was reported that the budget for King Mswati and his family had been increased by 25 percent and now made up five percent of the overall national budget for Swaziland.

Prince Majaha once made international news when it was reported that King Mswati, aged 45, was to marry a 19-year-old, one-time beauty pageant contestant Sindiswa Dlamini. It was reported that the bride had once dated the King’s son, Prince Majaha. 

See also