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Friday, 29 February 2008

SWAZI ELECTION ‘MAY NOT BE FAIR’

Swaziland’s national election, due later this year (2008) may not be free and fair, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland.

This is because an Electoral Commission which is supposed to oversee the elections has not been created.

This delay in setting up the Commission might mean that it would not have enough time to carry out its duties before the election, which is expected to be held some time in October or November. This could mean that the election would not be free or fair.

The Times reported yesterday (Thursday 28 February 2008) on a forum jointly organised by the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter.

The Times reported Stephen Donaghy of SCCCO saying the Electoral Commission should have been in place last year, but this has not happened. The reason it was meant to be there in that time was because it had specific duties to carry out.

One of these duties was informing people on the process of vote casting. There was also a need to make sure enough polling stations were available for voting.

The Times reported that Donaghy ‘called upon the nation to unite and find a solution on how best the situation would be handled in light of the delay’.

I hope all the media in Swaziland heed that call. As I have written previously, after the last election in 2003 the media – especially the broadcast media – were criticised by official election observers for the poor way they informed people in Swaziland about the elections

If the media were seeking a guide on what their roles could be during the run up to the election, they could do no better than to read the official report of one of the groups of observers, the Commonwealth Expert Team (CET), which was very critical of the way the last election in 2003 was run.

The CET expressed concern over the very few people in Swaziland who actually registered to vote. In about 85 percent of the registration centres the CET visited, it saw no people at all registering.

Discussing the possible reasons for this apathy, the CET stated:

‘It appears to us that the lack of public participation in the registration process was symptomatic of a wider public disengagement with electoral processes.

‘For instance, civil society organisations played no role in educating and mobilising voters to register and thus exercise their franchise. The provision of education on electoral rights and responsibilities seemed to be the preserve of the election management body and the chiefs at inkhundla level.

‘Nor were domestic observers from civil society involved in monitoring the integrity of the registration process. We were of the view that key stakeholders such as civil and political organisations needed to be brought into the electoral process so that they could play an active role in educating and mobilising the public to exercise their
vote.

‘We were also of the opinion that public participation in democratic activity both at local and national level may increase if political parties, which currently have de facto existence, were given legal recognition.’


There is very little time before the election and a lot of work still needs to be done. Let the media mount an immediate campaign to ensure that everything is put in place on time to allow a free and fair election. Let’s not give Swaziland’s undemocratic ruling elite an excuse to postpone the election.


See also
SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND
SWAZI MEDIA ELECTION COVERAGE
SWAZILAND ELECTION BOYCOTT
SWAZI ELECTION AND THE NEW P.M.

WILL ELECTION DESTABILISE SWAZILAND?
SWAZI RADIO AND THE ELECTIONS

SWAZI ‘PRINCE’ INTERNET SCAM

A Swazi Prince’s name is at the centre of an Internet scam designed to disparage the name of Swaziland’s King Mswati III.

A letter that claims to be written by Prince Mbisi Sobhuza, son of the late King Sobhuza II, and half brother to the present king, is circulating on the Internet. In it the prince tells how he was banished from the Swazi Royal Household after he criticised King Mswati III’s habit of selecting teenage virgins as his wife (the king is reported to have 13 wives) and also criticised the ‘extravagant’ way the king spends his money.

The letter gives a detailed account of the bust up between the prince and the king that forced Prince Mbisi into exile and how he escaped into Mauritius and eventually made his way to Thailand where he is presently in hiding.

The story is elegantly told and it had me going for a moment.

Then came the scam … It’s the usual one about a business opportunity and the need for a business partner … and please send your bank details…

I enjoyed reading the letter and if that’s your kind of thing to you can access it here, but please don’t send your bank details.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

‘OBSERVER’ BACKS SWAZI HATE GROUP

A new hate group has launched in Swaziland with the support of the Swazi Observer.

A group calling itself the Prolife Movement in Anglophone Africa (PMAA) was given a full page in the Observer yesterday (Wednesday 27 February 2008) to highlight what it says are the ‘evils’ of
- Condoms
- Sex education
- Radical feminism
- Homosexuality, and
- Abortion

The Observer allowed a spokesman purporting to be the ‘regional coordinator’ of the PMAA to spout dangerous nonsense such as ‘condoms may even be one of the main reasons for the spread of HIV and AIDS’ and the use of condoms ‘may lead to certain deaths’.

The Observer gave the ‘spokesman’ the opportunity to say that ‘radical feminism’ had the ‘potential to increase the rate of abortion, substance abuse, homosexuality and lead to moral decadence of society’.

At no point did the Observer require the PMAA to offer one shred of evidence to support its assertions.

Also, PMAA claimed to be already present in 82 countries around the world with the aim to be in every country by 2010.

I don’t know who this PMAA is because when I searched for it on the Internet its name didn’t appear. Not on any of the general search engines I used, nor in search engines for news articles, nor in search engines for blogsites. And all of this despite the organisation’s claim to be in 82 countries around the globe.

So who are the members of PMAA? The Observer article claimed that it has connections with the Catholic Church and the Salesians in Manzini.

By publishing this nonsense from PMAA the Observer has broken the very first article of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) Code of Conduct, which states it is the duty of every journalist to write and report, adhere to and faithfully defend, the truth.

To properly serve the public, a journalist should make adequate inquiries, do cross-checking of facts in order to provide the public with unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information, the code states.

The Observer has also broken Article 6 of the same code of conduct. Article 6 states that a journalist shall not originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation.

It also contravenes Article 13 on ‘hate speech’, by publishing material that might promote hatred, spite and conflict.

I would like the Observer to tell its readers more about PMAA. Some of the questions its reporter could ask PMAA are: who are your leaders? Where does your finance come from? Why are you such a shadowy organisation? Why do you tell deliberate and dangerous lies about condoms and HIV AIDS?

The Observer has disgraced itself by publishing this propaganda for an extreme organisation that has one aim only and that is to spread hatred throughout Swaziland.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

BAD DAY FOR SWAZI PRESS FREEDOM

We are soon coming to the first anniversary of one of Swaziland’s most important press freedom rows.

About this time last year the Times of Swaziland group of newspapers was threatened with closure after it reprinted an article from the Norway-based Afrol news agency that contained criticism of Swazi King Mswati III.

To mark the anniversary Afrol published a report about the poor state of media freedom in Swaziland on Monday (25 February 2008).

As I wrote myself the Times of Swaziland group of newspapers was forced into publishing an abject apology to King Mwasti III after the Times Sunday ran a news commentary sourced from Afrol in which the following appeared,


‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family.



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


Such open criticism of the king is not allowed in Swaziland (not even in so-called independent newspapers like the Times Sunday). The publisher was summoned to the Royal Palace and told to issue a public apology or his newspapers would be closed down. The apology was swiftly forthcoming.

This week Afrol revealed that the Times Sunday didn’t publish the whole of its report. The newspaper left out this paragraph,


‘There is little confidence in Swaziland's future as long as long-awaited democratic reforms are not carried out. Investors and donors expect that a revolution may be around the corner and prefer to do their deals with the next, democratic rulers of Swaziland.’


In its report this week, Afrol reminded readers that ‘the Times is known as the most independent media in Swaziland, a country where most of the press is controlled by government and where “independent” media only survive when practicing self-censorship’.

Afrol goes on to say that media analysts in Swaziland deplored the quick and total apology by the Swazi editor. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter held that the Times failed the Swazi people, claiming the last independent newspaper in the Kingdom had ‘given up the fight for media freedom. This is a great disservice to the Swazi people,’ it added.

Afrol’s report says that in its monitoring of media freedom and freedom of expression in Swaziland, MISA has during the past few years reported on attempts by the palace to curtail independent reporting by media through sheer intimidation. MISA said the ‘interactions between a Head of State and the publisher of the country’s main newspaper’ in the affair one year ago was ‘evidence of major editorial interference’.

MISA said the issues raised in the controversial article should be ‘a matter of debate for the public and economists in Swaziland,’ adding that the newspaper was ‘obliged’ to inform the public about the analysis made.

I think MISA is absolutely correct on this. One of the main roles of a free and independent media is to give people information about what is going on around them so that the people can hold their rulers to account.

As I have been writing this week, people in Swaziland aren’t being given the true picture about their economy and because of this they are unable to direct that the government undertakes new policies to save the kingdom from possible disaster.

Never has a free and courageous media been more sorely needed in Swaziland.

See also
CLOSURE THREAT TO TIMES
LONG HISTORY OF SWAZI CENSORSHIP

UNREALITY OF SWAZI MEDIA FREEDOM

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

SWAZI MEDIA AND THE FAILING ECONOMY

Two weeks ago I reported that the Swazi media were seriously misleading themselves and the kingdom about the state of Swaziland’s economy.

This was on the occasion of the official opening of the Swazi Parliament by King Mswati III.

The media reported that the Swazi economy was growing, but more work was needed to make it stronger.

I pointed out that in fact the Swazi economy was in danger of collapse because of its over-reliance on funds from the South Africa Customs Union (SACU).

I said that a report on Swaziland from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2007 had warned that the amount of money Swaziland was receiving through SACU made the economy of Swaziland look better than it really was.

Now, a newspaper in South Africa has warned that SACU is close to collapse because of disagreements between member states on how to conduct trade with Europe.

Business Day reported yesterday (Monday 25 February 2008) that SACU was split last year when Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland broke ranks with South Africa and signed an interim economic partnership agreement (EPA) that would govern trade with the European Union (EU).

The report from Business Day which has been picked up by media across the world said,

‘Now, angered by the other members’ decision to initial the pact, it is feared that South Africa might use their move as a reason to break up the union. This would have grave economic implications, especially for Lesotho and Swaziland, which rely heavily on revenues from the customs pool.

‘It is understood that EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is to meet President Thabo Mbeki this week to discuss South Africa’s position on the EPA. Mbeki, in his state of the nation address this month (February 2008), singled out the EPA and regional integration as priorities this year, but observers said these commitments were not reflected on the ground.’


The row is about member states of SACU ‘breaking ranks’ and making their own deals with the EU. South Africa opted out of the EPA at the end of last year (2007), citing unfair demands by the EU. Under article 31 of the SACU Agreement, member states may not enter into new preferential trade agreements with third parties without the consent of other members, Business Day reports.

The report quotes one commentator, who declined to be named, ‘SA was initially surprised when SACU member states broke ranks, but it can now use this to break up the union. The signs are not positive.’

This manoeuvring puts Swaziland in a difficult position as it relies for about 70 percent of its annual income from receipts from SACU. It is now vital that people in Swaziland have a full, open, detailed debate about the kingdom’s economic future.

On the evidence so far we can’t expect the Swazi media to lead much of a meaningful debate.

See also
SWAZI MEDIA IGNORE ECONOMIC CRISIS

Monday, 25 February 2008

SWAZI MEDIA AND TEXTILE INDUSTRY

A series of reports over the past week about a dispute in one of Swaziland’s textile factories has highlighted the poor working conditions in the industry.

It has also exposed major shortcomings in the Swazi media and the way they are unable (or unwilling) to explain to people in Swaziland what is going on around them.

The reports concern a company called Procan, which operates in the industrial town of Matsapha. According to the Swazi Observer (19 February and 20 February 2008), the company sacked all of its more than 600 workers after they went on strike to protest against not being paid their wages on time and not being paid for leave.

Procan then arranged for new people to be engaged to take on the jobs of the sacked workers.

As a result of all this, Swaziland’s Minister of Employment met with management, the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Worker’s Union, and the Swaziland Investment Promotion Agency, to try to solve the dispute. At the time of writing discussions were still going on.

The Swazi Observer in particular devoted pages to the dispute, but readers would come away believing that the Procan dispute was an isolated incident. In fact, the textile industry in Swaziland is hugely controversial for a number of reasons: there are worries about how much the Swazi taxpayer is subsidising the textile industry, as well as concerns that the companies pay very little back into the Swazi economy whilst exploiting their workers.

None of this is new. Newspapers such as the Swazi Observer have reported these things in the past, but, as with this week’s latest round of reports, the Swazi media rarely connect the reports together to give Swazi people a full picture of what is going on.

This lack of endeavour on the part of the Swazi media shows them in a very poor light. For someone looking in on the Swazi media, it is difficult to tell whether this is because the journalists are incapable of seeing what is going on around them or whether they are deliberately withholding information from the public.

One must suspect that they are deliberately withholding information, because the appalling state of the Swaziland textile industry is well documented outside of the kingdom.

Only as recently as August 2007, a major damning report on Swaziland’s textile industry called Footloose Investors, Investing in the Garment Industry in Africa, was published by SOMO – Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The report states, in July 2007 there were around 17 or 18 garment companies in Swaziland (down from more than 30), all of these are foreign owned companies and 11 are thought to be Taiwanese owned. Generally, Swazis are not employed in management positions in these companies and there is little or no opportunity for local people to progress beyond the lowest ranks of employment.

The garment industry took off in Swaziland in 2001 when world trade agreements made it attractive for foreign-based companies to set up in the kingdom. At its height the textile industry had about 30 companies working in Swaziland which employed about 30,000 workers – mostly in the industrial town of Matsapha. There is very little work in the textile industry available in rural areas.

In 2007, the textile industry employed about 16,000 workers – a fall of 50 percent since 2004.

The reasons for the rise and fall of the textile industry in such a short space of time can be attributed in large part to world economy. The SOMO report states that the government policy of providing ‘factory shells’ for incoming companies at little or no cost to the company showed that Swaziland was desperate to attract investment.

As a result the Government gave companies a large number of incentives such as tax exemptions and duty free importation of raw materials. The Government also allowed companies to take all profits and dividends outside of Swaziland, which in effect meant that there was little or no investment within Swaziland from the companies.

With a change of world trading conditions, Swaziland became less attractive to foreign companies. In order to maintain profits the companies began to lobby the Government for changes in the law. The companies especially wanted laws and regulations regarding labour loosened.

SOMO concludes, ‘It seems that the public spending on building shells and infrastructure aimed at attracting foreign investment in the garment industry has not brought about much economic benefit so far.’

The report states,

‘Companies have been asking for certain “incentives” in exchange for their continued production in the country, implying that the country owes them something for their presence.

‘One of the companies in Swaziland, for example, Tex Ray, announced tits willingness to set up a textile mill but asked in return for less stringent labour laws and laws on the environment, and for the prices of electricity and water to be halved. They also felt that government should subsidise the wages.’

Some companies simply shut down and moved on, leaving workers in the lurch.

The SOMO report gives two examples,

‘Sheung Lee was a company that suddenly closed down from one day to the next, and the 400 workers employed there were not paid their terminal benefits. The owner fled the country and, according to the Taiwanese embassy, has disappeared without a trace.

‘Workers at Suntay Lon were not paid for a fortnight, and were told to come back another day to get their payment. They were never paid and the management left, stripping the factory and leaving the supervisors from China behind, without money or plane tickets. The Taiwanese embassy arranged for their employment agency to get them tickets, and gave them money for food.’


This led SOMO to conclude, ‘The companies that are departing from Swaziland are not leaving anything behind. Most of the companies can leave without the government being able to take any action. They take everything with them on departure; they do not pay their workers, they take everything that has been built into the factory, they even take the keys.’

SOMO also reports that employers in the textile industry complained about high labour costs, ‘that the workers do not work hard enough and absenteeism is high’.

The textile industry is notorious for exploiting its workers. Wages are low with the minimum wage about E200 (28 US dollars) per week, with an average income of between E800-1,000 per month (in 2006). Overtime is compulsory when the orders are high. Most workers work overtime because they desperately need the money.

The report states, ‘Trade unions have researched the income needed for a family, concluding that 2,000 emalangeni per month is an absolute minimum. Workers interviewed in 2006 said that they would need about 3,000 emalangei to support an adequate standard of living. On average, a garment worker supports a family of five to ten people.’

The Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU) was reported saying that workers in the textile industry are more afraid now. ‘They are scared of losing their jobs, and are unwilling to organise as they fear that every factory that organises will close. Indeed, some of the factories that were on the verge of a recognition agreement with the trade union, closed down in 2005 and 2006.’

When companies closed the workers who were made redundant often found themselves in very difficult situations, SOMO reports.

‘They were forced out of their homes, and often had to work in the informal economy, with very little income.’

In its conclusion to the report SOMO quoted the Swaziland Investment Promotion Agency (SIPA) saying that the garment industry could not be successful in Swaziland as the raw materials needed had to be imported from Asia which doubled the time it took to make garments.

A representative of the European Commission in Swaziland is quoted saying that there is clear dissatisfaction with the return on all the investments. It has cost Swaziland a great deal of money and effort to attract the industry to Swaziland, and it will cost the country even more to retain it.

So there you have it. The textile industry in Swaziland is a huge drain on the kingdom’s economy. It provides next to no income for Swaziland. Profits and dividends are sent abroad so do not benefit the local economy. Swazi workers are exploited and paid low wages with few benefits.

These are important things for the people of Swaziland to know.

The Swaziland media must explain to us all why it is that we have to read a report published in Europe to find this out. What has the Swazi media been doing all this time?

Friday, 22 February 2008

HISTORY OF SWAZI LANGUAGE PRESS

I wrote on Wednesday (20 February 2008) about how Swaziland’s only newspaper in the siSwati language Tikhatsi TeMaswati, had closed down, mainly because the company that owns it wasn’t able to make it pay.

I have been reminded that Tikhatsi, was not the only newspaper in the indigenous language that has been published in Swaziland.

Fanyana Mabuza, writing in the Weekend Observer (11 November 2006) at the time of Tikhatsi’s closure, gave a brief history of the vernacular press in Swaziland. Here is an extract from his essay.

‘We had a govern­ment publication, Umbiki, (The Reporter) established in the early 1970s and housed with­in the Swaziland Broadcasting Service. As a siSwati paper, it did not attract a large read­ership in the urban areas, but was well received in the rural areas and within the semi literate in the towns. It was let down by the poor distribution strategies employed, as it was easily available in the urban areas, where it was needed the least, but never mak­ing forays into the rural backwaters, where it would be more appreciated.

‘Another challenge was that even the crop of journalists at that time preferred to write in English, as it was the “hip thing to do” giving translators a major challenge in sustaining the drama in the copy, as it was not their orig­inal scripts.

‘Had the reporters wrote in siSwati, it would have made more impact even to the urbanised readership, as they would have been able to maintain the drama and emotion within their text. Umbiki folded down within that decade, despite the fact that the taxpay­er, you and me, financed it.

‘Another siSwati title emerged in the mid-1980s, under the leadership of late flamboyant politician, Sishayi Nxumalo. It was called Umgijimi (The Runner) and boasted a num­ber of local established scribes who had had it up to here with the shenanigans of the coun­try's print media owners, or were just seeking new challenges. Again this title could not stake its claim in the market, as no meaning­ful advertisers thought would make mileage in a vernacular publication, Typical stereo­typed thinking at play!

Umgijimi also went the Umbiki route soon­er, leaving the recently suspended Tikhatsi TeMaswati as the lone vernacular press in the country.

‘The Swazi Observer group of Newspapers also tried to kick-start its own siSwati version of the English title. Named Intsatseli, (The Reporter) it did not thrive for long, while non-viability excuses were peddled.

‘Indeed a publication cannot sustain itself without the support of advertising; hence the Intsatseli also went under.’

Mabuza went on to say that to encourage communication in local languages in Africa, the first step is to promote vigorous­ly, these languages through educational poli­cy.

African governments should be more seri­ous about the enhancement of our cultural heritage, of which language is the most single important factor.

The Swazi government should have held on tightly onto Umbiki, he writes, and today it could have made major strides to self-sustenance and information dissemination.

To break such a stalemate, the public and the private sectors, including media operators, should come together to organise semi­nars and workshops where there can be cross fertilisation of ideas on how to improve the lot of media, using African language.

In the meantime, Mabuza wrote, with Tikhatsi suspended, the fringe readers have lost their only source of written mainstream information. This then means that journalism in the country does not embrace all citizens, and this defeats the purpose of the trade, which seeks to inform, educate and entertain everyone regardless of academic achievement.

See also
CELEBRATING THE SWAZI LANGUAGE

Thursday, 21 February 2008

SWAZILAND RADIO AND THE ELECTIONS

An Archbishop in Swaziland has criticised the way members of parliament (MPs) use the radio to ‘chat’ to their constituents, rather than going to see them and talk face to face.

He also said that the MPs talk about ‘non issues’ such as mourning the dead rather than about matters that affect the people who elected them.

The comments from Archbishop Jameson Mncina, head of the Efiliphi Church in Zion, were published in the Swazi Observer newspaper yesterday (Wednesday 20 February 2008).

The Observer reported the Archbishop saying that MPs rely on the national radio to ‘chat’ with their constituencies. He was referring to a series of programmes that recently started on the state-controlled Swaziland Broadcasting Information Service (SBIS) radio. Each MP is being given the chance to go on radio at 6.15 in the morning to talk about matters that interest them.

The Observer reported the Archbishop saying, ‘Instead of going to the people at the grass-roots level where they were elected, they now create a barrier by talking to the people over the radio. They no longer have contact with the people. How many people listen to the 6.15 morning programme?’

The Archbishop was further reported saying that after MPs were elected they were expected to return to the people and organise meetings with them rather than talk to them ‘through gadgets of mass communication’.

The Archbishop went on to criticise MPs for talking about ‘non issues’ such as food aid distribution and, he was reported saying, they mourn dead members of society ‘and they give a colourful picture of the effects of destitution’.

The Archbishop has a point if MPs are deliberately avoiding their constituents by going on the radio. A conscientious MP would both appear on radio and visit the grass roots.

But radio should not be ignored by MPs. Radio is a very important medium in a developing country such as Swaziland. Radio is by far the best way of getting messages out to the largest number of people in the kingdom.

Figures contained in the African Media Barometer – Swaziland 2007, published recently by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter report estimate that SBIS, which has two channels, can reach about 95 percent of the population (of about one million people).

Radio is broadcast in the local language siSwati, as well as in English. This means that just about everyone in the kingdom can understand what is being broadcast. Unlike when reading newspapers, the listener does not have to be literate to understand what is being said on the radio.

The programme that includes MPs is a new programme and it is no coincidence that it has been started in the run up to Swaziland’s national elections which are due to take place later this year (2008). Sceptics might say that this is giving sitting MPs the chance to remind their constituents who they are so that they will vote for them again when the elections come.

SBIS should be congratulated for thinking about how it can give good coverage to the election. After the last election in 2003, SBIS received mixed responses over its coverage.

As I wrote before in a report on the way the election was conducted the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) praised SBIS for allowing all candidates to canvass in the airwaves for about five minutes.

However, the Commonwealth Expert Team (CET) in a report found broadcasting coverage of the election in Swaziland ‘disappointing’.

SBIS carried short items by the candidates early in the morning, but there was little news about the election and in the week up to the poll and the CET said it heard no discussion programmes or any other substantial coverage.

The CET also criticised radio coverage on the election day itself, because the fact that it was election day was not even mentioned on the early morning news.

The date of the election day in 2008 has yet to be announced, but it is widely expected to be in October or November. This gives SBIS time to organise coverage and to make sure that people in Swaziland get a proper chance to be educated about the election itself and also to hear from candidates and others about the main issues that people should be considering when choosing an MP.

To be truly useful to people in Swaziland at the time of the election, SBIS must provide air time to all candidates and allow them to be questioned by listeners. Radio phone-in shows could be a good way of doing this. SBIS must also choose a number of topics that are important to ordinary people in the kingdom and produce programmes around them. For example, programmes about health, education, water roads as well as the ever-present topic of corruption could be broadcast.

These programmes should allow people of all opinions (not just the ruling elite) to debate the topics and SBIS should not be afraid to allow dissenting voices (and not just the traditionalists) to be heard.

SBIS has a golden opportunity to prove to people in Swaziland - as well as to the listening world outside - that it is capable of behaving in the same way as radio stations in democratic countries.

See also
SWAZILAND MEDIA ELECTION COVERAGE
SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND
SWAZILAND ELECTION BOYCOTT

SWAZI ELECTION AND THE NEW P.M.
WILL ELECTION DESTABILISE SWAZILAND?

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

MORE ON SWAZI WOMEN AND AIDS

In case you didn’t spot it Arnau van Wyngaard of the Swaziland Reformed Church, left a comment on my post yesterday (Tuesday 19 February 2008) ‘Swazi Women and AIDS Discussion’.

This is what he wrote:

As you would have followed, we are, excepting normal church services, primarily involved in the caring for people with HIV and AIDS. This morning we started our seventh project at Nsalitje. Looking at the people who turned up (24 women and 1 man) I was once again brought under the impression of how important it is for women to be respected if we want to see a change in the AIDS rate in the country. By the way, someone else also picked up this story of the girl and wrote an excellent piece on it - fit to be published, I thought. Have a look at it by clicking here

See also
SWAZI WOMEN AND AIDS DISCUSSION
FEW RIGHTS FOR SWAZI WOMEN

CELEBRATING THE SWAZI LANGUAGE

This week is siSwati Week in Swaziland – an opportunity to celebrate Swaziland’s indigenous language.

The Times of Swaziland on Monday (18 February 2008) told readers it ‘joins the nation in celebrating our mother tongue’.

To show its commitment to the siSwati language, throughout the week it intends to publish some of the winning entries in a national schools siSwati writing competition.

Well, thanks very much Times of Swaziland, but it is being a little bit dishonest when it says how much it wants to celebrate the siSwati language. In November 2006 it closed down indefinitely the only newspaper in Swaziland in the siSwati language. It did this because the newspaper, called Tikhatsi TeMaswati, wasn’t making the African Echo, the company that owns the Times, any money.

Ever since its closure, people living in the rural areas of Swaziland (and that’s about 75 percent of the kingdom’s population of nearly one million people) have been asking for its return.

According to the African Media Barometer – Swaziland 2007 report, published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter, Tikhatsi TeMaswati was a translation of articles already published in English in the Times. Had it carried original reports in siSwati it might have done better, the report stated.

It goes on to say that its main obstacle was attracting advertisers who assume people reading siSwati are poor and are, therefore, not worth advertising to.

That’s true. To make money a newspaper has to be attractive to advertisers. Just about every newspaper in the free world gets more of its income from selling advertising space than from the price people pay to buy it.

In Swaziland, about 70 percent of the population have an income of less than one US dollar a day (E7) and most of these people live in the rural areas. They have no money to spend so it follows that advertisers are not interested in them. If advertisers aren’t interested then a newspaper company is not going to make money by supplying poor people with a newspaper.

That’s how it works in Swaziland. The only newspapers published in the kingdom are in the English language and they circulate mostly in urban areas, which is where people with money live. Very few people in the kingdom are what you could call rich, but there are enough people with some money to attract advertisers.

Commercial companies whose only real interests are in making profits will not produce loss-making newspapers, even if there is a demand for them from poor people.

So, the Times can congratulate itself all it wants about supporting the siSwati language, but if it is genuine in this support it will open up Tikhatsi TeMaswati again.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

SWAZI TV ON THE RACK

Swazi TV seems to be going through a bit of a bad patch at the moment.

The Times of Swaziland reported yesterday (Monday 18 February 2008) that the Auditor General has launched ‘intensive investigations’ into the financial accounts of the state-controlled television station.

To add to this the entire board of directors of Swazi TV were summoned before the Minister of Public Service and Information S’gayoyo Magongo yesterday to explain the current problems at the station.

Last week it was revealed that an auditor’s letter had exposed what could turn out to be financial malpractice at Swazi TV.

The Times of Swaziland reported on Friday (15 February 2008) that Magongo also wanted an explanation on accusations made at a media conference by the Swazi TV chief executive Vukani Maziya that political interference was killing the station.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the office of the Auditor General has eight weeks to complete an investigation of Swazi TV and report to a select committee of the Swazi Parliament.

The Auditor General’s investigation was launched before the most recent allegation about funds was made. According to the Times, Parliament last November (2007) tasked the committee to investigate allegations of mismanagement and maladministration.

Meanwhile, Swazi TV has come in for criticism for the type of programmes it broadcasts.

Also in the Times on Friday, the newspaper’s television critic reported that Education Minister Themba Msibi had given Swazi TV ‘a nudge on the shoulder’ to get the station to broadcast ‘educational shows’.

The Times reported Msibi, who was speaking at a school function, saying that the Swazi public wanted more local content on the screens. There was a need, the Times reported the minister saying, for TV programmes that empower the Swazi, such as how to draw up a business plan.

This type of criticism of Swazi TV programming is not new.

The recently published African Media Barometer (AMB) Swaziland 2007 report had a lot to say about Swazi TV. It found, ‘There is much less diversity of programming on Swazi TV than on radio. The programme guide is still dominated by foreign content – news (CNN and Deutsche Welle), movies and soap operas. There has been a slight increase in local content in the last two years, but the lack of programme diversity is still severe enough to drive many (those who can afford it) to watch South African television.’

There has been a slight increase in domestic production in the last two years. New programmes include a show on siSwati praise names, an interview programme and programmes promoting local musicians. But resources are scarce, so the quality of production is poor.

There are also concerns that Swazi TV does not get enough funding for it to run adequately. At Swazi TV ‘resources are scarce, quality of programmes is poor and there is very little local content. Swazi TV relies mostly on government subsidies, but supplements its income with license fees and advertising.’

The AMB report was produced by the media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter in conjunction with Frederich Ebert Stiftung. Eight panellists from the media and civil society in Swaziland met for two days in July 2007 to discuss the state of the media in Swaziland.

The AMB report said that Swazi TV can be viewed by people in about three quarters of the kingdom, but it is not considered to be popular among viewers. The report said that people who do watch it do so because they ‘don’t have a choice’.

Swazi TV is controlled by the government and the station’s editorial independence when it comes to news and current affairs is not guaranteed in law, ‘though in practice there is some effort to resist political influence’.

The report states,

‘Journalists at both broadcasters [state-controlled SBIS radio and Swazi TV] are demonstrating more freedom in editorial decision-making and taking more risks by including progressive voices and running stories critical of government. For example, during the recent strike (July 2007), trade unionists were given considerable airtime on both SBIS and Swazi TV to air their grievances.

‘In part, this new editorial license has been put down to the protections brought in by the Constitution. But mostly it is thought to be motivated by a staff rebellion against management (particularly in the case of SBIS). In other words, it is not so much fuelled by a desire to fight for media freedom, but rather driven by internal politics and personality issues.

‘Despite efforts to exercise greater editorial independence, journalists still work under considerable constraints. For instance, the crippling border blockades instigated by a group lobbying for political reform (April 2007) were not given any coverage on SBIS.

‘The consensus is that journalists will not be able to resist political influence in editorial decision-making until they have legal protection.’

News content on Swazi TV is skewed toward government interests and stories about the king always get preference. If footage of the king comes in too late to be allocated the top story, the presenter will have to explain on air why the story was not given priority, the report states.

I think Swazi TV will never improve while it remains under government control. As it stands the television channel is not much more than a propaganda mouthpiece for the monarchy and the government. As the summons of the Swazi TV board by the Minister of Public Service and Information shows, people who work at the station do so under extreme duress.

While this continues the brightest and best people will refuse to work at the station and only the less-good or government lackeys will be attracted to Swazi TV. If we really want improvements at Swazi TV we should stop arguing about the quality of this programme or that programme and instead campaign for the government to give up its control and let the station be run by professionals who know what they are doing.

See also
SWAZI MEDIA RIGHTS STILL RESTRICTED
POLITICIANS INTERFERE AT SWAZI TV
TWO WEEKS TO SAVE SWAZI TV

SWAZI WOMEN AND AIDS DISCUSSION

A post I wrote two weeks ago about a ‘minor’ girl who appeared in court and was found guilty of committing abortion after she was coerced into having sex (but not raped) by a married man has sparked some discussion on the Internet.

Arnau Van Wyngaard of the Swaziland Reformed Church, who has more than 20 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, has a website where he discusses his ideas about contemporary mission.

He picked up my post and started a discussion on his blog Mission Issues about women and AIDS in Swaziland.

If you want to read the comments and join in you can find the discussion here.

See also
FEW RIGHTS FOR SWAZI WOMEN

Monday, 18 February 2008

SWAZI NEWSPAPER CENSORS CRITICISM

Swaziland’s Weekend Observer newspaper has censored criticism about itself.

The newspaper decided not to let its readers know just how badly it misreported one of Swaziland’s leading non-government organisations.

The newspaper misrepresented the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Swaziland Chapter in a report of MISA’s latest survey on the media, the African Media Barometer (AMB) Swaziland 2007.

As I reported before the Weekend Observer allowed Channel Swazi director Qhawe Mamba to ‘punch holes in’ the survey, recently published by MISA.

The Weekend Observer said that the AMB survey had said that Channel Swazi was co-owned by Mamba with King Mswati III. The newspaper then allowed Mamba and Vukani Maziya, the chief executive officer of Swaziland’s only other television station, the government-controlled Swazi TV, to criticise the AMB report.

At no time was MISA asked to comment. That was unprofessional enough, but as I reported the AMB report never said Channel Swazi was co-owned by the king. So there was no story – and the Weekend Observer would have known this if anyone there had bothered to read the survey that was being criticised.

MISA complained about the Weekend Observer report and it was given space for a ‘right to reply’ in the following issue (9-10 February 2008). This is laudable and is in line with article 10 of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) code of conduct, which states that a fair opportunity should be given to individuals and organisations to respond to issues

But the Weekend Observer went on to let itself and its readers down badly.

MISA gave an account of the AMB and how it was based on the views of a panel of media experts in Swaziland ‘knowledgeable about the media landscape in Swaziland’.

MISA gave Mamba and Maziya a ticking off. MISA said,

‘We are seriously concerned that the AMB was so misconstrued by the very people who most need to understand it. The report is a vital tool for both Mamba and Maziya. Understanding how people perceive your station is one way of improving and developing your product. Instead of taking the feedback personally they should be thankful for the assistance.’

And as far as the Weekend Observer’s readers know, the criticism ended there.

There was an additional paragraph in the ‘right to reply’, but the Weekend Observer cut it out.

This is what that paragraph said.

‘But what is of most concern to us at MISA is that the Weekend Observer published such an unbalanced story. The journalist never called MISA for comment so that he could present both sides of the issue. The reader was only given the opinions of Mamba and Maziya. But, of course, that's no surprise to us. The AMB cites lack of balance as one of the major deficiencies in the Swazi media. Now is that fact or mere perception?’

I’m with MISA on this one. The Weekend Observer reporter didn’t read the survey, then allowed the survey’s publishers to be seriously criticized by the two leading players in Swaziland television. Then the reporter didn’t allow MISA to respond to the criticism.

But it’s not all the reporter’s fault. The news editor and editor of the Weekend Observer allowed a seriously unbalanced news report to appear in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, as the AMB survey itself pointed out, this was not an isolated incident. I believe the Swazi media are seriously biased. Sometimes this is deliberate, for example when the views of ruling elites are treated as truth. Sometimes this is because the journalists have no idea what they are doing. Just watch Mamba’s Channel Swazi news any day of the week to see what I mean.

See also
OFFICIAL – CHANNEL SWAZI IS BIASED
SWAZI MEDIA RIGHTS STILL RESTRICTED
DIRE OUTPUT ON SWAZI CHANNEL S

SWAZI JOURNALISTS AND FREEBIES

Cell phone company MTN is certainly getting hectares worth of free publicity in the Swazi newspapers.

The Times of Swaziland on Friday (15 February 2008) devoted a page to a free trip its managing editor Martin Dlamini had taken to the AFCON football tournament in Ghana at the phone company’s expense. The Times thought the ‘report’ was so important it cancelled the managing editor’s regular Just Thinking column of comment on current events to make room for it.

This gave readers the chance to be told by Martin that he stayed in a five-star hotel and attended a gala dinner. He was also given E500 (about 75 US dollars) worth of free MTN airtime.

Martin got a bit too excited. He told his readers that he was one of the privileged few ‘to be granted an exclusive audience’ with the MTN Group President. Someone should remind Martin that ‘audiences’ are granted by monarchs and emperors, not mere businessmen.

Martin was not alone on the trip. I reported on Friday how the Chief Editor of the Swazi Observer Musa Ndlangamandla took four pages of his newspaper to report on his free trip to the AFCON football tournament in Ghana. Musa was like a child let loose in a toy shop. He seemed especially pleased that he was given a room to himself in a hotel.

I made a lot of fun of Musa on Friday but there is a serious point about all this freeloading the Swazi media have been doing with MTN.

Journalists are supposed to be representatives of their readers (or listeners or viewers) and to do this job well they need to be independent of the people or organisations they report about. With this independence comes credibility. When journalists take gifts, holidays, free airtime, lunches or other ‘freebies’ they destroy their credibility.

Many news organisations across the world forbid staff to any ‘freebies’, even relatively small items like free tickets to concerts or sports events.

In Swaziland the Swaziland National Association of Journalists Code of Conduct is silent on freebies, but Article 3 on professional integrity does state that journalists should avoid conflicts of interest and should not accept bribes.

I don’t think that the free trips at MTN’s expense with fine meals and free airtime amount to ‘bribes’ but the acceptance of freebies by the journalists does compromise their objectivity, or, at the very least, appears to.

See also
‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ GRAVY TRAIN

Friday, 15 February 2008

‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ GRAVY TRAIN

When the Swazi Observer jumps on the gravy train it does it with style.

Readers were treated to four full pages yesterday (Thursday 14 February 2008) of Chief Editor Musa Ndlangamandla’s all expenses paid trip to the African Football Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Accra, Ghana.

The trip was courtesy of cellphone company MTN.

The Observer headline said it all - ONLY THE BEST FOR MTN GUESTS. Musa began his fearless account of the trip thus, ‘They don’t call it the leading cellular network company for nothing.’

Clearly not, you have to wine and dine a few editors before they call you that.

Here’s a flavour of the crusading, independent journalism so loved by the Observer.

‘From the chartered private jet, to the world-class cuisine and an assortment of expensive wines and other mood altering beverages – the stage for a truly unforgettable experience was set from the word go.

‘All five nights were spent in individual rooms of five-star hotels in South Africa and Accra.

‘MTN Group ensured the best of comfort as the guests were chauffer driven in air-conditioned coaches that were escorted through the maze of congested streets of the Ghanaian highways.’

Musa went on and on and on. … But I won’t.

Let’s leave the prose and go on to the pictures. Here’s Musa with Jose Mourinho, the former boss of Chelsea football club. There’s Musa with president of the World Football Governing Body FIFA, Sepp Blatter. Isn’t that Musa on the football field at the AFCON cup final with members of the winning Egyptian team? Oh look, there he is again, this time with one of the Ghanaian players.

Musa wasn’t the only Swazi with his snout in the trough. Other members of the Swazi media were along for the party.

Musa let the cat out of the bag. ‘The Ghanaian dancers, drum-beat and song filled the air as MTN Swaziland’s Khulile Dlamini ensured that everyone was not disturbed as they let their hair down.’

There was only one sour note to the trip. The guys went on a tour to St George’s Castle at Elmina, which was where slaves were kept before being traded off to America. Musa and his mates were annoyed because the trip was meant to take two hours, but instead it took five and they all arrived impatient.

‘But they all thoroughly enjoyed the special moment in history, bought souvenirs and experienced the cells where many African brothers and sisters died of dehydration and starvation.’

I’ve written before about the unhealthy relationship between the Observer and MTN. Last August (2007) the newspaper devoted three pages to the launch of an MTN product. The Observer highlighted the headlines in the shade of yellow that MTN uses in its corporate logo. In addition, there were five pictures, all with the MTN logo prominent, and in total there were at least 25 people shown wearing MTN T-shirts and caps, all in the corporate colour and all with company logos.

This was a massive amount of free publicity masquerading as independent editorial. So was yesterday’s coverage of a non event.

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch. The Observer will have to pay for this hospitality with lots of positive coverage in the weeks and months ahead.

Where will the Observer be the next time there is a service outage and angry customers turn against MTN? What position will the newspaper take when some other company wants to break MTN’s monopoly in Swaziland?

I think we all know the answers.

See also
NEWS AND ADVERTISING BLUR

HAIL TO THE SWAZI CHIEFS

I wrote last Tuesday (5 February 2008) about how you can learn so much about culture in Swaziland by reading the Swazi newspapers, even when journalists don’t realise they are teachers.

Here’s another example. It shows how much ordinary people in Swaziland have to bow down to their chiefs. If you are a young person and you upset the Big Man you could have your future ruined.

This report was in the Times Sunday (3 February 2008).


MANZINI – For the past two weeks Swazi children hoping to further their education outside the country were faced with the daunting task of coming face to face with the Scholarship Board.

The interviews were held at the Manzini Nazerene Nursing College and the announcements were made over national radio.

Most of the hopefuls that were interviewed by the Times Sunday said the most crucial question was ‘who is your Chief?’

For the students who fumbled that question they were asked if they were serious about their future.

‘You do not know who your chief is and you are hoping to get a scholarship seriously,’ said one hopeful when asked how her interview went.

She said they gave her such a tough time that she was on the brink of tears. I am not saying it’s right not to know your chief, but I can’t believe I could lose my whole scholastic future because I forgot a certain name,’ said the student.

She said luckily for her she was able to remember her chief’s name after she was given a second chance.

Chiefs sign the scholarship forms once the scholarship is granted.



The signing of the scholarship forms is only half of the story. Chiefs in Swaziland are personally appointed by King Mswati III and traditionally they lead a band of area elders. They can decide who lives where and some have been known to banish people from their homes for not obeying rules. Sometimes chiefs demand tithes from their subjects such as a beast or money.

Chiefs also settle disputes such as over land, accusations of witchcraft, and wandering livestock that harm someone’s crops. Many also settle criminal disputes that probably should best be left to magistrates.

Chiefs are given stipends by the national treasury, but not salaries, and community members pay their allegiance to chiefs by weeding and harvesting their fields, and constructing the traditional mud and thatch huts usually found at chiefs’ homesteads.

See also
FEW RIGHTS FOR SWAZI WOMEN

Thursday, 14 February 2008

LOVE IS IN THE SWAZILAND AIR

Love is in the air, according to the Times of Swaziland as it introduced an eight page Valentine’s Day supplement stuffed full of advertising on Tuesday (12 February 2008).

I don’t know if love is really in the air but a lot of people are definitively hoping that cash will be in the tills as the newspaper’s advertisers encouraged people to part with their hard earned money at restaurants, holiday destinations, beauty salons and (I don’t really get the connection here) used car lots.

Swazis keep going on about their culture and how superior it is to more developed countries so it comes as a huge surprise that every year come 14 February the old pagan custom of St Valentine’s is celebrated in the kingdom.

Of course, ordinary people don’t celebrate since about 70 percent of Swaziland’s near one million population live in abject poverty on an income of less than one US dollar a day (E7). – and advertisers aren’t interested in them because they’ve got no money to spend.

But the Times, a newspaper that doesn’t really care about ordinary Swazis, indulged its fantasy view of what Swaziland is like with gushing praise for this fancy restaurant and that romantic hotel. Each gush was accompanied by a paid-for advert.

But what exactly does the Times think are we celebrating on St Valentine’s Day? The Times believes it’s all about a man who in 269 AD was martyred because he refused to give up Christianity.

Not so, according to modern thinking.

Valentine’s Days has no relation to Saints. The Encyclopedia Britannica has St Valentine's Day as a lovers’ festival and the modern tradition of sending valentine cards has no relation to the saints but, rather seems to be connected either with the Roman fertility festival of Lupercus or with the mating season of birds.

This information is reiterated by the Encyclopedia Americana where the customs of Valentine’s Day have been handed down from the Roman festival of the Lupercalia, celebrated in the month of February, when the names of young women were put into a box and drawn out by men as chance directed. This is the origin of Valentine’s Day cards linking men and women together for sexual purposes.

My personal favourite explanation comes from Metro Magazine.

Metro says it all began with two ill-fated Romans - both named Valentine - who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, got executed and became Christian martyrs. The two Valentines lived in third-century Rome as out-of-the-closet Christians, sharing not only a name, but a death date – 14 February. Their cult was grafted onto the very popular Lupercalia festivities held every 15 February. During the pagan celebration, scantily clad young men called Luperci would run around town, sacrificing goats and playfully whipping women with goatskin thongs. Romans thought this behaviour would increase fertility, and no doubt it did.

So, Times of Swaziland, if you must celebrate St Valentine’s do it properly. Bring on the women, the scantily clad men …. And don’t forget the goatskin thongs.

WILL ELECTION DESTABILISE SWAZILAND?

As Swaziland approaches election time the kingdom is less stable than people generally recognise.

Sooner rather than later poor ‘peasants’ in rural areas who are assumed to be loyal to the present regime of King Mswati III will show their dissatisfaction with their present situation .

These are the views of Richard Cornwell, a senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies, published on the website of South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper on Tuesday (12 February 2008).

Under the headline The Swazi quagmire, he writes that the elections due in Swaziland later this year have drawn little attention and it is unlikely that this will change as polling day approaches.

Nevertheless, Cornwell says there are structural tensions within the kingdom’s social and economic fabric which, sooner or later, will test the political framework at the national and local levels.

He writes, ‘In 1973, King Sobhuza II suspended the country’s constitution after a minor parliamentary challenge to the absolute authority of the monarchy. Almost 30 years passed before his son, King Mswati III, allowed the formation of a committee to examine the possibility of opening the political space to greater public participation. In the meantime, a neo-traditional system of government dominated a parliament chosen largely through a system of individual and localised elections supervised by traditional authorities.

‘The principal beneficiaries of this modified absolutism, politically and materially, were the extensive royal family, their courtiers and the rural chiefs, a situation which prompted increasing opposition from civil society and student and trade union activists, supported by foreign allies.’

Cornwell goes on to remind us that the Swaziland Constitution which came into force in 2006 does not allow for political parties in the kingdom.

There are attempts in Swaziland to form some kind of political groups ahead of the election which are expected sometime in October or November (a date has yet to be set).

At a meeting held on 2 February 2008 Civic society organisations met to work towards a united front by April, when they will adopt a name and organisational rules. This will be the first time a common position has been attempted since the collapse of the Swaziland Democratic Alliance in 2003.

Cornwell goes on to say,

‘It would be premature to expect too much from the democratic push, however. The Swaziland trade union movement, which led the earlier drive for constitutional rule, is badly fractured.

‘In any event, although the conspicuous consumption of the Swazi royal house has created a broader popular unease in the kingdom of late, there is little evidence to suggest that the democrats’ followers are as yet as numerous as they claim. It seems more probable that such progress as can be made in curbing the royal prerogative and moving towards more accountable and efficient government will depend for now on developments within the ranks of the “loyal reformists”.

‘Even they will have their work cut out, however, for there are powerful entrenched forces determined to thwart any dilution of neo-traditional authority.

‘Yet unless Swaziland’s government can break free of the inertia born of its scelerotic political condition, the problems of economic reform, particularly in a rural sector unable to feed its own people, and in a macro-economic environment both financially and fiscally hostile, there can be no serious attempt to address the dangerous problems of increasing impoverishment among the majority.

‘Sooner rather than later, this could indeed lead to an unprecedented destabilising response from a peasantry whose loyalty to the present system is so blithely assumed.’

See also
SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND
SWAZI MEDIA ELECTION COVERAGE
SWAZILAND ELECTION BOYCOTT
SWAZI ELECTION AND THE NEW P.M

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

SWAZI ELECTION AND THE NEW P.M.

Swaziland’s Times Sunday newspaper has started a debate that I hope will become a campaign ahead of the national election this year (2008).

On Sunday (10 February 2008) it reminded readers that only people with the surname Dlamini are eligible to become the kingdom’s Prime Minister. This ‘tradition’ should be stopped, it said.

The present Prime Minister A. T. (Themba) Dlamini may be reappointed by King Mswati III after the elections but this is by no means certain.

In an editorial comment the Times Sunday says,

‘If A. T. Dlamini is not reappointed, we will be expecting yet another surprise. Such a surprise, traditionally announced at the Ludzidzini cattle byre, comes after intense lobbying by traditionalists and those who are close to the Swazi power circles. Unfortunately such a selection is limited to individuals – deserving or not – whose surname is Dlamini.

‘We are aware of the lobbying that occurs around this period in the country, with different factions pushing for their candidates to be appointed. We are also aware of the people whose names are being raised by those close to the powers that be. Some are already enjoying honourable status as we speak.

‘However, it would appear we have run out of people (Dlamini candidates) who are capable of steering the next government, if any of the names put forth so far is anything to go by (and if A.T. is not retained).’


The Times Sunday goes on to say we should consider opening up the position of Prime Minister to sections of the Swazi population who do not have Dlamini as a surname.

The Times Sunday leaves the argument hanging in the air there.

The Times Sunday is correct. Of course, the best people for the job should be given the chance to be leader of Swaziland. The Constitution that came into force in 2006 does not limit the choice of Prime Minister to people called Dlamini.

What the Constitution does say is that the king appoints the Prime Minister from among members of the House of Assembly acting upon recommendation of the King’s Advisory Council (Section 67 (i)).

The King’s Advisory Council or Liqoqo is made up of chiefs and other traditionalists (Section 231 (i)).

What that means is that it is for the King to choose and he is not required to appoint a Dlamini.

Of course, in a real democracy it would not be the monarch’s choice. Members of Parliament themselves would elect a Prime Minister from among their number. The man or woman who could command support of the House would be Prime Minister until such a time as the House decided by a vote to remove him or her, or the Prime Minister decided to stand down.

The election that will take place later this year (2008) at a date yet to be announced will be the first held under the new Swaziland Constitution. This gives the kingdom’s rulers the opportunity to demonstrate to King Mswati’s subjects and to the world beyond the Swazi borders that Swaziland is becoming a modern democracy.

I doubt that the ‘traditionalists’ who really rule Swaziland will be willing to give up without a fight their influence of having the king select one of their own as Prime Minister.

I applauded the Times Sunday for giving an airing to the issue, now let’s get a proper debate going and make sure we get the right man (or woman) for the job of Prime Minister.


See also
SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND
SWAZI MEDIA ELECTION COVERAGE
SWAZILAND ELECTION BOYCOTT

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

PASTOR AND THE PRYING SWAZI PRESS

This is the story of the pastor, the widow and the prying Swazi Press.

The pastor and the widow snuggled down for a kiss and a cuddle under a wattle tree near the Spar supermarket in Mbabane, Swaziland’s capital city.

Then two men, looking for shade to eat their lunch, spotted the couple. They recognised the man as a pastor from their church.

The next thing we know reporters and a photographer from the Swazi Observer arrived on the scene and the next day (Wednesday 6 February 2008) a photograph of the pastor and the widow appeared on the newspaper’s front page along with the headline PASTOR CAUGHT HAVING SEX WITH WIDOW.

If that wasn’t enough the Observer published another ten photos – yes, you read that right, ten photos – on an inside page of the couple and also a news report alerting Observer readers to just how shocking this behaviour was.

Here’s some of what the Observer had to say:

‘On arrival, reporters found the pastor fondling, caressing and kissing the widow as they moved a step further.

‘When our photographer arrived at the scene, several metres from Spar parking, the couple was in deep pleasure.’


Well, I suppose it depends what you mean by ‘deep pleasure.’ They were kissing but they were not having sex. The eleven photographs show both the pastor and the widow fully clothed. So the Observer headline was not accurate. Sensational yes: accurate, no.

The couple were not named but they could be clearly identified from the photographs, even though the newspaper did block out their eyes.

The story took a new twist on Friday (8 February 2008) when the Observer again published a picture of the couple on its front page along with a report on an inside page that the League of Swaziland Churches was investigating the ‘randy pastor’.

The League’s president told the Observer, ‘We are even tempted to believe that this man is not a Christian because Christians do not engage in such practices.’ You learn something new every day: Christians do not have sex.

The story of the pastor and the widow has appeared on the Observer’s website and people across the world have picked it up and are having a good laugh about it. (See the blogsite Of Course, I could Be Wrong as an example.)

In journalism they say that sex always sells newspapers. Add to that a bit of religion and you have a perfect recipe for a circulation builder.

But there is a serious question that needs to be answered: has the Observer violated the rights to privacy of the pastor and the widow?

There are no hard and fast rules about exactly what constitutes an invasion of privacy. It depends to a large extent on who is involved and where people are at the time

Swazi journalists have some help here. Article 5 of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) Code of Conduct states that journalists should respect privacy and human dignity. The code goes onto say that intrusions into a person’s private life can only be justified when done in the public interest.

The SNAJ code seems quite clear, but trying to apply it to the pastor and the widow is less so.

Most people would probably agree that two people kissing and cuddling together is a private act and their actions should not be photographed and published in a newspaper. But is it still a ‘private act’ if the couple are cuddling under a tree close to a supermarket car park? They probably couldn’t have reasonably expected to remain unseen. So in this case the couple were not in a private place.

But even if the couple were in a public place and seen cuddling by people passing by, was the Observer right to publish eleven photographs, including one on the front page? The answer to that question is less simple.

The SNAJ code allows for a person’s privacy to be breached ‘in the public interest’. We need to be careful how we define ‘public interest’. We should not confuse it with something that is ‘interesting to the public’. I have no doubt that the exploits of the pastor and the widow are interesting to the public. The way the story is being shared on the Internet shows this to be true. But the cuddling couple are the subject of gossip. People are having a bit of a laugh at their expense and that is all. Newspapers shouldn’t be gossip sheets; they need to be held to higher standards.

So is the story in the ‘public interest’? The Press Complaints Commission in the UK defines matters ‘as being in the public interest if they are a matter of i) detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour ii) protecting public health and safety iii) preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organization.’

The Observer report about the pastor and the widow is not exposing crime, nor is it protecting public health or safety.

Some people may argue, however, that the Observer is preventing the public from being misled by the action of an individual.

The pastor is to an extent a public figure because people who attend his church know him and as a pastor he is also a man of God. People might reasonably expect the pastor to have a higher standard than the rest of us when it comes to kissing and cuddling in public. In that case, the Observer might have a case for saying that it is exposing the pastor as dishonest.

In Swaziland the newspapers often expose pastors for the unacceptable ways they behave. Usually, however, pastors are exposed for criminal activity, such as rape or paedophilia (having sex with children). It is not clear whether the ‘randy pastor’ in the Observer report has committed an offence. There probably are laws about ‘having sex’ in public, but that isn’t what the pastor and the widow were up to. Anyway, I have seen no media reports that the pastor has been charged with committing a crime.

But the Observer report doesn’t attempt to ‘expose’ the pastor for wrongdoing. The report just details the circumstances in which the pastor and the widow were discovered and the pastor’s reaction when he noticed he was being photographed.

So this doesn’t look to me like a report in the ‘public interest’.

So to recap, a man who is a little bit famous had a kiss and a cuddle with a widow who is not famous at all. They had their cuddle in a public place and a nosey photographer took photographs and the next day a newspaper published 11 of them for everyone to see.

The Observer has breached the right to privacy of the couple because of the way it handled its report. It seems to me that the Observer set out to humiliate the pastor in the way the journalist wrote the report and the way the editor published it, first by putting a picture on the front page, then by publishing a report on page three and then by putting ten photographs on page nine.

The treatment of the story was overkill. The pictures were meant to titillate readers over a bit of hanky panky by a ‘randy pastor’. Nowhere in the coverage did the Observer attempt to show that the pastor’s behaviour was inappropriate for a man of the church and therefore it wasn’t really concerned about the ‘public interest’ and only in a story that might be ‘interesting to the public’.

See also
SWAZI MORALISTS ATTACK WIDOW

SWAZI MORALISTS ATTACK WIDOW

There is an interesting postscript to the report about the Swazi pastor and the widow who were caught by a newspaper ‘having sex’ under a wattle tree.

I wrote earlier about how the Swazi Observer invaded the privacy of the couple who were having a kiss and a cuddle in the shade. Despite the Observer’s accusation that they were ‘having sex’ they were in fact fully clothed throughout the whole incident.

Now, predictably the Observer has alerted the moral brigade to condemn the couple. In so doing the Observer has unintentionally given readers an insight to Swazi culture (at its worse).

First up to the mat in the Observer yesterday (Monday 11 February 2008) was someone described by the Observer as a ‘famous custodian and commentator on cultural values,’ Lindzeni Ndlangamandla.

Ndlangamandla ‘teaches Swazi values’ (the Observer’s words, not mine) on the government controlled radio station SBIS, Typically, for a ‘traditionalist’ she condemned the woman. The Observer reported her saying the widow should not have accepted the mourning gowns if she was not certain about her behaviour.

She went on, ‘to the best of my knowledge, a widow is not supposed to fall in love, nor look at a man in the eyes. She is not even expected to hold hands with a man’.

In traditional Swazi custom women have no rights of their own. They are treated as minors and effectively ‘owned’ by their men (usually their husbands or fathers). It would seem that even when their man has passed on a woman has no right to a life.

The second moraliser brought forward by the Observer was Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) National Director Nonhlanhla Dlamini.

The Observer reported her saying, ‘It shows that we have lost values as a nation because a widow is expected to respect herself. In this era of HIV and AIDS pandemic, it is worrying for such adults to be seen behaving in such a manner.’

This is a worrying statement from a leader of SWAGAA. Somebody ought to explain to her that you don’t get HIV from kissing.

In its report the Observer also repeated comments from the pastor’s church regarding the ‘unChristian-like’ behaviour he had indulged in. His church, it seems, is hell-bent on disciplining him.

There was one less extreme voice. A pastor at the Kingdom Church in Manzini said that thing about casting the first stone.

Good point pastor. I wonder how many journalists have had a bit of a kiss and a cuddle that they then went on to regret?

See also
PASTOR AND THE PRYING SWAZI PRESS

Monday, 11 February 2008

SWAZI MEDIA IGNORE ECONOMIC CRISIS

Predictably, this past weekend, the Swazi media has been full of reports from King Mswati III’s opening of Parliament that took place on Friday.

The king’s speech was broadcast live by state-controlled television and radio – although true to form Swazi TV technicians weren’t up to the job and the king was cut off in mid sentence while I was watching.

So we had to wait until the following day for the newspaper coverage.

Both the Swazi News and the Weekend Observer (9 February 2008) produced the text of the speech in full. Both also had plenty of stories and pictures of women in hats and such like. There was among the newspaper journalists plenty of praise for the king, but very little analysis.

Alec Lushaba, the Weekend Observer editor, led the cheers for the ‘insightful’ and ‘remarkable’ speech.

Thulani Thwala at the Swazi News was a bit more world-weary. He criticised the king’s advisors and speechwriters (in Swaziland you are not allowed to criticise the king himself) for a speech that was more or less the same every year.

In the speech, the king ‘gave away’ E431 million (about 61 million US Dollars) in spending on education, grants for elderly people, food security and other things.

All media emphasised that the Swazi economy had grown by 2.5 percent over the past year. The tone of the king’s speech was that things are going well, but we still need to work harder.

Thwala saw through some of this in his column. He reminded readers that in the past the king has made announcements about extra spending, but then nothing happened on the ground.

Thwala has a point here, but my main criticism of the speech and the way it has been reported is that journalists have divorced the speech from the reality of the situation in Swaziland. This is best seen in the statement about economic growth and the state of the economy.

The truth is that the Swazi economy is dire and is in danger of collapse unless the government acts quickly to change its current policies.

This is not new information. Last year (2007) the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported on Swaziland. In its official report the IMF stated that ‘Swaziland’s economic performance remains weak. Poverty has escalated in the face of high and rising unemployment, food shortages, and the world’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rate. In 2006, growth slowed to around 2 percent; inflation is rising; and the current account surplus is narrowing.’

The IMF report went on to say that the amount of money Swaziland was receiving through the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) made the economy of Swaziland look better than it really was. This, however, was a temporary windfall of money that was expected to run out in 2007/2008. After that date the amount of money coming from the SACU would ‘sharply decline’.

The present economic policy of Swaziland would be unworkable once the SACU revenues decline, the IMF report stated. The IMF recommended that to save the economy the Swaziland Government had to change its economic policies. Top of the list was for the government to reduce its wages bill, begin civil service reform and privatize state-owned assets.

Also on the list of improvements were structural reforms such as labour market reforms; simplifying business licensing requirements and procedures; improving transportation, energy, and telecommunication infrastructures; and enhancing land productivity by a strategy for land reform.

The IMF reported in March 2007 and the media in Swaziland picked up the story at the time. Perhaps, more accurately I should say they picked up the IMF press release and copied it into their newspapers. If the coverage of the king’s speech is anything to go by the journalists did not understand what the IMF was saying.

The IMF warned that after 2007/2008 the amount of revenue coming to Swaziland from the SACU would ‘sharply decline’. At present approximately 70 percent of all Swaziland’s revenue comes from the SACU. A sharp decline spells economic disaster for the kingdom.

The king (or his advisors) choose to ignore this looming crisis – the journalists should not.


See also
SWAZILAND’S OTHER ‘BLACK WEDNESDAY’

SWAZILAND’S OTHER 'BLACK WEDNESDAY'

The opening of the Swaziland Parliament last Friday (8 February 2008) reminded me of another ‘Black Wednesday’ that took place in 2004.

This time the army didn’t invade the University of Swaziland and nobody was seriously injured. Instead, people quietly protested against the way the ‘rule of law’ was ignored in the kingdom.

The entire Court of Appeal bench of judges had resigned in protest over interference in the judicial system by King Mswati III. The opening of Parliament had been postponed and the Parliament Speaker had resigned after he had headed a special parliamentary committee that recommended against the purchase of an E720 million (US $111 million) private jet for the king - advice that was accepted by the House of Assembly.

Some MPs had threatened to boycott the King’s speech, on Wednesday 17 March 2004 but they changed their minds after Prime Minister Themba Dlamini issued a strong warning against ‘disrespecting’ the monarch.

The news agency IRIN (17 March 2004) reported as follows:

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, an umbrella group of labour organisations, human rights bodies and banned political parties, had called for Swazis to wear black as a symbol of protest over what they described as the palace's undermining of parliament.

The prime minister and traditional authorities warned that any person wearing black would face punishment. The national highway running one kilometer north of parliament, and connecting roads, were blocked by police, who questioned any person seen wearing a dark garment.’Have you seen inside the chamber?

'It looks like the Easter Parade,’ one MP commented to IRIN about the variety of bold colours nervous MPs chose to wear before the king. Some legislators complained to the local media that they had to mothball black suits purchased for the occasion. Swaziland's parliament is subordinate to King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Although MPs are elected from 55 constituencies, augmented by 10 royal appointees, parliamentarians take an oath of allegiance to the king rather than to the people or laws of Swaziland.

See also
BLACK WEDNESDAY AT SWAZILAND UNI


opening of parliament 2008

Friday, 8 February 2008

POLITICIANS INTERFERE AT SWAZI TV

The head of the state-controlled Swazi TV has told politicians to leave the television station alone.

Vukani Maziya, the chief executive officer, called a media conference to condemn politicians for ‘meddling into the affairs’ of Swazi TV.

The Times of Swaziland reported on Wednesday (6 February 2008) Mayiza saying ‘their interference was killing not only the station, but his efforts to improve it’.

The plea from Maziya seems a bit naive because Swazi TV is a government controlled station directly answerable to the Minister of Public Service and Information (presently S’gayoyo Magongo). This is an accepted fact in Swaziland and the only reason Swazi TV is allowed to broadcast is so that it can be a propaganda voice for the government and King Mswati III.

The editorial independence of Swazi TV is not guaranteed by law.

The African Media Barometer – Swaziland 2007, published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Swaziland chapter last month that poor funding is particularly evident at Swazi TV where resources are scarce, quality of programmes is poor and there is very little local content. Swazi TV relies mostly on government subsidies, but supplements its income with license fees and advertising.

The poor quality of its programmes has also been attacked by Swaziland members of parliament.

The Times reports Maziya ‘like a man possessed’ saying that ‘political heavyweights should allow the station’s authorities to execute their duties free of interference’.

The Times continues, ‘Maziya emphasised that the political interference was killing not only the station, but his efforts to improve it.’

The Times contacted the Minister of Public Service for comment. He is quoted by the newspaper saying he was the only politician in the ministry ‘In as far as I’m concerned I’m not interfering, but doing my job.’

It can be no coincidence that Maziya’s comments came the day after the Times revealed (4 February 2008) that an auditor’s letter had disclosed financial irregularities, including the purchase of equipment worth more than E2.5 million (350, 000 US dollars), some of which was never delivered.

With his comments about political interference, Maziya may be trying to divert attention from the financial irregularities at Swazi TV, which has been heavily criticised in the past for its poor management.

Meanwhile, the Swazi Observer (Wednesday 6 February 2008) did not include Maziya’s comments on political interference in its report on Maziya’s media conference. It concentrated on the news that Swazi TV management had suspended the station’s financial controller over the unaccounted money.

CLARIFICATION
The auditor general cleared Swazi TV of misappropriating funds or irregularities in the purchasing of equipment, contrary to the letter from the auditors mentioned in this blog, according to a report in the Times Swaziland 3 April 2008.

Richard Rooney 6 April 2008.

See also
TWO WEEKS TO SAVE SWAZI TV

SWAZI LAWYERS DEFEND RIGHTS

Swaziland Lawyers for Human Rights have accused the kingdom’s Attorney General of misrepresenting the constitution.

And at the same time the lawyers have unintentionally exposed major deficiencies in Swazi journalism.

The story starts on 22 January 2008 when Swazi media reported the speech made by the Attorney General (AG) Majahenkhaba Dlamini at the annual opening of the Swaziland High Court. Large amounts of air time were devoted to the opening on radio and television and both daily newspapers gave over at least two pages each to the event.

The AG’s full speech was published in the Swazi Observer in the indigenous language siSwati (23 January 2008) and in English (24 January 2008).

Despite all of this coverage, journalists didn’t understand the importance of what the AG was saying.

It took a statement from Swaziland Lawyers for Human Rights to put them on track. In brief, the lawyers said that the AG misinterpreted and misrepresented the new Swazi Constitution that came into effect in 2006 on several matters of fundamental importance.

Only then did the Swazi media pick up on the story again. This forced the AG into issuing a ‘clarification’ that appeared in newspapers on 4 February 2008.

Swazi journalists missed the significance of the AG until alerted by the lawyers. This is not unusual in Swaziland where journalists tend not to have inquiring minds. The Swazi media much prefer to simply report what powerful people say and leave it at that. That is what the Observer did when it reported word for word the speech of the AG.

There is also a lot of evidence from the Swazi media generally that journalists don’t always really understand what it is that they are writing. You only need to look at the business sections of newspapers and at the jargon that is reproduced in their pages from press releases and company statements to see this in action.

The Swaziland Lawyers for Human Rights made several important criticisms of the AG’s speech and in doing so give an excellent account of just how undemocratic a state Swaziland is.

Below are some extended extracts from the lawyers’ media statement.

Concerns

What gives us great concern is the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the Constitution by the Attorney General on several matters of fundamental importance.

These are:

- The fact that in his interpretation the executive (government) is first among equals.

- His assertion that the separation of powers can be found in the Constitution.

- His reliance on the Latimer House Principles to back up these assertions.

The Position of the Executive in the Swazi Constitution

Section 64 (1) of the Constitution states that - The executive authority of Swaziland vests in the King as Head of State.

In no way under Swazi law, custom, tradition or the Constitution can the King, and therefore the Executive, be said to be ‘first among equals’.

The King and iNgweyama has a special and revered role in Swazi traditional law and custom to such an extent that our custom dictates that ‘the King cannot tell a lie’.

This is not a prohibition of royal falsehoods but a statement on how truth and reality are recognized in Swazi Traditional Law.

The King and iNgweyama also has an elevated role under the Swazi Constitution where under section 11 he cannot be questioned in court and therefore his decisions cannot come under judicial scrutiny either.

Therefore it follows that our Executive is not first among equals but first among strongly weighted unequals. – ‘First among equals’ is a quaint term that was coined by the British constitutional historian and chief apologist for the aristocracy and the then status quo - Walter Bagheot to describe his interpretation of the nature of the British Prime Minister position in cabinet. It was no more appropriate to 19th Century Britain than it is to 21st century Swaziland.

Separation of Powers

The Attorney General continues by saying that the separation of powers can be found in the constitution. We strongly contest that assertion.Separation of powers is a philosophy of providing checks and balances between the three branches of government: the executive (government ministers and their departments), the legislative (parliament) and the judiciary (judges and the courts).

In theory, it distributes the power of the state between these three branches and maintains a healthy tension of oversight and accountability between them.

In a democracy that practices separation of powers the ultimate power rests in the will of the people, and so parliament and the legislature become the final arbiter of how the country is governed - not the executive.

We have already seen that in Swaziland the King has supreme executive authority. Let us look at parliamentary authority in Swaziland today.Section 106(a) of the Constitution says ‘the supreme legislative authority of Swaziland vests in the King-in-Parliament’.

It goes on to state the King can appoint nearly one fifth of the House of Assembly and two thirds of the Senate. The majority of both houses is required for a bill to become law. In any case, under section 134(b), the King has the absolute authority to dissolve parliament. It is impossible to argue that emaSwati have any real political power in this arrangement.

We know that the real power lies with the traditional authorities and Liqoqo in advising the King.In other countries, parliamentary elections are typically closely fought and so often the people in the centre hold the balance of power. This promotes a culture of problem solving, compromise and respect for minorities.

The Swazi system ensures an inbuilt majority for those who are sympathetic to traditional causes in all but the most extreme situations. Democracy is not reflected in the simple rule of the majority. It is equal access to power and influence by all.

The arrangement is Swaziland is simply and clearly not democratic.

Who Judges the Judges?

Turning to the how independent our judiciary is Section 141 guarantees the independence of the judiciary. However, the senior judges of the country are chosen by the Judicial Services Commission.

The majority of this commission is directly appointed by the King and his advisors. Given this fact, how independent can new judges really be?

The Attorney General admonition to existing and potential judges to get involved in traditional ceremonies such as iNcwala shows that he does not want independence but obeisance. This should not be a matter of concern for the chief legal officer of government. He needs to respect the ideal of judiciary independence. The judges of the country have the right and the freedom to attend or not attend without, as he so readily quotes, fear or favour.

All Angles Covered

Thus we can see that the combined position of the Monarchy and its advisors directly controls the make up of, and has the potential to manipulate the decisions of, all three branches of government. We therefore must disagree in the strongest of terms with the Attorney General that the Swazi Constitution embodies the doctrine of the separation of powers.

Commonwealth Rules

The Attorney General is happy to quote the Commonwealth Latimer House Principals to back up portions of his argument when saying that our Judges should remain subservient to the Constitution.

He conveniently neglects the preceding section that states that: Parliamentary procedures should provide adequate mechanisms to enforce the accountability of the executive to parliament.There is no history of regular and rigorous accountability of our government to parliament.

The Latimer House Principles go on to envisage a system of a multi-party democracy that is thoroughly grounded in the doctrine of parliament, not the executive, being first amongst equals and sets out a system of proper oversight of the executive by bodies such as an Opposition in Parliament, Ombudsmen, Public Accounts Committees, Human Rights Commissions, Auditors General, Anti-Corruption Commissions, Information Commissions, Judicial Review, an independent and vibrant media protected by law and a constructive relationship with civil society.

We are happy that, as the chief law officer of government, the Attorney General is aware of the Latimer House Principles, we will be a lot happier when he, and his cabinet colleagues, start to live by them.The principles are a model for good governance across the Commonwealth and, if the Attorney General wishes to talk to us about how to work towards their full implementation in Swaziland, our doors, and the doors of the rest of civil society, remain open.