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Wednesday, 30 April 2008

SWAZI CHIEFS DEFY THEIR KING

Traditional leaders in a part of Swaziland have banned all meetings in their area, including social gatherings.

The Swazi Observer reported yesterday (29 April 2008) that people in Mbilaneni have been told that all gatherings ‘and other social activities’ are out for now.

The area’s headman Thami Sheshuyinike Thikazi is reported saying ‘anyone defying the order would be punished’.

At first glance this looks like another attempt by Swaziland’s elite to stop ordinary people campaigning ahead of the kingdom’s national election which is expected sometime in November.

But, this is not the case. The reality is that the traditional leaders have banned the meetings because the area’s Chief Malambule wants his fields weeded. No meetings or social gatherings will be allowed until the fields are clear.

Thikazi is reported saying, ‘It is a command from the highest authority in the land which we all have to obey.’

If that is true it means that King Mswati III himself has ordered the weeding of Malambule’s fields. I somehow doubt this is the case since the king rarely gets involved with such matters. My guess is that the chief is trying it on and using his majesty’s name as a weapon to force people to weed the fields.

The news report highlights one of the realities of life in Swaziland, people are not free. This is especially so in the rural areas where chiefs wield enormous power over individuals. Chiefs can decide who is allowed to live in an area (and who is banished into the wilderness). In these present times of hunger where about 60 per cent of the Swaziland population of just under one million people rely on food aid from overseas’ agencies, chiefs can decide who eats and who does not. Ultimately this may mean that chiefs decide who lives and who dies.

I have no doubt that the people of Mbilaneni will do as they are told and weed the fields.

The Observer quoted Thikazi thanking all the residents ‘who had been loyal to the traditional authority’.

Menacingly, the Observer further reports him saying, ‘Hopefully, even the rebels would one day repent.’

The power of the chiefs was also exposed yesterday in the Times of Swaziland. It reported ‘rumours’ coming from a seminar held by the Elections and Boundaries Commission to sensitise chiefs to the forthcoming election. The Times reported, ‘However, some chiefs are alleged to have gone overboard by telling their subjects who to vote for and discrediting other residents in the process.’

If these ‘rumours’ are true the chiefs are going directly against the wishes of King Mswati III. According to the Observer (24 April 2008), the king said, ‘under the new constitution, the elections were open to all Swazi adults and that the country’s political system has empowered every Swazi to freely choose what they see as the best candidate’.

The Observer also reported the king saying, that the new Swaziland constitution encourages people ‘to nominate and elect on merit, a candidate amongst themselves whom they know best to have the potential of representing their interests in parliament’.

I hope that once the king has read this blogpost he acts swiftly to put his chiefs in their place. The Swazi election will be free. We know this to be true because the king himself has said so.
(Note to editor: please use irony font for last paragraph.)

See also
SWAZI KING SAYS ELECTION IS FREE

DECEITFUL SWAZI WAR REPORTING

A passing reference by Prince Mfanasibili in his Times Sunday column this week (27 April 2008) about the coverage of a previous Iraq war reminded me of what must be one of the most humiliating moments in recent Swazi journalism history.

Mfanasibili praised the present government spokesperson Percy Simelane for reporting about events during the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990 when Simelane used to work for state run radio Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS).

Mfanasibili didn’t say whether Simelane was actually reporting FROM battle-torn Iraq, or merely reporting ABOUT Iraq from the comfort of radio studios in Mbabane, Swaziland.

Since Simelane was working for the state-controlled radio SBIS at the time it is fair to assume that he didn’t venture far from his home (SBIS journalists rarely do).

In 2003, a different reporter from SBIS got found out deceiving the Swazi people about Iraq.

In that year, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists reported that Phesheya Dube, a journalist for SBIS pretended to broadcast reports from Baghdad, while in fact he never left Swaziland.

‘Making it sound as if he was calling from the war zone, Dube culled all of his information from foreign press and wire service reports. Once the ruse was discovered, Information Minister Ntshangase criticized Dube for making Swaziland “an object of scorn.” However, no disciplinary action was taken against the journalist, and he was not fired,’ CPJ reported.

I assume that he wasn’t fired because it wasn’t Dube who was trying to deceive the Swazi people. His bosses at SBIS must have known very well that Dube was not at the front line. Instead, he was in one of the broom cupboards that pass for studios at SBIS making it all up.

His bosses were the ones who should have got the sack.

Now, we have another Iraq war, and this deceitful incident reminds us of one important fact: you should never believe a word you hear on SBIS News.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

WITHOUT THE [SWAZI] KING ON TOUR

The quite possibly seditious documentary Without the King is now freely circulating in Swaziland.

‘Pirated’ copies of the DVD have been winging their way around the kingdom and I have received reports of it being watched in every major urban area in Swaziland.

According to the documentary’s own publicity, Without The King ‘captures the birth of a nation’s revolution’. Personally, I suspect the ‘revolution’ is some way off yet, but the DVD does show scenes where ordinary people in Swaziland talk about their dissatisfaction with the ruling elite – including King Mswati III.

Swazi media are not allowed to voice such sentiments – and it is not really safe for ordinary people to say them out loud in most places in Swaziland.

I hear there have been some discussions in the main cities of Mbabane and Manzini about showing the documentary at a public venue. People are quite understandably scared to do this for fear of what might happen either at the showing itself (police in Swaziland are brutal when it comes to dealing with dissent) or what might happen after the event to the person or organisation that allowed the showing to take place.

All this is in great contrast to North America where Without the King is showing in public cinemas across the continent. It is also receiving interesting reviews in newspapers and on the Internet.

I picked up this review on the Internet from someone called Kam Williams at News Blaze.

I think Williams got a little carried away, especially with regards to the statistics (do you know what 45 BILLION US Dollars looks like Kam?) and the bit about the ‘airhead’ Princess Sikhanyiso is a bit strong, but (unlike in Swaziland) everyone is entitled to their opinion.

‘King Mswati III is a benevolent despot ruling the tiny African nation of Swaziland with a velvet-gloved iron fist. This last absolute monarch on the continent governs just about the only sub-Saharan country somehow untouched by civil war or ethnic cleansing over the last 30 years. In contrast to such war-torn lands as Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Sudan, Swaziland has enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence.

‘This, despite the fact that its citizens have a 42% AIDS rate and the world's lowest life expectancy at 31. Plus, most of the population has to survive on about 63 cents a day, and are thus very dependent on donations from international charities just to survive.

‘Meanwhile, the royal family lives in the lap of luxury, starting with the king. He has 14 wives, and picks another new one to add to his harem from the 75,000 topless young virgins participating in the annual Reed Dance, a weeklong celebration of chastity.

‘He also owns 7 palaces, a fleet of luxury cars, the media and sugar industries, and most of the developed real estate. Plus, he has $45 billion stashed away in a Swiss bank for safekeeping. Political parties are banned in Swaziland, so the miserable plight of the people isn’t about to change any time soon in the absence of a revolution.

‘Besides Mswati, the film focuses on the decadent behavior of his spoiled-rotten eldest child, an airhead attending college in California. Well aware of the exploitation of her father’s subjects, this future queen sarcastically appraises the situation shortly before the curtain comes down, vaguely promising to make some changes while rolling her eyes.

‘We’re supposed to buy the idea that the Swazis will be saved by Africa’s answer to Paris Hilton? Yeah, right. Proof-positive that despotism and decadence comes in all colors.’

I notice that Williams didn’t even think it worth mentioning the name of the King’s daughter (it’s Princess Sikhanyiso). The princess gets a more sympathetic mention by another reviewer, Cynthia Fuchs, writing on the popmatters website.

‘Princess Sikhanyiso, also known as Pashu, is the eldest of her father King Mswati III’s 22 children. A dutiful daughter and self-described “rhyme slayer,” the amateur rapper leads a film crew through the King’s palace in Mbabane, capital of Swaziland, pointing out the gigantic swordfish that adorns “one of the rooms for most important visitors.” She smiles politely, anticipating her upcoming 18th birthday and comparing the tour to MTV Cribs. [A television programme in which ‘famous’ people show off their homes.]

‘Pashu straddles a particular and complicated divide in Without the King… Introduced defending her father’s reign (“I think being a king is the hardest thing ever; you have to take the most criticism in the country”), she is also on her way to Hollywood, starting her freshman year at Biola University, a Christian school.

‘As Pashu’s mother Queen LaMbikiza remembers being married at 16, Mswati’s first wife, the daughter imagines that her education in a foreign land will prepare her for being royal in the future. “We are the ones that have to change the country,” she says of her generation,” and toward that end, she seeks “knowledge.”

‘Her father, in turn, expresses his pleasure in a way that indicates his conditioned detachment and performance for the camera (Pashu refers to him repeatedly as “the King”): “I have a kid that is going to university,” he smiles, “Of course I am very proud, the kid has been very good.”


‘As Pashu enjoys the “freedom” of campus life without security details and with an ATM card (“I’ve never used one,” she says, pressing buttons on the machine as the camera focuses on the sign above: Need Cash?).

‘Her story in the abstract is soon reframed by experience. Stepping into the street outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, she’s impressed by the traffic, the lights, the architecture: “I wish that Africa was like this as well,” she says, her sentences fracturing. “It just shows how much we still need to… It seems impossible… It wouldn’t even be good to reach this level...” She sighs and finishes with an assessment that is diplomatic and self-preserving: “You guys are doing good for yourselves.”’

But, of the recent crop of reviews, Bruce Bennett, writing in the New York Sun, is the most overtly political.

‘The king’s insistence on upholding venerable tribal customs at the expense of modernization is revealed to be a social perversion allowing tyranny, ignorance, and cruelty. “The mind fractures at the thought of it,” one U.N. health advocate says. Footage of Swazi citizens preparing meals of offal scavenged from landfills and slaking their thirst from fetid, muddy ponds takes its toll in Without the King, and as the film examines the grotesque disparity in wealth between ruler and ruled, the heart starts to crack, too.

‘But U.N. observers and film viewers, like the members of the royal family themselves, can afford the luxury of sentiment. King Mswati’s subjects, however, cannot, and among the bracing nonfiction disclosures that Without the King makes is precisely where terrorists and freedom fighters come from and just how narrow the semantic line is between the two. “I don't want to die for the struggle,” says one emaciated would-be assassin. “I want to kill for the struggle.” Nearing the end of the approximately three decades that he'll remain alive, the man has literally nothing to lose either way.’
See also
SWAZILAND ‘REVOLUTION’ DOCO ON DVD

Monday, 28 April 2008

SWAZI KING AND THE CONSTITUTION

The new Swaziland Constitution is getting quite an airing in the Swazi media lately. If it is not being cited in reports about the Elections and Boundaries Commission (either to support of defend the recent appointment of the board members), then it is in stories about the election itself and whether guaranteeing ‘freedom of assembly’ and ‘freedom of expression’ also means that it is now illegal for political parties to be banned in the kingdom.

Then there is the position of King Mswati III himself. Is he a ‘constitutional’ monarch with no decision-making powers himself, or does he continue to be autocratic and rule by the 1973 decree? Or, possibly, does he land somewhere between the two?

Prince Mfanasibili, who writes in the Times Sunday, reminded me of this last point. Yesterday, (27 April 2008) he returned to a recurring theme of his, one that could loosely be described as: ‘the Constitution has taken all the king’s powers away’.

Prince Mfanasibili is what is known as a ‘traditionalist’ in Swaziland. I suppose you can tell from his name that he isn’t of common stock.

Mfanasibili again stated that ‘the king has no powers in the new constitution’. He then went on to quote chapter and verse (or more truthfully, section and sub-section) to demonstrate his point.

Mfanasibili also says, ‘I know that a constitution is a very complex document to read with full understanding, particularly if you are not a legal orientated person.’

I assume that last statement is meant to deter people from reading the constitution themselves. How could you possibly read it properly and understand it if you do not have Mfanasibili’s ‘legal orientated’ mind?

But people shouldn’t be bullied off reading the constitution. It’s a fine document and contains all the stuff that a modern constitution should. There’s freedom of speech (as long as your chief agrees), freedom of assembly (but no political parties), gender equity (except if women say they don’t want it), respect for life (except where the Swazi police kill unarmed people). Hey, you even have the constitutional right to whip your child.

But what about the king: is he a constitutional monarch or not?

Here’s what the constitution actually says: word for word. ‘The King shall be immune from suit or legal process in any cause in respect of all things done or omitted to be done by him’ (s11 (a)).

In plain English that means the law does not apply to the king.

Here’s another more complicated section (You might not need a legal mind to understand it, but a degree in English would be useful). ‘Where the King is required by this constitution to exercise any function after consultation with any person or authority, the King may or may not exercise that function following the consultation’ (s65 (4)).

In plain English that means the King can consult as much as he wishes but he is not constitutionally obliged to follow the advice. He can make any decision he wishes.

Now Mfanasibili, what was it you were saying about constitutional monarch?

Friday, 25 April 2008

SWAZI POLITICAL DOCO AIRS IN UK

Swaziland’s political turmoil was featured in a documentary aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the UK yesterday (Thursday 24 April 2008).

It told a story of police committing murder, child sex abuse – and, of course, HIV AIDS.

All this was seen through the eyes of one consultant from Northern Ireland who is presently working in Swaziland as a civil rights campaigner.

Star of the show is Stephen Donaghy, who works as a ‘volunteer’ for the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) in Manzini.

I haven’t had a chance to see the documentary (but I hope a DVD is winging its way to Swaziland and will soon be available in pirate version all over the kingdom), but the Belfast Telegraph (a newspaper in Northern Ireland) carried a long interview with Donaghy, in which he gives one view of Swaziland that is not often seen, either in the kingdom itself, or in the international media.

The Telegraph reported,

‘First impressions of Swaziland were surprising and not exactly what Stephen had expected.

‘“I spent my first night huddled by an electric fire and with my fleece on, as I'd arrived in June, Swaziland's mid-winter,” he says. “That was the first shock. My second impression was how Westernised it was in this part of the capital, with a large Spar shop nearby selling Kerrygold and Heineken beer. It wasn't mud huts.”

‘His work is highly sensitive in a country ruled by
King Mswati III, who has “a special place in the hearts of the people and a lot of power which he doesn't use properly”.

‘We had to speak on a South African phone as Stephen’s telephone calls are monitored, like his emails. “So we use heavy encryption.”’

‘He wanted change, and from day one in his job working for the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO), he got it.

‘A month in, Stephen was involved with the sort of case he would not have encountered at home [in Northern Ireland]

‘“We work on three levels, the highest of which is advocacy of basic human rights," he says.

‘“There was a criminal called
Ntokozo Ngozo, who was accused of shooting at police officers. The police then rang his cell phone and said, ‘We don't know where you are but when we find you, we’ll kill you.’

‘“He was naturally scared and rang a journalist on The Times of Swaziland, thinking that if they ran the story, it would save him. But while the presses were rolling, the police shot him. He’d stripped to his waist and come out with his hands up when he heard them coming, but they questioned him, left him to bleed for four hours and he was dead on arrival in hospital.”

‘SCCCO paid for an independent pathologist who established that, contrary to the official story, which claimed the man was armed and had fired at the police, he had been shot at a distance of 35 centimetres. Also, the holes on his clothes didn't match the bullet holes, so evidence had been tampered with.

‘To top it all, there was never an official investigation. Stephen says: “Another aspect of our work is civic education with various groups. In 1973, the king took away all civil political rights, so there was no free speech, no right of assembly. You could be locked up without trial, just on the say-so of the executive.”

‘He adds that people in Swaziland think they'll be in the same situation as Zimbabwe in a few years’ time.’


According to the Telegraph, Donaghy, who featured in BBC Northern Ireland’s 'Distant Horizons' programme, had reached the age of 41, was in a comfortable job as a management consultant with an equally comfortable lifestyle when he decided he needed, as he puts it, ‘to find out that life doesn't stop at the border’ [of Northern Ireland]. So he signed up for two years via Skill Share International.

Donaghy has the perfect background for the work with a law degree from Newcastle on Tyne and a CV charting a career in management, primarily in the public sector.

I have gotten into trouble in the past for commenting on this blog about the way in which foreign media report on Swaziland. (There are people in the US who are still praying for my soul after my Derek Goes to Africa posts.) I know Donaghy is a reader of this blog, so maybe I can invite him to tell us whether he thought the BBC documentary gave a fair picture of Swaziland in general and of his work in particular.

See also
‘SUNDAY’ PROBES POLICE KILLING

Thursday, 24 April 2008

SWAZI KING SAYS ELECTION IS FREE

Swaziland’s elections this year will be free and fair.

Or they will be if you believe the chief editor of the Swazi Observer. The Observer – the paper that is in effect owned by King Mswati III – reports the king assuring South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki (and therefore the world) that the news Swazi Constitution will ensure that the elections will be free and fair.

The Observer reported today (Thursday 24 April 2008), in a news article written by its chief editor, that the king told Mbeki that ‘under the new constitution, the elections were open to all Swazi adults and that the country’s political system has empowered every Swazi to freely choose what they see as the best candidate’.

The Observer reported that the king challenged all potential MPs to align themselves with the national fight to overcome poverty. What the Observer didn’t report was that these remarks were made at a sumptuous banquet, nor that in Swaziland this past year 600,000 people of the kingdom’s nearly one million population have had to rely on international food aid to fend off starvation.

The Observer did report that the king said that the new Swaziland’s constitution encourages people ‘to nominate and elect on merit, a candidate amongst themselves whom they know best to have the potential of representing their interests in parliament’.

What neither the king nor the Observer added was that political parties are banned in Swaziland, despite repeated calls for them and possible legal action from civil society groups in the kingdom.

Mbeki, who recently refused to acknowledge there was a political crisis in Zimbabwe following the disputed elections there last month (March 2008) said he wished King Mswati, ‘success in the general elections’.

It wasn’t clear what Mbeki’s definition of ‘success’ was. But, Mbeki’s continued support of Robert Mugabe, a despot who is trying desperately to cling on to power illegally in Zimbabwe, may give us some clue.

King Mswati III and the South African President, met during Mbeki’s two-day trip to the kingdom.

While the Observer and other Swazi media were upbeat in their reporting of the visit, some South African media were more realistic.

The SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) reported (23 April 2008), ‘It is believed that pro-democracy groups are putting pressure on Mbeki to raise the question of King Mswati’s absolute rule and lack of reforms.’

SABC added, ‘Meanwhile, the Swazi monarch is expected to raise concern with Mbeki over Cosatu’s [Confederation of South African Trade Unions] call for an economic blockade of the kingdom. Cosatu has pledged solidarity with the Swaziland trade union movement in demanding an end to Mswati’s absolute monarchy rule. Swaziland has been under pressure over the past few years to introduce democratic reforms.’

I don’t know whether this was discussed at the banquet because, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t invited. If such a discussion took place I have yet to see reference to it in the Swazi media.

The Pretoria News (23 April 2008) was less optimistic. It didn’t believe that Mbeki would raise the issue of democracy.

It reported, ‘Swazis feel little hope that Mbeki will press the king for more meaningful political change towards making Swaziland a true democracy.

‘Mbeki’s actions on Zimbabwe have not escaped the attention of political pundits in Mbabane.’

It went on, ‘Even though the political climate in Swaziland is not as volatile as Zimbabwe, banned political organisation Pudemo’s publicity and information secretary Zakhele Mabuza said it would be a sad day for the voiceless and disadvantaged in Swaziland if Mbeki concluded there was also no crisis in the country.

‘Mbeki was last in the country in 1996 when he was deputy president to meet Mswati during a week-long mass stayaway by opposition unions and politicians brought the country to a standstill.

‘When asked by journalists in 2004 why he and Mbeki had never met during the latter’s presidency, Mswati shrugged it off as a mere clash of diaries in their busy schedules. Mbeki later cancelled a scheduled trip over a year ago at the last minute.

‘Mbeki’s failure to visit Swaziland has fuelled speculation that he does not approve of Mswati's leadership style and his suppression of democracy. Yet no one seems to think his long-delayed visit now will influence political change in the country.

‘Vusi Sibisi, a columnist in The Times of Swaziland, wrote: “There is not much we can hope for from his belated visit to these shores. For besides his mishandling of the Zimbabwe crisis, he is a spent force, who a year or two ago, as a leader of a regional superpower, could have counted for something in terms of nudging the Swazi government towards embracing democracy.”

‘A source close to the monarchy speculated that perhaps Mbeki was visiting only now because Zuma is expected soon for his first meeting with Mswati since he became ANC president and Mbeki wants to get in first.’

According to the Swazi Observer, Mbeki ‘promised to return to Swaziland again and again.’ If the Pretoria News is right, Mbeki will have plenty of time on his hands to do just that.

See also
SWAZI ELECTION BOARD BANS REPORTERS

CHANNEL SWAZI TOPS AMONG STUDENTS

Channel Swazi television has come out tops in a poll among university students.

They say that it is the best and most reliable television station in Swaziland (but there are only two) and ‘is on the verge of reaching international standards in terms of news reporting and broadcasting’.

The research, conducted by Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) students at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), discovered that students preferred watching Channel Swazi rather than the state-owned Swazi TV because of the variety of programmes offered.

They preferred entertaining programmes such as movies, talk shows, comedy and soaps. Fewer than half questioned put news high on their list of favourites, but they did say that they believed that Channel Swazi ‘deserves the acknowledgement for being unbiased when reporting’.

They believed that Channel Swazi offered a ‘wide range of home brewed programmes that relate to the way of life of the Swazi nation’.

Most students believed that privately owed companies (such as Channel Swazi) offered better services than government owned ones.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most students were in favour of the television station employing young people ‘to keep the station lively’.

Writing about Swazi TV, the researchers concluded that it ‘still has a lot of work to do to improve its viewership. Swazi TV still has to bring about changes there and also try to involve Swazi society by broadcasting home brewed programmes.’

The research was conducted as part of the JMC Diploma Year Two mass communication research course and the researchers were Ayanda Ntuli, Thobile Maziya, Futhi Mkhonta and Tsandziwe Dlamini.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

SWAZI POLICE CHIEF FINGERED

All forms of dissent in Swaziland are under attack at present, following news that a man has been charged with giving the kingdom’s top police chief the middle finger.

It seems Police Commissioner Edgar Hillary – the man who leads a police force that regularly tortures ‘suspects’, shoots unarmed people and teargases and fires rubber bullets at legitimate protestors - is such a delicate flower that he needs to be protected against the finger.

The Swazi Observer reported (17 April 2008) that a man was to appear at magistrates court accused that he did ‘unlawfully and intentionally injure the dignity’ of the police chief ‘by pointing him with the middle finger up’. It is alleged that this happened at Matsapha Industrial Site in May 2007.

Keen readers will spot that this happened very nearly a year ago. I wonder how the police chief has managed to live since then without having the full force of Swazi law protect him from further fingering.

When I first read the story I laughed out loud at the absurdity of it. On second thoughts, however, it scares me a bit (and I suppose it is meant to) because it means that there is no way that an ordinary person in Swaziland can make a protest, however minor, against the powerful, without being hauled before the courts.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

POOR CHILDREN IN SWAZI JAIL

Two children have been jailed in Swaziland for being vagrants.

The boys, who were offered the chance to pay fines of E100 each (about 14 US Dollars), were too poor to pay so were taken off to prison for 30 days.

The Times of Swaziland reported (18 April 2008) that the boys, who ‘lived’ in the bush near a disused motel, were believed to be part of a gang who had been ‘terrorising’ people with robbery.

The Times did not say how old the boys were (typically, in the Swazi media even the most basic of information gets overlooked by reporters) but it was stated that their case had been adjourned so that their parents or guardians could turn up to court. This means that they were clearly not adults.

When parents or guardians failed to appear, the boys were tried nonetheless and convicted under the Vagrancy Act of 1963.

By coincidence on the same day Swazi Observer columnist Ackel Zwane wrote that ‘100 percent’ of the people in prison in Swaziland at present were from the 20 percent poorest people in the kingdom. Wealthy people never go to jail, he wrote.

‘There is a hungry boy from kaKhoza who snatches a purse in town and is rotting at Zakhele Remand Centre.

‘He has been there for the past 18 months and is likely to stay even longer before he is sentenced. There was only E10 in that purse. A government official with accomplices stole E50million from the state [from a job creation scheme] but they are roaming the streets and bragging about how sweet money can be.’


Poverty is in the news in Swaziland at the moment. This is not because 70 per cent of the approximately one million population of Swaziland earn less than one US Dollar (E7) a day and 600,000 of them rely on international food aid to avoid starvation, but rather because King Mswati III has jetted off to a ‘poverty summit’ in Mauritius. At the summit he is expected to talk about Swaziland’s poverty reduction strategy.

This is not the first (and probably not the last) poverty summit he has attended. Last August (2007) the king went to Malaysia for similar talks. While there a foreign reporter asked him how many poor people there were in Swaziland and the king replied that he did not know – he would have to ask his minister.

Here’s a fact – courtesy of Zwane – the richest 20 percent in Swaziland own 60 percent of the national income. The poorest 20 percent own 4 percent.

Another fact – courtesy of Forbes magazine, New York – King Mswati III is estimated to have a net worth of 200million US Dollars (E1.4billion) and is the 15th richest monarch in the world and the richest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Friday, 18 April 2008

WE NEED MORE SWAZI BLOGS

A surprising number of people I meet in Swaziland and who are readers of this blog site (Swazi Media Commentary) are puzzled about how you put a blog together.

There seems to be a misunderstanding that it is a difficult thing to do. It isn’t. Swazis are a bit surprised when I tell them you don’t need anyone’s permission either. You just find a computer with an Internet connection and away you go.

A ‘blog’ or more correctly a ‘web-log’ is in the simplest terms a website that is created by an individual person so that he or she may put on the Internet their thoughts on any subject they wish. You are reading this on a blog called Swaziland Media Commentary.

I think this seems like some kind of miracle to some Swazis because they are so used to living in a society where information is not free. Most of the media are state controlled to some extent or another. And the supposedly ‘independent’ media are as supportive of the king – and therefore the status quo in Swaziland – as any of the ‘controlled’ media. Add to this the fact that ‘traditionalists’ and ‘elders’ don’t like Swazis to have opinions, so the idea of just writing or saying anything they feel like is totally alien to them.

I have been trying to encourage people in Swaziland to have a go and create their own blogs (at the end of this post I’ll give you some links where you can set up one of your own). People in Swaziland face some problems when it comes to setting up a blog, but these are mostly technical and to do with the small number of computers available and the poor Internet connections in the kingdom.

But if you are reading this and you are in Swaziland I have to assume you have some access to the technology.

I was interested to see who in Swaziland already has a blog and what bloggers were saying about Swaziland, so I did what we could term ‘observational’ research. That is to say I went and had a look at what was around on the Internet over the period of one week.

This is a piece of ‘qualitative’ research – that is I am interested more what people are writing about rather than a ‘quantitative’ piece of research which is also interested in how much is being posted.

To make the search I used the Google specialist blog search engine (click here). This is a separate search engine from the general Google search (click here) that most people who have any experience of surfing the Internet know. I first searched the word ‘Swaziland’ and then I searched the word ‘Swazi’.

(Incidentally, for people new to the world of blogging, another excellent blog search engine is Technorati which can be accessed by clicking here.)

In my research I could not find a single site that was written by someone who was obviously a Swazi. The sites I did find were from people blogging about Swaziland who either don’t live in Swaziland or at the very least were ex-pats living and working in Swaziland.

Most of the blogsites were written either by travellers (i.e. people on their way to Swaziland or presently here but just passing through) or ‘missionaries’ or other church workers who were in Swaziland working on some kind of project they considered to be ‘humanitarian.’

Among the church related blogsites I found were Morning Coffee which was writing about AIDS orphans, and Ben Rodgers writing about Children’s Cup Swaziland and the 22 women of women who just turned up and decided to ‘accept Christ as their personal Saviour’.

None of the travellers’ sites is of any great interest, but If you want to read about train delays in Dar click here. Or for the latest from the Out of Africa shop at Jo’burg airport click here.

Apart from travel and the church, one of the more interesting sites is Caroline in Swaziland written by a Canadian videographer who is spending four months in Swaziland to produce videos for several non-profit organizations. She came to Swaziland with help from Canadian Crossroads International.

The lack of blogsites from within Swaziland is disappointing, but not unexpected because there are a number of obstacles to stop people in the kingdom getting online.

The Internet World Stats (IWS) website puts Internet ‘usage’ in Swaziland at 3.7 percent of the population or about 41,000 people. IWS defines a user as someone who has access to an Internet connection point, and has the basic knowledge required to use web technology. The term should not be confused with an Internet Subscriber, which is anybody with a paid access to the Internet.

The African Media Barometer – Swaziland 2007 published in January 2008 by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter reported that Internet is still unaffordable for most Swazis and is limited to the main towns. Most Internet cafés charge at least E20 (about 3 US dollars) for 15 minutes. Broadband is still not available, as the government is yet to license operators, so connections are slow and unreliable.

Add to this the fact that about 75 percent of the people in Swaziland live in rural areas and electricity doesn’t reach all of them, and that about 70 percent of the population live in abject poverty on an income of less than one US dollar (E7) per day, and more than half the population presently rely on food aid from overseas organisations to stop them starving, the availability of an Internet connection is not an important consideration in the lives of most people.

But, if you do have access to a computer and an Internet connection it is very easy to set up a blog. It costs no money to do (unlike a commercial website) and importantly for most of us who have limited skills in this regard, you don’t need any technical know-how. There are a number of websites where you can create your own blog. All of them give very simple instructions on how to do it.

If you want to have a go yourself click any one of these links

Blogspot
amagama
myserver

Then email me here and tell me all about it.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

WATCHING SWAZI TV ‘HARMS CULTURE’

Swazi TV, Swaziland’s state-controlled television station, has been celebrating its 30th birthday.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of airtime devoted to this momentous event by the channel itself and Swazi newspapers have devoted a lot of space to congratulations and partying. Channel Swazi (Swaziland’s only other television station) has been silent on the subject.

I wasn’t going to comment about this event, because as regular readers know I am not a fan of the channel and I didn’t want to be a party-pooper.

But I see that Nathi Gule, who writes a page on television every Friday in the Times of Swaziland, was none too impressed with Swazi TV either, so my resolve to be kind has weakened a little.

On his page last week (11 April 2008) Gule wondered what all the fuss was about. What was so special about Swazi TV? What was there to tell Gcinekile or Bheki next door about?

‘After 30 years of the local television station, we still do not have live local soccer,’ he wrote.

‘Just the other day the Swazi Bank Cup Final was playing and since some of us were at work, we had to rely on people’s narratives of the event.

‘For a country that has a national broadcaster that brags of being around for 28 to 30 years, that certainly is nothing to be proud of. We still have the same styled old movies on screen, save for one or two times.

‘Our line ups are still as predictable as they were a few years ago, save for three or four new shows with presenters we have been watching over the past few years. We still do not have local children’s programmes.

‘We still do not have proper entertainment programmes brewed locally save for that show with Mshikishi. Where are our empowerment shows, where is the variety?’

Gule has a point. Swazi TV (and Swaziland’s only other TV station, Channel Swazi, is the same) has very little content that is produced within the kingdom. This is not unusual for television in developing countries such as Swaziland. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that it costs money to produce television programmes (much more than for radio or for writing newspaper articles) and there isn’t much money around in Swaziland to do this.

The second is that the global economy in television is skewered in favour of rich nations. For example, popular television programmes in the United States make a profit for their makers from being shown in the US. But not content with this profit, programme makers, who are often part of enormous multinational media conglomerates with worldwide affiliates, then sell their shows internationally and charge a relatively small price. That means that countries such as Swaziland can buy programmes from overseas at a cost that is less than the cost of making their own programmes.

As well as the profit motive, TV stations know that they are buying programmes that have proved to be popular with viewers elsewhere and they hope (perhaps even assume) that they will be popular with their own audiences. Think of programmes such as the Oprah Winfrey show that is seen on TV stations all over the world, even in tiny countries such as Swaziland that could never afford to make such programmes for themselves.

So, it is the economics of programme making that is determining what we see on television in Swaziland.

There is a downside to this. Academic research on what people in developing countries watch on television suggests that programming can be harmful to the local community as it reflects language, values and lifestyles that are often vastly different from those of the community ‘consuming’ the content.

People in Swaziland are now able to see images on their TV screens that go against local cultural norms, such as violence and nudity that affect traditional values of modesty.

The lifestyles of people in popular TV programmes (such as soapies) can deceive people and create false expectations about what the viewers’ lives could be like.

In some developing countries television has tended to alter the social relationships within communities, most obviously in the way people spend their time. One example of this is how time in the evening is no longer spent story telling. This puts the continuity of the people’s history in danger if they have an oral tradition, which is passed from generation to generation through such story telling sessions.

Family lifestyle has also been altered in terms of the way people speak (all that American slang) and the times family gather. Meal times are altered so family members do not miss their favourite programmes.

In one survey of rural India researchers found that television has significantly contributed to the restructuring of social relationships in the villages.

Television brings both men and women of all ages together on a regular basis in close proximity for an extended period of time. This closeness over time has created new types of relationships among people of different ages and genders. It is not only the physical proximity of people on a daily basis but that television informs and imparts messages and images to every viewer equally. You do not have to be literate or educated to watch television.

Children and youth are often as informed and knowledgeable if not more so than adults. The need to watch television among family members initiates a breakdown in the sex-role differentiation of work toward sharing certain responsibilities so everyone may watch television. Today, women and men are occasionally seen eating together in order to finish the chores in time for their favourite TV programme.

It is important for television stations to provide programming content that is created locally because such content expresses the community’s local needs, knowledge and experience that is relevant to the community. The process of creating and disseminating local content provides opportunities for members of the community to interact with each other, expressing their own ideas, knowledge and culture in their own language.

But to create relevant content you need owners or producers with the motivation to create it. To do this in Swaziland all levels of society, including the policy-makers in government, must recognize the need to support those who create, produce and distribute the programmes.

I don’t see much evidence of this happening in Swaziland.

See also
SWAZI TV ON THE RACK

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

TRUE HORROR OF SWAZI GIRLS’ LIVES

Next time the Swazi Prime Minister tells us that Swaziland is a peaceful country – and we should shun people who want to make changes in the kingdom, because they will destroy the tranquillity - send him a copy of this blogpost.

Swaziland may be ‘peaceful’ if you define ‘peace’ as ‘an absence of war’, but for ordinary girls in the kingdom, life is Hell.

A report published last week by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that one in three Swazi women has suffered some form of sexual abuse as a child, while one in four experienced physical violence. Often the abusers are the girls’ own fathers or boyfriends.

The survey, the National Study on Violence Against Children and Young Women, based its findings on interviews among rural and urban communities. Disturbingly, it concluded that violence and sexual assault against girls primarily took place at home.

Jama Gulaid, UNICEF representative in Swaziland, said, ‘We found that 75 percent of the perpetrators of sexual violence were known to the victim.’

Gulaid said, ‘It is not surprising that sexual abuse of girls is a household problem, because Swazis reside in multi-generational homes, usually isolated farms. Relatively few girls are raped by strangers in towns because less of the population resides in towns, and there is a heightened awareness of security there’.

Only 43.5 percent of girls said their first sexual experiences were freely willed and devoid of coercion: a little less than five percent said they had been introduced to sex as rape victims.

According to a news report circulated by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks and published around the world (to see the full report click here) a third of Swazi females interviewed for the study reported they had experienced emotional abuse. Often, the perpetrators had been abused themselves as children.

‘The established “hand me down” passing on of abuse is evident from what we were told,’ said Pamela Dlamini, a sociology student at the University of Swaziland, who was one of the survey interviewers.

‘Emotional abuse of girls is mostly carried out by the girls' female relatives, who were abused themselves. Sometimes there is jealousy. Instead of reporting an abusive husband or unable to police [the girl], the girl’s mother or aunt will treat the girl as a rival.

‘This comes from a culture where any post-pubescent girl is considered eligible for marriage in a polygamous household, even if she is 13, although Swazi culture does not allow for the incest we find rampant in households where abuse occurs.’


Underscoring the urgency of addressing violence against girls was the AIDS crisis.

‘Rapists don't use condoms, and if a father or uncle are so inclined to rape a daughter or niece, or a boyfriend forces himself on his girlfriend, the danger of HIV transmission is rife,’ IRIN reported Victor Ndlovu, a voluntary testing and counselling officer in the central commercial town of Manzini saying.

‘Add to that the reluctance of girls to report abuse or in many instances to rightly understand they have been violated, we are faced with a serious public health challenge, aside from the individual suffering incurred by the girls.’

The UNICEF study is the first of its kind conducted in Swaziland where anecdotal evidence suggests an alarming number of female children are victims of abuse: more disconcertingly still, the mushrooming population of orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland provides yet more opportunities for sexual exploitation to occur.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

STARVING SWAZIS EXPLOITED

Swazi people threatened with starvation are being forced to pay cash to receive food aid that has been donated free of charge by international agencies.

In the latest example of corruption in a kingdom eaten away by the cancer, the Swazi News reported (12 April 2008) that people in the Mkhiweni area must pay E2 to get food or they go hungry. (In Swaziland about 70 percent of the population earn less than E7 per day.)

The Swazi News reports, ‘It has been gathered that the E2 is a prerequisite for residents to be listed as beneficiaries for donor food.’

The newspaper quotes a resident, who refused to be named for fear of victimisation, saying,

‘The E2 payment is something that has been going on for some time. When it was introduced it was said that it was meant to hire a car for the area’s traditional authorities to attend food rations. We can hardly afford this amount. That we qualify for donor food rations means we do not have the money to buy food, and this just leaves us confused.’

The Swazi News reported that residents were called to a community meeting where the money was demanded from them.

One resident told the Swazi News,

‘It is inhumane. In the meeting the authorities of the area said they would take even 50 cents. It’s pathetic, but we pay up [rather] than miss out on the rations.’

In Swaziland about 600,000 people – about two thirds of the total population of the kingdom – are reported to have received international food aid in the past year.

The Disaster Task Team in Swaziland, responsible for donated food, is investigating the matter. The news of this obvious corruption will almost certainly tarnish Swaziland’s reputation further in the international community. Already the World Food Programme is finding it difficult to get donor agencies to meet the cost of food aid to the kingdom.

Swaziland also has a poor reputation in the international community for its inability to use money wisely.

On the same day as the Swazi News article (12 April 2008), its rival newspaper the Weekend Observer reported Swaziland Prime Minister Themba Dlamini saying his government was embarrassed that it had not utilised the E36 million (about 5.1 million US Dollars) that it had itself earmarked to spend on HIV AIDs drugs. At the same time as it failed to spend this money, the government was asking foreign institutions for cash to help in the fight against AIDS. (Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world).

The Weekend Observer quoted the Prime Minister at a business meeting saying,

‘I am embarrassed. I do not have much to say. This reflects certain weaknesses in the management system. I will ensure that I get an explanation from those involved.’

Surely, if it is a problem with the ‘management system’ the Prime Minister, as the ‘senior manager’ of Swaziland, ought to take the blame.

Swazi journalists – and some others – often complain that Swaziland has a poor image abroad and they put the blame for this state of affairs squarely on ‘misreporting’ by the media. I don’t suppose it will take too long for the international media to pick up on the two stories I have written about here.

And when they do, and Swaziland is rightly shamed, please don’t blame the messenger this time.

See also
SWAZILAND ‘TOO RICH’ FOR AID
SWAZIS EAT WEEDS TO AVOID STARVATION

Monday, 14 April 2008

SWAZI PROPAGANDA DISGUISED AS NEWS

A Swaziland newspaper has made an outspoken attack on Swazi trade unions, claiming they are on their knees.

The Swazi News (12 April 2008), in what purports to be a news report, but is in fact a piece of propaganda, tears the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) to pieces.

Without offering its readers a single source for its information, the Swazi News claims the SFTU is a ‘toothless dog’.

The newspaper reports, ‘The once fearless SFTU is down on its knees.

‘It took the once mighty and vibrant labour movement less than 10 years to crumble, leaving the workers vulnerable to their employers. It once boasted 83,000 membership but today that has been brought to more or less 30,000.

‘This effectively means SFTU has lost over 53,000 members.

‘The chronic downfall has been attributed to several factors of which some have been witnessed by the affiliates from puberty stage until they toppled the federation with no one actually attempting to solve the problem.’

The report goes on the state that the ‘last days of the mighty SFTU’ were in 1996/7 when there was a mass stay-away of workers, ‘forcing the economy into the mortuary. It never recovered.’

The report goes on, ‘The Federation’s Secretary General, Jan Sithole was idolised by every worker.’ It then attacks Sithole for running a one-man show at the union.

What disturbs me most about this report is its dishonesty. You don’t have to be a supporter of trade unions to see that what the Swazi News published was not a piece of disinterested journalism. The reporter (and it was written by a reporter, not a comment writer) has simply given his own opinion of matters. Nobody else is consulted and no verifiable facts are given in the report.

I wrote only last week about the Swazi News and its coverage of the election and how it was biased against the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) referring to a ‘mockery press briefing’ and calling by the board ‘illegally appointed’.

It did it again this week in a front-page report about Chief Gija Dlamini, the Chairman of the EBC. In a news report, it called Dlamini the ‘illegally appointed chairman’ and went on to say that Dlamini said he would not resign his day job to concentrate on the work of the Commission.

This is how the Swazi News report put it, ‘Dlamini, presumably out of arrogance coupled with ignorance says he does not see the need to quit his job.’ Perhaps I should point out that the only ‘arrogance’ and ‘ignorance’ on display here is from the journalists at the Swazi News.

There is a code of ethical conduct for journalists in Swaziland. Article 1 of The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) Code of Conduct makes it crystal clear that it is

‘the duty of every journalist is to write and report, adhere to and faithfully defend, the truth. 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 Swazi News has clearly not met Article 1.

The Swazi News must be very careful. It is gaining the reputation, not as a newspaper, but as a propaganda sheet.

Getting back to the article on the SFTU. The reporter played the oldest trick in the book for biased journalists. Having set up a false scenario (the crumbling trade union movement, toothless dog and such like) in the minds of the readers he asked trade unionists to respond. This meant trade unionists weren’t given a chance to talk about what they saw as their role and what trade unions might be able to do for working people in Swaziland, instead they had to accept the agenda set by the Swazi News and defend themselves.

The fall in the number of trade union members is easy to explain. Anyone who knows the history of trade unionism in any country in the world (developed or developing) knows that union membership is cyclical. Put simply, that mean when the economy is doing badly (as Swaziland’s is) people are out of work or are poorly paid, they tend not to be members of unions. When times are good and people are in work, they belong to trade unions.

If you add to this the political climate in Swaziland that is hostile to people forming political parties and trade unions it is no wonder that unions find it difficult to recruit. But if you look at the effort police officers and prison warders have made to form trade unions in Swaziland over the past year or so, you cannot be in any doubt that people do understand the benefits of trade unions and very much want to join them.

Let the Swazi News report on that.

See also
SWAZI ELECTION DATE ABSURDITY
SWAZI POLICE REFUSE TO ARREST

Sunday, 13 April 2008

SWAZI ELECTION BOARD BANS REPORTERS

Journalists were banned from a meeting held by the Swaziland Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) because its chairman doesn’t like the way the media is reporting its activities.

Police, including at least one from the intelligence branch, were called to eject any reporters who tried to get into the meeting.

In another twist in the long-running controversy over the way members of the EBC were chosen and the Commission’s activities since then, the announcement of the date of the election has been postponed.

Chief Gija Dlamini told the Times Sunday today (13 April 2008) that the reason the meeting was held behind closed doors was because ‘the media had failed to report truthfully about their previous meeting at Siteki.’

The Times Sunday reported that the meeting at a hotel was with traditional leaders from the Hhohho Region of Swaziland and was part of ongoing ‘civic education’ being undertaken by the EBC.

The Times Sunday reported that more than 40 chiefs from different areas of the region ‘were given the special privilege of meeting the EBC behind closed doors and protected by the presence of the police.

‘Police officers, who were deployed at the hotel, were told that journalists were not welcome to cover the meeting.’

The Times Sunday continued, ‘Apparently, Chief Gija was not happy with one of the dailies [Swazi Observer] after it quoted him saying political parties were not allowed at the in the upcoming elections.

‘He said they were now careful with who participates in these meetings as they do not want to expose themselves to “manufactured” stories in the media.’

It is significant that Dlamini did not say that contrary to the Observer story; political parties indeed were allowed to participate in the election.

The Times Sunday reported that the EBC had already met privately with chiefs in other regions of Swaziland.

Dlamini went on (unwittingly, I suspect) to admit that not all people in Swaziland were to be afforded the same opportunities to learn about the election. Chiefs were to be given special privileges.

The Times Sunday reported, ‘Chief Gija said their meeting with the Chiefs was meant to respect traditional protocols before they can start the process of civic education to the ordinary masses.

“You will know that Swazi culture dictates that we respect chiefs as heads of communities and we could not therefore be seen to be doing something without the knowledge of the chiefs”, Gija said.’

The Times Sunday in an editorial comment said, ‘By holding such secret meetings, for a process that determines who will govern us for the next five years, the EBC has compromised the transparency that should encompass such an important election process.

‘To cut a long story short, the Commission has indicted to all that the elections, or selection, will not be independent.’

The EBC is under attack on several fronts at the moment. During the past week it was announced that civic organisations are going to court to get the appointment of the EBC members ruled unconstitutional. The Swazi Constitution states that members should be judges, but none of the people appointed are. The chairman himself is variously described in the media as an ‘electrician’ or ‘an electrical engineer.’ Whatever his formal job title is one thing is for sure: he has no legal training.

Following Chief Gija’s statement that political parties remain banned, the African Union Democratic Party announced it had petitioned the Swaziland House of Assembly to make a law allowing political parties to operate.

According to a report in the Swazi Observer (10 April 2008), ‘The petition alternatively states that the House of Assembly should amend provisions of the Constitution which prohibit political parties from standing for local and or general elections and from managing and directing public affairs at government level.’

Meanwhile, there is mystery about the actual date of the election. Recently, Chief Gija called a press conference to say that a date would be announced last week. The date for the announcement has come and gone but we still do not know when the election will be held.

See also
PARTIES BANNED FROM SWAZI ELECTION
SWAZI ELECTION DATE ABSURDITY

Friday, 11 April 2008

A SWAZI LIFE WITH AIDS

Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. Organisations have different ways of counting the statistics but two that often get mentioned are: 40 percent of pregnant women in the kingdom are HIV-positive and one in three people who are of an age to be ‘sexually active’ have the virus.

These statistics are very difficult to get your head around. It means that wherever you are in Swaziland and if there are people around you then at least some of them (and maybe a lot of them) are HIV-positive. Sometimes here at the University of Swaziland I find myself looking at the students and thinking ‘at least one third of the people in this room are HIV-positive’ and wondering which ones it might be. And it blows my mind.

It’s silly to think like this, of course. It could be any of them or it could be none of them. My point is that with so many people with the virus it is very difficult to come to terms with the reality of HIV in Swaziland.

That’s why a column that appears most weeks in the Times Sunday is so special. Sanele Mdluli who is aged 25 writes about himself and ‘My Life With AIDS’. Sanele has known he was HIV-positive since he was aged 21 and he shares with readers his thoughts and experiences of what it’s like to be HIV-positive in Swaziland.

Unlike many of the people who write for the Swazi newspapers (including some full-time journalists) Sanele is articulate and expressive and he writes with searing honesty, which can be very challenging to readers.

Take this example (Times Sunday 2 March 2008),

‘Life has never been a bed of roses. The readers of this column have told me several times that I am an unhappy guy, just because my article oozes far more pain than joy, all this portrays me as one person bitter with life.

‘In actual fact, I have experienced far more of pain than joy. I have been battling with coming to terms with life. […]

‘I have tried to show a brave face in the face of adversity. I have had to make a lot of adjustments in my young life in order to be able to live a few days more. I have also had to face the painful truth of seeing some of my friends die, friends I have met in the cause of trying to survive. […]

‘In my quest to survive, I have sacrificed a sizeable amount of my happiness. For me life has lost its colour, it is one grey affair of HIV from morning till the sun sets. My whole mind and body, consciously or unconsciously, are always grappling with the reality of an impending painful death. Fort me it is all about avoiding the things that would place me closer to the clutches of AIDS. […]

‘My relationships have crumbled, my love life jumbled up just because of my status. I am not the only one here; a lot of families have split because of HIV. We live in a world of stigma where we are discriminated against because of HIV. We are told of our uselessness to the world as we are supposedly walking coffin material. People are waiting for our funeral dates.’

In another column (Times Sunday 30 March 2008), Sanele writes about his church and why he didn’t attend at Easter.

‘I lost my cool in church about last month after testifying in the church about my status. This is one thing I usually do to encourage the youth not to find itself in the same boat as me. I also encourage those already positive to live a better and productive health love life like I do.

‘On this day one pastor I won’t mention blessed with the gift of healing decided that I need a prayer that would cleanse me of HIV that is demonic and belongs to the devil. He indeed prayed for me and told yours truly to run to the VCT for a new test as I would test negative. While this man of God prayed hard, I was seething deep internally thinking of the millions who have been told they are negative by their pastors. And I got angry.

‘So to this day, I wish to go to church but I cannot because I will find this holy man and his prayers. He would also be asking me if I went to the VCT and the whole church is surely expecting my answer. It’s simple I ran to the VCT and still tested positive.’

These are just two examples from one of the best pieces of journalism available today in the Swazi newspapers. I have never met Sanele, but he seems to be one heck of a guy. Keep the articles coming, Sanele.

To finish on an upbeat note: Sanele’s article of 2 March 2008 must have alarmed some of his readers. He reassured them, (30 March 2008),

‘I have read the SMSs you sent me. Hey fellers, I am not bitter at life or sour at being HIV positive. If my articles portray that, I am so sorry as that is the truth as it is, that’s how I am. And people never think for a second I have lost interest in life or rather have lost hope. Me of all people!’

See also
BID TO IMPROVE HIV AIDS REPORTING

Thursday, 10 April 2008

PARTIES BANNED FROM SWAZI ELECTION

Here’s a question for you: In Swaziland what’s the difference between a soccer club and a political party?

The answer: When the Swazi Constitution talks of ‘freedom of association’ it means being able to join a soccer club, not being able to form political parties.

This is according to the chairman of Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission, Chief Gija Dlamini.

The chief, who was recently selected to chair the Commission under controversial circumstances, says that the new Swazi Constitution never intended to allow political parties. When the constitution speaks of ‘freedom of association’ it had in mind clubs such as Mbabane Highlanders soccer team, he said.

When he was appointed, the chairman was widely criticised by groups and individuals in Swaziland for not being qualified for the job (the Constitution says the chair should be a top judge but Dlamini is an electrician). Many believed that Dlamini had been appointed because he was close to the King Mswati III.

Yesterday (9 April 2008) The Swazi Observer reported Gija addressing chiefs and traditional authorities at a ‘civic education’ session in Siteki.

The Observer, a newspaper that is in effect owned by the king, missed the absurdity of the chief’s remarks and allowed them to go unchallenged.

The Observer reported that Dlamini said the national constitution did not say people would go to the polls by political associations.

The Observer reported,

‘People will be elected as individuals. If the community picks an individual and feels he qualifies to represent them, they can just vote him in, as long as he or she is Swazi.

‘The chairman was responding to a question from Chief Sibengwane Ndzimandze who wanted to know what would happen in the event that some people use political affiliation to canvas for parliamentary seats.

‘Petros Masina of Enceka also asked: “What are we going to do when people who affiliate with political parties eventually win the elections and go to parliament? Whilst there, they may try to change the system of governance.”

‘Chief Gija said the chiefs should not be concerned about political parties.

‘“Emaphathi akhona emoyeni nje. Emtsetfweni akabusiswa. Kwasho emaSwati kutsi afuna tinkhundla,” he said, meaning “political parties are not founded on the law. Swazis said they needed the Tinkhundla system of governance.”’

‘The chairman explained that in parliament no one could claim to be representing a political party.

‘He read section 79 of the constitution: “The system of government for Swaziland is a democratic, participatory, tinkhundla-based system which emphasises devolution of state power from central government to tinkhundla areas and individual merit as a basis for election or appointment to public office.”’

I notice that Dlamini didn’t actually answer the question, ‘What are we going to do when people who affiliate with political parties eventually win the elections and go to parliament?’

There is a growing call within Swaziland for political parties to be made legal and as this call gets louder it is going to be very difficult for the traditional authorities to resist.

The only real option open to them is to forcibly stop political groups from meeting, by quite literally breaking up their gatherings. If the police or the army do this during an election time it will attract international attention on a scale that Swaziland has never seen before.

The very idea that the kingdom is having an election but not allowing people to meet to discuss who to vote for would show up what Swaziland’s traditionalists call the kingdom’s ‘unique’ democracy for the con trick that it is.

See also
SWAZI PRESS ATTACK ELECTION BOARD
SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND

SWAZI ELECTION DATE ABSURDITY

Swaziland will know this week the date of its national election.

The kingdom’s Elections and Boundaries Commission held a press conference last Friday (4 April 2008) to announce this.

That’s right. It held a press conference to tell us that sometime this week it will tell us the date of the election (presumably by holding another press conference).

The Swazi News (5 April 2008) was a bit put out by this, calling it a ‘mockery press briefing’ by the ‘illegally appointed’ Commission. I don’t suppose it would do any good if I pointed out that news reporting is meant to be unbiased and objective (go take a look at the SNAJ Code of Conduct Article 1 people).

The Weekend Observer (5 April 2008), as befitting a newspaper that is in effect owned by King Mswati III, was very supportive of the Commission. It gave space to the Commission’s Deputy Commissioner Mzwandile Fakudze to ‘clarify’ how it was that the newly appointed Commission had no judges on it, even though this was a specific requirement of the Swazi Constitution.

Fakudze said the Constitution also allowed for people of ‘high moral character and proven integrity’ to be appointed and the Commission members were appointed on this basis.

The Weekend Observer went on to report Fakudze saying that the King Mswati III (after being advised by the Judicial Service Commission) was the person to decide who had high moral character and proven integrity.

With the date of the election getting nearer (it is widely expected to be in October or November 2008) more and more election reports are getting into the newspapers. The main headline on the front page of the Swazi Observer on Monday (7 April 2008) read TEACHER ACCUSED OF ILLEGAL CAMPAIGN.

The story referred to a school principal (not actually a teacher as the headline said) who had asked members of her community to nominate and support her candidacy for Parliament.

In the Alice in Wonderland world of Swaziland’s ‘unique’ democracy this is illegal because the powers that be haven’t said campaigning can begin.

Well, I suppose it depends on who you are, because the same issue of the Observer had a report about Zombodze Emuza, a sitting Member of Parliament, who told his constituency at a meeting of all the hard work he had put in on their behalf over the past five years. Then he gave each resident of his constituency two loaves of bread.

Which of course had nothing whatsoever to do with election campaigning.

See also
SWAZI ELECTION – CODE OF CONDUCT

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

SWAZI POLICE REFUSE TO ARREST

Swaziland police officers disobeyed their commander when instructed to arrest fellow police officers who were trying to hold a trade union meeting.

So, the senior officers themselves had to try to break up the meeting. As they tried to arrest trade union leaders their fellow unionists freed them and they escaped to safety.

This is some of the background to the video I posted yesterday (Tuesday 8 April 2008) showing Swazi police breaking up a meeting in October 2007 called by junior police officers who were trying to form a trade union, the Swaziland Police Union (SWAPU)

The Times of Swaziland (19 October 2007) gives vivid details of the disobedience of the junior officers who were on duty to break up the meeting. They were given a direct instruction from Regional Commander Senior Superintendent Caiphas Mbhamali to arrest the unionists ‘but they did not take his orders as they stood and watched’.

More than 40 police in total were at the scene to break up the meeting, but only 10 senior officers actually tried to make the arrests.

The Times, Swaziland’s only independent daily newspaper, took three pictures from the video and ran them across its front page above the headline COPS’ UNION CLASHES WITH POLICE.

The Swazi Observer, Swaziland’s only other daily newspaper and which is in effect owned by King Mswati III, ignored the event altogether.

In its story the Times reported that there were clashes twice within two hours between SWAPU and police officers.

Swaziland police Deputy Commissioner of Police Isaac Magagula had warned the unionist against holding the meeting. The Swazi Observer had the previous week (12 October 2007) quoted Magagula saying, ‘It is only with the expressed approval of the commissioner that police officers can convene or attend any meeting.’

The commissioner doesn’t actually have this power since the Swaziland Constitution allows for freedom of assembly so the meeting is protected under the constitution and should have been allowed to go ahead.

A scene in the video clearly shows a senior police officer telling the unionists that he has orders to stop the meeting because they do not have a permit to meet.

The Times gives a detailed account of what happened as SWAPU’s executive members tried to meet at the Caritas Centre in Manzini 90 minutes before the main meeting was due to begin.

Here are some extracts:

‘But the police would not allow them to meet, resulting in a verbal showdown where unprintable words were exchanged between the two groups of at least 10 SWAPU executive members and as many senior police officers.

‘During the heated debate of words, a member of SWAPU was seen being dragged to a waiting police van by the senior police officers, with most of the junior officers standing a few metres away, watching.

‘There were more than 40 police officers at the scene, though only about 10 senior officers were involved in the scuffle.

‘The SWAPU member, Sipho Tsabedze, fought back, pulling the officers by their pair of trousers.

‘Seeing that Tsabedze was being overpowered by the officers, SWAPU members intervened and succeeded to wrestle their member from the clutches of the police.

‘While the scuffle was in progress, SWAPU President Buhle Dlamini was addressing the junior officers who were standing by.

‘The “unionists” quickly jumped into waiting cars and drove off to their offices.’

When the meeting proper was due to start police blocked the entrance to the meeting hall.

The Times reports,

‘At 4pm, when members of SWAPU arrived at the Caritas Centre, the senior police officers were ready for them and blocked the entrance, demanding that a permit to hold the meeting be produced.

‘That marked the start of another confrontation.

‘SWAPU executive members told the officers that it was within their rights to hold meetings as per the country’s constitution. But the senior officer shoved them out of the conference room where the meeting was scheduled to be held.

‘The Regional Commander Senior Superintendent Caiphas Mbhamali, instructed the junior officers to arrest the defiant SWAPU members, but they did not take his orders as they stood and watched.

‘The senior officers took it upon themselves to effect the arrest, but SWAPU members resisted and the scuffle continued.

‘During the scuffle, the shirt of a senior officer’s uniform got torn, SWAPU member Thandukwazi Zwane’s T-shirt was also ripped apart.

‘A member of SWAPU quickly jumped inside his car parked close by, reversed at high speed towards the crowd and ordered his colleagues to jump inside.

‘Meanwhile, the SWAPU President Dlamini blocked the gate with his car, allowing his followers out of the gate.’

The Weekend Observer (20 October 2007) reported that catholic priest Father Vilakati, who is the administrator at the Caritas Centre, was manhandled by police. ‘They dragged me forcefully by both arms ordering me out of the centre,’ he told the newspaper. ‘[The police] should develop some courtesy when dealing with civilians, the way they operated seemed like they were out on a war, which is not right.’

The video of the police attack is available on the video sharing website, YouTube. To see it click here.

See also
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK ON VIDEO

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

SWAZI POLICE ATTACK ON VIDEO

Swaziland’s police will attack even members of their own force to stop people getting their rights under the new Swazi Constitution.

A video of Royal Swazi Police breaking up a meeting called in support of a trade union for junior police officers shows police dragging people from the meeting and trying to arrest them.

A senior police officer is videoed saying that the meeting cannot go ahead because the organiser’s do not have a permit. He says he is only following his orders.

The video, which has been put on the Internet, then shows police dragging people from the meeting hall to a waiting police van. Three policemen attack one man who is dragged by his feet on his back and as he tries to struggle free he cries out ‘Where are you taking me? What have I done?’

As police try to put him in the back of a van his comrades come and rescue him and the police appear to give up on him.

Later in the video police drag off another man. He desperately clings to a pole to stop them taking him further. Again, his comrades come to his rescue and he escapes.

The video, which lasts eight minutes, has no commentary, but it does have the sound of the confusion. The cameraman gets close to the action and most of the time is right in the thick of it. Naturally, the police are aware that they are being videoed.

The level of violence used by the police is much less than we have witnessed recently in the textile strike and at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA). I wasn’t at the meeting, but I wonder if the fact that the police knew they were being videoed calmed them down a bit. No sticks, teargas or rubber bullets were used this time.

Since the protestors were themselves from the police force it might also have been that the officers who broke up the meeting knew one or two of them personally and felt some sympathy toward them.

The video, although roughly edited and without commentary, gives an excellent insight into life in Swaziland that rarely gets seen. Swaziland’s two television channels never get so close to the action and even if they did such video as this would not get shown.

The video also demonstrates that in Swaziland the recently enacted Constitution is not being respected. The Constitution clearly states that people have freedom of association. That means the junior officers have the right to form a trade union and also the right to hold public meetings. There should be no need for them to have a ‘permit’ from the authorities.

I wonder who it was who gave the senior police officer his ‘orders’ to break up the meeting.

The leaders of the junior police have also been victimised for trying to form a union.

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) got the video footage of the meeting, which was on 18 October 2007. The video was recently uploaded to the video file sharing website, YouTube.

The SCCCO enlisted the help of the UK’s largest trade union, Unite the Union, to get the video released to the world. In Swaziland the Internet connections are so poor it is all but impossible to upload video onto websites, so when representatives of Unite were recently in Swaziland they took a copy of the video back to the UK with them and uploaded it from there.

Unite also has its own online television channel (oh the joys of a broadband Internet connection!) which broadcasts reports and features of interest to trade unionists, as it says ‘straight to the homes and workplaces of million of members’.

To see the video on YouTube click here.



See also
SWAZI POLICE ‘KILL BABY WITH TEARGAS’
MORE ON SWAZI POLICE BRUTALITY

Monday, 7 April 2008

TAIWAN ‘BRIBES’ SWAZILAND

The news that the Republic of China (Taiwan) has diverted the development aid that it had intended donating to Malawi to Swaziland raises an interesting question about the kingdom’s friendship with ‘free’ China.

The Swazi Observer reported last Tuesday (1 April 2008) that Taiwan had made the move because Malawi had decided to formally give diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic (or mainland) of China (Taiwan’s bitter enemy).

This is an important story, but the Observer missed the main point. In the Observer’s report, which was sourced from Africa News, it was made clear that Taiwan was in effect punishing Malawi for its decision to support China. But what the Observer missed was that this action demonstrates just how Taiwan treats its ‘friends’. Malawi will no longer get development aid from Taiwan, no matter how desperate the need might be.

Swaziland’s media constantly report positive stories about the relationship between Swaziland and Taiwan. The Taiwan ambassador to Swaziland is often seen handing over gifts and / or speaking about the special relationship. Two weeks ago a party of Swazi journalists went on a freebie trip to ‘observe’ Taiwan’s elections.

In September 2007 King Mswati III off to the island along with leaders of the African states Burkina Faso, Gambia, Malawi, and Sao Tome and Principe to discuss how they could help Taiwan in its bid to get elected to the United Nations (UN). In return Taiwan offered the Africans development aid.

Swazi newspaper editors have also been feted by Taiwan, with all-expenses-paid luxury trips.

The reason for all this attention from Taiwan is because Swaziland has a vote at the UN, and Taiwan has been wanting for many years to become a member itself and it wants Swaziland’s support. But in the world of diplomacy, if you have official diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, you can’t have them also with Taiwan.

Once Malawi decided to support the People’s Republic of China that was the end of the ‘friendship’ with Taiwan.

So here’s the lesson for Swaziland. Choose your friends wisely. Taiwan is not a ‘friend’. Taiwan is using Swaziland for all it can get. Should Swaziland decide to follow Malawi’s example and support the People’s Republic of China that will be the end of the friendship.

So, let’s be honest and recognise that all the money and goods and services that Taiwan is supplying to Swaziland at the moment are not gifts among friends.

Put simply, they are bribes to buy Swaziland’s support.

See also
THE TRUTH TOLD FROM TAIWAN

Friday, 4 April 2008

KILLED SWAZI LEADER ‘ROBBERY VICTIM’

PUDEMO deputy president Dr Gabriel Mkhumane may have been killed during an armed robbery. Mkhumane’s girlfriend who was with him at the time is reported to have been raped twice by the robber.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and online newspaper the Lowvelder have each carried versions of the report. The report relies on information supplied by the local police.

The report from the BBC was broadcast in Swaziland as part of a BBC World Service radio programme aired last night (Thursday 3 April 2008). Mkhumane, who had been in exile from Swaziland for 24 years, was killed on Tuesday night (2 April 2008).

Neither of Swaziland’s two daily newspapers carried the story in their editions today, instead concentrating their reports on a call from PUDEMO (the People’s United Democratic Movement, which is banned in Swaziland) that the killer or killers be brought to justice.

The Lowvelder reports today (4 April 2008) that Mkhumane, who was working at Themba Hospital, ‘was visiting his girlfriend at Entokozweni when an unknown armed suspect held them up with a firearm’.

The report continues,

‘According to Capt Phillip Fakude, spokesman for the local police, he demanded that Mkhumane hand over his bank card and cellphone. “He drove his car to a nearby dam where he ordered him to get into the boot. He then raped the girl inside the vehicle.”

‘After he had raped her he ordered the victim to lie on the ground about 10 metres from the car. He opened the boot and ordered Mkhumane to lie next to her.

“He told the girl to wait in the car and first shot Mkhumane in the left ear before firing another shot in the forehead,” Fakude added. He died on the scene. The suspect drove to the N4 where he raped the girl again. At about 03:00 he drove to a nearby ATM and tried to withdraw money, leaving the girl inside the vehicle. She escaped and hid at a nearby house. Although he searched for her he later gave up and drove away.

‘“She asked help from the residents of the house, who called the police.”’

See also
SWAZI PRESS AND THE PUDEMO KILLING

SWAZI PRESS AND THE PUDEMO KILLING

The murder of exiled deputy president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) Dr Gabriel Mkhumane made the front pages in Swaziland.

Both daily newspapers the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer made the shooting of Mkhumane the main story in their editions yesterday (3 April 2008). Both relied heavily on the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) and PUDEMO (a banned political party in Swaziland) for their information on the shooting.

The Times reported that Mkhumane, who had been in exile from Swaziland for 24 years, was ‘killed by an unknown gunman in a suspected hit on Tuesday (1 April 2008) night. Mkhumane was based in South Africa and police there have since opened up investigations into the murder plot as there were no items stolen.’

The Times report continued,

He has been described as a sterling Swazi revolutionary who has been living in exile for 24 years since 1984 in Mozambique. He left for Cuba and came to South Africa to be nearer his home country, Swaziland, in 2000.


Information gathered is that he was shot dead while inside his car at Kanyamazane shortly after dropping off a friend.

Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) Spokesperson Lucky Lukhele, also based in South Africa, confirmed the death and said the entire progressive community had learnt with shock and is saddened by the news of the demise of the exiled comrade.

In a telephone interview last night, Lukhele said they were shocked by the way the comrade was murdered as well as the time of his murder. He said Mkhumane was shot dead at 10pm.

“We are saddened and angry that such a cowardly act ended a great life of a people’s doctor and a hero of the Swazi revolution.

“Those responsible for this callous act should be brought to book and face justice and the people’s wrath, they should know that they terminated only his life, but not his revolutionary spirit which will be born in many Gabriellas who will pick up his courageous spear and advance to people’s victory over tyranny and barbarism.

“The SSN calls on the South African government to probe his death and leave no stone unturned to bring to book his murderers,” said Lukhele when pressed for comment of the comrade’s demise.

Lukhele said they were happy with the way some progressives responded to this sudden demise.

He said some ANC representatives from the province as well as SSN members had gone to the scene last night to inspect, among other things, how the shooting might have happened.


“We appreciate the effort shown by some comrades from the ANC and were first to go to the departed comrade’s family to mourn his death. However, we hope and pray that the police find these culprits and punish them thoroughly for this barbaric act,” added Lukhele.

When PUDEMO President Mario Masuku was called last night about the same matter, he said they respected the Mkhumane family so much and as such they would ask not to comment about the matter until they meet the family and get the go ahead to talk to the media about it.

“It wouldn’t be proper for me to comment right now because we have not yet met the family,” said Masuku.

Lukhele, on the other hand, said that the movement was still gathering the circumstances leading to his (Mkhumane) untimely death and will make an announcement soon.

“Long live the undying spirit and may his soul rest forever in peace,” added Lukhele.

Lukhele said funeral arrangements were yet to be discussed by the family, but promised to keep in touch on any developments.

The Swazi Observer at the time of the ambush, Mkhumane “who went into self-imposed exile in the 80s” had been attending a meeting at White River when he was gunned down.

The Observer reported the White River meeting had been called to discuss logistics of a border blockade PUDEMO wants to stage on Saturday next week (April 12) in protest against what it calls an undemocratic situation in Swaziland created by the April 12, 1973 Decree. The killers fled after shooting him in his car.

He stayed at KaNyamazane, the biggest location in Nelspruit.

Last night, PUDEMO officials hurried to the Mkhumane family to offer words of comfort.


Dr. Mkhumane was trained in Cuba, where he schooled after going into exile. He returned to work in South Africa some five years ago and has been active in PUDEMO activities, especially marketing the Kingdom as an oppressive regime that hates democracy.

PUDEMO president Mario Masuku confirmed his deputy’s death, saying the movement would release a statement once it has received permission to do so by the Mkhumane family.

“These are trying times for the Mkhumane family and indeed the movement,” Masuku said, “yes we can confirm Comrade Mkhumane has fallen and we are in discussion with his family at the moment.”