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Saturday, 31 May 2008

SWAZI CHILDREN WHIPPING STORM

The Times of Swaziland has gone to town over a report that 18 primary school children were ‘whipped’ because they were eating their lunch from buckets.

The Times reported yesterday (30 May 2008) that the chairman of the school saw the children and ordered them into the principal’s office.

The Times quotes an unnamed source,

‘It was in the principal’s office where he whipped the pupils, allegedly with a piece of pipe on their backsides.

‘And after satisfying himself, the chairman walked to his homestead.’


The report says children were ‘crying hysterically’ after the incident.

‘The source said the other pupils in lower grades were traumatised when they saw the seniors in tears.’

Unusually for the Swazi media, the Times did not leave the story there. It realised there was much more of a public interest issue here. It contacted Swaziland Save the Children, where a spokesperson said, ‘The chairman needs to be fired.’ Save the Children said the children’s rights had been ‘grossly violated’.

The spokesperson said the chairman had no mandate to beat the children – according to Swazi law corporal punishment should be meted out by the school principal, or at least in the presence of the principal.

Not only did Save the Children object to the treatment, pupils at the school itself protested. Classes were disrupted as pupils demonstrated around the school premises, demanding an apology from the school chairman, according to the Times.

What makes this report interesting is that it is not that unusual. The Swazi Constitution allows the corporal punishment of children and Swazi culture expects it. From time to time over the past few years there have been reports of adults seriously harming children when ‘punishing’ them. But when the media ask Swazis whether they approve of corporal punishment, the vast majority says, yes.

Unsurprisingly, for this is Swaziland after all, many cite the Bible in defence of their actions.

I suspect that in the case of this primary school, had the principal been the one to dish out the whippings there would have been no story.

In Swaziland it is also legal for children to be sentenced to whippings by magistrates. (I seem to remember somewhere that magistrates had been told to find other methods of punishment, so whipping had fallen into disuse. I can’t confirm this, so I’d be grateful if anyone could enlighten me.)

What I do know is that as recently as 2006 Swazi newspapers were reporting cases from magistrates’ courts at which whipping sentences (more usually referred to as ‘lashings’ by the media) were given.

Although the court beatings are done in private and we don't know much about them, they are clearly brutal.

The Swazi Observer reported (22 March 2006) on one case of a 14-year-old boy sentenced to three strokes.

‘Before the three strokes are administered on the boy’s buttocks, he will be taken to a doctor for a medical check-up. If found to be healthy, the juvenile will then be taken to Mdutjane where the punishment will be meted out.’

Any ‘punishment’ that requires the recipient to have a medical check up before hand must be brutal indeed.

The International Save the Children Alliance - did some research into Swazi children’s experiences of corporal punishment.

Its report found 18 percent of children reported being subjected to corporal punishment by being hit with the hand in the home during a period of two weeks, and 28 percent of children experienced corporal punishment in the form of being beaten with objects such as sticks, belts, sjamboks and whips during the same period.

Boys aged 6 - 12 years described being beaten for breaking things, stealing, not looking after livestock properly, going out to play instead of working, or playing out too late. Young children, mainly girls, were punished for issues related to household chores.

On many occasions corporal punishment was linked to additional punishment such as chores, hard physical labour or withholding food.

A number of children reported being beaten by parents or relatives while the adults were under the influence of alcohol.

Twenty percent of children reported being hit with a hand and 59 percent of children reported being beaten with an object at school during the two-week period. In schools, children are most often hit with the hand, sticks, canes, sjamboks and blackboard dusters.

Children reported being subjected to corporal punishment at school due to making a noise or talking in class, coming late to school, not completing work, not doing work correctly, failing tests, wearing incorrect uniform items, dropping litter, losing books or leaving them at home, etc.

There are a lot more depressing accounts of the routine abuse of children by their parents, caregivers and schools in the report.

To access the report click here.

SWAZI PRINCESS ‘20th HOTTEST’

Princess Sikhanyiso, the eldest daughter of Swaziland’s King Mswati III, has been listed as one of the world’s ‘hottest’ young royals.

Forbes magazine made the list using the ‘winning combination of looks, money and popularity on the web,’ according to a report in the Times of Swaziland yesterday (30 May 2008).

What the Times didn’t tell us was how much weight was given to each of the three categories. I am far too gallant to comment on the Princesses’ looks, but I know her father is not short of a few dollars.

Readers of this blogsite may remember that Princess Sikhanyiso features heavily in the documentary Without The King, which examines how the royal family in Swaziland is out of touch with ordinary people in the kingdom and how hungry and oppressed Swazis are beginning to fight back.

One reviewer of the documentary described Sikhanyiso as ‘spoiled-rotten’, ‘an airhead’ and ‘Africa’s answer to Paris Hilton’. The review appeared on the web, and I don’t suppose it helped the princesses’ Forbes rating much.

The Times quotes Percy Simelane, the Swazi Government spokesperson, saying of the Forbes report, ‘Such recognition and respect in extension does benefit the Swazi nation’. But the newspaper doesn’t say what ‘benefit’ being ‘the hottest’ brings the 600,000 Swazis who are presently relying on food aid from international donors to fend off starvation.

By the way, the princess came 20 out of 20 in the top list, according to the Times.

I congratulate the Times for being observant and finding the report from Forbes on the Internet. However, why didn’t the newspaper or any other media in Swaziland report on the Forbes survey about King Mswati III?

Forbes reported in August 2007 that Swaziland King Mswati III was the richest monarch in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Forbes estimated his net worth to be 200 million US dollars (one billion four hundred thousand Swazi emalangeni).

He was also the youngest monarch (he was then aged 39) to appear on the Forbes ‘rich list’ of the 15 richest monarchs in the whole world.

Although people across the world have been able to learn about this wealth, the king’s subjects, 70 percent of whom live on one US Dollar a day or less, have not been told anything.

I think we all know the reason why the Swazi media kept the report from King Mswati’s subjects.

See also
A STORY THE SWAZI MEDIA MISSED
WITHOUT THE [SWAZI] KING ON TOUR

Friday, 30 May 2008

DISSENT ON SWAZI ELECTION ‘SINFUL’

A march that took place in Swaziland this week to protest against the xenophobic violence spreading throughout South Africa showed how difficult it is to have a dissenting voice heard in the kingdom.

This time the problem wasn’t the Swazi police, who are famous for firing teargas and rubber bullets at legitimate protestors. The problem this time was the march organisers.

It happened like this. The Council of Swaziland Churches (CSC) organised a march in the Swazi capital Mbabane to draw attention to the racial killings in South Africa and to hand in a petition to the South African Embassy.

Depending which newspaper you read 50 people (Swazi Observer, 29 May 2008) or 100 people (Times of Swaziland, same day) took part.

Among those attending were ‘progressives’. In Swaziland, the term ‘progressive’ has taken on a peculiar meaning, especially when used by defenders of the status quo or the media. ‘Progressives’, means nasty, horrible people, who given half a chance will burn your houses down and eat your children. Or, at least, something like that.

‘Progressives’ turned up and ‘hijacked’ the proceedings. Interestingly, both the Times and the Observer used the word ‘hijack’ in their headlines, when reporting on the incident.

As ‘hijacks’ go, it was pretty small beer. According to the Observer, one well-known progressive joined the march and began to sing, what the newspaper described as ‘political songs’. The newspaper reported that eight men later joined him.

‘While the Christians were singing hymns, they were singing political songs and chanting political slogans. Some of the Christians tried to stop them, and a fight almost broke out because they refused to stop chanting the political songs or leave the march. They said no one was going to stop them expressing their views,’ the Observer reported.

The Times reported there was ‘tension’ when an Anglican Church pastor told them ‘the walk was not political’.

The ‘progressives’ were said to have brought their own placards (but in its usual fashion the Times declined to let us know what was written on them.) It must have been something ‘radical’ because the marchers (identified as supporters of the banned organisation PUDEMO) kept the banners under wraps until they reached the centre of the city. When they were outside the embassy, they raised them.

The ‘progressives’ told the Times they were protesting about the ‘crisis’ of the forthcoming elections in Swaziland.

Bishop Meshack Mabuza, for the CSC, told the Times that he hoped they would realise they had done wrong and would ‘repent’.

So there you are. The march against xenophobia was ‘not political’, according to the organisers. It begs the question: If racist killings are not political, what counts as political to the churches of Swaziland?

Also, the ‘progressives’ were not allowed to dissent against the elections. By doing so, according to the bishop, they had sinned and needed to repent.

I hope that the Bishop was misquoted, or quoted out of context, because if there is one thing that Swaziland needs right now it is dissent. The forthcoming elections are a con trick on the Swazi nation and the international community, who both are being led to believe that the elections are ‘free and fair’.

The sooner we understand that basic truth the better. And if it takes nine ‘progressives’ marching alongside a handful of Christians to make us understand, so be it.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

BRUTAL SWAZI POLICE CONDEMNED

Swazi police have been criticised by the human rights organisation Amnesty International for the way they continue to use excessive force against criminal suspects and against peaceful demonstrators, including members of trade unions and political organizations.

In a report just published Amnesty highlights the case of Ntokozo Ngozo for special mention. Regular readers of this blog will remember that in August 2007 Ngozo was shot dead in cold blood by police officers while he was trying to surrender to them.

Police later claimed that Ngozo was armed when he was not.

The Times Sunday newspaper campaigned to prove that Ngozo was shot illegally. An independent post mortem was carried out on Ngozo’s body that proved that he had been killed at close range.

The newspaper contacted Amnesty International, a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights, for help.

In its report for the year 2007, just published, Amnesty reports,

‘Police who committed human rights violations were not brought to justice.

‘On 11 August, police from the Serious Crimes Unit shot dead Ntokozo Ngozo, who had told a journalist a week earlier that the police intended to kill him. According to witnesses, police called for him to come out of a house in the Makhosini area and he emerged naked to the waist with his hands in the air. He was shot in the thigh, abdomen and back at close range. Police delayed taking him to hospital.

‘The initial police statement that he had been shot running away was inconsistent with the medical evidence.

‘Witnesses complained that they had been assaulted by police, including Nsizwa Mhlanga, who was arrested and held until 16 August without being brought before a court. He was eventually released on bail pending possible charges.

‘No inquiry into the shooting of Ntokozo Ngozo had been announced by the end of the year.'


This was not the only case of police brutality highlighted by Amnesty.

The report states,

‘In April police forcibly dispersed supporters of the opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) involved in a demonstration at Swaziland’s border posts on the anniversary of the 1973 decree which had banned political parties.

‘Protesters who refused to disperse were bundled into vehicles and removed, including George Hleta, who was grabbed by five armed police officers, one of whom throttled him before he was pushed into a police van.

'Six arrested PUDEMO members were charged with sedition, apparently on account of the wording on their banners, and held for 12 days. Five had the charges dropped and were released after paying an admission-of-guilt fine for “jaywalking”.

'However, Sicelo Vilane was held for a further three weeks before being released on bail. He had not been brought to trial on the sedition charge by the end of 2007. At the time of his arrest he was still receiving medical treatment for injuries and health problems resulting from being assaulted in police custody in 2006.'


In another case of police malpractice, Amnesty reports, ‘In September the Prime Minister received the report of the one-person commission of inquiry established after the High Court in March 2006 ordered the government to investigate allegations of torture made by 16 defendants charged with treason. The government had not published the inquiry’s findings by the end of the year.’

The Amnesty report also looks at a list of other malpractices in Swaziland, including children’s’ rights, violence against women, and denial of the right to fair trial.

To see the full report click here.

Amnesty International has been monitoring alleged human right abuses in Swaziland for many years. To read some of the organization’s reports on Swaziland click here.

See also
‘SUNDAY’ PROBES POLICE KILLING

THE WRITING ON THE SWAZI WALL

The Times of Swaziland got itself in a bit of a state yesterday, when it tried to report about some rude words that had been written on a wall near an election registration post.

You see the words were about King Mswati III and they were not flattering.

‘What was written cannot be printed due to their contemptuous nature,’ the Times reported (28 May 2008).

And to top it all some pamphlets were found nearby which were ‘anti election’.

Dissent (about anything the ruling elite is in favour of) is not allowed in Swaziland, so the mere fact that someone has dared to say something nasty about the king is, I suppose, news. What interests me is that there is no vocabulary for the media to use when reporting such matters.

Reading the Times report I got the impression the newspaper desperately wanted to give the details, but the consequences they would face if they did would be too dire.

Here are some choice extracts from the report. The pamphlets were about, ‘The ongoing election registration process and the upcoming elections are said to be a waste of public funds to enrich those in the corridors of power.’

The Times said that the writing on the wall, when translated from the original siSwati, said, ‘away with … and the government who feeds on our money’. The writing didn’t actually say ‘dot, dot, dot’ – the Times put that in to spare our anger. I assume ‘dot, dot, dot’ is really King Mswati III. Mswati is known in some circles as ‘M3’ and the Observer newspaper group has taken to calling him ‘HMK’ (for, I assume, His Majesty the King), but I shall always think of him from this point forward as ‘dot, dot, dot’.

Anyhow, the Times continued, ‘Parliament was also not spared in the seditious statements as it was accused of passing laws like the recent Road Traffic Act, which according to the perpetrators, are made to enrich the government at the expense of the poor.’

So dangerous are these statements that the Times took it upon itself not to reveal the name of the political party that distributed the pamphlets, because the newspaper couldn’t confirm that they were genuine.

The Times reported that police confiscated the pamphlets; although it was not said what offence has been committed.

These are not the first ‘anti election’ pamphlets to have been found in Swaziland recently. As I reported on Wednesday (28 May 2008) pamphlets found at Zombodze were also seized by police.

There is a serious point to this. Swaziland is supposed to be having a ‘free and fair election’ (at least according to ‘dot, dot, dot’), but how can that be so if people are not allowed to discuss the issues? Swaziland is not a democracy and just about any of the many indices you care to use shows that too many people in the kingdom are poor, and the distribution of what wealth there is in Swaziland is poorly distributed. Only this week the newspapers have been reporting that one cabinet minister has more than E30million (more than 4 million US Dollars) in his personal bank account.

Why shouldn’t people be allowed to talk about this massive imbalance of wealth? And why shouldn’t they be allowed to question the present social setup that puts ‘dot, dot, dot’ above the rest of the population.

That, after all, is what elections are for. Except, of course, in the ’unique democracy’ that is Swaziland.

See also
‘DEMOCRACY IS EVIL’ – SWAZI CANON
SWAZI KING SAYS ELECTION IS FREE

‘TIMES’ LISTS SWAZI KING’S FAULTS

There was a very strange – and possibly quite dangerous – reader’s letter published in the Times of Swaziland on Monday (26 May 2008).

The anonymous writer gave a list of reasons why King Mswati III is reviled outside Swaziland.

To criticise the king in this way is very ‘un-Swazi’ and is something the media in Swaziland avoid doing. It is also dangerous for people to voice opinions against the king in everyday life as they and their families can easily be victimised by local chiefs. (This fact may explain why the letter was published unsigned).

The letter writer, who says he (she?) is a Swazi living in South Africa, wrote that people make ‘horrible comments’ about Swaziland.

‘Some say there are no roads, no proper houses, everybody lives in huts in the country except the King. They get all this from the net, saying the king drives in a E4 million (about 570,000 US Dollars) car and has a fleet of private jets and palaces, wives and children who live the most fabulous life and has a bank account worth billions of dollars.

‘They reprimand the king and say he is the reason why the country has the highest HIV and AIDS rate in the world.

‘They also blame the king for all the wrong things in the country they say he is the reason why the country’s economy is dropping drastically.’

The letter writer goes on to suggest that the king should subject himself to a press conference so that he can ‘exonerate himself from all the crimes that are placed upon him’.

The comments about the king being blamed for Swaziland’s economic ills will ring alarm bells with readers of this blog. In March 2007, the Times Sunday published a report sourced from Norway that said the king was being blamed by the International Monetary Fund for the poor economy in Swaziland. Once the report hit the streets of Swaziland, the king summoned the Times’ publisher and told him that unless he made an abject apology, the king would close down all the newspapers in the Times group. The apology was forthcoming.

King Mswati is presently on a trip to the Philippines, so the Times editor is safe for now – but don’t hold your breath.

See also
CLOSURE THREAT AT ‘TIMES’

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

SWAZI CIRCUMCISION - MORE FEARS

I wrote on Friday (23 May 2008) saying that Swazis are being misled into believing that circumcision helps in the fight against HIV transmission and that people should be cautious about having the operation because there is no clear concensus in the medical world that it helps.

I received a comment from 'Joe' on the subject. It is quite a long and detailed response, but it gives more valuable information on the subject. Here is his comment in full.



There seems to be a lack of critical thinking when it comes to HIV, circumcision, and Africa. It's like they've given up and are grasping at whatever half baked idea pops in their head and circumcision has always been a procedure looking for an excuse. What is being suggested is insane.


There is a very real risk that many people will miss the part that CONDOMS are STILL required. There are already stories leaking out about people overestimating the protective effects.


It is already happening, in this recent article in the Trinidad Express, we have this gem: "Aah," one subject said during trials, "I have a natural condom." Or from Rwanda, in a recent article by David Gusongoirye, Nothing can fight HIV/AIDS better than discipline, speaking of the new campaign a man was quoted as saying: "Mister, these Aids people have spoken for long about fighting the disease, but they had never come up with a practical solution as good as this one. Don't have sex, don't do this, don't do that. Eh, man, how can a young man such as I forfeit sex, eh?" And the condoms “ where is the sense in putting on a condom when you are having sex? Sex is about feeling, and so no young person likes them!" There are some circumcised man who will get HIV in part because now they believes they have a "natural condom".

In a study published on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV acquisition, heterosexual couples that included an HIV-infected partner used condoms consistently in a total of about 15,000 instances of intercourse. None of the uninfected partners became infected.[1]

So if we just get down to the proverbial brass tacks the whole issue boils down to the following question: If you are circumcised can you have unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status is positive or unknown and NOT worry about getting infected? Clearly the answer is no.

The critical point is you have only two options: A. You don't need a circumcision, but you need to always wear a condom and be choosy about your sex partners. B. You can get a circumcision but you need to always wear a condom and be choosy about your sex partners.

The primary advice just doesn't change. A recent article, The No-Brainer Syndrome, discusses this point particularly well; as does a recent, and far more rational, editorial in Future Medicine. As does this recent article in the African Journal of AIDS research.


Actually for some good reporting on the HIV, AIDS, Africa, and Circumcision mess you should visit this blog.


The Australian Federation of AIDS Organization's had two excellent publications on this issue: Their July 2007 statement and one that was distributed at at last year's International AIDS Society Conference. The second said in part: "How a man factors the known risk reduction alongside the unknown variables into his sexual decision-making is the important thing. Unless he opts to use condoms with all sexual partners whose HIV status is positive or unknown, he remains at risk of acquiring HIV (and if he does this, there is no need to be circumcised for added protection)."


That's good advice.There has been a lot of progress made in Africa over the last decade with regard to HIV.


In Rwanda, for example, the HIV/AIDS rate has fallen from 11% of the adult population in 2000 to 3% in 2007 using conventional HIV reduction strategies. There are no short cuts, no silver bullets.


The only way to deal with HIV in Africa is through safe sex, education, and pulling people out of poverty. We won't cut our way out of it and if we want to do them a favor we would buckle down and do the actual hard work that needs to be done. If condoms are not available everywhere we need to solve the distribution problem.


If they are for some reason not willing to use them this too must be fixed. It is a message that we shouldn't muddy lest we undo all the hardwork that has been done to ameliorate the epidemic over the last 20 years. And I am certain that is exactly what is going to happen.



[1] De Vincenzi, I. A Longitudinal Study of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Heterosexual Partners, New England Journal of Medicine 331 (1994): 341-6.

See also
SWAZI MEDIA AND CIRCUMCISION MYTH


‘DEMOCRACY IS EVIL’ – SWAZI CANON

Fresh evidence has emerged about how ignorant people are in Swaziland about democracy.

Father Canon Magongo of the Anglican Church called democracy ‘evil’ and said it would never be realised anywhere.

Magongo expressed his deep ignorance when he said that if a government is elected by 51 percent of the electorate, they override the other 49 percent. He called people who were champions of democracy, ‘evil’.

Magongo, whose comments were reported in the Swazi Observer on Monday (26 May 2008), was a speaker at a governance and elections workshop hosted by the Swaziland Council of Churches.

His remarks are deeply worrying because Magongo was supposed to be educating people about the forthcoming election in Swaziland. If he represents the calibre of people involved in the so-called ‘civic education’ on the elections that is taking place throughout the kingdom at present, we shouldn’t be surprised if people are less than enthusiastic about the elections.

One reason for Magongo’s ignorance is that Swaziland isn’t a democracy and despite a new constitution that came into being in 2006, the kingdom is still strictly controlled by King Mswati III. Political parties are banned and most avenues for open debate within Swaziland are blocked. This lack of opportunity to debate openly tends to generate ignorance. It is, however, a great pity that the Swazi media give space to people to peddle this ignorance to a wide audience.

In a separate elections-related story published on the same day, the Observer told of how ‘anti election’ pamphlets had been found at Zombodze. The newspaper described how election officers ‘learned with shock’ of the existence of the pamphlets.

The Observer reported, ‘The pamphlets were belittling the elections process and the political dispensation of the country.’

Of course, in non-democratic Swaziland such sentiments are not allowed and the pamphlets were taken to the police who are now investigating. Quite what crime has been committed here is unclear, but what is certain is that any publication that is critical of the status quo in Swaziland is unwelcome.

The Shiselweni Regional Administrator, when asked for a comment by the Observer said distributing anti-election pamphlets was ‘barbaric’.

So that just about sums up the attitude to the Swazi elections – ‘democracy is evil’ and anti-election sentiments are ‘barbaric’.

Maybe we should just abandon the elections now.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

‘NO FAULT WITH SWAZI CONSTITUTION’

Swaziland’s Supreme Court has given a ringing endorsement to the kingdom’s constitution.

In a judgement handed down last week the court stated that almost all members of the Swazi nation recommended that King Mswati III should keep his powers and they were also happy with the present system of Tinkhundla government.

The Swazi News reported (24 May 2008) that the Supreme Court turned down an application from civic society organisations to have the constitution set aside so that a new one could be written. The court said that there were no problems with the way that the constitution was written as the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) which drafted the constitution followed the guidelines it was given.

These guidelines made it impossible for any group in Swaziland to make representations about the constitution. Only individual people were allowed to have a say.

It is of course no surprise that the court made this decision as it was operating on a strict interpretation of the law. The law said groups couldn’t be represented and they weren’t. The interpretation was correct; it was the law itself that was bad.

I have written before that ever since the constitution was published and enacted in 2006, Royalty, politicians and the media have been telling us that we shouldn’t complain about its contents, because the constitution represents the will of the people.

However, we don’t really know what the will of the people was, because all the documents containing information on the way the constitution was drawn up, and what the people said during the period the constitution was drafted, have been kept secret.

But there was no secrecy about the secrecy. We have always known that the documents have not been available to the public

I don’t know why the media have allowed the myth of consultation to grow in the public’s mind. Even the media were banned from reporting on discussions while they were taking place.

This shroud of secrecy was well known. In 2003 after the first draft of the constitution was published, King Mswati III expressly requested a group of international lawyers known as the International Bar Association (IBA) to study the draft and to give him comments.

The IBA report, Striving for Democratic Governance, called the draft constitution ‘flawed’ and reported that one critic went so far as to call it ‘a fraud’.

It is worth looking at the IBA report in some detail because it clearly sets out what was going on during the drafting process, which was controlled by the CRC.

The CRC did not allow the judiciary or NGOs to contribute to the debate and ensured that individual Swazi people were interviewed in the presence of their chiefs. As a result the ‘overwhelming’ majority wanted the King to keep all his powers and wanted the position of traditional advisers to the King to be strengthened. They also wanted Swazi customs to have supremacy over any international rights obligations.

The IBA report states, ‘The terms of reference of the Commission did not allow expressly for group submissions, and as apparently they were not entertained, NGOs per se were effectively prevented from commenting. The IBA panel considers that, unfortunately, this in itself deprived the CRC of much valuable input.’

The IBA report goes on, ‘The CRC also faced a number of practical problems. There were disputes between local chiefs, collecting views during the rainy season in Swaziland was difficult, and several Commission members resigned.

‘The extent to which individual Swazis were consulted has also been questioned. The CRC did not keep records of the submissions it received and media coverage of submissions was apparently banned.

‘There is therefore no formal record of how Swazi citizens presented their views and of what in fact they said to the CRC.

‘Furthermore, information was elicited in a highly charged atmosphere. Individuals were reportedly asked, in the presence of chiefs, whether they wanted to retain the King and whether they preferred political parties.

‘The CRC report states that “there is a small minority which recommends that the powers of the monarchy must be limited” and continued that “an overwhelming majority of the nation recommends that political parties must be banned”.

‘The report concludes that “an overwhelming majority recommends that the system of Government based on the Tinkhundla must continue” and, as well as the ban on political parties being maintained, that the executive powers of the King should be maintained, the position of traditional advisers to the King strengthened, and Swazi customs have supremacy over any contrary international rights obligations.’

I am bound to say that given the way that the people were ‘consulted’ with chiefs present, and the powers that chiefs hold over their subjects, it is difficult to imagine the people coming to any other conclusion.

See also
SECRECY AND THE SWAZI CONSTITUTION

SWAZI HIV BRANDING ROW GOES ON

Pressure is mounting for the university lecturer who said that people who are HIV positive should be branded on their bodies so that others could tell who they were to withdraw his remarks.

But Dr Eliot Tofa, writing in the Swazi Observer yesterday (26 May 2008), says, ‘I did nothing wrong’.

The controversy started last Wednesday (21 May 2008) when the Observer published Tofa’s remarks on its front page.

Since then reaction has been almost totally against him. The Observer ran a poll asking ‘is Dr Eliot Tofa right in suggesting that HIV positive people should be branded to control the spread of AIDS?’ A total of 99 percent of the 2829 people who responded to the poll said he was wrong.

The Swaziland Aids Support Organisation (SASO) condemned Tofa’s remarks as ‘senseless’. The Times of Swaziland reported yesterday (26 May 2008) SASO saying that ‘his statement was tantamount to blatant stigmatisation and called upon him to withdraw it forthwith’.

SASO representative Vusi Matsebula is quoted saying,

‘If the branding of people living with HIV is done, it should start with Dr Tofa himself. He should know that the people living with HIV are in a situation they did not wish to be in and as such they should not be stigmatised.’

Bongane Zwane, writing in her column in the Weekend Observer (24 May 2008), said that ‘the whole country is abuzz with comments’ after Tofa’s first article. Some were angry because he seemed to be suggesting that people who were HIV positive had brought it upon themselves.

All this prompted Zwane to comment,

‘Dr Eliot Tofa should be stopped. His utterances have taken us back to the dark ages and quite frankly he must just shut up. While we live in a society that encourages freedom of expression, we also need to recognise that all freedoms come with responsibilities.’

Dr Tofa, himself writing in the Observer yesterday makes some attempt to further explain his reasons for making the original statement. As I wrote on Friday (23 May 2008) Dr Tofa’s commands of reasoning and of the English language are poor and it is difficult to follow his arguments. In his latest article he seems to be saying that he is in favour of the ABC principle of HIV avoidance (abstinence, be faithful, use a condom), but I honestly can’t be sure.

What the Observer has still not told its readers is why it felt Tofa’s views on HIV were worth reporting. Tofa is a lecturer in the Theology and Religious Studies Department of the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) and has no obvious expertise in the subject of HIV. Nor, has the Observer come out with a clear statement as to what the newspaper’s own position is regarding the branding of HIV people.

Tofa’s comments have become a national talking point – the Observer owes it to its readers to answer these questions.

See also
‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ HIV HATRED UPDATE

Monday, 26 May 2008

SWAZI TV ‘NOT WORTH PAYING FOR’

A threat to prosecute viewers in Swaziland who do not have TV licences has sparked intense criticism of the quality of television in the kingdom.

People have been warned that court notices will go out to non-payers in August and they will face fines of up to E500 (about 70 US Dollars) or up to six months’ imprisonment.

The Times of Swaziland newspaper has discovered that people are refusing to buy the licences because the quality of programmes – especially on state controlled Swazi TV – is so bad. They also say that the TV station is just a mouthpiece of the Swazi government.

The Times reported on Thursday (22 May 2008), ‘Viewers say the local station fails to provide them with good programmes worth watching.

‘Interviewed members of the public said they were not in any way prepared to pay their licences until the station improved its programmes while others argue that they do not have access to the station’s transmission.’

The Times interviewed members of the public about the quality of television. It reported that people would only speak if their identities were not given, because they feared being victimised and their comments being used against them in court.

One person said she never watched Swazi TV because there was nothing worth watching. Instead she watched Channel Swazi (Channel S), the kingdom’s only other television station, ‘for good local news coverage’.

She added that she didn’t want to pay the licence fee ‘just to help them [Swazi TV] run their propaganda’.

Another said he had used his licence fee money to put towards the cost of a decoder to receive satellite television, ‘because they [Swazi TV] have dismally failed to deliver what is worth the viewers’.

A different viewer said Swazi TV was not worth paying for. ‘They can easily pay for all the junk they give us to watch with the money they get from advertising.’

I am fascinated by the reactions of the people the Times spoke to. They are very well aware that they are being short changed and can see that Swazi TV is in reality only a propaganda mouthpiece for the government.

I have written many times before about the poor quality of the television in Swaziland, and I include both Swazi TV and Channel Swazi here. I believe both channels take their viewers for granted by offering stale, imported programmes that have no relevance to them. It is easier for the stations to air US chat shows and lame comedies, than produce home-grown programming that would engage Swazi viewers.

Until the programmes improve Swazi TV cannot expect people to willing buy television licences. It’s day light robbery.

See also
WATCHING SWAZI TV ‘HARMS CULTURE’

Friday, 23 May 2008

‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ HIV HATRED UPDATE

The Swazi Observer has repeated the advice that people who are HIV positive should have marks branded on their bodies to advertise the fact.

The Observer yesterday (Thursday 22 May 2008) gave a full page to university lecturer Dr Eliot Tofa to repeat his hatred on the subject. I wrote yesterday that the Observer had reported Tofa’s remarks on its front page on Wednesday.

This time the newspaper has given him more space to expand on the subject. I’d like to give you details of Tofa’s ‘argument’ but his reasoning (as well as his command of the English language) is so confused that it is impossible to follow the detail.

What is clear is that Tofa believes that all means of HIV prevention have failed so far and his plan is the way to save Swaziland from the virus.

Even though the Observer has now devoted two days to Tofa, the newspaper has failed to explain to its readers who he is. We know that he is a lecturer in the Theology and Religious Studies Department at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), but we don’t know what his expertise is in HIV AIDS. Nor do we know why the Observer thinks his views are worth publishing at this time.

As well as repeating Tofa’s comments, the Observer published some reaction on his views from the newspaper’s readers.

They are all critical of Tofa – and some are almost as extreme as he is himself.

One writer says Tofa should be ‘lynched’. Another notes that Tofa is not a Swazi and ‘not from our shores’ and is bringing unwelcome ‘exotic’ ideas. Another likens Tofa’s attitudes to people with HIV to those of Adolf Hitler and the Jews.

What both Tofa’s arguments and the reactions to it show is that it is very difficult to get reasoned argument in Swaziland’s newspapers. People take extreme views and in effect shout at one another across a great divide.

I don’t want to be one of the shouters, but can I (in a reasonable tone of voice) ask the Observer to share with us the background to this story. Who is Tofa and why is the newspaper giving such space to his views? And what stance does the Observer itself take on branding of HIV positive people?

See also
‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ HIV HATRED

SWAZI MEDIA AND CIRCUMCISION MYTH

What is it about male circumcision that makes people in the Swazi media lose their critical faculties?

I have lost count of the number of reports that tell us that having the snip will help to control the spread of HIV AIDS.

There were two this week in the Times of Swaziland alone. The first was in the truly dreadful column, Let’s Talk About Sex, last Friday (16 May 2008) and the other was on Tuesday (20 May 2008).

Tuesday’s report was about a member of parliament who told the nation that where men were circumcised ‘the rate of HIV AIDS infections was drastically declining’.

He gave no evidence beyond saying that the Swazi government and NGOs were ‘seriously canvassing’ for men to have the operation.

Swaziland has been featured in the international media as a place where circumcision is being used in the fight against HIV infection. One report in the Globe and Mail, Canada, (27 March 2008) even told of a near ‘riot’ at one medical point because there was not enough time to treat all the men who had turned up.

The report went on to say that the Swaziland Government wanted 200,000 men in the kingdom (with a population of just fewer than one million) to have the snip.

When the story appeared on the Globe and Mail website, many readers wrote in to dismiss the idea that circumcision helps in the fight against HIV infection.

What worries me is that people in Swaziland are being misled into believing that circumcision can help, when the international medical community continues to debate whether there is any evidence that it can.

An organisation called Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) has published a lengthy report in which it urges that ‘Both the public and the medical community must guard against being overwhelmed by the hyperbolic promotion of male circumcision.’

DOC reports that there is no clear evidence as to the effects of circumcision.

‘One study found that male circumcision had no protective effect for women and another study found that male circumcision increased risk for women.

‘[A different study] found more HIV infection in circumcised men.

‘[Yet another study] found no evidence that lack of circumcision is a risk factor for HIV infection.


‘A study from India found little difference between circumcised and non-circumcised men.

‘A study carried out in South Africa found that male circumcision offered only a slight protective effect.

‘A study carried out among American naval personnel found no difference in the incidence of HIV infection between non-circumcised and circumcised men.'


This leads DOC to conclude, ‘Instituting a program of male circumcision is of dubious value. It will divert resources from proven methods of epidemic control and it may generate a false sense of security in males who have been circumcised. The desensitization of the penis that frequently results from male circumcision is likely to make men less willing to use condoms. A program of male circumcision very likely may worsen the epidemic.’

The group has its own idea on why places like Swaziland may have higher rates of HIV infection than elsewhere, ‘The epidemic in Africa may have little to do with lack of circumcision and everything to do with the percentage of the female population engaged in female sex work. One study found a definite link between the number of female sex workers in the population and the level of HIV infection.’

Before jumping on the bandwagon, journalists in Swaziland should educate themselves and their readers about the truth about circumcision.

To access the report click here.

SWAZI COCKS GO GLOBAL

Can someone help me out here – is the story about the banning of roosters in Swaziland a hoax?

A report has been flying around the Internet this week saying that Mbabane council has banned people from keeping roosters because they are too noisy.

It has appeared in numerous news websites, and also on humour sites, across the world. But the story was never published in Swazi newspapers until yesterday (Thursday 22 May 2008) when the Swazi Observer lifted it from the Internet.

What has made it so appealing is the reference to troublesome cocks. (Readers in some parts of the world will immediately get my point here, but others will wonder what on Earth I’m talking about.)

The report seems to have originated with the AFP news agency in France, which sent it across the globe.

You can read it here and make your own mind up.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

‘SWAZI OBSERVER’ HIV HATRED

The Swazi Observer made a terrible mistake when it published on its front page a call for all HIV positive people to be branded on their bodies so people could tell they had the virus.

The Observer yesterday (Wednesday 21 May 2008) quoted a university lecturer Dr Eliot Tofa saying that preventative interventions to stop the spread of HIV in Swaziland had so far failed. He said that people who were HIV positive should be branded on the back or thigh so that other people would know not to have sex with them.

Tofa went so far as to quote Genesis in the Bible in support of his absurd idea. Have you noticed how many bigots in Swaziland resort to Genesis or other Old Testament books to give spurious credence to their nonsense?

There was absolutely no reason for the Observer to publish this report. Tofa was not speaking at any public arena, nor had he published an academic paper or book on the topic. For all we know he may have made his comments in a bar after ten bottles of beer.

Tofa is a lecturer in the Theology and Religious Studies Department at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) so he doesn’t even appear to have any special expertise on the subject of HIV and AIDS.

The Observer therefore had no justification for publishing the comments that amount to hate speech.

The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) has a code of conduct that expressly cautions journalists against spreading hate speech. Article 13 of the code says that ‘journalists shall avoid by all means the publication of speech that might promote hatred, spite and conflict’. Tofa’s remarks clearly hold up HIV positive people to hatred. How else can you interpret the call for them to be branded so everyone else can easily spot them?

There is no justification for publishing this report, unless the Observer itself supports the view and wanted an excuse to preach to the public. I’d like to think this isn’t the case, but we must remember that it was the Observer that gave a full page to the hate group Prolife Movement in Anglophone Africa in February 2008 to peddle its nonsense about HIV AIDS, homosexuals, feminism and abortion.

Is this connection coincidental or does the Observer have a hidden agenda?

The Observer made a small attempt at balance yesterday by reporting the response of the Swaziland Network of People Living With HIV and AIDS (SWANNEPHA) to Tofa.

SWANNEPHA Director, Thembi Nkambule called his views ‘Stone Age’ and ‘illiterate’.

But by the time SWANNEPHA was interviewed, the damage was already done.

See also
‘OBSERVER’ BACKS SWAZI HATE GROUP

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

SWAZI ELECTION ILLEGAL START

Voter registration for the national election in Swaziland started this week, even though the date of the election has yet to be set.

Nor have issues about who is to make the decision on the date been resolved. The Swazi Constitution says it’s the business of the Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC), but the advisory committee of King Mswati III, Liqoqo, says only the king can decide the date.

Then there is the legality of the EBC itself. Democrats in Swaziland believe the members of the EBC were selected illegally and members do not have the correct qualifications for the job. A court appeal on the matter is presently pending.

The Times of Swaziland reported yesterday (Tuesday 20 May 2008) that on the first day of registration, registration points were ‘either ill prepared, ill equipped or the people ill informed about what was expected of them’.

In addition, the Times reported, ‘Some constituencies such as Nkilongo are in protest over the registration of the election officers in their area.’

This prompted the Times to ask in an editorial comment whether the elections will be ‘free and fair’ as King Mswati III has promised.

The Times also criticises the EBC for ‘trotting around the country painting multi-parties black and blaming them for wars’. This, the newspaper says, is not ‘civic education’. It accuses the EBC of ‘dictating not educating people freely and fairly’.

The EBC also comes in for a blistering attack from the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO).

In a media statement released yesterday (20 May 2008), SCCCO coordinator Musa Hlophe says that widows have been illegally excluded from registering to vote for traditional reasons. They have been turned away ‘for the sole reason that they are widows in mourning dress’. Hlophe says that this is illegal because there is no law preventing widows from registering.

Hlophe says,

‘It has been obvious from the outset that this Commission’s appointment, qualifications, competence and experience are all outside the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. This illegal exclusion of the widows is just the latest in a series of gaffes where the Commission has ignored and flouted the law, the constitution, common sense and good practice. How many more blunders does it take before the Commission realises how far out of its depth it is and does the honourable thing and resign.

‘The Election and Boundaries Commission and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Affairs’ disregard for the rule of law and parliamentary independence have shown the true colours of the Commission. It is just as obvious that in recent closed meetings with traditional authorities that its appearance of independence is fatally compromised. This is not an independent rigorous, well organised and technically capable commission but a toothless rubberstamp for labadzala – nothing more, nothing less.’


This is only the first day of the voter registration for elections that are widely expected to take place in November 2008. EBC Chairman Chief Gija Dlamini is quoted in the Times (20 May 2008) saying that people who put the registration process into disarray should be sent to jail.

If Day One is anything to go by, registration is already in disarray and the EBC must take much of the blame for this

Chief Gija is meant to be in charge and must take the responsibility. I hope he has his toothbrush packed ….

See also
SWAZI ELECTION PARTY DOUBLE TALK

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

SWAZI BLOGSITE WORTH A VISIT

I wrote in April 2008 about the lack of blogs on the Internet that are written by Swazis.

Now, I hear of one that is up and running and dedicated to ‘the people, young and old, who fight oppression in Swaziland and the world over’.

The blogsite called Tinchapheli was started by Jikani Manvatsi, from Manzini, in May 2007, but Jikani tells me that it got a bit lost in cyberspace – so much so that even Jikani couldn’t find it while searching on Google.

But Jikani is trying again and has this week put two new posts on the blog which is dedicated to the memory of ‘Dr Ambrose Phesheya Zwane, Didiza and all the political activists that did not live to see the political emancipation of Swaziland. You can find the blogsite here.

Jikani’s point about not being able to find websites on search engines is a good one. My own experience with the blogsite you are reading now is that it takes a few weeks before the search engines actually find a new blogsite, but when they do they return to it again and again. To get noticed it helps if you update the blogsite with new material regularly.

Another good way to get people to visit your blog is to tell them about it. Word of mouth works very well, even in cyberspace.

Jikani reckons that there could be a lot more blogsites about Swaziland out there that we don’t know about because they don’t appear in search engines.

If that’s true and you have a blogsite that you think would interest the pro-democracy community in Swaziland let me know about it and I’ll mention it on this blog.

One blogsite from Swaziland that you do see on the search engines is by Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland which describes itself as ‘for all friends and donors to the Cabrini Ministries’ work at St Philip’s Mission, and supporters of the Cabrini Sisters in Swaziland’.

Last Thursday (15 May 2008) they wrote about how happy they were with a Swazi Observer newspaper article ‘that was written by Calsile Masilela, a writer for the Swazi Observer (one of two major newspapers here) that came to visit us, and who we feel really understands our works.

‘As the adult generation ages 15-49 struggles with a 34% HIV prevalence rate and more people that age are dying, their children are left behind as orphans to be taken care of by extended family or neighbours. Grandmothers (gogos) like Gogo Shongwe portrayed in the article often take on caretaking duties at an age when they would normally expect care themselves.

‘We at Cabrini Ministries try to ease the burden on families affected by HIV/AIDS by helping to raise orphaned and vulnerable children with a co-parenting approach, providing shelter, food, clothing, school fees, psychosocial support, health care, etc. for orphaned children while also helping them maintain a connection with home and their remaining family members. We also try to help struggling caretakers like Gogo Shongwe with food and health care.’

You can see the full article here.

See also
WE NEED MORE SWAZI BLOGS

SWAZILAND NEEDS MORE MEDIA OUTLETS

It will be hard to create more media outlets in Swaziland, because the kingdom is too poor to support them.

That was one of the key findings from a meeting held to discuss media freedom in Swaziland.

The Weekend Observer reported (17 May 2008) that there had been some attempts to start new publications, but these had closed down after getting into financial difficulties and this denied people their freedom of choice.

The Weekend Observer was reporting on a meeting of media folk in Siteki held to commemorate World Press Freedom Day.

Participants noted that in Swaziland today there is not freedom of the media and one way to tackle this would be to have more media outlets. At the moment just about all broadcasting is state controlled and there are only two newspaper groups (one, the Observer, is in effect owned by King Mswati III; the other, the Times, is a private company).

The Weekend Observer reported, that independent publications such as Business Sunday and the sports paper Ligoli closed because of ‘financial challenges’.

It is true that such publications closed because they could not attract enough readers or companies that wanted to advertise in them.

This should come as no surprise, however, because Swaziland is a desperately poor country with about 70 per cent of the population of just under one million living in abject poverty. They have no money to buy newspapers and advertisers do not want to advertise to them because they have no money to spend.

Until the economy of the kingdom improves spectacularly that situation will not change.

Despite this obvious economic reality there are many media people in Swaziland who want to try to create more media outlets. According to the Weekend Observer, media professionals want financial institutions in Swaziland to help them launch new outlets.

They claim that people in Swaziland are crying out for a third newspaper to rival the Times and the Observer.

I don’t know where the evidence for this is. It’s true that there are a number of improvements that could be made to the existing newspapers, but that doesn’t mean that any new newspaper would be able to do any better. If you look at the Times and the Observer, for example, between 40 and 50 percent of their content is taken up with sport, leisure and entertainment. Would a new newspaper be any different? What would they put in its place?

Would a new newspaper not concentrate on reporting from the urban areas of Swaziland (as the existing newspapers do)? Would it report less about the king and the status quo, than the papers we already have? I think the answer to all the questions here is probably, ‘no’.

The Weekend Observer reported Comfort Mabuza, the national director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa - Swaziland chapter (MISA), saying there should be more pluralism and diversity in the media.

He said that aspiring media owners often were too optimistic about the amount of money they could get from advertising. He said they should get more training in business enterprise before they try to start up new ventures. Also, donor agencies might be approached to give start up money to help new media ventures.

He advised aspiring media entrepreneurs to contact the Southern Africa Institute for Media Entrepreneurship Development (SAIMED) in Botswana, which had been tasked by MISA with helping emerging media enterprises to set management controls, sales and marketing ‘and other innovating ways of sustaining media business’.

I am reminded that in June 2007 MISA Swaziland unveiled a report that suggested there could be sufficient advertising in the kingdom to support small local / community newspapers in Swaziland. As far as I know nothing further has been done on this project.

Personally, I support the demand for more media in Swaziland, but I doubt if there is much money around to support commercial print media. A much better way forward would be to set up small community radio stations in the kingdom. These could be owned and controlled by members of the community they serve.

If experiences across the world are anything to go by, these stations could be set up with very little cost. The United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is always willing to meet the costs of studios and transmitters. The running costs of such stations would be low because they would be run and operated by members of the community, often acting as volunteers.

This is a simple way of introducing pluralism and diversity into media in Swaziland. I doubt if it will happen if history is anything to go by. Any attempts to set up community radio in Swaziland have been stalled by a government that says it is in support of such initiatives, but which fails to come up with the licences to let it happen.

No one who observes Swaziland would be in the least surprised by this. Broadcasting is strictly controlled by the state. Only ‘authorised’ voices are allowed on the airways and views that run contrary to the monarchy or the government’s are not allowed to be heard.

With such a control over what information people can receive why on earth would the ruling elite allow community radio to operate?

No, I’m afraid that even though Swaziland should have more voices, change will not come. Not until we have a proper democracy in the kingdom and its rulers can be held to account.

See also
A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS
WHAT’S IN THE SWAZILAND PAPERS?

Monday, 19 May 2008

SWAZI ELECTION PARTY DOUBLE TALK

Political parties are legal in Swaziland, but they are not allowed to compete for political office.

That is according to Chief Gija Dlamini, the chair of the Swazi Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

This is the same man who previously said that when the Swaziland Constitution talked about allowing freedom of association it meant freedom to join a soccer club, not to form a political party.

Chief Gija is under attack in pro-democracy circles in Swaziland for being unsuitable for the position of chair of the EBC. Chief Gija is variously described as ‘an electrician’ or an ‘electrical engineer’, when the Swazi Constitution states that the EBC chair ought to be a senior judge.

Chief Gija’s latest remarks were reported in the Times Sunday yesterday (18 May 2008). The newspaper reported that a distinguished political expert from the United States (with senior experience in states of the former Soviet Union) had met this week with the EBC and concluded ‘that they did not understand how political parties operate’.

The Times Sunday reported that Dr Robert Herman, Director of Programs at Freedom House, ‘had a tough time, trying to solicit their views on what they thought of democracy, human rights and elections’.

The Times Sunday reported, ‘During a press briefing on Friday Dr Herman explained that members of the EBC told him that political parties were not good for Swaziland because they caused wars and pointed to the situation in Kenya as a perfect example.’

The report continued,

‘Dr Herman said having spoken to a number of different spectrum of society in Swaziland, he came to the considered view that Swaziland was not a democracy and that a lot needed to be done in that regard.

‘He said that after learning that this country was to go to the polls later this year, he met the EBC and when he spoke to them he got the impression that they did not understand how political parties operate.’


The Times Sunday also reported, ‘Gija said he assured Dr Herman that political parties do exist in Swaziland, but it’s that they cannot compete for political office.’

The issue of the legality or otherwise of political parties in Swaziland has been receiving a lot of attention in the newspapers recently.

In the same edition of the Times Sunday (18 May 2008) King Mswati III’s Private Secretary Sam Mkhombe is quoting saying that political parties are allowed in Swaziland.

‘He challenged all those who say political parties are banned to show him the piece of legislation which prohibits political parties to operate in the country,’ the newspaper said.

One might add to this challenge a further challenge to Chief Gija to prove that if political parties are allowed to exist in Swaziland what is it that prevents them from standing in the election?

Mkhombe’s assertion that political parties are allowed in Swaziland follows a similar statement reported in the Swazi Observer (5 May 2008) from the kingdom’s Attorney-General (AG) Majahenkaba Dlamini to the effect that the constitution allows political parties.

The Observer reported that his audience of human rights activists greeted the AG’s remark with disbelief.

As well they might. Vusi Sibisi, writing in the Times Sunday (18 May 2008) makes a very valid practical point that the Swazi government has not put in place the legal framework that allows political parties to be registered and to operate.

I doubt that political parties would be allowed to meet to discuss the election. Here’s a challenge of my own. Why doesn’t a group in Swaziland call itself a political party and then announce that it is to hold a public meeting at which it will announce its candidates for the forthcoming election and also outline its manifesto for the coming elections.

Let’s see how far they get in Swaziland’s unique democracy.

There was another very sinister story in the Times Sunday (18 May 2008) regarding the elections. It is reported that the King’s advisory council, Liqoqo, summoned the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Prince David to them to explain why the EBC thought it had the right to decide on the date of the election when this was the preserve of the king.

Has nobody at Liqoqo read the constitution?……

See also
PARTIES BANNED FROM SWAZI ELECTION

Friday, 16 May 2008

REALITY OF SWAZI POLICE BRUTALITY

Evidence of the casual brutality Swazi police use against people suspected of crime was reported yesterday (15 May 2008).

A 21-year-old man told magistrates how police brutally assaulted him in the cells, with officers taking turns to beat him with whatever they could lay their hands on. One hit him on the head with a hammer.

In a news report that told more about what it is really like to live in Swaziland than the newspaper probably intended, the Times of Swaziland told the story of four youths who appeared in court for allegedly breaking into the Mbabane Police Mess and stealing alcohol.

In a report headed Youth tortured by investigating officers, the Times said that police, acting on a tip-off raided the homes of the alleged criminals.

The Times reported one suspect saying that he was woken at home in the middle of the night by a loud bang at the door.

A police officer kicked the door to force entry and then pointed a gun in the face of the suspect ‘threatening to shoot in the process’.

The Times reported the suspect saying, ‘I was staring death in the face, and what was most threatening is that I could not make up of what on earth could I have done to provoke the stranger before me.’

The police then forced the suspect out of bed and took him to the police station, dressed only in his underwear.

In the holding cell ‘he experienced the worst of brutality, with the officers taking turns to beat him with whatever they could lay their hands on’.

The Times reported, ‘He said although he could not remember all the assortment of gadgets that were used to hit him, he still remembered being bludgeoned in the head with a hammer.

‘I almost lost consciousness and the injuries I sustained led to one officer taking me to hospital, where I was attended to by a doctor,’ the Times reported the suspect saying.

The allegations of the suspect were corroborated by the other suspects ‘who alluded having received death threats while the sleuths were trying to extract information,’ the Times reported.

The suspect told the court, ‘At one point I was told that I would be taken to kaMabhala [a thick bush in the outskirts of the capital city], where my return would only be guaranteed by a confession that I participated in the break-in at the police mess.’

The Times reported another suspect who told the court that during his interrogation, ‘he became the victim of the infamous “tubing” (an unorthodox method allegedly employed by cops to force confession, whereby a plastic bag is used to cover the suspect’s face to asphyxiate him).’

The Times journalist who wrote the report seems to have realised that there was more to this story than simply the report of a court case, making reference to the African Commission on People and Human Rights that is presently taking place in Swaziland.

Delegates heard that Swaziland is a major violator of human rights. This is undoubtedly true and the Swazi police are among the biggest violators. It was only this March (2008) that they showed their true colours as they brutally attacked textile workers who were lawfully striking for higher wages and better working conditions.

Despite condemnations of the police action by the Swazi Prime Minister, I have heard of no action being taken against the officers who were acting unlawfully.

I doubt either, that we will hear any more about the Mbabane police who allegedly made the attack on the youths in the Times’ report.

Truly, in Swaziland the police are a law unto themselves.

See also
SWAZI UNIONS AID ATTACKED WORKERS

Thursday, 15 May 2008

SWAZI PRESS FREEDOM WOES

Following the Swazi Prime Minister’s assertion that there is no media freedom problem in Swaziland, comes yet another international report stating the exact opposite.

The International Press Institute (IPI) in its annual World Press Freedom Review, published last week (8 May 2008), investigates the state of media freedom in Swaziland for the year 2007.

Unsurprisingly, for anyone who follows the media scene in the kingdom it found a lot of problems. It shares many of the concerns that were featured in the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) So This Is Democracy? report, published on 3 May 2008.

The IPI also highlighted the way the libel laws were used in Swaziland to try to silence legitimate journalistic inquiry. You can read the full IPI report here.

I noticed two points from the IPI report of 2007 that I have not yet seen highlighted in any other press freedom review of Swaziland.

The first involved a controversial pastor called Justice Dlamini.

IPI reports,

‘Swaziland’s media was this year also confronted with a more surprising source of harassment. On 2 March, Justice Dlamini, a controversial church pastor, declared during a sermon that he was praying for the death of two journalists, Times of Swaziland managing editor Martin Dlamini and reporter Nhlanhla Mathunjwa, several days after the publication of a story detailing a squabble between the pastor and one of his subordinates over a church vehicle. Dlamini, who insisted the story “lowered his dignity,” said he had prayed to God to remove the two journalists from the face of the earth “to teach the media a lesson,” adding that this would also be a lesson to other journalists tempted to write “badly” about church ministers. The remarks triggered widespread condemnation, including from Cabinet Ministers present at the sermon, a Times editorial on the matter, and a public statement by MISA Swaziland, emphasising that such threats undermined the principle of freedom of expression and calling on Dlamini to follow more appropriate channels for addressing his gripes against journalists.’

IPI also reports on a more positive development,

‘Swaziland’s journalistic community also received some favourable attention, with the Index on Censorship, an organisation that issues annual awards to those who use journalism, literature, whistleblowing, films or campaigns to defend freedom of expression, selecting Swaziland’s Siphiwe Hlophe for the campaigning award, based on her work on behalf of HIV-infected women.’

So there you have it, Mr Prime Minister, It doesn’t matter how much you try to deny the truth; the whole world knows that media are not free in Swaziland.

See also
SWAZILAND MEDIA FREEDOM DAY
SWAZI P.M. ATTACKED ON PRESS FREEDOM

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

SWAZI MEDIA ‘UNDER CLOSURE THREAT’

Media in Swaziland operate under a perennial threat of closure if they do not toe the line, according to one of the kingdom’s most senior journalists.

The threats are real ‘and invariably come from the most powerful state apparatus’.

It has happened in the past, when the state closed down newspapers that it did not like.

Journalists in Swaziland, fearful that traditional authorities might attack them and their families, ‘have mastered the art of self-censorship, just so they can ensure their daily survival’.

Vusi Sibisi, writing in the Times Sunday (11 May 2008), said that although the new Swazi Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, in effect, the ruling elite in Swaziland is not allowing this to happen. Swazi Law and Custom and other ‘traditional’ values are considered to be more important than the constitution and this hampers journalists when they want to hold powerful people and institutions in Swaziland to account.

Sibisi wrote,

‘Disingenuous apologists of the state would point out specific media successes in bringing to the public attention sensitive stories such as the grand theft of E28 million (about 4 million US Dollars) from the taxpayer by politicians and government apparatchiks towards the purchase of an executive jet for the king is an example of how free the Swazi press is.

‘Of course, they would conveniently forget that this could be the tip of an iceberg, as it always is, to lull the public into thinking and believing that they have an effective watchdog when a lot more rot worse than the E28 million jetgate scandal goes unreported for fear of reprisals from the political elite.

‘Thus what the media in fact publishes does not and can never mirror the state of press freedom because there is so much more that goes unreported or unpublished because of overt and insidious threats that journalists have to deal with on a daily basis.

‘As such it would be simplistic to conclude about the state of press freedom on the basis of published news stories from a remote position without having an insight into and reflecting on why some news stories never see the light of day.’


On Swazi Law and Custom, Sibisi wrote,

‘And in the context of Swazi society, covert and insidious threats to press freedom are an everyday experience for a journalist because they are largely derived from Swazi Law and Custom and its concomitant baggage of traditional values and ethos, a very nebulous institution that enjoys boundless jurisdiction and [is] only accountable to the ruling elite.

‘As it were it is not a coincidence but by design that the constitution is also subordinate to Swazi Law and Custom. Swazi Law and Custom is a weapon of choice of the ruling class because it can be unleashed to make life hell for those who cross the paths of the ruling elite. By its very nature, Swazi Law and Custom is not compatible with equity justice as well as constitutionalism but is authoritarian in nature.

‘Thus journalists often find themselves having to weigh their professional responsibilities with not only their social welfare, but also those of their families.

‘Because of the insecurity over land tenure owing to the status of the country being more of a fiefdom than a nation state, citizens are forever at the mercy of traditional leaders who have the right to evict them at any time they so wish.

‘And a crusading investigative journalist is prone to be considered disrespectful and trigger the ire of traditional leaders and get evicted along with his / her entire family.

‘And this being the last line any journalist would want to cross, the alternative is to stay clear of those stories or issues that might lead to confrontation by developing extra-sensory self-censorship mechanisms.’

See also
SWAZILAND POLICE RAID MAGAZINE
LONG HISTORY OF SWAZI CENSORSHIP

SWAZI FREEDOM ACTIVIST ‘TRAITOR’

A leading freedom advocate in Swaziland has been branded a traitor by colleagues after saying that life in Swaziland isn’t as bad as all that.

Musa Hlophe, coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisation (SCCCO)made his remarks at a meeting to mark World Press Freedom Day held in Mbabane on 2 May 2008

Hlophe’s remarks were seized upon by state radio Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS). These comments from such a high profile freedom activist were a Godsend to the propaganda outfit as Hlophe seemed to be giving comfort to the ruling elite in Swaziland. In Hlophe’s own words SBIS ‘went to town about it’.

Hlophe returned to the theme in his weekly column in the Times Sunday (11 May 2008). He wrote that his remarks had brought comment from people both on the political right and the left. The left said that what he said was ‘an act of betrayal’.

Hlophe repeated his original remarks to the effect that people in Swaziland were better off than those in Zimbabwe or Burma.

‘I said that while I can criticise those in power for their misgovernance of the country, they have not found it necessary to put me and others like me behind bars. I said for that we needed to acknowledge God and thank Him for that,’ he wrote.

For this, Hlophe said, he was branded a traitor.

Calling him a traitor is a bit strong, but he is seriously misguided. To say that people in Swaziland should count their blessings because they are not as badly off as someone else is a bit like saying that a person put in jail for thirty years for a crime he did not commit should be grateful that he is not locked up for forty years.

The fact is that under any kind of definition you care to choose, Swaziland is not a free country. This is recognised throughout the free world. And Hlophe is not quite correct when he says that no one is prosecuted in Swaziland for their beliefs. Tell that to the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) the banned political party and the people beaten by the police when they try to demand their constitutional rights. We might also ask those Swazis presently in exile abroad (because remaining in the kingdom is unsafe for them) what they think.

Hlophe is not a traitor, but on this occasion he has been a bit foolish and has given enormous comfort to the enemies of democracy in Swaziland.

See also
SWAZILAND MEDIA FREEDOM DAY

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

SWAZI WOMEN DENIED RIGHTS

I’m glad to see that the Swazi Observer newspaper is giving us more reports from the rural areas.

Readers can learn so much about what life is really like in Swaziland from such reports in the Swazi media.

There was a good example of this in a report in the Observer on Friday (9 May 2008) which showed how women in the kingdom are discriminated against.

A report headlined Women charged with wearing pants told how three women in Dvokolwako had been summoned by ‘traditional authorities’ for wearing pants (trousers) after elders in the area had banned them.

One women told how someone reported her after she was spotted wearing jeans as she was walking to the shops. Another woman was said to be wearing pants at her home when she was charged.

One woman was reported by the Observer saying that leaders barred women from wearing pants because it was against culture.

The Observer added, ‘She viewed culture as a mechanism that is sometimes used to oppress people, especially women. She said culture should be dynamic and change with time.’

Another woman from the same community who was found wearing pants said she would not stop wearing them

‘I do not see any harm in wearing my jeans since I feel it is better than wearing mini skirts,’ the Observer reported her saying.

Parents, interviewed by the Observer said their children were being abused.

‘They said the elders should accept that this was another era in life where young people needed to live their lives differently from the time of their ancestors,’ the Observer reported.

Another mother told the Observer that her children would go on wearing pants and there was nothing she could do about it.

‘It means we will pay fines every single day because our children continue wearing pants even if they are warned against it,’ she told the Observer.

Unfortunately, the Observer reporter left it there. It would have been useful to the newspaper’s readers to have the dispute put into some context. After all, we know that under ‘traditional’ or ‘cultural’ law women are treated as children and are in effect ‘owned’ by their men (most obviously their husbands and fathers).

When we talk of ‘human rights’ for women we usually talk about major influences on a woman’s life, for example, the right to contraception and determination over their own bodies and the right to political, social and economic independence. But in Swaziland rural women have no rights at all. As the Observer report shows they don’t even have the right to decide which clothes to wear.

Not only have the elders of Dvokolwako denied these woman their human rights, more specifically they have denied them their rights under the Swaziland Constitution. Section 29 (3) states, ‘a woman shall not be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom to which she is in conscience opposed’.

The three women of Dvokolwako want to wear pants. The Constituion protects that wish and the elders are acting illegally in making the women stop.

So, thank you Observer for bringing this situation to our attention, but now please campaign on behalf of all Swazis to ensure that the new Swazi Constitution is upheld by everybody in the kingdom.

Monday, 12 May 2008

TELL SWAZI KING THE TRUTH

Media in Swaziland are too meek when it comes to giving King Mswati III advice.

There is no straight talking, even on matters of huge national importance.

At a World Media Freedom Day meeting held in the Swazi capital Mbabane last week media folk said they should be brave and tell the king what is going on in his own kingdom.

I was reminded of the truth of this on Friday (9 May 2008) by an article in the Times of Swaziland by the newspaper’s managing editor, Martin Dlamini.

Dlamini wants the 40/40 celebration scheduled for later this year called off because Swaziland can’t afford it. The 40/40 is a double celebration to mark the king’s 40th birthday and also the 40th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Britain.

Dlamini thinks that E50 million (about 7 million US Dollars) is too high a price to pay when living standards in the kingdom are at an all time low.

But Dlamini – like all other media people in Swaziland - isn’t allowed to tell the king the truth. Instead, he has to pussyfoot around and hope that someone other than the media will point out to him the reality of the situation.

Dlamini said this in his Just Thinking column, ‘Who, of all the wise men and women in this country [Swaziland], would dare approach the king to humbly request His Majesty to consider staggering these celebrations over the coming years until such time as we can really afford them?’

I note that Dlamini believes that the very act of approaching the king is something to be done ‘humbly’. Doesn’t this statement alone show how really out of touch people are making the king?

If the king reads the Times – and judging by the fuss he made last year (2007) when the Times Sunday reported that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) thought the king’s lavish lifestyle was putting off foreign support – he, or his underlings (‘bootlickers’ Dlamini calls them in his article) certainly do, then he will already know what the problems over 40/40 are.

Dlamini set them out clearly in his article. Here’s what he had to say:

‘Living standards have dropped considerably. The gap between rich and poor has risen sharply and there are no indications yet that the situation could change anytime soon.

‘In the year of our 40th anniversary, we certainly need to take time to look back at our gains and our losses. One matter that needs serious attention is how this country has utilised its resources and how best she can invest the little that’s left for a better tomorrow.

‘The country’s statistics suggest that 70 percent of this population lives below the poverty line which means there is a great need to get the bigger part of this population out of misery.

‘These are the people to be thought of each time we have a little extra cash to spend.

‘For the 70 percent of the population, the celebration is meaningless because there is no guarantee they will have food on the table the next day. Even if there was, they are tired of living on handouts.

‘What would be a cause to celebrate independence for them is a day in their lives where the millions of Emalengeni have been pumped into genuine or effective community development projects that would make them independent of food aid, not the cosmetic projects or funding under the Regional Development Fund that has become a source of corruption for its administrators.’

Personally, I think Dlamini is right; the 40/40 celebrations should be put on hold. The cost is inappropriate at a time when about 600,000 people in Swaziland (out of a population of less than one million) have to rely on internationally donated food aid to stop from starving.

If the celebrations do go ahead, King Mswati III will once again be reviled in the eyes of the international community for spending money irresponsibly. He will also be seen to be out of touch with the realities of life in his own kingdom. This will do him immense personal harm and it will also damage Swaziland because it will make international donors reluctant to do business with the kingdom (something the IMF has already identified as happening).

There is still time to stop this happening, if someone would tell the king the truth. Humbly, or otherwise.

See also
SWAZILAND MEDIA FREEDOM DAY

Sunday, 11 May 2008

SWAZI P.M. ATTACKED ON PRESS FREEDOM

Swazi Prime Minister Themba Dlamini has apparently ‘expressed shock’ that Swaziland is ranked among the worst nations in the world when it comes to press freedom.

He is reported to have asked a meeting of media editors, ‘Where does this come from, I wonder?’

According to a report in the Swazi Observer (9 May 2008), the PM was addressing the Swaziland Editor’s Forum at a monthly breakfast meeting he holds with its members.

Welile Dlamini of the Swaziland Broadcast and Information Service (SBIS) radio was reported to have told him that such information didn’t come from the Editor’s Forum.

One can forgive Welile Dlamini his comments. He does after all work for the government propaganda machine and he is expected to support the prime minister and his government whatever nonsense they may sprout.

But, how can the Prime Minister really not understand the state of media freedom in Swaziland? I suggest that he reads the publication So This Is democracy? The State of Media Freedom in Southern Africa 2007 that was published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) last Saturday (3 May 2008).

In that he can be reminded that a entire newspaper publishing house (The Times of Swaziland) was threatened with closure by King Mswati III last year because he objected to a report it had written on how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) believed that the king’s lavish lifestyle was deterring overseas’ investors from supporting Swaziland.

The Prime Minister came in for a kicking on his views on media freedom and the new Swazi Constitution at a conference of human rights activists being held in Swaziland.

The Observer reported (9 May 2008) that the Lawyers for Human Rights told the conference, ‘We regret with sadness to inform you and all the participants in this gathering, all that the Prime Minister said was totally incorrect and devoid of any truth and honesty.’

The Observer continued,

‘They [the Lawyers for Human Rights] argued that the premier conveniently omitted to mention that the constitution was a product of a flawed process in that not all citizens were allowed to participate in its formulation, conception and adoption.

‘They claimed the constitution was written under a state of emergency that had been imposed on the people since 12 April 1973.

‘They said the decree was announced through a King’s Proclamation that repealed the 1968 independence constitution, banned political parties and any form of political activity.’

The Observer reported the lawyers saying that the new Swazi Constituion had some good points, but ‘people still do not have the sovereign power to elect a government of their own choice … because they do not have the right to assembly and associate peacefully to form and join political parties’.

The Observer added, ‘On upcoming elections they said people were not allowed to elect representatives of their choice through political parties as they remain unlawful.’

This is pretty strong criticism of the government and I am sure many people will be surprised to see it published in the Swazi Observer, which is considered to be very loyal to the status quo in Swaziland. Only last week I attended a meeting to commemorate World Press Freedom Day at which the Observer was criticised for being ‘a government newspaper’.

Maybe the Observer is trying to shake off that label. If it continues to tell the Swazi people the truth about the government, the Swazi Constitution and the forthcoming elections it will deserve to be known as an independent newspaper.

See also
SWAZILAND MEDIA FREEDOM DAY
SWAZI MEDIA FREEDOM ON HOLD