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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

SWAZI KING’S MAN HATES FREEDOM

Since Mario Masuku, president of the banned People’s Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was acquitted by Swaziland’s High Court of a terrorism charge a lot of people have asked me how could it have happened?


They see some kind of sea change in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Could democracy be on the way, they ask?


Well for those who have had a little too much to drink in celebration of Masuku’s release here’s a reality check.


At the latest meeting of Liqoqo, the Swaziland National Council, otherwise known as King Mswati’s advisory council, there was Hell to pay following the news of Masuku’s release.


Prince Mahlaba – a ‘praise singer’ to King Mswati – stormed out of the meeting describing the Swazi Constitution as ‘rubbish’ because it took powers away from the king.


He reportedly believes the constitution granted people like Masuku rights to do as they pleased.


Prince Mahlaba conveniently ignored the fact that since the constitution came into effect in 2006, the king and his cronies have ignored it anytime they felt like it. Even Barnabas Dlamini, was appointed prime minister in contravention of the constitution. As were a good number of his government ministers.


Prince Mahlaba, a soldier by trade, is said to be an ‘influential’ member of the Swazi Royal Family complained to Liqoqo that the constitution took all powers from the king and vested them upon judges of the High Court.


Which of course is where they should be.


According to a report in the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, the prince wasn’t the only one with a downer on the constitution. Unsurprisingly, ‘several royal family members reportedly believe the country is now under the leadership of the courts’, according to the Times Sunday.


The newspaper said Prince Mahlaba also believed the constitution ‘grants people absolute rights to misbehave in the name of freedom of expression and get away with it’.


Called to comment on these allegations, he said the constitution was crafted for the educated elite, saying he was uneducated, hence the constitution was not meant for him. (Or to put it another way, he doesn’t understand it).


The Times Sunday said Prince Mahlaba said he did not care much about the constitution, especially because things were beginning to change rapidly in the country. ‘He then talked about the cities of Mbabane and Manzini, which had begun to confuse him a lot when he drives around.’


The Times Sunday reported Prince Logcogco Mangaliso, the chairman of the Liqoqo, did not want to talk about the Prince.


‘He then politely wanted to know the person who leaked the information to the newspaper.’

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

AMNESTY WANTS INQUIRY INTO ATTACK

The following is a media release from Amnesty International.

Amnesty International today (29 September 2009) urged the government of Swaziland to institute a judicially-led public inquiry into the violent attack, on 21 September, by Correctional Services security officers on journalists and political activists at Matsapha Central Correctional Institute.

The attack by prison security officers occurred shortly after the court acquittal on terrorism charges of opposition leader Mario Masuku.

Amnesty International said that the actions were violations of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and information. In several cases, the extent and targeted nature of the assaults constituted ill-treatment and violated the prohibition against torture.

According to eyewitnesses, the security officers reacted aggressively to the presence at the prison gate of some 50 noisy but peaceful, unarmed supporters awaiting Mario Masuku’s release from the prison. Television and print-media journalists were standing near them. Without any official warning to disperse, security officers charged into the group at the gate. They severely assaulted a number of leading political activists and demanded that the journalists stop filming and photographing their actions. They seized cameras and other reporting equipment and verbally abused, threatened and physically assaulted several journalists.

One of those singled out for assault was political activist Wandile Dludlu, who had tried to run from the scene when the security officers started hitting and kicking him. They chased and caught him, then beat him with their fists and booted feet until he fell to the ground.

He tried to cover his head with his hands but sustained injuries to his head, eyes, mouth and nose, as well as on other parts of his body.

Eventually a number of senior prison security officers intervened to try to surround and protect him. He was taken to a local hospital by his colleagues. At the time of this assault, Wandile Dludlu was still recovering from injuries he sustained 17 days earlier when he had been unlawfully arrested and allegedly tortured by police before being released uncharged.

Amnesty International is appealing to the government to ensure that prison security officers suspected to have used excessive force against the political activists and journalists are subjected to disciplinary and criminal investigations. There should be no impunity for human rights violations.

The government should ensure that the rights protected under regional and international human rights treaties to which Swaziland is party and under the Constitution should be respected, protected and fulfilled. It should affirm publicly the right of journalists to conduct their work without harassment, intimidation and violence.


Background

On 21 September 2009 the High Court acquitted Mario Masuku of a charge brought against him under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) of 2008. The acquittal occurred on the first day of the trial and at the conclusion of the State’s case. The court found that the state’s evidence was either inadmissible or failed to prove their case against the accused. Mario Masuku had been arrested under the STA on 15 November 2008, the day after his organization, PUDEMO (People’s United Democratic Movement), and three other organizations were declared illegal under the STA.

In January 2009 Amnesty International and the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association issued a report which concluded that certain provisions of the STA were inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights law and the Swaziland Constitution, and were already leading to violations of the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

UK YOUTH ON SWAZILAND DEMOCRACY

A group of youth from the United Kingdom who visited Swaziland on a fact finding mission were left staggered by the poverty and lack of democracy in the kingdom.


A delegation of Young Fabians visited Swaziland and held meetings with the Swaziland National Union of Students, Luvatsi (a youth empowerment organisation), the EU Commission delegation to Swaziland, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), as well as spending a day seeing the work of SWAPOL (Swaziland for Positive Living).


Adrian Prandle, Young Fabian International Officer, reported that youth organisations in Swaziland found it difficult to get recognition and to engage with government and decision-makers.


‘This is primarily because Swaziland is an undemocratic one party state controlled by the monarch, King Mswati III. His spending is focussed on himself and his coterie rather than addressing the needs of the population.


‘The lack of investment in infrastructure - i.e. school buildings and teachers - is preventing the court-enforced commitment to free primary education from being rolled out with any speed.


‘The SUDF is a coalition of banned political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations fighting for a multi-party system. Whilst passionate for their cause, the SUDF is in its early stages and has much to do to engage with the wider population of Swaziland, let alone be seen by the King as a serious force in curbing his lifestyle and pushing for democracy.


‘In terms of impact from outside of the country, there is one major stumbling block and a devastating chain that exacerbates it. Swaziland is a middle income country, meaning it is not a high priority for aid and meaning that conditional aid is limited in its effect - ultimately because the King doesn’t rely on this money, so does not feel pressured to change behaviour or spending. Swaziland’s per capita income is going up in tragic circumstances: high HIV/AIDS rates mean Swaziland has a decreasing population, hence the appearance of greater wealth.’


Prandle says. SADC, the South African Development Community, ‘has pretty much failed to stand up to Mswati’s hypocrisy in using his position as chair of SADC’s Troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation to criticise the state of Madagascan democracy whilst his own country has jailed the leader of PUDEMO, the banned opposition party.


‘The friendship between South African President Jacob Zuma and Mswati does not leave Swazi activists with much confidence that help in their struggle will come across the border any time soon.’


To read Prandle’s full report click here.

Friday, 25 September 2009

NEW ATTACK ON PRESS FREEDOM

Press freedom is once again under attack in Swaziland as a Swazi senator called for a ‘stringent’ law to ‘deal’ with the media.

And the Minister for Information, Communications and Technology Nelisiwe Shongwe has said her ministry was doing something about the concern, but she was not specific.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reports that Senator Themba Msibi, a former Minister for Information, told a session of parliament that ‘enacting a stringent law will deal with the journalists once and for all’.

Msibi was making a submission during a debate over a newspaper article in which it was said a journalist with the Times of Swaziland misquoted the Senate President, Gelane Zwane, during a previous Senate seating.

He said asking the media to apologise for wrong articles does not help ‘because they will continue doing this. This is not a mistake but they are doing it purposely.’

During the same debate the Senate President Zwane herself verbally attacked the Times journalist, Arthur Mordaunt, who was also present in Parliament to cover the proceedings.

MISA said an angry Zwane accused Mordaunt of having a vendetta against her and she went on to threaten the journalist.

‘I have been watching you very closely and I have realized that ever since you started writing about me you are always writing negatively. If you want to survive in your journalism career you should immediately stop it,’ Zwane was reported to have said.

She went on to say that had it not been for the fact that she was not an ordinary member of society, she would have already done something to Mordaunt and expressed in SiSwati [the language of Swaziland] something to the effect that she would have already set her ‘dogs’ upon Mordaunt to ‘tear’ the journalist apart.

In a statement, MISA Swaziland chapter said the threats not only constitute a serious attack on press freedom, but it is also plain abuse of parliamentary privilege by the senators.

MISA Swaziland National Director, Comfort Mabuza said MISA Swaziland rejects the call by Senator Msibi for a law to regulate the media. He said such a call was out of place and inconsistent with the kingdom’s constitution and the universal principles of media freedom and also goes against a 1997 Parliamentary resolution to have the media regulate themselves.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

SWAZI LEADER MASUKU FIGHTS ON

Mario Masuku, now seen across the world as Swaziland’s main opposition leader, will continue his demand for total democratic reforms in the kingdom.

Masuku, president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was speaking to the Voice of America radio station after being released from jail on terrorism and sedition charges.

A High Court judge released Masuku on Monday (21 September 2009) within hours of the start of his trial which was expected to last several days. High Court Judge Mbutfo Mamba halted the trial after being presented with ‘poor quality of evidence’ by the prosecution led by Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Mumcy Dlamini.

Masuku had been on remand in a maximum security prison after being accused of making statements in support of terrorism against the Swaziland state, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Masuku told VOA he was not angry with the Swazi monarchy. ‘I do not feel aggrieved I hate nobody who has accused me of that. Instead, it is the system of governance which is undemocratic, un-participative, un-representative, and distorting our course,’ he said.

Masuku described his unwavering commitment for demanding democracy.

‘I feel it is only my duty to exert more pressure and go to the finish,’ Masuku said. He said despite the ban, he would uphold the principles of PUDEMO.

‘Unfortunately, fighting as peaceful as possible within the condition for a democratic, un-nepotistic, un-racial Swaziland is an idea and the principle that I joined this party for. And as long as I still exist, it is the principle I will go along with,’ he said.

Masuku said there is room for both democracy and monarchy to exist side-by-side instead of the country's absolute monarchy.

‘Really, there can be a multi-party democracy with a monarchy in place. But you can never have absolute monarchy and multi-party democracy. Those things cannot tie,’ Masuku said.

He said Swazis must have the right to choose their leader.

VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS

Journalists from two of Swaziland’s newspapers were attacked and assaulted by prison warders in what is being described as one of the worst incidents of violence against journalists in the kingdom.

Four journalists from the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, and the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, were ‘attacked and assaulted by a battalion of Correctional Services warder recruits as they covered a political demonstration,’ according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

MISA reports the journalists ‘were not only assaulted but also had their cameras taken and destroyed in one of the worst incidents of violence against journalists in Swaziland’.

MISA cites a report in the Observer newspaper that said a battalion of about 200 warder recruits pounced on the journalists, assaulted them, pulled a female journalist by the hair and confiscated the cameras. The officers then tried to delete the photos from the cameras and when they failed they then destroyed the expensive gadgets.

This was during a political demonstration in which members of the banned Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) celebrated the acquittal of their President, Mario Masuku, who had earlier on in the day appeared in the High Court on charges of terrorism.

During the incident, PUDEMO activists were also heavily assaulted by the warders and the President of SWAYOCO, the party’s youth wing, Wandile Dludlu was severely assaulted and had to be admitted in hospital.

The MISA Swaziland chapter has condemned the attack and assault of the journalists and has called on authorities to investigate the matter with a view of taking action against the offending officers.

‘Attacking and assaulting journalists is not only a criminal offence but is also serious media violation that constitutes an attack on press freedom,’ MISA said in a statement.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

SWAZI RULERS 'SELF-DESTRUCTING'

The acquittal on a terrorism charge of Mario Masuku, president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), after the High Court threw out the prosecution case shows the undemocratic Tinkhundla system of government in Swaziland ‘has completely run out of tricks and is now knowingly self-destructing’.

This is according to Sikelela Dlamini, one of the most prolific critics of the undemocratic regime in Swaziland.

Dlamini, writing on his blog says, it is only a matter of time before people such as Masuku emerge victorious ‘to reap the rewards of their life-long sacrifices for the cause of Swaziland’s greater political freedom’.

He says the Swazi police are under immense pressure from King Mswati III (sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch) and others in the ruling elite ‘to be seen to be carrying out their witch-hunting mandate to root out largely imagined terrorism; which is in fact a deliberate euphemism for silencing political discontent in all its manifestations’.

Dlamini goes on, ‘We have tirelessly argued that the greatest threat to this country’s security, peace, and stability is not the presence of political dissent but rather its denial.’

To read more, click here.

SWAZILAND, WORLD LAUGHING STOCK

The attempt to prosecute Mario Masuku, the president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), on a charge of terrorism has been branded ‘shameful’ by the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper.

It has made Swaziland ‘the laughing stock of the world,’ the newspaper says.

In an editorial today (23 September 2009) the newspaper attacks Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mumcy Dlamini for bringing a case against Masuku that had no merit. The case was thrown out by a High Court judge only five hours into a trial that was expected to last several days.

The Times says, ‘For a case that has done so much harm to this country, we are appalled at the dismal quality of the evidence brought before court and rightly dismissed by the judge. It was such a shameful attempt at justice.’

It goes on, ‘The amount of negative publicity drawn upon this country is unforgivable to say the least. We expected a high profile defence for a high profile case.’

The Times says Swaziland deserves that this be the last time ‘we have to deal with such mediocrity otherwise we shall continue to be the laughing stock of the world with the unfortunate consequence of losing all the international friends we need to revive this ailing economy. If we can’t take ourselves seriously, who will?’

To read the full editorial click here.

WELCOME FOR MASUKU RELEASE

THE SWAZILAND SOLIDARITY NETWORK [SSN] STATEMENT ON THE ACQUITTAL OF PUDEMO PRESIDENT
COMRADE MARIO MASUKU

22 September 2009

The Swaziland Solidarity Network welcomes the acquittal of the PUDEMO President Comrade Mario Masuku from fictitious charges of terrorism. SSN never doubted the innocence of the people’s President against these allegations made by a desperate regime. His only crime was to call for democratisation of Swaziland, a legitimate demand which we fully support. We salute the president for sacrificing in raising the revolutionary banner and inspiring the people of Swaziland towards a battle for freedom.

During his incarceration, the Swaziland Solidarity Network [SSN] staged 37 demonstrations since his arrest and we wish to reaffirm our ongoing support to the people of Swaziland led by the People’s United Democratic Movement PUDEMO in their quest for democratisation. We stand by our demands that we have been submitting to King Mswati through the Swazi Consulate that:

The Swazi regime should stop all forms of repression against political dissent and opposition parties


The monarch should abolish all indiscriminate detention of activists


The South African internationalist Amoss Mbendzi should be unconditionally and immediately released from jail


A democratically constituent assembly should be elected to develop a new constitution for a new constitutional Multi-party democracy


The draconian 1973 decree which bans political parties and all forms of legitimate political activity should be removed


All Swazi exiles should unconditionally return back to their country



Meanwhile the Swaziland Solidarity Network [SSN] will be commemorating our departed martyrs comrade Advocate Musa Dlamini aka “MJ” and comrade Jack Govender aka Sipho Khumalo “MK” allies, the commemoration will be on the 26th September 2009 at COSATU House Braamfontein 10h00.

Issued by the Swaziland Solidarity Network [SSN] South Africa.

SWAZI DEMOCRAT LEADER BEATEN UP

Wandile Dludlu, President of the banned Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), who was tortured by police earlier this month, has been left badly beaten by prison warders.

Dludlu is reported to have been ‘beaten to a pulp’ by more than 200 Correctional Services warder recruits.

Dludlu was kicked all over the body and left seriously injured.

The Swazi Observer reported yesterday (22 September 2009) the incident that almost cost Dludlu’s life happened outside the Correctional Services main gate just after Mario Masuku, president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) had been dramatically acquitted of terrorism charges.

Journalists from the Swazi Observer and the Times of Swaziland who witnessed the attack were also beaten up.

The Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, said the violence happened when PUDEMO and SWAYOCO members started singing songs and toyi-toyed in front of the main gate.

Warders asked the demonstrators to move and ‘within the twinkle of an eye’ more than 200 recruits came running from the dormitories towards the gate and a heavy fight ensued.

Dludlu tried to save his life from the recruits by boarding a bus that was destined for the industrial site but it sped off and the recruits managed to catch him and beat him with sticks, fists and kicked him all over the body, the Observer reported.

Dludlu was arrested and tortured earlier this month by Swazi police because they believed he knew where guns, explosives and ‘war missiles’ were being stored. According to a report in the Swazi News these were to be used ‘in an operation to assassinate the country’s influential politicians and other high ranking members of royalty’.

FREE SWAZI CAMPAIGN INTENSIFIES

The campaign for a free Swaziland is to intensify following the collapse of the trial of Mario Masuku, the president of the banned People’ United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

Masuku's trial on a terrorism charge was dramatically halted by High Court Judge Mbutfo Mamba after only five hours on Monday (21 September 2009).

Judge Mamba said the prosecution headed by Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Mumcy Dlamini presented ‘poor quality of evidence’.

The Joint Swazi Action Campaign Committee called the acquittal a ‘clear victory for the courageous and heroic masses of Swaziland and the world community of freedom fighters and patriots globally’.

In a statement it called for ‘maximum intensification of the struggle’ for freedom in Swaziland.‘We shall be releasing a determined and sustainable programme of action that demands nothing less than the liberation of the Swazi people and full affirmation of their dignity as a people and not royal subjects and objects of pity.’

The Joint Swazi Action Campaign Committee is to organise a special session with all progressive Swazi forces to tie down an action programme for the next year and beyond.

‘We shall continue to march, picket, expose and isolate [King] Mswati [III] and his cronies. We shall continue to target members of the royal family, wherever they happen to be and ensure that their lives are as miserable and unbearable as those they daily subject the Swazi people to.

‘No member of the royal family must be allowed to study, work or enjoy luxuries anywhere in South Africa or elsewhere.

‘We are also working on a programme for the institutionalisation of a serious boycott campaign against the regime, because only by hitting it where it matters the most shall we force it down on its knees. This means hitting the economy that sustains the brutal regime and oil the wheels of oppression, whilst cushioning the greedy appetite of royal extravagance.

In a statement it said, ‘We wish to salute Comrade Mario, members of PUDEMO and SWAYOCO [Swaziland Youth Congress], the trade union movement of Swaziland and the whole of Swazi civil society organised under the auspices of the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) for their resolute struggles and determination to fight on despite the terrifying conditions in the country.’It also praised ‘the world community’ for supporting the Swazi people’s cause.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

SWAZI STATE STANDS HUMILIATED

The Swazi state stands humiliated today as its attempt to jail Swaziland’s most prominent democrat leader Mario Masuku was foiled by a judge only hours after his trail started.


Masuku, president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), had been in jail on remand for 10 months since November 2008 after his arrest for allegedly making statements at a May Day rally to incite people to terrorism.


The state’s evidence against Masuku was so poor that the trial that was expected to last several days lasted no more than five hours.


High Court Judge Mbutfo Mamba halted the trial after being presented with ‘poor quality of evidence’ by the prosecution led by Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Mumcy Dlamini.


The High Court was faced with incoherent statements by witnesses and what even the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, called ‘a series of dramatic errors’.


According to the Observer, five witnesses had presented their evidence before Judge Mamba halted the trial, including police superintendent Mike Zwane, the officer in charge of investigating Masuku.


Evidence brought to the court by the first witness Sithembiso Shongwe was dismissed because it was irrelevant.


Judge Mamba ruled that the evidence was inadmissible because Shongwe kept telling the court about activities planned by PUDEMO in meetings that were held in South Africa.


It turned out that Shongwe was himself in custody on an undisclosed charge and was escorted from the court in leg irons after he gave his evidence. Shongwe claimed to have been trained by the PUDEMO military wing, Umbane. He said Umbane’s main objectives were to engage in guerrilla warfare so that the government could be forced to the negotiating table and allow democracy in Swaziland

The case descended into farce when one witness, owing to poor sight, spent about two minutes trying to spot Mario Masuku in court.

The Times of Swaziland reported Kwanele Dlamini, from Siteki, was asked to identify Masuku from the people in court and requested to move out of the witness stand to try and spot him. Dlamini then went around the court room, looking and inspecting at all the people who were present in court, trying to find Masuku. He was even misled by some of the people in court by jeering and shouting that he was not present, but the determined Dlamini looked at almost everyone before spotting Masuku seated at the accused dock.

During cross examination, according to the Observer, another witness Banele Dlamini made jumbled statements and kept on contradicting himself during cross examination. When advocate Norman Kades asked probing questions on Masuku’s utterances, he said he could not possibly remember everything because the accused had made a long speech.


Advocate Kades observed that the witnesses had conveniently remembered aspects about Masuku’s utterances on terrorism which would seem to favour the interests of the crown. Mbambiseni Maseko who was also brought before the court as a witness also contradicted himself.


Masuku had been charged with contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) after he uttered statements to the effect that PUDEMO would continue with the bombing of vital government structures in Swaziland last year at the funeral of the late Musa Dlamini who was killed during a bomb blast at Lozitha bridge.


The state, uncertain it could force a conviction under the STA had an alternative charge under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938.