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Monday, 31 December 2012

SWAZI KING: A COCK AND BULL STORY?



The traditional Incwala ceremony is in full swing in Swaziland, dubbed by a senior traditionalist leader as, ‘what defines us as a nation; it is what every Swazi should be proud of attending despite any odds’.

Traditionalists call Incwala the ‘national prayer’ and the most sacred of Swazi ceremonies.

But last year startling details of what actually happened at Incwala were widely circulated.

King Mswati III is said to take ‘muti’ (narcotics), and allows himself to be licked all over his body by a snake while drugged. In one part of the sacred ceremony King Mswati has sexual intercourse with a drugged bull; in another he publicly has sex with two of his wives.

The accounts of goings-on at Incwala were given by Sithembiso Simelane who said his regiment initiation name is Sukulwenkhosi. He was a member of the Inyatsi regiment for about 10 years and said he ‘got to see all the evil that takes place in the royal residencies and more especially at Ludzidzini royal residence (Lobamba)’.

Incwala is surrounded in secrecy so it is impossible to independently verify Simelane’s account. His description has never been publicly denied by the king or his traditionalists. But, Swazi people who offer up private opinions (it is dangerous in Swaziland to publicly criticise the king, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch) believe Simelane’s account is probably more or less correct.

This week National Secretary Nhlanhla Dlamini told the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, ‘Attending Incwala is not a question of choice, whether it is Sunday, Christmas or any other national holiday; we are expected to attend the event without fail especially because as warriors we pledged to ultimately respect the King and country.’
 
Another leading traditionalist Prince Sigombeni told the newspaper, ‘Incwala is what defines us as a nation; it is what every Swazi should be proud of attending despite any odds. This is a national ceremony where we thank God and the ancestors for guiding and protecting us throughout the course of the year.’




Swaziland Incwala Ceremony Startling Account of King's Behaviour

Sunday, 23 December 2012

WOMEN IN MINI-SKIRTS FACE ARREST



Police in Swaziland will arrest women who wear mini-skirts – and they say a law dating from 1889 allows them to do it.

And, it will only take one complaint for a woman to be arrested and put behind bars, they say.

Police say men do not like to see women dressed in skimpy clothes in public.

Newspapers in the kingdom have been running stories and letters from readers recently with accounts of how some women have been harassed by men because they wear pants, rather than skirts.

Some women have also been attacked for wearing skimpy clothes deemed unsuitable by men. In all these cases, those supporting the harassment of women have cited Swazi ‘traditional values’ as justification.

Police recently halted a protest march by women who wore mini-skirts to draw attention to the harassment they face.

Now, a local newspaper has quoted the Swaziland Police official spokesperson Wendy Hleta saying mini-skirts are deemed to be indecent, immoral and have an element of nudity.

Hleta told the Times Sunday the Crimes Act of 1889 outlawed this type of clothing.

She said the law controls ‘immorality and offences in public places or places of public resort and control of places of public interest’.

The newspaper reported her saying it would only take one person to lay a complaint with the police then they would not hesitate but put the offender behind bars.

Hleta said the law has not been enforced recently, but since men in the city of Manzini, especially at the bus rank, said they were not happy with mini-skirts police were warning women of the existence of the law.

Offenders can be fined up to E100 (US$10) or face up to six months in jail if they cannot pay the fine.

Hleta said the law excluded exposure of the body due to breast feeding and wearing cultural regalia.

Friday, 21 December 2012

MISA BACKS 'FREE RADIO AIRWAVES' CALL

MISA-Swaziland Statement, 18 December 2012

Times of Swaziland says ‘Free the airwaves’ – MISA Swaziland agrees

MBABANE, Swaziland – Swaziland’s only privately-owned newspaper has called for the liberalisation of the Kingdom’s radio airwaves.

In an editorial titled ‘Free the airwaves’, the Times of Swaziland notes that radio is the dominant medium of communication in Africa, yet in Swaziland – a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa bordered by South Africa and Mozambique – options remain limited.

“Radio is dynamic, alive to the issues of the day, changeable as the fashions. In Africa, the age of radio is still very much alive and strong. But not in Swaziland.”

The editorial, which appeared on 18 December 2012, suggests Swaziland should open up its airwaves and allow more players into the government-controlled ‘market’.

“One very simple way that this country could tap into its creative potential – especially economically – would be to allow anyone who wanted to own a radio station to do so.

“Imagine how a health-focused rural radio station would benefit local communities; imagine if every Tinkhundla centre (traditional constituency) had their own radio for community announcements and educational programmes.”

In Swaziland, where music is part of the national fabric, the Times editorial dares to “imagine how the music industry would blossom and nurture our national talent” if the airwaves were freed from stringent and arbitrary state controls.

It should be noted, however, that the Times does not mention stringent and arbitrary government controls as the reason why the airwaves remain stifled.

Nevertheless, the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland) applauds the Times of Swaziland for taking a position on this issue.

As it stands, there is one national radio station in Swaziland – the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS). It acts more as a propaganda tool for the government and traditional authorities than as the public broadcaster is purports to be. There are some worthwhile health programs that air on SBIS, however, on the whole, it a long way from a true and honest public broadcaster that is free to question, criticise, educate, and entertain.

Earlier this year the minister for communications told Swazi citizens they must first clear – or approve – their opinions with their respective chiefs before approaching the radio station.

The Swazi Observer, a state-owned newspaper, reported in August 2012 that “the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service is not allowed to broadcast any public service announcement (PSA) that does not support government’s agenda.
“This is contained in the Public Service Announcement Guidelines of the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS).

“The guidelines were tabled in the House of Assembly by Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Winnie Nxumalo on Monday.

“They are to be observed by both the radio station and the public as they are meant for smooth and professional service to the nation.

“Part of the guidelines read, ‘Any PSA that is negative or does not support government’s agenda shall not be allowed.’”

The Swaziland chapter of the Media Institute of Southern (MISA-Swaziland), a regional non-governmental organisation that promotes freedom of speech, notes that the actions taken by the minister of communications contradict section 24 (1) of Swaziland’s Constitution: “A person has a right of freedom of expression and opinion.”

More specifically, Section 24 (2) protects “freedom of the press and other media”, and Section 24 (2)(c) protects the “freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons)”.

While freedom of expression is protected under the earlier clauses of Section 24, in practice this freedom is often snatched away by leaders and bureaucrats who invoke Section 24 (3)(a). This latter section permits speech to be curtailed in the name of “defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health”.

MISA believes criticism of the “government’s agenda”, as well as criticism of higher authorities to be in the public interest; for trust in the authorities can only come after that trust has been tested. And MISA further believes that interpreting the Constitution requires emphasis to be placed on certain clauses, thereby allowing a more reasonable course of action

In this case, let MISA state its belief that freedom of speech, in all but legitimate cases of libel and defamation, trumps all other liberties. And freedom of speech, in all but the most rare cases, trumps the often trite defences of public morality or public order, etc. In reality, those who invoke the ‘public morality’ clause, for instance, simply want to suppress information that will embarrass the wealthy and powerful.

Of course there are rare moments when information should not be disclosed – if that information will cause huge harm, for instance, or the information will cause great pain to a suffering victim. But all factors need to be weighed against each other, and in all cases disclosure should be the default option, always bearing in mind that the public has a right to information.

Again, there are fine lines between hate speech, offensive speech, and sincerely held false opinions. And similarly, there are many shades of truth. The best way to find out what is what is to have an open and frank discussion.

To suppress legitimate speech in the name of vaguely worded clauses does nothing to bring Swaziland into the modern world. The only way to work out what terms such as ‘public morality’ or ‘public order’ mean is to freely discuses their meanings.

As Christmas approaches, MISA-Swaziland looks back on a bad year for freedom of expression in the kingdom. Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, in many ways, is incompatible with universal notions of freedom of expression – even though the country is a signatory to most regional and international conventions that protect freedom of expression.

Despite this, MISA-Swaziland remains somewhat optimistic that 2013 will be a better year for freedom and democracy. National elections are to be scheduled for the second half of next year. The world will be keeping an eye on proceedings to see if democracy becomes more than a name. And it would seem that Swazis are beginning to demand more from their unelected leaders. Hunger, poverty and AIDS are taking a toll.

One way to help give Swazis a voice on matters that concern them most is to open up the airwaves. As American civil-rights activist Martin Luther King Jr said, “riots are the voice of the unheard”. These words ring hollow in the ears of leaders at their own peril.

And a question that Swazis might ask themselves over the festive season, as we sip on a beer and search the dial for more radio stations, is who actually owns the airwaves? If Swazi taxpayer money pays for the radio station, why is it not a true public broadcaster? Why does public money protect state interests and only allow some senior government voices free rein? Why doesn’t the radio operate in the public interest? Why aren’t Swazis getting what they pay for? And why aren’t Swazi citizens allowed a voice to speak on their own radio station?

In short, why pay for something that you don’t own and control?

MISA-Swaziland agrees with the Times editorial when it says: “We have a nation of creative, talented people bursting to express themselves and to tackle the ills of this country, such as poverty.

“Let’s give them more platforms to do so.”

Thursday, 20 December 2012

DANES BACK PUDEMO DEMOCRACY CALL

Stiffkitten blog, 19 December 2012
Danish party to support PUDEMO’s struggle for democracy in Swaziland
 
Representatives of the Danish party, the Red-Green Alliance, met with the leadership and other representatives of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) in November. The Danes met with PUDEMO-president, Mario Masuku, representatives of the trade federation TUCOSWA, and an array of other people from the democratic movement in Swaziland.

“Swaziland has an absurd political system where all power is vested in the king,” says Thomas Eisler. He is part of the Red-Green Alliance’s Swaziland-group who visited Swaziland in November, and has held several high-ranking posts within the party’s administration.

During the week-long visit, the Red-Green Alliance and PUDEMO outlined the prospects for a partnership sponsored by the Danish Institute of Parties and Democracy – a government-funded institute that “support[s] political parties and multi-party systems in selected developing countries.”

The concrete goal of the project that will be the result of the partnership is to strengthen the organisational and political capacity of PUDEMO. The partnership is also meant to inform and enlighten the leadership and membership of the Red-Green Alliance on the struggle for democratisation in a contemporary perspective, using Swaziland as a concrete and specific example.

“We were able to agree on areas that PUDEMO seeks to develop,” Thomas Eisler says. “Amongst other things, they seek to develop a more concrete political programme, for example in relation to the economic development of Swaziland.”

PUDEMO wants an extensive and wide-ranging democratisation of Swaziland – a country that is ruled by King Mswati III, a corrupt and brutal absolute monarch. The country has the lowest life expectancy in the world, the highest HIV-prevalence in the world, and two-thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day – many starving in the process.

PUDEMO is the largest political party in Swaziland and enjoys broad public support amongst the Swazi population, although the party is banned along with all other parties. The Suppression of Terrorism act likens all attempts at undermining the powers of the King to terrorism. All Swazis who openly support PUDEMO therefore risk exclusion, as well as beatings and torture at the hands of Swaziland’s police and security forces. In 2010 Sipho Jele, a young PUDEMO-member, was even killed for wearing a PUDEMO-T-shirt.

Politically, PUDEMO are a broadly speaking a left-wing party and many of its members are inspired by socialism. Amongst other things, the party promises a land reform meant to empower the poor and remove the king’s monopolisation of public land; gender-equality both legally and more informally, as women are presently legally treated as minors, and cannot even open a bank account without the written consent of a male relative; a progressive tax system; and free education and healthcare for all Swazis.

Thomas Eisler believes that PUDEMO’s struggle for democracy and socio-economic justice is achievable. “The legitimacy of Swaziland’s political system is crumbling,” he says. “There will most likely be a transitional period that will lead to democracy within a few years. The question is who will administer this transition – will it be a top-down process or will it be a popular and participatory process?”

The Red-Green Alliance believes that a strong PUDEMO is the best way of ensuring that the population in general, and the poor in particular, are included in the political process in Swaziland.  “The undertakings of PUDEMO are closely linked to their presence within Swaziland’s social movements,” Thomas Eisler says. “It is a party that connects the struggle for democracy with social rights and it has an activist and democratic organisational culture. In this way PUDEMO has much in common with the Red-Green Alliance.”

The Red-Green Alliance is a democratic socialist electoral alliance that fights both nationally and internationally against “corporate driven globalization, neoliberal politics and privatization and fights for a public sector in which people not profit are at centre.”

Monday, 17 December 2012

US ATTACKS ‘TIMES’ OVER HATE ARTICLE



Makila James, the US Ambassador to Swaziland, has publicly backed readers who complained about an article in the Times Sunday that said battered women were ‘bitches’ and ‘most’ women who were beaten up by men brought it upon themselves. 

James said, ‘While the author has a right to express his opinion, the Times Sunday also has a responsibility to decide whether or not to provide a platform to ill-informed and discriminatory views that justify the criminal actions of perpetrators.

She went on, ‘I would like to applaud those who wrote letters, signed petitions and spoke out against the content of the column and the decision to run it.’

In a letter published in the print edition of the Times Sunday (16 December 2012), but not on its website, James said, ‘Speaking out against intolerance and injustice is the first step towards creating a better society and a better world.’

The Times editors have refused requests from readers to apologise for publishing the article and the newspaper’s Ombudsman said it was ‘justified’ in printing it.

See also

‘TIMES’ OMBUDSMAN REJECTS COMPLAINTS


 

‘TIMES’ OMBUDSMAN REJECTS COMPLAINTS



The ‘readers’ representative’ of the Times Sunday in Swaziland has said it was acceptable for the  newspaper to publish an article that said battered women were ‘bitches’ and ‘most’ women who were beaten up by men brought it upon themselves.


The Ombudsman (who despite the title is a woman) is paid by the newspaper’s parent company, the Times of Swaziland, to adjudicate on complaints readers make about its own standards of journalism.


In the article complained of, Qalakaliboli Dlamini wrote that women abused men more than the other way round and said ‘most’ women who are beaten up by men brought it upon themselves. He wrote, ‘Let us be honest with each other, women are the biggest abusers in the world.’

He went on to call women who were battered and then left their abusive husbands, ‘bitches’.

The Ombudsman wrote in an article published in the print edition of the Times Sunday (16 December 2012), but not published on the paper’s website, that the article complained of did not amount to hate speech against women. She said it did not incite ‘violence or prejudicial action’ against women.

She went on to say that Dlamini’s article ‘was supported by an argument (right or wrong)’.

She added, ‘I refuse to dissect this gentleman’s [Dlamini] opinion. I refuse to interpret it.’

She said, ‘As a publication we are justified in strongly advocating our own views on controversial topics provided that the readers are treated fairly by making fact and opinion clearly distinguishable, not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts and not distorting such facts.’

The publication of the original article caused widespread offence to readers. The Ombudsman reported she had ‘received an overwhelming amount of complaints’ about the article.

Readers, whom the Ombudsman called ‘activists,’ have started a boycott of the paper and are encouraging advertisers to withdraw support. 

See also

BOYCOTT OF ‘TIMES’ UNDER WAY