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Friday, 27 November 2015


King Mswati III of Swaziland has been listed by a top UK media house as one of the ‘despots’ and ‘rogues’ gallery of dubious characters’ who will meet Queen Elizabeth II at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta that started Friday (27 November 2015).

The Daily Telegraph, one of the most conservative and traditionalist newspapers in the UK, reported that the Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini was expected to attend the meeting, but that the King might also arrive.

The newspaper reported, ‘Swaziland will be represented by its Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini, though the organisers have said the country’s controversial king, Mswati III, may also decide to attend.

‘King Mswati has 15 wives, each of whom, by tradition, had to become pregnant by him before he would marry them. Amnesty International has accused him of violating the human rights of women and girls by subjecting them to forced marriage, and his lavish lifestyle in a country where most people live on less than £1 per day has also attracted regular criticism.

‘He is reported to spend £37m (US$56m) per year keeping his 15 wives and at least 24 children in 13 separate palaces. Political parties are banned in Swaziland and Mswati remains an absolute monarch.’

King Mswati never gets a ‘good press’ outside of Swaziland, where media regularly report on the abuses of human rights that take place in Swaziland. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections, the King chooses the Government (Barnabas Dlamini, the present PM, was not even elected to the Swazi parliament) and opposition groups are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


The Swaziland regime regularly uses the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) to stop free speech in the kingdom, the Commonwealth has been told ahead of its heads of government meeting.

The STA is ‘regularly used’ by the police to interfere in trade union activities, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) said in a submission to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), ahead of the meeting in Malta on 27-29 November 2015.

It said King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, ‘must be held to account for its serious breaches of the Commonwealth Charter’.

In its submission, ACTSA, which is the successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, said, ‘A cornerstone of any State seeking to demonstrate its dedication to human rights is the ability of its citizens to exercise freedom of speech. In Swaziland, freedom of speech is denied.

It added, ‘A key instrument used to curtail freedom of expression in Swaziland is the STA. The STA has been widely criticised since its enactment because of its vague definitions and broad designation of ministerial power as well as its inconsistencies with Swaziland’s own constitution and Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights law. This includes condemnation by the International Bar Association and Amnesty International.

ACTSA added, ‘The STA is regularly used by the police to legitimise interference with trade union activities. For instance during the 2014 May Day celebrations organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), Mario Masuko, President of PUDEMO, and Maxwell Dlamini, Secretary General of the Swaziland Youth Congress, were arrested and charged under the STA after delivering speeches in which they questioned the socio-economic governance of the country. The charges brought against them meant that if they were found guilty, they would have faced a sentence of up to 15 years of hard labour. 

Over a year passed with both men in detention and with no verdict having been passed. Finally, on 14 July 2015, the two men were released on bail, with conditions forbidding them from addressing public rallies. Whilst no longer incarcerated, the charges against both men have not been dropped.

Additionally, on 17 and 18 March 2014, charges of criminal contempt were brought against human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and editor in chief of the Nation, Bheki Makhubu. Both men were charged following publication of articles in the Nation that questioned the reasoning behind and circumstances of a case before the High Court of Swaziland. The state action taken against them was subject to condemnation by UN experts in June 2014. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported concerns that the detention of both men was related to the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression as recognised in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland. 

The OHCHR stated that it was of the view that the detention and trial of Maseko and Makhubu for the exercise of their right to express an opinion on the court case was counter to Swaziland’s international human rights obligations. The two men were subsequently sentenced to two years in prison without benefit or bail where the usual sentence is 30 days. 

Following much international condemnation and the dismissal of the judge who had imprisoned them, Bheki Makhubu was finally released on 30 June 2015 having spent 447 days in prison, the prosecution having decided not to oppose his appeal against conviction. The prosecution adopted a similar approach in the case of Thulani Maseko who was also released in July of this year.

The use of oppressive laws to limit freedom of speech is not limited simply to the use of existing legislation; there are also instances of unhelpful commentary by government officials that is indicative of the repressive nature of the Swazi State. For example, in August 2014, Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini, the Swazi prime minister, made a speech in Parliament in which he publically threatened Sipho Gumedze from Lawyers for Human Rights and Vincent Ncongwane, the General Secretary of TUCOSWA, by suggesting that members of their constituency “must strangle them.”

These comments were made following their attendance at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC.

These actions are in contrast to the Charter that commits the Commonwealth to ‘peaceful open dialogue and the free flow of information … through a free and responsible media… to enhance democratic traditions and strengthening the democratic processes’.

The Commonwealth Observer mission in 2013 heard testimony that a number of journalists critical of the government had lost their jobs, faced legal action or jail, with the consequence that the practice of self-censorship had grown amongst reporters. The media are Swaziland is overwhelming controlled by the state, and thus, ultimately, by the king. 

The repeated arrests of the editor of one of the very few independent publications that has been critical of the state and its institutions is clearly intended to intimidate those who would seek to challenge the current regime.

The recommendation made by the Commonwealth Observer mission urging the Government of Swaziland to encourage and facilitate private media has apparently failed to inspire action. Instead, efforts to intimidate and restrict the media in fulfilling its legitimate role are ongoing. 

Beyond this, the much-criticised STA is being used to suppress political dialogue and thus scupper democratic processes. We believe that CMAG must not be a bystander whilst there are ongoing, serious and persistent violations of fundamental Commonwealth values.

See also


Wednesday, 25 November 2015


Public sector workers in Swaziland were blocked by police from entering the High Court to hear a case relating to their claim for salary increases.

It came after the government asked the High Court to ban a march by public sector unions to protest that a salary review report had not been released.

The Swazi Government in the small kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, told the court the march would be a breach of state security.

The High Court was due to meet on Tuesday (24 November 2015), but the case could not go ahead because the unions’ lawyers did not have time to prepare their case.

The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Secretary General Muzi Mhlanga told local media they had not been allowed access to the High Court. 

‘We had come here to listen to a case in which we are involved with the government. It is disturbing to find that we are now denied access to the High Court, which is a public place,’ the Swazi Observer quoted him saying.

The protest was to be organised by the Public Sector Associations (PSA). The PSA includes SNAT, the Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants (SNACS), Swaziland Nurses Association (SNA), and Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP). 

Members of the PSA had intended to go to the offices of the Ministry of Public Service to demand release of a salary review report. 

Swazi Government lawyers said the PSA had not consulted the Mbabane Municipal Council and the Hhohho regional police about the proposed march. 

In Swaziland at least 14 days’ notice must be given for a march and police permission obtained.

In June 2015, Swaziland was named as one of the ten worst countries for working people in the world, in a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

A week after that report was issued, the International Labour Organization (ILO) told Swaziland it must stop interfering in the activities of trade unions; ensure workers’ organizations are fully assured of their rights and ensure they have the autonomy and independence they need to represent workers.

The ILO placed Swaziland in a ‘special paragraph’ in its annual report to highlight the deficiencies in the kingdom’s commitment to freedom of association.

See also


Monday, 23 November 2015


People in Swaziland have been ordered not to comment on the controversial sponsorship of a new soccer tournament because King Mswati III has pronounced on the subject.

In a stark example of the lack of freedom of speech in the tiny kingdom where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, the most senior monarchy loyalist TV Mtetwa has pronounced that ‘members of parliament, [cabinet] ministers and whoever’ must be silent on the matter.

The controversy surrounds the E9 million (about US$900,000) sponsorship of the Ingwenyama Cup tournament by the government parastatal Sincephetelo Motor Vehicle Accident Fund (SMVAF). 
SMVAF exists to compensate victims of road accidents.

King Mswati himself launched the tournament at an event at Lozitha, one of the 13 palaces he has in Swaziland.

A range of critics said the amount of sponsorship was too much to spend in a kingdom that was presently battling with poverty and a drought. Seven in ten of the King’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 a day.

But, the Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported on Saturday (21 November 2015) that Mtetwa, who is generally regarded as the ‘traditional prime minister’, said people must stop discussing the topic, ‘because the lion has already roared on the matter’.

The newspaper is part of the Swazi Observer group, which was called a  ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’ by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on press freedom in Swaziland.

The Observer on Saturday reported Mtetwa, ‘emphasised that it was wrong for people to publicly talk about what the King has already pronounced and set in motion’.

The newspaper added, ‘Mtetwa said since time immemorial it had been a traditional norm that no one speaks after the King had spoken.’

The newspaper said, ‘He warned all critics to guard against being seen to be going against pronouncements made by the King.’

The newspaper added, ‘Also sought for comment, was traditionalist and National Court President Ndumiso Dlamini who put it clear that he expected no one to taint what the king had blessed.

‘He said it was a known traditional or and cultural practice that once His Majesty had spoken, no one is expected to say a word against his.’

Earlier, some members of parliament told Minister for Finance Martin Gobizandla Dlamini that they were against the allocation of E9 million to the soccer tournament. The money will be paid over three years.

Friday, 20 November 2015


Documents revealed publicly for the first time on Friday (20 November 2015) confirm that King Mswati III of Swaziland personally paid US$9.5 million for a jet aircraft in 2012.

The government that he handpicked had publicly said the jet was donated by ‘development partners’. 

The sale and purchase agreement contains the signature of King Mswati as the purchaser.

King Mswati, who rules the tiny impoverished kingdom of Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has been at the at the centre of a public row over the purchase of the jet.

Last Friday (13 November 2015) the Mail and Guardian (M&G), a South-African based newspaper published details of the aircraft purchase on its website

Most of the M&G report was not new. In April 2015, the Swazi Media Commentary website revealed details behind the purchase. It reported that the King’s own company Inchatsavane paid the US$9.5 million cost of the McDonnel Douglas McDonnell Douglas DC-9-87 (also known as an MD-87). Later, a further US$4.1 million was spent on refurbishing the plane.

The Sale and Purchase Agreement for the plane dated 18 April 2012 stated the purchaser as Inchatsavane Company (Pty) Ltd. The agreement describes Inchatsavane as a ‘limited company formed under the law of Swaziland under certification of incorporation No 581 of 2010.’ The company’s office address is given as ‘1st Floor, Ellerines Building, Swazi Plaza, [Mbabane], Swaziland.’ 

King Mswati’s signature appears on the document as ‘sole shareholder / owner’ of the company. For the first time Swazi Media Commentary has released a copy of the document online

The seller is given as Wells Fargo Bank Northwest, National Association, ‘not in its individual capacity but solely as owner trustee’.

A Bank of America Wire Transfer dated 26 April 2012, shows US$9.5 million dollars was transferred from the account of ‘His Majesty King Mswati III’, bank account number 0240037517401, at the Standard Bank Swaziland Ltd, Stanbic House, Swazi Plaza, Mbabane, Swaziland.

Swazi Media Commentary has also released online a copy of the bank transfer

The money was transferred to McAfee and Taft escrow account in the United States. An ‘escrow’ account is a bank account for keeping money that is the property of others.

Under US law funds wired to an escrow account must come directly from the purchaser and not a parent, subsidiary, related company, officer, governor or director. King Mswati personally signed the escrow agreement. Swazi Media Commentary has for the first time released a copy of this document online.
What is not clear is where King Mswati got the money to pay for the jet. In 2012, the Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who was personally appointed to office by the King, said on government-controlled radio that the King had been given the jet as a birthday gift, ‘from development partners and friends of the King, to be used by their majesties for travels abroad’.

The Swazi Government denied public money had been used to buy the jet. Government spokesperson Percy Simelane was reported by the BBC saying the jet was a gift to the King from, ‘people already involved in the social and economic development of the country’.

There has been speculation that the jet was donated by Kuwait, but if this was the case it has not been explained why the oil-rich state made the gift and what it expected in return.

In April 2012, the Swazi Government categorically denied that the plane was donated by the Kuwait Government.

It issued a statement saying, ‘It is true that His Majesty the King received a gift in the form of a Mcdonnell DC-9 Aircraft for his and the Queen Mother’s travels abroad on engagement on national interest. 

‘It is also true that the sponsors of this magnificent gift, exercising their rights, elected to remain anonymous.

‘It is not true that the Kuwait Government or countries and companies mentioned in the South Africa media purchased the aircraft for His Majesty the King or contributed in any form whatsoever towards this present.’

Seven in ten of the King’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes of less than US$2 per day, three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.

See also




Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) has called on the Commonwealth to ‘vigorously respond’ to the Government of Swaziland’s failings on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

It said King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, ‘must be held to account for its serious breaches of the Commonwealth Charter’.

ACTSA, which is the successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, issued a report ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting due to be held in Malta on 27-29 November 2015.

In a submission to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, ACTSA said Swaziland’s lack of respect for Commonwealth principles, along with its violations of international human rights law, resulted in the subordination of the vast majority of the kingdom’s population. 

The report noted the ‘growing internal criticism of the Government of Swaziland, including a call for a transformation of the political system’ and added ‘internal pressure for reform can be bolstered by external pressure’.

ACTSA said Swaziland must address: bans on political parties participating in the democratic process; restrictions on freedom of expression; a weakened judiciary; and abuses of women’s rights. 

The report challenged Swaziland’s response to previous recommendations made by the Commonwealth and demanded that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group take action.

ACTSA’s Director, Tony Dykes, said in a statement, ‘The Swazi government has led the Commonwealth on a merry dance. If the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group - and thus the Commonwealth as a whole - is to command respect, it absolutely must take action to ensure Swaziland lives up to the commitments it has made. The time has long come for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to formally consider the Government of Swaziland’s status with respect to the Commonwealth Charter. The people of Swaziland deserve nothing less.’

See also


Thursday, 19 November 2015


Students and prodemocracy activists this week have marked the anniversary of the time the Swazi Army invaded the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) in what one international newspaper called, ‘a crackdown of unprecedented violence in the history of the university.’

The invasion which came to be known as ‘Black Wednesday’ happened on 14 November 1990. 

The Times Higher Education Supplement newspaper in the UK reported, ‘the Swazi government dispatched armed police and military units to the [University of Swaziland] campus to disperse boycotting students. It was a crackdown of unprecedented violence in the history of the university.’

The event is still commemorated at UNISWA, but over time it is thought that many of today’s students do not know much about  what happened that day at the university’s Kwaluseni campus.

The news agency Inter Press Service (IPS) called the student unrest in 1990 a ‘rebellion’ that ‘became a seminal event that signalled a new generation’s political consciousness’. It was, IPS said, ‘a dawning political awareness born from a confluence of historical forces then sweeping the world and the Southern African region’.

The IPS report which was a retrospective nine years after the event (2 December 1999) said ‘armed soldiers pushed police aside and forced students out of the library where they had barricaded themselves’.

The day began as a ‘disorganised demonstration’ against campus issues such as poor food ‘but soon turned into demands for democratic reforms in Swaziland's government’.

The IPS report quoted Manzini lawyer Lindiwe Khumalo-Matse, a university student at the time, saying, ‘The reason why soldiers were called in was because government saw our protest as a political uprising.’

Khumalo-Matse was further quoted by IPS, ‘This was because of the involvement of Sabelo Dlamini, who was a member of the People's United Democratic movement (PUDEMO). Sabelo was prominent in the Students Representative Council,’ hesaid.

In 1990, one of its most draconian measures, a 60-Day Detention Law, was still in force, permitting authorities to lock up anyone they saw as a threat to public order. All political protestors were designated as such threats.

The violence that ensued after soldiers swept through campus has been a sensitive subject with government ever since. A commission of enquiry had its report secreted away for years, with a bowdlerized version finally released to the public in 1997.Two students who were seriously injured sued government for damages, and their cases were settled out of court.

IPS reported that not only was the traditional leadership’s fear of democracy revealed on ‘Black Wednesday’, but also a proletariat attitude of resentment, displayed by the soldiers, was shown against the educated student ‘elite.’ The military's code name for the university invasion was ‘Operation Tinfundiswa (educated ones).’

‘It was a time of wild rumors,’ recalled Khumalo-Matse. ‘We heard that government feared we would burn down the library, which belied common sense because we were inside and would have incinerated ourselves.’

The army officials in charge gave students a five-minute warning, and then unleashed what one onlooker later told an investigating committee was a ‘military riot against civilians’.

Students were beaten as they emerged from the library to escape teargas canisters hurled through windows, and had to run a gauntlet of soldiers. Other soldiers chased students until they cornered them along fences. As they beat students with batons, the soldiers informed them they were being ‘punished’.

People in Swaziland were shocked by the brutality. Particularly offensive was one newspaper photo depicting a young woman carried out of the library between soldiers ‘like a slaughtered pig’, according to a letter writer to the Times of Swaziland.

After the invasion, Michael Prosser, a professor from the United States who was working at the University of Swaziland, posted an account of what he saw on his personal website. A version of this later appeared in a book he co-edited called Civic Discourse: Intercultural, International, and Global Media.’

This is his account from his website that is no longer available online.


‘November 14, 1990, ‘Bloody Wednesday’ in Swaziland still lingers as a most important moment in my life. It was the only day that I thought I surely might die. I was a Fulbright Professor at the University of Swaziland in south east Africa that year.

‘University students began boycotting classes on November 12 in protest of a lack of faculty lecturers, poor food conditions, and the suspension of a popular young sociology lecturer for promoting democracy in Swaziland.

‘Early on November 12, all 1 600 university students held a protest meeting and boycotted all classes. At noon, they dumped their plastic wrapped lunches at the administration office door.

‘The Swazi radio, and tv stations, Swaziland’s newspapers gave extensive coverage to the dumping of the lunches. Many Swazis were subsistence farmers who often went to bed hungry; thus this student decision reflected very badly on them. All students received a University notice demanding the end of their class boycott on November 13. They decided to continue it. The University Council demanded their return to classes on November 14, or be considered in defiance of the twenty-three year old King Mswati III.

‘Another student meeting on November 14 continued the boycott. About 500 students peacefully barricaded themselves in the two-storey university library. Several hundred students left campus or stayed in their student hostel area. At about 5pm, armed Swazi soldiers entered the high fenced campus.

‘A university official drove through the campus announcing the immediate campus closure. Five young women rushed to me and asked for emergency protection in my home. I took them there immediately.

‘A fifteen hour rain and thunderstorm had just begun. The young women were quite terrified.
‘The young soldiers broke into the library and the student hostels, dragging students out, beating both men and women with their night sticks on their arms and legs, and forcing them to run a gauntlet toward the front gate while the soldiers gave them sharp blows.

‘The soldiers taunted the students: “We’ll beat the English out of you.” They were especially vicious toward the women. The soldiers had been stationed that day at the high school next door to the campus and drank lots of beer before they attacked the campus, making them even more violent than otherwise so likely.

‘A neighbor warned us that at 10pm, soldiers would search our houses and arrest any students found there or on campus. Two Canadian families and I, in a caravan of three autos, took 11 frightened Swazi students in the three cars to the front gate to take them to safety.

‘With a gun pointed the first driver’s cheek, he got permission from the guard to leave the campus with the students. In the swirling rain, lightening, and thunderstorm, we took the students to safe shelters. When we returned to campus late in the evening, two soldiers were posted all night in the back and in the front of our houses.

‘With some students, I drove to the nearby hospital where more than 120 students had received emergency treatment. We visited more than a dozen badly injured students. We learned that soldiers possibly had injured as many as 300-400 and had killed perhaps as many as two-four students.

‘The Swazi radio and tv stations gave no information about what had happened after the students had dumped their food. However, the two Swazi newspapers did give the event considerable coverage over several weeks. They also printed many letters to the editor decrying the incident and called for a national judicial enquiry. Reuters News Agency and the South African press gave it some coverage.

‘Amnesty International cited it in their 1991 Annual Review. The University remained closed for two months, reopening on January 14. A national judicial enquiry, more heavily critical of the student boycott than the hostile military response, began on March 14, 1991 and ended on May 14.The enquiry panel never released any details to the public.

‘The print media called the incident ‘Black Wednesday’ but my students and I attempted to have the newspapers rename it Bloody Wednesday since so much innocent student blood had been shed.

‘I always recall that day as my worst and best day in Swaziland when much evil occurred but many good people at the campus, the hospital, and nearby clinics generously helped the students. Do these former African students, now in their thirties, still remember that day? I assume so. I certainly always do.’