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Thursday, 20 November 2014


There are an estimated 6,700 people in Swaziland living in slavery, according to a global survey.

And, the response by the Swazi Government to the problem is ‘inadequate’, according to report publishers, the Walk Free Foundation, a global human rights organisation dedicated to ending modern slavery.

The Global Slavery Index 2014 estimates that in Swaziland, ‘The government response to modern slavery is inadequate, with limited and/or few victim support services, a weak criminal justice framework, weak coordination or collaboration, while little is being done to address vulnerability. There are government practices and policies that facilitate slavery. Services, where available, are largely provided by IOs/NGOs with little government funding or in-kind support.’

The report said, ‘Modern slavery involves one person possessing or controlling another person in such as a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal.’

It added, ‘Modern slavery is a hidden crime. It takes many forms, and is known by many names: slavery, forced labour, or human traffcking. All forms involve one person depriving another person of their freedom: their freedom to leave one job for another, their freedom to leave one workplace for another, their freedom to control their own body.’

This is the second annual Global Slavery Index. In 2013 it reported there were an estimated 1,302 people living in slavery in Swaziland. The reports publishers said the increase in numbers from last year were probably due to an improvement in the way information was collected, rather than an increase in slavery.

A separate report, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons, revealed that King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, uses forced child labour to work in his fields. ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the king. Swazi boys and foreign children are forced to labor in commercial agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country,’ the report from the US State Department said.

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Thursday, 13 November 2014


A trade union leader in Swaziland whose house was raided by 30 armed police officers has been charged with sedition after they allegedly found pamphlets from banned organisations.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), which is also banned in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and political parties are not allowed to contest elections, reported, that Sifiso Mabuza, the Deputy Secretary of Siteki Branch of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), appeared at Siteki Magistrates Court on Wednesday (12 November 2014) and was remanded back into custody until 24 November 2014.

The Swazi Observer newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, reported Mabuza was charged with contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA).

The newspaper said Mabuza was charged with supporting the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), which it described as ‘terrorists groups’. The charge said Mabuza was in possession of 87 pamphlets of SWAYOCO, and 71 pamphlets of PUDEMO.

PUDEMO is one of a number of organizations that are making a legal challenge to the STA to have it declared unconstitutional. The case is expected to be heard in Swaziland High Court in December 2014.

In the past people have been charged under the STA for a number of alleged crimes, including carrying banners displaying the names of banned organisations, wearing berets or T-shirts with slogans written on them, and praising individuals who have stood up for democracy.

The STA was introduced in November 2008 following an attempted bombing of the Lozitha Bridge, near one of the King’s 13 palaces in September that year.  

Shortly after the STA came into force Amnesty International and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBA-HRI) called for its immediate repeal or amendment.

More recently in June 2014, the United States withdrew preferential trade rights from Swaziland because, among other things, it had not amended the STA.

In 2009, Amnesty and IBA-HRI said a number of provisions in this Act were ‘sweeping and imprecise’.

They said in a statement that the Swazi Government warned of heavy penalties for ‘associating’ with certain groups, which had been declared to be terrorist ‘entities’ under the law. They said this was ‘contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty and of intimidation amongst a wide range of civil society organizations’.

The statement read, ‘Amnesty International and the IBA-HRI are gravely concerned that key provisions in this anti-terrorism law are inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights law and are already leading to the violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.’

The statement also said the offences under the STA were ‘defined with such over-breadth and imprecision that they place excessive restrictions on a wide range of human rights – such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly – without adhering to the requirements of demonstrable proportionality and necessity.’

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014


Swaziland is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced labour in agriculture, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons report revealed.

Swazi girls, particularly orphans, are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude primarily in the cities of Mbabane and Manzini; at truck stops, bars, and brothels in Swaziland; and in South Africa and Mozambique, the report from the United States State Department said.

King Mswati III uses forced child labour to work in his fields. ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the king. Swazi boys and foreign children are forced to labor in commercial agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country,’ the report added.

It added, ‘Traffickers utilize Swaziland as a transit country for transporting foreign victims from beyond the region to South Africa for forced labor. Some Swazi women are forced into prostitution in South Africa and Mozambique after voluntarily migrating in search of work.’

It concluded, ‘The Government of Swaziland does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.

The report shows little has changed in Swaziland in human trafficking. In 2009 the US State Department reported that women and children in the kingdom were bought and sold for sex, domestic servitude and forced labour. 

Mbabane and Manzini were again identified as the centres of trafficking of girls, particularly orphans, for sex. Swazi boys were trafficked for forced labour in commercial agriculture and market vending. Some Swazi women were forced into prostitution in South Africa and Mozambique after voluntarily travelling to these countries in search of work. 

In 2009, the The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reported that a form of serfdom existed in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The report said Swazis were forced to work without pay on projects determined by local chiefs (who are appointed by the king). These included agricultural work, soil erosion and construction and maintenance.

Swazis, seven in ten who live in abject poverty and earn less than two US dollars a day, are forced to work under the Swazi Administration Order, No. 6 of 1998, which makes it a duty of Swazis to obey orders and participate in compulsory works; participation is enforceable with severe penalties for those who refuse.

In October 2013 it was reported there were an estimated 1,302 people living in slavery in Swaziland. The report called the Global Slavery Index 2013 and published by the Walk Free Foundation stated, ‘Modern slavery includes slavery, slavery-like practices (such as debt bondage, forced marriage, and sale or exploitation of children), human trafficking and forced labour.’

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Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Swaziland Police are once again harassing progressives in the kingdom. The latest victim is Sifiso Mabuza, Deputy Secretary of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Siteki top branch.

About 30 armed police raided his home claiming they were looking for explosives. They found none.
Mabuza told local media the police questioned him about his union activities and threatened him.

Swaziland has a history of attacking workers’ rights. It has banned the workers’ federation, the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), broken up its meeting and harassed and arrested its leaders.

In September 2013, Swazi state police arrested all members of an international panel of experts who were due to meet to debate the role of trade unions in Swaziland. The meeting due to take place in Manzini was to be chaired by Jay Naidoo, founding General Secretary of COSATU and former Minister of Communications for South Africa.

In May 2013, in its annual report on Swaziland, Amnesty International reported, rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued to be violated in the kingdom. There were also ‘arbitrary arrests and excessive force used to crush political protests,’ the report stated, and ‘torture and other ill-treatment remained a persistent concern’ in Swaziland.
Amnesty noted that in May 2012 the African Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution ‘expressing alarm’ at the Swazi Government’s failure to implement previous decisions and recommendations of the Commission relating to the rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
These violations included the use by police of, ‘rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to break up demonstrations and gatherings viewed as illegal’.
In April 2013, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that recently Swaziland police and state security forces had shown ‘increasingly violent and abusive behaviour’ that was leading to the ‘militarization’ of the kingdom.

OSISA told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia, ‘There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections.’
In April 2013, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), two organiastions campaigning for democracy in the kingdom, in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a ‘private militia’ with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime. This was after about 80 armed officers broke up a public meeting to discuss the lack of democracy in the kingdom.


Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe has called for a new law to further restrict the news media in the kingdom.

He said Members of the Swazi Parliament should create legislation as soon as possible to regulate the media.

He also said that unknown entities were funding the private media in Swaziland to encourage them to discredit the kingdom’s courts and Judiciary.

Shongwe was speaking during a debate of his ministry’s second quarter budget performance report by the House of Assembly Portfolio Committee on Monday (10 November 2014).

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, quoted him saying, ‘The media has an agenda to fight the courts and I wonder who is funding it.’ 

The newspaper added that he said there was nothing wrong with the Judiciary, stating that the media was just creating uncertainty, which would lead to the rest of the citizens not trusting the courts yet everyone depended on the justice system. 

Censorship and intimidation of media is rife in Swaziland where Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a journalist and human rights lawyer, are serving two years in jail for writing articles critical of the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Nearly all radio and television stations are controlled by the state and news reports are heavily censored in favour of the King and the Royal Family.

In August 2014 Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Dumisani Ndlangamandla said the Swaziland Government would not let up on its control of state radio,  He said state media existed primarily to serve the interests of the state.
The Times reported that Shongwe said the media got away with a lot and published whatever they pleased because they knew that all they had to do was just issue a small retraction in the corner of page two.

‘The police, for example, are punished if they have wrongfully beaten up a person, but the media, just like lawyers in some instances, gets away with a lot,’ it quoted him saying.

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Monday, 3 November 2014


Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Swaziland Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has embarked on a campaign of misinformation about the state of the kingdom’s economy and its human rights record.

In an article published on the websites of both Foreign Policy Journal and the Harvard International Review, the Chief says the time for greater prosperity in Swaziland is nigh. He says the kingdom represents an, ‘increasingly attractive opportunity for foreign direct investment’.

In the article which has also been distributed on the African News Desk and Ein News websites, the Chief says that internationally there is, ‘a misrepresentation of the present position, and the opportunities available, within Swaziland’.

He writes, ‘Any notion that we are internally divided in our ambitions could not be further from the truth and suggests that certain western institutions may be referring to outdated, or even misguided, fact-books. Misinformation will serve only to hinder, as opposed to encourage, free enterprise in our country.’

The Chief, who was not elected to his office in Swaziland, where political parties are banned from taking part in elections, adds, ‘It is therefore important to recognize that present-day Swaziland is undergoing a sensitive and challenging process of economic revival.  And we are doing so while bringing about a new culture of governance and accountability.’

King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. 

The Chief’s comments that greater prosperity is nigh came just before Tex Ray, the largest of the Taiwanese textile operations in Swaziland, announced it was retrenching 1,450 of its 1,700 workforce because it has no orders. Other Taiwanese-based textile firms are expected to follow suit in the next few weeks.

The background to this campaign of misinformation is that the United States announced in June 2014 that from 1 January 2015 Swaziland would no longer be able to export goods into the US tariff-free under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA). 

The decision was taken because after years of broken promises: the Swaziland Government had failed to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.
In a statement, a White House spokesperson said, ‘The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility comes after years of engaging with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights.’ 

The statement said after an ‘extensive review’ the US, ‘concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights. In particular, Swaziland has failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern is Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.

In his article Chief Mgwagwa says, ‘… we do feel that it is time for certain western institutions to carry out a fresh analysis of reality on the ground in our country.’

The true reality on the ground in Swaziland has been and continues to be well documented. Respected organisations as diverse as afriMAP, Amnesty International, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the US State Department, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Labour Start, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Freedom House, have reported human rights violations across all sectors of society, including the banning of prayer meetings, arbitrary arrests and abductions of pro-democracy campaigners and the banning of trade union activities.

In July 2014 the US State Department and organisations across the world criticised the jailing for two years of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko after they wrote articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

There is evidence that the Chief’s charm offensive might not be working. One correspondent to the Foreign Policy Journal website wrote, ‘Can you describe what your government will do to protect the freedom of association for the people of Swaziland? The United States has said it has engaged continuously with your government for years on this very topic, but you have not changed your stance.’

A different correspondent on the Harvard International Review website wrote, ‘The Chief and Minister is completely divorced from reality. Swaziland is not an “increasingly attractive place for foreign investment” In the last year it has lost thousands of jobs and income in textiles and minerals. No honest investor would touch the place without a very good reason. Officials want payments to get a business set up and the courts will not protect you if the Royal family want to interfere.

‘The US-Africa summit showed that Swaziland’s record on human and workers’ rights continued to be a disgrace and that as long as the government remained opposed to supporting them AGOA would not be re-instated. When the trade unionists returned from Washington the Prime Minister recommended that they be “strangled” for telling the truth about conditions in Swaziland and not buying into the government’s propaganda.

‘He talks about a culture of governance and accountability – this government is accountable to the King, not the people. It has openly ignored votes in parliament and is manipulating the courts. Elections are a joke where political parties remain banned.’

The correspondent concludes, ‘Gumedze’s job is to portray his nation in the most favourable light but this article goes beyond political spin into downright denial of reality. The more worrying question is does he believe it himself?’

The Foreign Policy Journal itself cautioned its readers on Gumedze, saying, ‘The views expressed are his own.’

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Sunday, 2 November 2014


The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III of Swaziland, is talking up the chances of the new airport that takes his name receiving a ‘prestigious accolade’ at the World Airport Awards.

The airport, formally known as Sikhuphe and now called King Mswati III (KMIII) International, opened in March 2014 but only received its first commercial flights the following October. 

The only airline to use the airport has been the part-government-controlled Swaziland Airlink. No other airline has said it will use KMIII which was built in a wilderness about 70km from the main towns of Mbabane and Manzini.

Despite the inactivity of the airport, the Swazi Observer reported, ‘Given the world-class architectural design of King Mswati III International Airport, surely the country’s newest pride can now contend for a regional accolade in the annual World Airport Awards.’

It went on to say the awards were, ‘the most prestigious accolades for the airport industry, voted by customers in the largest, annual, global airport customer satisfaction survey.’

Only a handful of customers have used KMIII, but the awards are based on 12.85 million customer nominations and include 410 airports worldwide.

The newspaper said the awards were based on customer satisfaction across ‘39 key performance indicators’ for airport service.

The fact that KMIII has next to no passengers might not matter. In 2011 the airport was shortlisted for the African Airport of the Year Award – and it had not even been built. It was nominated for its ‘infrastructure development, adoption of modern airport technology, adherence to safety and security standards, new routes and human capital development as well as good service delivery’.

The prize organisers said the ‘coveted awards’ were ‘the highest industry honours of excellence conferred on airports’. Allegedly, the award was made after ‘a competitive screening process by a panel of global airport experts’.

Somehow they were able to give the ‘airport’ marks that included ‘innovative ways of marketing to airlines [and] evidence of relationship with airlines’, even though there were no airlines using the airport, because the airport did not exist.

In October 2013 a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the airport was widely perceived as a ‘vanity project’ because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it seeks to serve.
In June 2013 an engineer’s report was published by the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa saying the structure of the airport was defected and large jet airlines would not be able to land,
In an analysis of the airport’s future, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) said there were still many serious questions about the sustainability of the airport including, ‘how will it lure additional airlines to use its services, how will it compete with the airports in Johannesburg and Maputo, and will it ever get close to its full capacity of 360,000 passengers each year - which is more than five times as many as currently used by the existing airport at Matsapha’.
In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said the airport should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland.
About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day.
King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
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Saturday, 1 November 2014


The retrenchment of 1,450 jobs at Swaziland’s largest textile manufacturer Tex Ray draws attention to the continuing exploitation of workers in the kingdom.

Tex Ray is one of a number of textile companies from Taiwan which set up factories in Swaziland to exploit cheap labour, government subsidies, tax breaks and the kingdom’s status under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA), which allowed manufactured goods to be exported to the United States tariff free.

But, as Swaziland is set to lose its AGOA status on 1 January 2015 because of its poor record on worker rights, in particular protecting freedom of association and the right to organize, Tex Ray is to massively down-size and other Taiwanese-owned textile factories in the kingdom are expected to follow.

Tex Ray told local media in Swaziland it would retrench its workforce because it would make a financial loss when AGOA benefits were removed. Only 250 workers will remain at the company.

In a letter, to the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU) and Labour Commissioner Khabonina Dlamini, factory manager Lisa Chang said, ‘The company exports 100 per cent of its products to the United States of America market and due to the country’s exclusion [from AGOA], we have been unable to secure any further orders from our clients.’

Human Resource Manager Jackie Xu said, ‘All clothing produced within the Tex Ray Swaziland Factory was destined for the United States. So when there were no orders coming in and workers were idle, we decided to send them home while we figured out on what steps to take next.’

The Taiwanese companies have caused concern among labour union leaders and non-government organisations for years because of the way they exploit their workers. 

In July 2014 a survey of the Swaziland textile industry undertaken by the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) revealed workers in the textile sector were subjected to harsh and sometimes abusive conditions, many of the kingdom’s labour laws were routinely violated by employers, and union activists were targeted by employers for punishment. 

More than 90 percent of workers surveyed reported being punished by management for making errors, not meeting quotas or missing shifts. More than 70 percent of survey respondents reported witnessing verbal and physical abuse in their workplace by supervisors.

Commenting on the survey, the American labour federation AFL-CIO said, ‘Some workers reported that supervisors slap or hit workers with impunity. In one example, a worker knocked to the ground by a line manager was suspended during an investigation of the incident while the line manager continued in her job.

‘Women reported instances of sexual harassment, as well. Several workers said they or other contract (temporary) workers were offered a permanent job in exchange for sex.’

Mistreatment of workers in the textile industry in Swaziland has been known for many years and workers have staged strikes and other protests to draw attention to the situation.

In its report on human rights in Swaziland in 2013, the US State Department said wage arrears, particularly in the garment industry, were a problem. It said, ‘workers complained that wages were low and that procedures for getting sick leave approved were cumbersome in some factories. The minimum monthly wage for a skilled employee in the industry - including sewing machinists and quality checkers - was emalangeni 1,128 (US$113). Minimum wage laws did not apply to the informal sector, where many workers were employed.

‘The garment sector also has a standard 48-hour workweek, but workers alleged that working overtime was compulsory because they had to meet unattainable daily and monthly production quotas.’

A damning report on Swaziland’s textile industry called Footloose Investors, Investing in the Garment Industry in Africa, was published in 2007 by SOMO – Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

It said the Swaziland Government gave companies a large number of incentives such as tax exemptions and duty free importation of raw materials. The Government also allowed companies to take all profits and dividends outside of Swaziland, which in effect meant that there was little or no investment within Swaziland from the companies.

With a change of world trading conditions, Swaziland became less attractive to foreign companies. In order to maintain profits the companies began to lobby the Government for changes in the law. The companies especially wanted laws and regulations regarding labour loosened.

SOMO concluded, ‘It seems that the public spending on building shells and infrastructure aimed at attracting foreign investment in the garment industry has not brought about much economic benefit so far.’

The report stated, ‘Companies have been asking for certain “incentives” in exchange for their continued production in the country, implying that the country owes them something for their presence.

‘One of the companies in Swaziland, for example, Tex Ray, announced its willingness to set up a textile mill but asked in return for less stringent labour laws and laws on the environment, and for the prices of electricity and water to be halved. They also felt that government should subsidise the wages.’

In September 2014 hundreds of workers at Tex Ray were affected by poisonous chemical fumes at the factory in Matsapha. Many needed hospital treatment and the factory was closed for several days.

The Swazi Observer newspaper reported allegations from workers that retrenchment was a way for the company to avoid liability. The newspaper reported that other textile factories, including Kartat Investments, Kasumi and Union Industrial Washing, continued to operate.

The 1,450 workers retrenched at Tex Ray will receive terminal benefits ranging between E915 (US$90) and E18,000 (US$1,800). 

Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA) Secretary General Wonder Mkhonza told local media, ‘The benefits being calculated for them are too little to even survive for two months. For those of us close to the situation on the ground it’s really painful. Honestly, those who are far removed from the situation are happy because they don’t have to witness the misery that has become characteristic at the textile companies.’

The Swazi Observer reported there were at least 17,289 people employed by the textile companies in Swaziland and all these could lose their jobs should the kingdom lose its AGOA eligibility. 

Amongst these companies, Tex Ray has one of the highest number of employees at 6,000, Zheng Yong in Nhlangano has 2,000, FTM Garments employs 1,480, Leo Garments has 800, the Great Spring has 600 and HO’s Enterprise has 750.

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