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Friday, 3 July 2015


Swaziland: Striving for freedom Vol 18. April to June 2015

A Chief Justice sacked after allegations of abuse of power, the Justice Minister sacked and accused of bribery and corruption and the whole Swazi judiciary in crisis. These were the highlight events in the second quarter of 2015.

But that was not all, King Mswati III was revealed to have deceived his subjects when he bought himself a private jet aircraft in 2010. The plane was impounded by a court in Canada as the subject of a dispute over unpaid debts. Then, it was revealed that the King was buying himself another jet with a cost estimated at about $44 million.

Meanwhile, the international community were exploring ways to sanction the King and force a move towards democracy in Swaziland. 

Jailed journalists Bhekhi Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, both jailed for writing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary, had their convictions overturned by the Supreme Court.

This compilation available free of charge from scribd dot com brings together posts that originally appeared on the Swazi Media Commentary website. Swazi Media Commentary website has no physical base and is completely independent of any political faction and receives no income from any individual or organisation. People who contribute ideas or write for it do so as volunteers and receive no payment.
Swazi Media Commentary is published online – updated regularly.


The Swaziland Parliament attempted a coup-d’état in the kingdom, the Swazi Observer newspaper reported on Friday (3 July 2015).

It happened when the Swazi House of Assembly suspended its Speaker Themba Msibi after a number of allegations surfaced, including that he had been part of a plot to oust Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini.

The House of Assembly set up a select committee to investigate the allegations.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, but the House of Assembly by-passed the King in taking its action.

Alec Lushaba, the editor of the Sunday Observer, wrote in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, ‘Clearly, this was a coup-de-tat (sic).’

A coup d’état is defined as ‘a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force’.

The Swazi Observer was described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a 2013 report on press freedom in the kingdom as ‘a pure propaganda machine for the royal family’.
It is widely considered to be the voice of King Mswati III.

After a four-hour meeting the House of Assembly referred the matter of the Speaker to the King.

Lushaba wrote, ‘Parliament which this week after a four hour caucus finally resolved to make presentations to the appointing authority [the King], had undermined his authority.’

Lushaba wrote, ‘For a moment, the MPs forgot that they were Swazis and failed to respect the institution of the Monarch, which is vested with authority to appoint and remove people from office.’

Msibi was appointed Speaker by the King following the national election in 2013. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King appoints the government, top political officials and top judges.

Lushaba added, ‘Parliament must be fined 10 cattle for bringing the name of the King and country into disrepute in its handling of the Speaker issue.’

See also


Thursday, 2 July 2015


More than one in three of the government workforce in Swaziland is employed in the police or security services, figures recently released reveal.

King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch, is the Commander-in-Chief of the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF), holds the position of Minister of Defence, and is the Commander of the Royal Swaziland Police Service (RSPS) and His Majesty’s Correctional Service (HMCS). 

He presides over a civilian Principal Secretary of Defence and a Commanding General. 

In 2014, about 35 percent of the government workforce was assigned to security-related functions. 

The RSPS is responsible for maintaining internal security. The USDF is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, including protecting members of the Royal Family. 

The HMCS is responsible for the protection, incarceration, and rehabilitation of convicted persons and keeping order within HMCS institutions. HMCS personnel, however, routinely work alongside police during protests and demonstrations.

This has been revealed in the United States Department of State report on human rights in Swaziland for the year 2014.

There are thought to be more than 35,000 people on the government payroll in Swaziland.

The report stated, ‘While the conduct of the RSPS, USDF, and HMCS was generally professional, members of all three forces were susceptible to political pressure and corruption. There were few prosecutions or disciplinary actions taken against security officers accused of abuses.’

Reviewing 2014, the report stated, ‘There were credible reports of use of excessive force by community police and security forces during the year. For example, on July 21, the Times of Swaziland reported that on July 13, three Malindza community police beat to death a mentally challenged man who had escaped from the National Psychiatric Center. The three were arrested, jailed, denied bail, and awaiting High Court trial at year’s end.

‘The Times of Swaziland of July 28 reported that during the first week of July correctional services officers from Big Bend correctional facility re-apprehended an escaped prisoner, beat him, and locked him overnight in a truck as punishment for escaping. The inmate died, reportedly due to lack of medical attention and exposure to the cold.’

The report also said the Swazi Government permitted very limited monitoring of prison conditions.

‘Independent monitoring groups found it difficult to access prison facilities during the year, and none issued public reports. The government routinely denied prison access to local human rights organizations, African Union Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Pansy Tlakula, and foreign diplomatic representatives.’

The report added, ‘Authorities generally did not allow journalists inside prisons. On April 12, the HMCS denied visitation rights to six journalists from different media houses seeking to visit incarcerated Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and stated visitors must obtain permission from the commissioner of correctional services. Several international NGOs attempted to obtain permission without response from the commissioner.’

There were also arbitrary arrests in Swaziland.

The report stated, ‘Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police arbitrarily arrested and detained numerous persons, primarily to prevent their participation in public protests. For example, on August 30, the Times of Swaziland newspaper reported police detained 25 residents of KaLuhleko for three days for their opposition to the authority of a certain chief. Residents, including persons over the age of 71, alleged police tied their hands and legs to benches and covered their heads for three days.’

The judiciary in the kingdom was not independent.

The report stated, ‘The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the King’s power to appoint the judiciary on recommendation of the Judicial Services Commission limits judicial independence.

‘The judiciary was generally impartial in nonpolitical criminal and civil cases not involving the Royal Family or government officials. In cases involving high-level government officials or Royal Family members, however, outcomes in favor of these individuals were predetermined. 

‘High Court judges who exercised a degree of independence were sidelined and blocked from ruling on political cases, including human rights cases.’

See also


Wednesday, 1 July 2015


The Swaziland magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko had their jail sentences overturned by the Supreme Court after immense international pressure, but this will not change the judicial system in the kingdom.
The pair were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for writing and publishing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

On Tuesday (30 June 2015) the pair was released by the Supreme Court after judges ruled their conviction by the High Court was unsupportable. They had been in jail since March 2014.

Now, two of the groups involved in the campaign to free the two men are warning that the overturning of the conviction does not mean the judicial system has changed in Swaziland.

King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and he picks the top judges. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King choses the Prime Minister and the government. Groups that campaign for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Reacting to the release of Makhubu and Maseko, Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary, said, ‘Their release just a couple of weeks before the end of their prison sentences should not be seen as a sign of progress in Swaziland. International pressure has helped get them released early, and needs to be sustained to bring about respect for fundamental rights in Swaziland, which is one of the worst countries for violations against workers’ rights.’

Pressure came from all over the world, including the United Nations and the European Parliament. Amnesty International had named the two men prisoners of conscience.
In June 2015, The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) called for the immediate release of the two men and said they should be paid ‘adequate compensation, enforceable by law’. 

Organisations within Swaziland and Africa as well as outside the continent demanded the release of the two who wrote and published articles in a tiny-circulation monthly magazine the Nation, critical of the Swazi judiciary and the then Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

One of these groups, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, in a statement called the judiciary, ‘a tool of oppression of Mswati’s government. As long as the king remains an absolute monarch, there will never be any judicial independence in the country.’

It added. ‘This capitulation by the despot king is a direct result of the political pressure he has received from the Mass Democratic Movement, international institutions and foreign states. Without this pressure the two would still be languishing in prison. We therefore take the time to acknowledge the moral, financial and political support from those institutions.’

Ramodibedi was sacked from his post on 17 June 2015 after a Judicial Service Commission hearing found him guilty of abuse of power.  Ramodibedi left Swaziland for his home country of Lesotho. A warrant for his arrest has been issued in Swaziland.

See also



Democracy on a silver plate 

Kenworthy News Media, 1 July 2015 

“When we got our independence from the UK in 1968 it was given to us on a silver plate. The people of Swaziland didn’t understand or have to fight for their democracy”, Linus Mavimbela tells me. Five years after independence, the Swazi king introduced a state of emergency, banned all political parties, and turned Swaziland into a repressive absolute monarchy, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Linus Mavimbela is a leading member of the People’s United Democratic Movement in Swaziland. He was in Copenhagen to follow the Danish elections that were held on June 18 [2015], invited by the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy and the Danish political party The Red-Green Alliance.

Politicians are servants, not masters

Amongst other things, Linus Mavimbela visited poll stations and joined the campaign tour of Red-Green Alliance MP Christian Juhl. He was above all impressed with the humility of the Danish politicians.

“You can see that Danish politicians are servants, whereas in much of Africa they are masters. Christian, in his campaign, responded to even the smallest communities and took the time to answer all questions honestly and patiently. And the Danish PM graciously accepted losing the election, which is rarely something you see in Africa”, he says.

Democracy cannot be transplanted

But Denmark is after all one of the richest countries in the world. In Swaziland, on the other hand, most of the population live in the rural areas, and two thirds of Swazis survive on less than a dollar a day. This state of affairs is kept in place by the fact that absolute monarch Mswati III has banned political parties, imprisons and tortures dissidents and generally controls all aspects of Swazi society, says Linus Mavimbela .

He therefore doesn’t believe that democracy can be transplanted wholesale from Denmark to Swaziland.
“The heart of what is wrong in Swaziland is lack of democracy, but if you look at the Danish and Swazi systems, there is nothing that we can immediately use. However, not all that long ago Denmark was also an absolute monarchy just like Swaziland, which shows that there is hope for us too”, he says.

Participants not spectators

Linus Mavimbela believes that democracy must be fought for and practised on a practical level as well as theoretically, and with the population at large as participants, not spectators.

“It is very important that the people of Swaziland understand the value of democracy. But it is equally important that that we build institutions and organisations that ingrain democracy in them and continue the debate about democracy after it has been won. When the people have experienced democracy hands-on they will defend it”, he says.

Win from within

But it is one thing to prepare for democracy by civic education and other means, which has been an ongoing process in Swaziland for many years and which is a necessary precondition for any successful democratisation. Actually winning the struggle against a brutal dictatorship is a different and a more dangerous matter altogether, says Linus Mavimbela.

“We therefore have to engage the regime from all angles. We need more pressure from the international community and governments such as the Danish and other EU governments on issues such as human rights abuses and lack of democracy, for sure. But in the end you can only do so much. We need to fight more vigorously to also win the struggle from within – also to show the international community that we are serious about democracy and worth supporting”, he says.

Danish support

Looking out of his hotel window on the vibrant if cool Copenhagen summer evening, Linus tells me that he is happy that Denmark is in fact doing a lot for the cause of democracy in Swaziland already.

“I hope that one day soon we will be able to repay the Danes by turning Swaziland into a democratic state. But as is the case all over the world, democracy is never granted or given. It must be taken and then fought for every day.”

Tuesday, 30 June 2015


Swaziland’s Supreme Court on Tuesday (30 June 2015) ordered the release of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer, who had been jailed for two years for writing and publishing magazine articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

The Supreme Court said the jailing by the Swazi High Court was unsupportable. The pair had been in jail since March 2014.

The decision follows a massive international campaign to have Makhubu and Maseko released that included the United Nations and the European Parliament. Amnesty International had named the two men prisoners of conscience.
The Supreme Court upheld their appeal against their convictions in the High Court last year on two charges of contempt of court and their two-year prison sentences, and ordered their immediate release from prison. The two had written and published articles that appeared in the Nation magazine, a tiny-circulation monthly magazine that circulates in Swaziland.

Media are mostly state-controlled or in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The articles had been critical of the Swazi judiciary in particular and the then Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Ramodibedi was sacked from his post on 17 June 2015 after a Judicial Service Commission hearing found him guilty of abuse of power.  Ramodibedi left Swaziland for his home country of Lesotho. A warrant for his arrest has been issued in Swaziland.

The two men’s criminal trial in the Swazi High Court was presided over by Judge Mpendulo Simelane, who has since been charged with corruption and defeating the ends of justice. 

South Africa’s Independent on Line reported that at the Swazi Supreme Court the State had indicated that it was not opposing the appeal against conviction and sentence as the Directorate of Public Prosecutions believed that the convictions were unsupportable and that Judge Simelane should have recused himself from the case at the start of the trial. 

Caroline James, a freedom of expression lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which has been supporting Makhubu and Maseko’s legal fight, said, ‘The Crown’s concession that grave errors were made during the trial is a vindication for Maseko and Makhubu. The recognition by the prosecution and the court that the role of the prosecution is to prosecute and not persecute is extremely welcome in Swaziland where the law has been applied at the whim of individuals in the recent past.’

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which was one of the organisations from across the world that protested the sentences, welcomed the release and said the prosecutions had been ‘vindictive from the start’.

See also



Swaziland police reported there were nearly 1,000 cases of child sex abuse reported between January 2014 and May 2015.

But this nothing new. Swazi culture condones sex abuse of children, especially young girls, and there is little evidence that this is going to change.

In the twisted culture that is Swaziland, child rapists often blame women for their action.

The State of the Swaziland Population report revealed that women who ‘sexually starve’ their husbands are responsible for the growing sexual abuse of children.

Men who were interviewed during the making of the report said they ‘salivate’ over children wearing skimpy dress codes because their wives refused them sexual intercourse.

In Swaziland it is estimated that one in three girls suffer sexual abuse, but it is thought that fewer than half of sexual assaults and other abusive crimes are reported to the authorities. 

The State of the Swaziland Population report went on to say that Swazi men also blame ‘modernisation’ for giving women and girls the idea that they do not need to obey their menfolk.

The report stated, ‘They blamed the current generation of children for their inquisitorial minds, saying they always ask why? and why not? They were not content with counselling words from adults. They concluded that these were the negative impacts of education on behaviour.’

In Swaziland rape is against the law but there is no specific law about rape within marriage.

The United States Department of State report on human rights in Swaziland looking at 2014 stated, ‘Rape was common, and the government did not always enforce the law effectively. 

‘According to the Swaziland Action Group against Abuse (SWAGAA), one in three girls and women between the ages of 13 and 24 had been the victim of sexual violence. Although legally defined as a crime, many men regarded rape as a minor offense. According to the 2013 RSPS [Royal Swaziland Police Service] annual report, 495 rape cases were reported that year. There were no data available on the number of prosecutions, convictions, or punishments. 

‘The number of reported cases was likely far lower than the actual number of cases, as many cases were dealt with at the family level. A sense of shame and helplessness often inhibited women from reporting such crimes, particularly when incest was involved. 

‘The maximum sentence for aggravated rape is 15 years in prison, but the acquittal rate for rape was high, and sentences were generally lenient.

‘Prosecutors reported difficulty obtaining the evidence required to bring rape and domestic violence cases to trial because witnesses feared testifying against accused rapists. There were few social workers or other intermediaries to work with victims and witnesses in order to obtain evidence.’

See also


Monday, 29 June 2015


A raft of appointments of judges to Swaziland’s Supreme Court has raised questions about nepotism in the kingdom ruled by absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

Even one of the newspapers in Swaziland that he in effect owns has raised doubts about the wisdom of appointing judges who are related to one another.

And, the Swazi Attorney-General Majahenkhaba Dlamini has been appointed a temporary Supreme Court judge for the month of July 2015, raising questions about the independence from government of the judiciary.

On Friday (26 June 2015), seven acting judges to the Supreme Court were announced, which the Sunday Observer newspaper reported, ‘resulted in the kingdom’s judiciary turning into a close knit family affair of spouses and siblings’.

The newspaper reported, ‘Newly-appointed Judge of the Supreme Court Majahenkhaba Dlamini joins his wife High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini as members of the judiciary.

‘Former High Court Judge Qinisile Mabuza and her brother Sipho Nkosi have both been appointed Judges of the Supreme Court – the latter’s appointment is on an acting basis while the former’s is permanent.

‘There is also High Court Judge Nkululeko Hlophe whose wife is Supreme Court Registrar and Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Secretary Lorraine Hlophe.

‘With Majahenkhaba and his wife Judge Mumcy, questions have been raised on what would happen should the former, in his capacity as acting Supreme Court Judge, find himself having to review cases that were decided by the latter at the High Court.

‘There are suggestions that there are strong possibilities of this scenario coming true.’

There are also concerns that some of the new judges might not be suitably qualified.

The Observer reported, ‘A senior judicial expert who spoke to the Sunday Observer, though stating clearly not being opposed to the appointments, was worried that Acting Judges Nkosi and Cloete were appointed straight to the Supreme Court without any experience of presiding in the lower courts, especially the High Court.

‘“There is a lot that they need to learn, which they can do by presiding at the High Court before they are elevated to the Supreme Court,” said the expert.’

 The appointment of Attorney-General Majahenkhaba Dlamini to the Supreme Court for one month has raised doubts about King Mswati’s commitment to the separation of powers between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. 

Dlamini is a member of the Swazi Government that was hand-picked by King Mswati, an ex-official member of the House of Assembly and now a judge. That gives him a place in all three branches of government.

The full list of Supreme Court Judges:

• Acting Chief Justice Bheki Maphalala
• Dr. Ben Odoki JA
• Justice Stanley Maphalala JA
• Justice Jacobus Annandale JA
• Justice Qinisile Mabuza JA
• Justice Mbutfo Mamba JA
• AG Majahenkhaba Dlamini JA
• Lawyer Robert Cloete AJA
• Lawyer Sipho Nkosi AJA

Sunday, 28 June 2015


A new report shows Swaziland spent US$259.8 million on its military in the past three years. 

In 2014 military spending amounted to 5.9 percent of all government, spending in Swaziland, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its Military Expenditure Database for 2015.

The military spending amounted to 2.2 percent of Swaziland’s entire gross domestic product (GDP).

Swaziland has a population of nearly 1.3 million people. Seven in ten of them live in abject poverty, with incomes of less than US$2 per day.

In the calendar year 2014, Swaziland’s military spending was estimated to be US$80.6 million; about the equivalent of US$62 for every person in the kingdom.

King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and the government he handpicks, refuse to publicly discuss military spending citing ‘national security’ issues as an excuse.

Swaziland is a tiny landlocked kingdom and is not at war and there are no potential enemies at the borders ready to invade. Swaziland’s international obligations in the military arena are few, and Swazi troops are not expected to be deployed abroad anytime soon.

Despite the reluctance of the King and Government to discuss military spending it is possible to piece together a picture of what might be behind the large spending.

In 2011, the Swazi Government set aside more than E1 billion (US$100 million) for spending on the army and police force and the then Finance Minister Majozi Sithole admitted that the army was prepared for an uprising by the population in Swaziland.

This followed a series of prodemocracy uprisings in North Africa, leading to what became known as the ‘Arab Spring’. King Mswati was fearful something similar could happen in his kingdom.  A Facebook group calling itself the April 12 Uprising had already called for an overthrow of the King.

In February 2011, Sithole told an open stakeholder dialogue on the 2011-2012 budget and Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap, ‘Yes, we are spending a lot on the army but we are not anticipating what is happening in North Africa to come here,’ he said.

He added, ‘However, the army is there to avoid such situations.’ 

In 2009, the Swazi Government was revealed to be engaged in arms dealing by the United States. A diplomatic cable written by Maurice Parker, the then US Ambassador to Swaziland, and later published by WikiLeaks revealed that the UK Government had blocked an arms deal between a UK company Unionlet and the Swaziland Government because it feared their ‘possible use for internal repression’. 

The Swazi Government wanted to buy equipment worth US$60 million.

Among items listed for purchase were, ‘3 Bell Model UH-1H helicopters, FN Herstal 7.6251mm Minimi light machine guns, blank and tracer ammunition, armored personnel carriers, command and control vehicles including one fitted with a 12.7x99mm M2 Browning heavy machine gun and others fitted with the FN Herstal light machine guns, military ambulances, armored repair and recovery vehicles, weapon sights, military image intensifier equipment, optical target surveillance equipment, 620 Heckler & Koch G36E assault rifles, 240 Heckler & Koch G36K assault rifles, 65 Heckler & Koch G36E rifles, 75 Heckler & Koch UMP submachine guns 9x19mm, and 35 Heckler & Koch USP semi-automatic pistols’.

The Swaziland Government said it wanted the items to fulfil its United Nations ‘peacekeeping’ obligations in Africa.

The UK Government did not believe it and thought either the weapons would be used against the Swazi civilian population, or they were being bought in order to sell on to another country, possibly Iran. The UK Government blocked the deal.

In his diplomatic cable, Parker said, ‘The array of weapons requested would not be needed for the first phases of peacekeeping, although it is possible someone tried to convince the Swazi government they were required. The GKOS [Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland] may have been attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party such as Zimbabwe or a Middle Eastern country that had cash, diamonds or goods to trade.’

The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, which first broke the story, reported at the time, Swaziland had a poor human rights record which was criticised by the US state department in its 2009 report (the year the deal was to have taken place).

‘Government agents continued to commit or condone serious abuses, and the human rights situation in the country deteriorated. Human rights problems included inability of citizens to change their government; extrajudicial killings by security forces; mob killings; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees,’ the report said.

In the months before the attempted arms sale, Swaziland’s government declared the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) the main opposition political party a terrorist organisation and arrested its leader, Mario Masuku.

Once the cable became public in 2011, John Kunene, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, who signed the original deal in 2008, said the kingdom had never given up trying to buy the weapons.

The Swazi News, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reported (26 February 2011) that Kunene was still trying to broker a deal. 

In March 2011 Lutfo Dlamini, who was then Minister of Defence, denied the Wikileaks report and, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland, told the Swazi Senate there was at no stage where the country spoke of purchasing guns.  

The Swazi Observer reported him saying, ‘We never bought any guns anywhere and never spent E429 million. The information leaked was misleading, it was written by someone who had his own agendas.’

Clearly, Lutfo Dlamini was not telling the truth since Kunene had already confirmed that he was still trying to broker the deal.

In March 2011 Kunene was sacked from his job after a disclosure that the Umbutfu Swaziland Defence Force (the army) had run out of food to feed its soldiers. 

A month after the Wikleaks revelation about possible arms sales to the Middle East, the AFP news agency reported Swaziland was importing two containers of firearms through a Mozambican port. 

AFP quoted Mozambican state daily newspaper Noticias as its source. It reported the arms arrived in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, on a Panamanian vessel on 28 February 2011 from an unspecified country.

Swaziland is in effect broke and has been struggling for the past four years to come up with a recovery package that could revive the economy. It has ignored advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut its public service wage bill and to increase the amount of money it collects in taxation. The IMF wants moneys to be transferred from capital expenditure projects to help poor and disadvantaged people.

In March 2013 it was revealed that the Swazi government had sold US$3 million worth of maize donated by Japan as humanitarian aid to feed malnourished people, including children. It put the money raised in a special account at the Central Bank of Swaziland.  

See also