Search This Blog

Loading...

For more coverage follow us also on Twitter and Facebook


Monday, 31 March 2008

SWAZI CONSTITUTION DOES NOT WORK

Doubts have been raised about whether Swaziland’s 33 oppressive media laws are still in force.

There is a thought that the Swazi Constitution that came into effect in 2006 wipes them all away.

The discussion started after I wrote that watching the documentary Without The King which claims it ‘captures the birth of a nation’s revolution’ is an act of sedition under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, 1938. I later wrote that there were 33 legal restrictions on the media presently in operation in Swaziland.

This may not be so, according to a correspondent from the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) who has a finer legal mind than mine. He says the Constitution can overrule all the laws that went before it.

He writes,

‘In judicial interpretation there is a doctrine of implied repeal. Where two laws contradict one and other the later one repeals the earlier one to the extent of contradiction or inconsistency. Also s 2 (1) of the Constitution contains this doctrine.

‘Now the argument becomes whether the position of the king is so special that it would be inconceivable that the Constitutional provisions on freedom of expression would include sedition. The monarchy does not get any special mentions in the limitations in the Bill of Rights. However, it would take a particularly courageous judge to interpret the Constitution so’.


He goes on to suggest that we need a test case on whether or not viewing Without The King would be a seditious act. Maybe he’s right because although I don’t think the police are going to come knocking on my door if I sit at home watching the documentary, I am not so sure that if I showed it to a public gathering, they wouldn’t close us down and arrest us. Or knowing the Swazi police beat the daylights out of us.

The legal nicety about the Constituion ‘repealing’ the repressive acts doesn’t hold water in Swaziland. The US State Department noted in its report of Human Rights in Swaziland published in March 2008, that in Swaziland,

‘Government agents continued to commit or condone serious abuses [of human rights]. Human rights problems included: inability of citizens to change their government; unlawful killings by security forces; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force; police impunity; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; limits on freedom of speech and of the press; restrictions on freedom of assembly and association; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; restrictions on freedom of movement; discrimination and violence against women; poor enforcement of women's rights; child abuse; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against mixed race and white citizens; antiunion discrimination and child labor.’

None of the above suggests Swaziland has a ruling elite that respects the Constitution.

If we look at media in particular, we can see that under section 24 of the Constitution, ‘a person has a right of freedom of expression and opinion.’

It goes on to state that a person enjoys ‘freedom of expression, which includes the freedom of the press and other media, that is to say freedom to hold opinions without interference; freedom to receive ideas and information without interference; freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons); and freedom of interference with the correspondence of that person.’

Section 24 of the Constitution is not working. You only need to look at how media in Swaziland continues to be harassed to see this. In March 2007, for example, (a full year after the Constituion came into effect) the Times of Swaziland newspaper group was threatened with closure because it published an article (sourced from abroad) that criticised King Mswati III.

I have been collecting examples of the way the freedom of expression in Constituion is being ignored. I think the list proves conclusively that there is no guarantee of freedom of expression in Swaziland.

Here’s my list (if you have any other examples, please share them with me).

May 2006
King Mswati III banned newspapers from writing about his wives without his permission, even while covering official events, after the Times Sunday interviewed one of his wives (with her consent) while she was sick in hospital. This was the second time in 12 months that the Swazi king gagged the media from reporting about royalty. It should be noted that this ban was not reported within Swaziland. This banning by the king simply continued a trend that had been operating since before the new constitution, for example, in 2005, the king ordered the media to stop writing about his lavish spending after newspapers published that he had purchased US$500,000 worth of luxurious vehicles for his 13 wives.

October 2006
Parliament ordered the Times of Swaziland to apologise for an opinion expressed in the newspaper that referred to a select committee that investigated the operations of the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service as a ‘kangaroo court’. In an editorial the Times declined to apologize.

November 2006
The Public Services and Information Minister S’gayoyo Magongo instructed Swazi TV to reinstate an employee the station wished to dismiss (Swazi TV complied with the instruction). In Parliament the minister said Section 75 of the constitution empowered him to do this as it charges ministers with responsibility ‘for the policy and general direction and control’ over their departments.

December 2006
The Times of Swaziland came under attack a by a committee that was putting together a case to demand the return from neighbouring South Africa of land that Swaziland claimed belonged to it. At a press conference members of the committee including the chair Prince Khuzulwandle, a member of the Royal Family, criticised the newspaper for collecting views on the issue from members of the public. The response the newspaper received was hostile to the demand for restoration prompting the committee to question why the newspaper asked ordinary people instead of people who were knowledgeable on the subject.

The Times’ response (in an editorial in the newspaper) was to reassert its readers’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech.

February 2007
The king’s chief executive officer Bheki Dlamini barred journalists at a press conference from asking the king questions relating to the recently-formed Swaziland Police Union, whose formation had shaken the Swazi establishment.

June 2007
The Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Njabulo Mabuza, banned health workers from talking to the media in response to a number of stories highlighting the impact of a critical drug shortage.

Workers were forbidden to have any type of communication, including interviews and casual or 'indiscreet' conversations, whether at clubs, hotels, bars or private parties. Journalists were also barred from Mbabane Government Hospital, the country's key medical facility, whose problems have been highlighted in the press. These problems were considered by the press to be typical of the wider crisis afflicting the healthcare system. In fact, it turned out that the ban had been in position for some years previously but was only being enforced now following a series of news reports in newspapers about deaths in government hospitals.

October 2007
The Times of Swaziland tried to find out how much it cost taxpayers to send the Prime Minister A T Dlamini on a trip from Swaziland to the Bahamas. The newspaper was told it could not have the information because it was ‘classified’ information. The newspaper had also been trying without success to get government to disclose the names of companies which won tenders for government business.

November 2007
The Swazi House of Assembly set up a select committee to investigate the editor of the Times Sunday Mbongeni Mbingo following a comment piece the newspaper ran criticising the House Speaker for not allowing a debate to take place on possible amendments to the kingdom’s constitution. The select committee exonerated the editor stating his rights to freedom of expression under the Constitution.

However, what seemed like a victory for the free press was illusionary because the select committee decided it wanted Parliament to accredit journalists who covered the proceedings of parliament, in effect giving the government control over who could report and who could not. The committee also called for the reintroduction of the defunct Media Council Bill (that had originally been tabled in 1997), which, among other things, would require journalists to be qualified and registered with some central body.

See also
SWAZILAND’S OPPRESSIVE MEDIA LAWS
SWAZI KING DOCUMENTARY ‘SEDITIOUS’

Saturday, 29 March 2008

NO BRIBE, 'SO SWAZI POLICE KILL MAN'

An editor of one of Swaziland’s few independent newspapers has accused the Swazi police of killing a man after he refused to pay them a bribe.

The man was shot after officers stopped the kombi he was driving and he ran off to escape from police.

Martin Dlamini, managing editor of the Times of Swaziland, writing in his own newspaper yesterday (28 March 2008), said,

‘It would come as no surprise if the kombi driver was being forced to bribe his way out of trouble and after failing to get the money, the officer decided to silence the driver who would otherwise have exposed him. The driver is dead now, so nobody will ever know.’

The comment follows reports on Tuesday (25 March 2008) that the driver had tried to escape the police to avoid a maximum fine of E5,000 (about US 720 Dollars) for drink driving, under a new traffic law in Swaziland. Police shot him although he was unarmed.

This contrasts with a report in the Times Sunday (23 March 2008) that a government minister who was stopped by police for drink driving refused to take a breath test and eventually the police let him drive home (still drunk) without charging him.

Dlamini wrote, ‘No gun was pointed at him to force him to submit but instead he received offers to drive him home given the state he was in. He refused and was allowed to drink drive again. Senior police officers woke up in the early morning and drove to the police station to afford the minister the best treatment possible.’

The government minister is not the only one receiving special treatment by the police. The Police Commissioner Edgar Hillary was photographed by the Times Sunday (25 March 2008) driving his car while using his cell phone, although this is illegal under the new traffic law.

Newspapers reported on Thursday (27 March 2008) that a 22-year-old woman was allegedly raped by a police officer in the cell at a police station. She had been held in custody because she had not been able to pay a fine of E160 (about 20 US dollars).

On Friday (27 March 2008) the Swazi Observer reported that police allegedly forced a suspect to pick up human faeces left by another prisoner at Lobamba Police Station.

Dlamini wrote in the Times,

‘To call for action by the Police Commissioner Edgar Hillary would be flogging a dead horse. He would first have to pay his fine for driving while using a cell phone before calling any of his charges to order and as we all know, he is not new to breaking the law.

‘The conduct of the police and their crimes should be a matter of serious concern for the Prime Minister’s office and it must be dealt with urgently.’

This latest spate of police incidents comes nearly two weeks after it was announced that the army was to set up bases across the kingdom to (the government claims) help tackle rising crime in Swaziland.

This, Dlamini writes, fuels the ‘growing resentment towards the security forces’.

He writes, ‘That the army will soon be unleashed to invade our homes can only make things worse. Whoever initiated this idea had better call it off immediately. If this is to suggest police are now incapable of carrying out their duties, it can only confirm we are soon to become a military state.

‘Who is suddenly very afraid of the peace loving, respectful Swazi people for him/her to set the army to instil fear and control?’

SWAZI P.M. HITS AT BRUTAL POLICE

Swaziland’s Prime Minister has come out to condemn police who brutally attacked legally striking textile workers.

Both daily newspapers in Swaziland reported the PM’s comments yesterday (Friday 28 March 2008), which were made at a press conference.

The independently-owned Times of Swaziland reported,

‘Prime Minister Themba Dlamini has condemned the police brutality on the striking workers belonging to the textile industry.’

‘The premier, in his address during a press conference yesterday, said government was totally against the brutality exhibited by the police on the defenceless strikers about a fortnight ago.

‘He described the bashing and shooting of the textile workers with rubber bullets by some members of the police as very unfortunate.'


The Swazi Observer, a newspaper effectively owned by the Swazi Royal Family, also reported the Prime Minister, but stressed that the PM ‘was convinced that no sane officer could have acted in that manner without provocation’.

Both the Times and the Observer also reported the PM accusing ‘outsiders’ who were not striking textile workers of taking further their own interest.

Police had brutally attacked workers and innocent by-standers as they tried to break up the legal strike. It was reported that one pregnant and a baby were killed in separate incidents during the attacks.

See also
SWAZI POLICE ‘KILL BABY WITH TEARGAS’

Friday, 28 March 2008

SWAZI ELECTION – CODE OF CONDUCT

Media houses in Swaziland need to start preparing for the national election that is due to take place later this year (2008).

At the last election in 2003 Swazi media were criticised for not giving enough information to the people of the kingdom about what was going on. On the day of the election itself Radio Swaziland didn’t even report that an election was taking place.

The poor media coverage prompted the Commonwealth Expert Team, which monitored the election in Swaziland, to recommend that in future elections a Code of Conduct for media personnel covering elections should be drawn up. This, it felt, would ‘ensure high standard and balanced coverage’ in reporting.

But nothing much has happened since then. The Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) has a code of conduct that provides a framework of reference to all practicing journalists in Swaziland, both full-time and freelance.

The code is meant to ensure that members adhere to the highest ethical standards, professional competence and good behaviour in carrying out their duties. Its overriding concern is that members of the media should conduct themselves with a high sense of responsibility without infringing the rights of individuals and society in general.

However, the SNAJ code is not followed by most journalists in Swaziland and it does not deal with the coverage of elections. In this respect Swaziland is falling behind other countries in Africa. Since the turn of the century a number of African states have produced guidelines for journalists and other media personnel when covering elections. Among these states are Sierra Leone and Somaliland.

Here, in the latest of an occasionally series of posts I am writing on the Swazi elections 2008, is an attempt to start people thinking about what a code of conduct on election coverage could look like in Swaziland, I want to propose a draft code of conduct for covering elections in Swaziland.

I do not want to reinvent the wheel so I have borrowed extensively from codes of Sierra Leone, Somaliland and also work done by ACE Electoral Knowledge Network.

Preamble

The preamble should make some definitive statements about what the role media have in the process of politics, such as these.

The media play an important role in monitoring the electoral process. By covering the election events and the political campaign, the media ensure that the public is aware of what is happening.

The media help the public to make a free and informed choice. They do this in three ways in particular:
• By communicating political messages from parties and candidates;
• By relaying important voter information from election administrators;
• By subjecting the whole election process to independent scrutiny and comment.

Individual journalists

Then we might look at the responsibilities of individual journalists.

Such as:
• The first duty of a journalist is to report accurately and without bias.
• A journalist shall report only in accordance with facts of which s/he knows the origin. A journalist shall not suppress essential information.
• A journalist shall observe professional secrecy regarding the source of information obtained in confidence.
• A journalist shall report in a balanced manner. If a candidate makes an allegation against another candidate, the journalist should seek comment from both sides wherever possible.
• A journalist shall do the utmost to correct any published information that is found to be harmfully inaccurate.
• As far as possible, a journalist shall report the views of candidates and political parties directly and in their own words, rather than as they are described by others.
• A journalist shall avoid using language or expressing sentiments that may further discrimination or violence on any grounds, including race, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinions, and national or social origins.
• When reporting the opinions of those who do advocate discrimination or violence, a journalist shall do the utmost to put such views in a clear context and to report the opinions of those against whom such sentiments are directed.
• A journalist shall not accept any inducement from a politician or candidate.
• A journalist shall not make any promise to a politician about the content of a news report.
• A journalist shall take care in reporting the findings of opinion polls. Any report should wherever possible include the following information:
• who commissioned and carried out the poll and when
• how many people were interviewed, where and how were they interviewed and what is the margin of error
• what was the exact wording of the questions.
• A journalist shall regard the following as grave professional offences:
• plagiarism
• malicious misrepresentation
• calumny, slander, libel or unfounded accusations
• acceptance of a bribe in any form in consideration of either publication or suppression.

Media houses

Media houses have a vital role in ensuring fairness in the dissemination of information. The people have the right to know what all the candidates are standing for and not just those that the media house owners might support.

• In all media, there shall be a clear separation between fact and comment. News reporting should reflect the facts as honestly perceived by journalists. Comment may reflect the editorial line of the publication.
• Publicly owned media shall not express an editorial opinion in favour of or against any candidate.
• Publicly owned media have a duty to be balanced and impartial in their election reporting and not to discriminate against any candidate in granting access to air time.
• If media houses accept paid political advertising, they shall do so on a non-discriminatory basis and at equal rates for all candidates.
• News, interviews, information or current affairs programmes or articles in the public media shall not be biased in favour of or against any candidate.
• The media shall provide equitable and regular coverage to all candidates.
• The media shall encourage and provide access to the voters to express their opinion and views.
• The media shall promote democratic values such as the rule of good law, accountability and good governance.
• Any candidate or party that makes a reasonable claim of having been defamed or otherwise injured by a broadcast or publication shall either be granted the opportunity to reply or be entitled to a correction or retraction by the broadcaster or publisher or by the person who made the allegedly defamatory statement. The reply or correction shall be broadcast or published as soon as possible.
• News coverage of press conferences and public statements concerning matters of political controversy (as opposed to functions of state) called or made by the head of government, government ministers, or members of parliament shall be subject to a right of reply or equal time rules. This obligation acquires even greater force when the person making the statement is also standing for office.
• Publicly owned media shall publish or broadcast voter education material.
• Voter education material shall be accurate and impartial and must effectively inform voters about the voting process, including how, when and where to vote, to register to vote and to verify proper registration; the secrecy of the ballot (and thus safety from retaliation); the importance of voting; the functions of the offices that are under contention; and similar matters.
• Voter education shall include programmes in minority languages and programmes targeted for groups that traditionally may have been excluded from the political process, such as women and people with disabilities.
• Media houses should monitor their own output to make sure that it conforms with the standards set out in this code of conduct.

Candidates

Codes of conduct in election coverage in other African states recognise that political parties contest elections. In Swaziland, which is not a democracy, political parties are banned. The kingdom has its own unique form of ‘democracy’ which only allows candidates to stand for election as individuals.

The purpose of my draft code of conduct for Swaziland is to deal with the elections that will take place in 2008. It is highly unlikely that there will be a change of heart among the kingdom’s ruling elite before the elections are held, so we must assume that candidates will not be aligned to any political party. Therefore, this code of conduct is addressed to individuals; although it would apply equally to political parties should they be allowed to exist.


• All candidates shall respect the freedom of the media.
• Candidates shall not harass or obstruct journalists who are engaged in their professional activities.
• Incumbent candidates shall not abuse their office to gain unfair advantage in access to the media. This provision applies to all media, but is of particular relevance when publicly funded media are under direct control by the government of the day.
• Candidates shall not offer bribes or inducements to journalists or media houses to encourage them to attend campaign events or to report favourably on the party or unfavourably on other parties or candidates.
• Candidates should not misrepresent the stated positions or any other factual information about other parties and candidates.
• Candidates should avoid using language that is inflammatory or defamatory, or that threatens or incites violence against any other person or group.


This has been a brief attempt to get people thinking about what a code of conduct might include. I know that it consists mainly of lists of things to do (and not to do). I hope in future posts to return to this draft code and put some flesh onto the bones.

See also
SWAZILAND ELECTIONS BACKGROUND
SWAZI MEDIA ELECTION COVERAGE
SWAZILAND ELECTION BOYCOTT
SWAZI ELECTION AND THE NEW P.M.

WILL ELECTION DESTABILISE SWAZILAND?
SWAZI RADIO AND THE ELECTIONS
SWAZI ELECTION ‘MAY NOT BE FAIR’

SWAZI ANTI-MEDIA LAWS – FULL LIST

My comments that media in Swaziland are restricted by repressive laws got a swift response yesterday. I said that media commentators reckoned there were more than 30 such laws, but I doubted if there were really that many.

No sooner had I posted my blog with a request to see the list if it really existed than a reply came pinging back from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Swaziland Chapter. It turns out that MISA is the group that counted up all the restrictive laws. It did it for a book it published in 2003 called naturally enough ‘Restrictive Media Laws in Swaziland’.

There are in fact 33 on the list, but some look a bit strange to me. How, for example, does the Dairy Act 1968 or the Citrus Act 1967 restrict the media?

MISA has promised to send me a copy of the book so I can find out for myself.

Meanwhile, here is the full list:

1. 1973 King’s Proclamation
2. Proclamation No.1 of 1981
3. Public Order Act 1963
4. Proscribed Publications Act 1968
5. Official Secrets Act
6. Sedition and Subversive Act 1968
7. Protected Places and Areas Act 1966
8. Obscene Publications Act 1927
9. Cinematography Act 1968
10. Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Act
11. Books and Newspapers Act 1963
12. Swaziland Television Authority Act 1983
13. Parliamentary Privileges Act
14. Internal Security Bill
15. Public Accounts Committee Order 1974
16. Patents, Design and Trade Marks Act
17. Magistrates Court Act 1938
18. High Court Act 1954
19. Judicial Services Commission Act
20. Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 1939
21. Electoral Act
22. Standing Orders of Senate Relating to Public Business
23. Emergency Powers Act 1968
24. Prevention of Corruption Order 1993
25. Control of Supplies Order 1973 (later referred to as an Act??)
26. Statistics Act 1967
27. Regulation of Advertisements Act 1953
28. Aviation Act 1968
29. Cotton Act 1967
30. Dairy Act 1968
31. Citrus Act 1967
32. Identification Order 1998
33. Public Health Act 1969


See also
SWAZILAND’S OPPRESSIVE MEDIA LAWS

Thursday, 27 March 2008

SWAZILAND’S OPPRESSIVE MEDIA LAWS

I raised a few eyebrows yesterday (26 March 2008) when I suggested that being in possession of a copy of the Without The King documentary was an act of sedition under Swaziland’s oppressive laws.

I think the people who were surprised and even a little bit shocked were those who had never stopped to examine the legal situation Swaziland.

Some people in the international community have been misled by the Swazi Constitution that came into effect in 2006. When you look at what it has to say about freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of association, it reads like a model constitution.

The problem is the Constitution is a confidence trick because the laws that existed before it was published have not been repealed, nor does there seem to be any move in the near future to do so. The ruling elite in Swaziland like it just fine that they can restrict people in what they say, who they say it to, and where they say it.

Some media commentators have said there are about 30 laws in Swaziland that restrict the media. I’m not so sure there really are that many (if someone knows them all please send me a list) but here courtesy of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Article 19 are the main ones.

The Official Secrets Act, 1968 prohibits any person who possesses or has been entrusted, ‘by any person holding office under the Government’, with any code, password, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information, from communicating it to any unauthorized person, retaining it, failing to take proper care of it or using it ‘in any manner or for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of Swaziland’.

The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, 1938 makes a speech or publication seditious if it is intended to bring the King, his heirs, successors, or government into contempt or encourage hatred of them. The Act defines ‘publication’ to include ‘all written or printed matter and everything, whether or not of a nature similar to written or printed matter, containing any visible representation or by its form, shape, or in any manner capable of suggesting words or ideas, and every copy and reproduction of any publication’. Also seditious are publications or speeches that intend to encourage hatred or contempt of, or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Swaziland, to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Swaziland.

The Cape Libel Act, 1882 makes it an offence punishable by two years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both, to ‘publish a defamatory libel’: that is to injure the reputation of a person and expose him or her to hatred, ridicule and contempt.

The Ndlovukati Act, 1968 protects the person of the Ndlovukati (Queen Mother). ‘A person who does or attempts to do, or makes preparation, or conspires with any other person, to do, an act with the intention of bringing into hatred or contempt, or of inciting disaffection or ill will or hostility against, the person of Ndlovukati, shall be guilty of an offence.’

The Obscene Publications Act, 1927 prohibits the importation, making, manufacture, production, sale, distribution, or public exposure of indecent or obscene material. No exemption is granted to material of an artistic, literary or scientific nature. The penalties are a fine, or a prison sentence of up to six months, or both. The Act does not define what it means by the terms ‘indecent’ and ‘obscene’. (Presumably this is meant to refer primarily to pornographic material.)

The Magistrate’s Courts Act, 1939 grants magistrates the power to hold trials in camera or to exclude females, minors and the public generally ‘in the interest of good order or public morals’. The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act of the same year extends this power of the magistrate to the preparatory examination phase of a case. The Act adds a further reason which may justify in camera proceedings. A magistrate may decide it is in the interests of “the administration of justice”.

The Proscribed Publications Act, 1968 empowers the Minister for Public Service and Information to ban publications ‘if the publication is prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.’

The Books and Newspaper Act, 1963 prohibits anyone from printing or publishing a newspaper in Swaziland unless the editor of the newspaper is resident within Swaziland and without a registration certificate issued by the Registrar of Books and Newspapers. Where a newspaper has more than one editor, the chief editor has to be resident in Swaziland. The effect of this is that newspapers have to be locally controlled and registered in order to be disseminated in Swaziland.

The Cinematograph Act, 1920 controls the making and public dissemination of films, and of pictures and placards relating to the films. It is prohibited for anyone to make a film showing African gatherings or African life without the prior permission of the Minister for Public Service and Information. The Act further prohibits films to be made of certain Swazi cultural occasions and celebrations namely the Incwala Day, the King’s Birthday, the Umhlanga (Reed Dance) and the Somhlolo (Independence Day) without the Minister’s written consent. The Minister has an unlimited discretion to grant or to refuse consent.

A particularly draconian aspect of the legislation is that section 6 empowers the Minister to declare any picture to be objectionable (within his complete discretion) if he believes that the picture represents scenes holding up to ridicule or contempt any member of the King’s naval, military or air forces;
- scenes tending to ‘disparage public characters’; scenes calculated to ‘affect the religious convictions or feelings of any section of the public’;
- scenes ‘suggestive’ of immorality or indecency;
- executions, murders and ‘other revolting scenes’;
- scenes of ‘debauchery, drunkenness, brawling, or of any other habit of life not in accordance with good morals and decency’ scenes depicting ‘successful’ crime or violence; and
- scenes which are ‘in any way prejudicial to the peace, order or good government of Swaziland’.

Protection of sources
There are no laws, which specifically refer to the protection of the confidentiality of journalistic sources. The principle of the right of a journalist to protect their sources, which is a crucial element of media freedom and of freedom of expression and information generally, is certainly not respected in Swaziland.

Freedom of Information
Swaziland has no freedom of information legislation. The Official Secrets Act and other restrictive practices restrict the media in their efforts to obtain information and report freely on the activities of government. Access to information from the government and officials depends on goodwill and contacts rather than on any clearly established rules. A Freedom of Information Act is urgently needed in Swaziland.

See also
SWAZILAND ‘REVOLUTION DOCO ON DVD
SWAZI KING DOCUMENTARY ‘SEDITIOUS’

DEREK 'IS AN ANGEL SENT BY GOD'

After my comments about Derek Van Dam, the US weatherman turned missionary in Swaziland I received this email from a fan (of Derek’s not mine).


Hello there,
I just read everything that you wrote about Derek Van Dam. What do you have agianst Derek? You make him out to be this guy that knows nothing unless it has to do with the weather.


Have you ever met Derek? Derek is one of the most sweetest, caring and loving guy that I know. He truely cares about the kids over there in Africa.

It took a lot for Derek to pack up and move half way around the world. He is over there away from his family and friends. He is great at what he does and that just happens to be the weather.

He is an angel sent from God.

If you just give him a chance and get to know the real Derek you will see what we all see. that is a wonderful guy!! Derek has a big heart and you have to admit that his heart is in the right place.

That trip has changed his life big time and you guys are lucky to be getting him in Africa. What I would have given to have him back here in Michigan again.

All I am saying is before you judge someone, give them a chance and get to know them first!!!

Jennifer
Essexville, MI US

See also
DEREK COMES TO AFRICA
DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 1
DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 2
DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 3

DEREK GOES TO AFRICA 4

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

SWAZILAND ‘REVOLUTION’ DOCO ON DVD

The award-winning, but highly controversial, documentary that claims Swaziland is close to a state of revolution has finally reached Swaziland.

DVDs of the documentary called Without The King are now circulating within Swaziland. It is impossible to buy the DVD legally in Swaziland - possessing one would be an act of sedition - but imports have been passed around the kingdom over the past days.

According to the documentary’s own publicity it ‘captures the birth of a nation’s revolution’. I’m not convinced that anything in the DVD really justifies that statement, but there are scenes where ordinary people in Swaziland talk about their dissatisfaction with the ruling elite – including King Mswati III.

It is impossible to hear such views in public in Swaziland where most media are government controlled and the so-called ‘independent’ newspapers are scared to criticise the king.

Remember, in 2007 the Times of Swaziland group of newspapers was threatened with closure after the Times Sunday published mild criticism of the king and the way he was thought to put off foreign investors with his lavish lifestyle. The newspapers were forced to apologise humbly or be closed.

Without the King – the title doesn’t come from a wish to see the king deposed, rather it is a line from the king’s eldest daughter Princess Sikhanyiso who says ‘Without the king [Swaziland] has no culture’- contrasts the lifestyle of the Swazi Royal Family with ordinary people in the kingdom. In Swaziland about 70 per cent of the population live on less than one US dollar (E7) per day.

Without The King visits Moneni Township to witness near-starving people eating intestines they have scavenged from a rubbish tip. Their water supply is no larger than a puddle.

In another part of the documentary political activists speak about their desire to change Swaziland.

One activist says, ‘Nations are like babies; they don’t just stand up and walk. But now it is clear to everybody, we can’t take this any longer. By tomorrow, we can mobilize thousands; people can get to the streets. We have that power; we have that capacity to do that.

He goes on, ‘We cannot go to South Africa and ask for guns, we cannot go to America and ask for guns, but we can creep at night with our knives and kill them …. A knife is about 20 rand, today we can do it. It’s only time and proper organizing.’

The documentary shows a second political activist saying, ‘The government belongs to the king that is why now the buck rests with him. If his people are failing to deliver the basics, the ones he appointed, not the people, definitely, they’re going to point fingers at him.

‘If we are going to have a constitution that is driven down the throat of the people, without their mandate, that is dictatorship.’

He goes on, ‘For instance, yesterday I was prepared to die for the struggle. But today I don’t want to die for the struggle. I want to kill for the struggle.’

There are more scenes of criticism in the documentary that make the ones above seem mild. Without The King is so critical of the monarchy that I am sure anyone in possession of the DVD in Swaziland would be committing an act of sedition, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

Without The King won the special Jury Prize at Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, Canada, last year (2007). It has been shown all over the world, but it is thought that now is the first time it has been seen in Swaziland.

See also
SWAZI KING DOCUMENTARY ‘SEDITIOUS’
SWAZI DOCO ON TOUR

SWAZILAND WITHOUT THE KING
UNREALITY OF SWAZI MEDIA FREEDOM

SWAZI KING DOCUMENTARY 'SEDITIOUS’

Anyone who has in his or her possession a copy of the documentary Without the King is committing sedition. I can hear cries of incredulity rising all around me, but it is a fact. Even though the Swazi Constitution that came into effect in 2006 allows for freedom of expression, draconian laws in Swaziland have not been repealed.

Possibly the most draconian of all the laws in Swaziland is the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, 1938. The main purpose of the Act is to provide for the suppression and punishment of sedition, that is criticism of the King and the Swaziland government.

Read these extracts from the Act (particularly Section 4) and tell me that I’m wrong.

Section 4 makes it an offence for any person to do anything or even to attempt to do anything with seditious intent. It is also an offence to conspire with anyone who wants to do anything with seditious intent. This includes the utterance of seditious words as well as the printing and dissemination of seditious publications. The importation of seditious publications is also an offence except if the importer had no reason to believe that the publication was seditious.

Section 3(1) defines a ‘seditious intention’ as an intention to:
- bring the King into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against the King, his heirs, his successors and the government of Swaziland;
- excite the citizens and inhabitants of Swaziland to ‘procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter in Swaziland as by law established’;
- bring the Swaziland justice administration system into hatred, contempt or disaffection;
- raise discontent amongst the citizens and inhabitants of Swaziland; or
- promote ‘feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Swaziland’.

Any person found guilty of sedition may be fined and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for a first offence and three years’ on a subsequent offence. Mere possession of a seditious publication may lead to a fine and imprisonment for one year for a first offence and for two years for a subsequent offence.

You can read more about repressive Swazi media laws in Media Law, a Comparative Overview of Media Laws and Practice in Botswana, Swaziland and Zambia, from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Johannesburg. To view it click here

See also
SWAZILAND 'REVOLUTION' DOCO ON DVD

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

SWAZILAND A ‘TICKING TIME BOMB’

Swaziland is a ‘ticking time bomb’ as the Swazi army prepares to set up military bases across the kingdom.

People will not stand for it and will push for democracy in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, according to the editor of one of Swaziland’s few independent newspapers who is predicting ‘evil people’ are going to turn the kingdom ‘into one that is ungovernable’.

Mbongeni Mbingo, editor of the Times Sunday, said the deployment of the army across Swaziland might provoke people to demand democracy.

Writing in his own newspaper on Sunday (23 March 2008) Mbingo said,

‘It is now clear that there are people who are out to destroy this country. These are evil people who have their evil dreams of turning this country into one that is ungovernable. And you wonder what it is they will achieve when the country is in the ruins!’

He added, ‘And it is not the people from PUDEMO [a banned political party] or other progressive formations we have to fear now, it is the people who worm themselves around the king and proclaim undying love for him. They are a danger to our peace and prosperity.

‘But they must be warned that their action will not serve anything but to destroy this country – and that time is nigh.’

On the previous Monday (17 Mach 2008), protesting bus drivers and conductors had blocked off the centre of Manzini -Swaziland’s second city. Police used brutal force against protestors.

Mbingo wrote,

‘The patience of the people, as witnessed on Monday with the protests at the Manzini bus rank when Manzini came to a standstill, is wearing thin, and now it will not take long before things really get out of hand.

‘The danger about this protest on Monday is that those people have realised they can take matters into their own hands and win. It must not be perceived that it was the bus conductors and drivers who are lawless people who did this, but these are people in our society who believe they have been pushed to the edge, and could not take it any longer.

‘It is a warning that sooner or later, this whole country will ground to a standstill.

‘But somehow, miraculously even, people don’t realise this, or are intentionally pushing the people to revolt, because they have their own selfish ends to meet.’

Mbingo went on, ‘The protests on Monday are a big warning to everyone that this generation of people is not going to allow things to be run as they were, and these people will no longer accept being treated as subjects, but they are people who have their rights that need to be protected – and respected.’

Mbingo went on to say there was no reason to deploy the army since there was no national emergency at present. If there were to be a state of emergency some time soon it would be caused by the army.

‘Unfortunately, this is a bad move that will backfire badly, because if anything the army on our streets does not do anything to scare any more, rather it pushes the people to realising that a full democracy is on the horizon,’ Mbingo said.

‘If government and the ruling elite don’t take action or indeed notice, the tide will turn in time and this country will seriously get into ruin.

‘It’s been an accident waiting to happen, but now I get the feeling it is only a matter of time.’

See also
SWAZILAND ‘TO BE MILITARY STATE’
SWAZI POLICE ‘KILL BABY WITH TEARGAS’

Monday, 24 March 2008

SWAZI UNIONS AID ATTACKED WORKERS

A total of 40 workers were hospitalised after Swazi police attacked them during a legal strike.

And 11 of them are so seriously injured they have not been able to return to work.

These figures were revealed by trade unionists during a public handover of cash to help pay the medical bills of textile workers.

Four public sector unions donated E4,000 (about 500 US Dollars).

At the handover, which received coverage in Swazi newspapers and on Swazi TV, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) President Simon Makhanya criticised the police’s attack on the strikers, who were mostly women.

The Weekend Observer (22 March 2008) reported that Makhanya was disappointed at the police ‘who opted to silence the strikers with the nozzle of the gun, while they were engaged in a legal strike’.

The Weekend Observer reported Makhanya saying, ‘It is making us wary and jittery. We will also be going to the table to negotiate on behalf of our members soon. Does this mean that if we fail to agree and our members opt to engage in industrial action we will also be given the same medicine the textile strikers were forced to taste?’

Makhanya went on, ‘The textile strikers were simply demanding a living wage, which was within their rights as the cost of living in the country is extraordinarily high.’

He went on, ‘When they demand better salaries police are deployed to bash them up. Is this a ploy to silence the masses? If it is, sadly for them, it will never work.’

Makhanya said, ‘We are still astounded at the sudden passion police have developed for using their guns.’

Meanwhile, the textile workers union, the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU), is reporting the Swaziland Government to the International Labour Organisation. (The United Nations specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights).

SMAWU President Alex Fakudze told the Weekend Observer (22 March 2008) that it was important for government to define the role of police because the police ended up telling the workers to return to work even though the textile strike was legal.

See also
SWAZI POLICE ‘KILL BABY WITH TEARGAS’
SWAZI POLICE SHOOT IN THE BACK
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK PREGNANT WOMAN
SWAZI POLICE RAMPAGE AGAIN

Friday, 21 March 2008

PRINCE SUES ‘TIMES OF SWAZILAND’

A brother of Swazi King Mswati III is suing the Times of Swaziland for alleged defamation.

Prince Guduza, who is also Speaker of the House of Assembly, wants the newspaper to pay him E2 million (about 285,000 US Dollars) for articles it published about his involvement with a company that allegedly illegally imported cigarettes worth E17 million into Swaziland.

The move is not entirely unexpected since in Swaziland people in powerful positions, including Parliamentarians, often sue the independent media in order to try to intimidate them into silence. Often, after the initial threat, no court case actually takes place. However, the threat of action is often enough to quieten troublesome journalists.

The Nation magazine, an independent monthly comment journal, is currently in court battling a lawsuit by a government official who is suing the magazine for alleged defamation. The official had recently won damages after the Nation failed to appear in court to defend the case. But the Nation later won an order for stay of execution and the case is yet to be argued in court.

In 2007, the Times had one lawsuit from the Minister of Education dismissed by the High Court on a technicality only to be sued by the Minister of Health and Social Welfare over an article about HIV AIDS.

In the same year, the Swazi Observer was sued by an MP over a report of an alleged assault.

What is common to all the defamation cases is the unrealistically high damages that are claimed.

In a media release on Tuesday (18 March 2008) the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) states that lawyers for Prince Guduza claim that publication of articles in the Times ‘set the tone for further articles and commentaries in the newspaper in which our client was accused of being a liar, unfit to be Speaker of Parliament, abusing his position as Speaker, abuse of power in general and being corrupt and engaging in a generally corrupt relationship with the police.’

For further information on a previous lawsuit against the Times click here

For further information on the Nation case, click here

See also
ONE LAW FOR THE SWAZI PRINCE

Thursday, 20 March 2008

LET’S LOOK AT RURAL SWAZILAND

Swazi journalists should get out of their offices more.

Because when they do they are able to come up with vivid articles about what it is really like to live in Swaziland.

I was reminded of this last Saturday (15 March 2007) by an article in the Swazi News about life at a rural school in Nyakatfo.

The reporter seemed so genuinely shocked by the conditions at the Nazarene primary school the article read as if it was about another country – or even another planet.

‘The school is a sorry sight, it looks like a building you would to find in one of the war torn regions of Africa, yet it is in a country that claimed its independence 40 years ago,’ the report says.

The Swazi News also published photographs of the school, including classrooms without roofs and doors and a class where children are sitting on the cold floor because there is no furniture for them.

‘A new block of three classrooms, which is incomplete, is being used, but it is a health hazard. The floors have no concrete, there are no doors, no furniture, no windows and the pupils are still being exposed to the elements’, the Swazi News reports.

All this the newspaper describes as a ‘disgrace’.

The school principal blames it all on poverty because parents are not able to pay school fees.

The Swazi News is not so convinced. It contrasts the poverty of the school with the expenditure on furniture at the Ministry of Education in Mbabane.

Oddly, the headline to the article, LOOK AT THIS AND TELL US DO WE NEED 40/40 PARTY? is a clear reference to a decision to hold a joint celebration later this year to mark both the 40th birthday of King Mswati III and the 40th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from colonial rule.

The celebrations are expected to run into the tens of millions of emalangengi (maybe 2-3 million US dollars), but nowhere in the article is this celebration mentioned. Nonetheless the newspaper has clearly planted a seed of doubt into the minds of readers that the money to be spent on the celebration could be better used elsewhere.

I was pleased to see this article in the Swazi News because too much space in the newspapers in Swaziland is given over to things that happen in urban areas, even though about 77 per cent of the Swaziland population of nearly one million people lives in rural areas.

Neither of the kingdom’s two daily newspapers, the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer, make much effort to cover rural areas. The reasons for this are mainly that people in rural areas are mostly too poor to be attractive to advertisers in the papers and the cost of taking the newspapers to remote areas is not economically viable.

A result of this is that too often the newspapers ignore what is going on in the rural areas.

Even though both the daily newspapers pages each week of what they call ‘community news’ this often also ignores rural people. Monday's community news in the Times, (17 March 2008) for example, had three stories: two were about organizations giving donations and the third was a report about students from Northern Ireland in Europe who would be visiting Swaziland in July.

None of these stories really reflect what is going on in the rural areas. Swazi journalists must embrace the village because most of the important stories are taking place outside of the urban areas and are missed by journalists because they have a narrow definition of interest.

Swazi journalism should reflect the concerns and activities of the society it serves and it should mirror society as a whole. The vast majority of Swaziland’s people live in rural areas and because such a large proportion of the population live in rural areas they are likely to be where trends and events that will have major impact on urban areas later on. Rural areas are where environmental changes are first felt. Also, that is where there are social changes are happening, for example with such as land use, people having to abandon the rural areas for towns and such like.

Both the daily papers claim to be national papers. The Observer slogan is ‘We serve the nation.’ The Times calls itself the ‘national newspaper of Swaziland since 1897.’

One of the purposes of the news media is to tell people what is going on in their own country. Unfortunately, the Swazi newspapers tend to mostly tell us what is going on in the towns and because of this they cannot genuinely call themselves ‘national’.

See also
REACH THE GRASSROOTS
A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

SWAZILAND HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT

Congratulations to the Swazi Observer for giving so much attention to the latest report from the US government into human rights abuses in Swaziland.

According to the Observer (14 March 2008) the State Department report contained ‘no fireworks’. I assume by that the newspaper meant there was nothing we haven’t heard before because the report most certainly is a catalogue of human rights abuses in every part of life in Swaziland.

The report looked at the state of human rights in Swaziland in 2007.

The Observer highlighted abuses in the media, how trade union leaders are kept under surveillance and how women and homosexuals are marginalised. This is unusually candid for a newspaper that is in effect owned by the Swazi Royal Family.

The Observer was also disclosing the contents of the report before the Swazi Prime Minister Themba Dlamini had officially been given a copy. This denies the Prime Minister the chance to tell the kingdom that the authors of the report don’t know what they are talking about (the usual reaction from the Swazi Government to criticism from abroad).

Here are some of the highlights – or maybe I really mean lowlights – of the report. On the media, the report stated

There were reports of harassment of journalists during the year. On July 4 (2007), parliament found Sunday Times editor Mbongeni Mbingo guilty of lack of objectivity and knowledge of parliamentary procedure after he wrote an editorial that criticized Speaker of the House Prince Guduza.

Speaker Guduza had reportedly blocked a motion by a member of parliament (MP) that challenged an alleged secret move by the cabinet and the traditional body, the Swaziland National Council Standing Committee (SNNC), to amend a clause in the constitution. The editorial alleged Prince Guduza and the SNNC sought to lower the qualifications of the chief electoral officer to allow for the incumbent to remain in his current position.

There were reports of government restrictions on media content. On June 27, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Njabulo W. Mabuza, barred journalists from government hospitals and banned government hospital staff from talking to the media following an article in the Times of Swaziland that attributed the death of a four-year-old-girl with rabies to the hospital's inadequate supply of drugs.

There were reports of self-censorship during the year. A source in the Media Institute of Southern Africa stated that on a few occasions journalists received anonymous telephone calls advising them not to pursue a particular story, and that the journalists complied.

So thank you Observer, but I must point out that the newspaper missed out some important criticisms contained in the report.

It missed out the part about the lack of democracy in the kingdom and that emphasised the all powerful position held by King Mswati III.

The report stated,

‘The king retains ultimate executive and legislative authority, and parliament has limited authority. Legislation passed by parliament requires the king's assent to become law. Under the constitution, the king chooses the prime minister, the cabinet, two‑thirds of the Senate, many senior civil servants, the chief justice and other justices of the superior courts, members of commissions established by the constitution, and the heads of government offices.’

Here’s what the report said about ‘academic freedom’.

Restrictions on political gatherings and the practice of self‑censorship restricted academic freedom by limiting academic meetings, writings, and discussion on political topics. On April 4 (2007), a public debate organized by University of Swaziland (UNISWA) students to discuss the political crisis in Zimbabwe was cancelled at the last minute by university authorities claiming that they were not given adequate advance notice. The debate was held at a hotel paid for by the students.

To access the Observer coverage of the State Department report click
Here
Here
Here
Here
Here


To access the full State Department report click Here

See also
SWAZI LAWYERS DEFEND RIGHTS

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

SWAZI POLICE ‘KILL BABY WITH TEARGAS’

A baby may have been tear-gassed to death by Swazi police.

And a pregnant woman is reported to have died after being shot by police during legal protests by striking textile workers.

These are two of the confused reports coming out of Swaziland after another day of police brutality.

Newspapers report today (Tuesday 18 March 2008) that police shot at least six people as the centre of Manzini - Swaziland’s second city - was brought to a standstill. This was during a strike by kombi and bus drivers and conductors.

The Swazi Observer says there are ‘unconfirmed reports’ that a baby ‘had been killed after inhaling teargas’. The Observer says it has not been able to verify the report.

The Times of Swaziland reports that a pregnant textile worker who was allegedly shot and injured by police last Monday (10 March 2008) died of her injuries this past weekend. It is not confirmed if her death was a direct result of the shooting and the textile workers’ trade union has started an inquiry into the matter.

The Times calculates that police have shot 11 people over four days; this includes five textile workers who were shot during disturbances last Friday (14 March 2008).

The latest round of violence occurred when drivers and conductors stopped work in support of textile workers who started a strike two weeks ago on 3 March 2008 and have been victims of vicious police assaults since then.

The police assaults were so severe and prolonged that textile workers voted to suspend their strike because they feared for their safety if they continued.

The drivers and conductors’ strike became confused, according to a report in the Times. Although it is said to have started as solidarity action with the textile workers, it soon became a dispute about recently enacted transport laws.

The Times reported Manzini was in ‘chaos’ as the drivers and conductors took over the city centre and some of them looted shops.

Police attacked the strikers firing shots. Two men who were out shopping and had nothing to do with the dispute were shot by police. One, a 28-year-old man who was out buying cigarettes, was shot in the back. A 19-year-old man was shot in the leg, according to the Times.

In separate incidents, a man standing near a hotel was shot in the buttocks. A bus conductor was shot in the leg as he was running away, trying to escape teargas.

Sonnyboy Masende Zwane, a senator in the Swaziland House of Parliament, witnessed some of the violence. Later, according to the Times, he told the Senate,

‘What I saw there was shocking. Police were shooting at people and also assaulting them.

‘The unfortunate part is that even innocent bystanders were not spared. For instance, even shopkeepers found themselves being beaten such that some shopkeepers decided to close their businesses.’


Police violence is a way of life in Swaziland. In another part of the kingdom, the Times reported that police fired shots and used water canon against students of the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) who were protesting at their campus in Luyengo against plans to change their academic programmes.

See also
SWAZI POLICE SHOOT IN THE BACK
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK PREGNANT WOMAN

SWAZI POLICE RAMPAGE AGAIN

CENSORSHIP SWAZILAND STYLE

Swazi newspapers are getting praise for the open way they have been reporting the textile strike in Swaziland. Even though there are claims they are under pressure from police not to report the dispute.

But government-controlled SBIS radio has been accused of censoring news about the dispute, which has seen many cases of brutality by armed police against mostly women workers.

I have written before about the way that the newspapers have given vivid detail of the attacks. Even the Swazi Observer, which is in effect owned by the Swazi Royal Family and is a firm supporter of the status quo in the non-democratic kingdom of Swaziland, has given extensive coverage to the violence.

Now the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has added its praise. In a media statement released yesterday (17 March 2008) COSATU says,

‘The fact that the pro-government media is reporting all this is a positive development as they have been under pressure from the police to report nothing about the strike.

‘The Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union President Alex Fakudze has told COSATU that the state-controlled broadcaster, the Swazi Broadcasting and Information Services, phoned him to say that they could not broadcast a statement he had given them because police had instructed them not to report anything about the strike.

‘The fact that some of the print media have defied similar threats is significant,’ COSATU says.


Getting information about what is going on in Swaziland can be very difficult. The broadcast media in the kingdom is mostly state controlled and therefore is under pressure to censor news that puts the government and its supporters in a bad light. The only ‘independent’ TV station Channel Swazi (Channel S) is owned by a loyal supporter of King Mwsati III and tends to follow an ultra conservative line in its news broadcasts.

Apart from one Christian radio station Voice of the Church that is not really interested in local news, all radio in Swaziland is state controlled.

That only leaves the two newspaper groups, one of which is effectively owned by the Swazi Royal Family, and one that is commercially (but not really politically) independent of government.

There is very little interest from the foreign media about what goes on in Swaziland so the only way we can find out what is going on is through the censored media.

This can cause problems because in any society where there is not a free flow of information, rumours spread like wildfire.

There was a good example of this in action yesterday (17 March 2008) on the Internet. A report has been circulating across the world (I picked up my copy from an email in Canada) saying that one person has died of injuries sustained in a police attack on textile workers and another is not expected to live. The report also talks of police gunfire being heard and ‘unconfirmed reports are of another two deaths including a child from teargas’.

As I write this, it is impossible to say whether this report is true or not. But one thing is sure - if we had a free and independent media in Swaziland we wouldn’t need to go to Canada to find out.

See also
SWAZI POLICE SHOOT IN THE BACK
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK PREGNANT WOMAN
SWAZI POLICE RAMPAGE AGAIN

SWAZILAND ‘TO BE MILITARY STATE’

Swaziland will soon be a military state when plans to deploy troops across the kingdom by the end of the month (March 2008) go ahead.

That is the only conclusion that can be reached following a report in the Swazi News (15 March 2008) that military bases are to be set up all over Swaziland.

The Swazi News reported that the Unbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) ‘will be raiding homes, conducting searches, mounting roadblocks on almost all the roads in the country’.

The USDF says it is doing these things to round up illegal items such as ‘guns, weapons, cars smuggled goods and many other things’, according to the Swazi News.

A spokesman for USDF is quoted saying, ‘such things are putting the lives of the Swazi people at risk and if not taken care of it might result in serious problems’.

Some USDF personnel will not be wearing uniforms during these operations.

Of course, it is the job of the police force and not the USDF to ensure that criminals are captured and brought to justice. The Swazi News smelt a rat when it realised that some of the places the USDF would be operating included ‘breeding spots’ for the banned Peoples’ United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

As might be expected, the army spokesman denied to the Swazi News that the operations had any political motive, but he gave the game away when he said ‘at the moment’ we will not be focussing on political activities. We should all note the bit about ‘at the moment’. With national elections due in October or November this year (2008) people should rightly be suspicious of the USDF activity.

Once the Swazi News report was published all hell broke loose in the kingdom with human rights organisations lining up to condemn the plan.

The Times Sunday (16 March 2008) gave space to the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO), which the newspaper described as ‘seething with anger’. SCCCO called the USDF deployment ‘illegal’.

The Times Sunday quoted a statement from Bishop Meshack Mabuza, chair of SCCCO, who said SCCCO would consider taking legal action against the USDF and also against individual officers if the USDF went ahead with the plan.

The Bishop added, ‘It stretches credibility that it is merely coincidental that the areas to be targeted are also those where there has been fertile political activity of the sort frowned upon by those in power, namely oppositional political voices.’

The Bishop went on to say that the Swazi Constitution did not allow people to be stopped and searched unlawfully. ‘The army has not provided any evidence that there are reasonable grounds for setting this right aside.’

It can be no coincidence that recently USDF personnel received huge salary increases from a government that is largely financially bankrupt. We need to ask ourselves why it is that the ruling elite need to keep the armed forces sweet. Perhaps we will find out the answer very soon.

HIV AIDS AND GENDER IN SWAZILAND

The Swazi Observer is the first media house in Swaziland to adopt a policy on HIV AIDS and gender.

All media houses in the kingdom were given the opportunity to take part in a project called the Southern African Media Action Plan on HIV AIDS and Gender (MAP).

MAP is a project to help media houses across southern Africa improve the quality and quantity of HIV AIDS and gender coverage.

A report released at the Media Partners Consultation workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, last Thursday (13 March 2008) revealed that the Swazi Observer, Voice of the Church radio, Swazi TV and SBIS (Radio Swaziland) had all been visited by a MAP consultant in 2007 who worked with the media houses on formulating policy.

The report states that the Swazi Observer has adopted a HIV AIDS and gender policy and was now trying to build up the skills of journalists in these areas.

Swazi TV is ‘the only media house not to have given buy-in to the MAP process in that country,’ the report states. ‘Swazi TV is engaged in a parallel process of drafting their own policy but they said they would consult MAP for editorial aspects of the policy.’

MAP consultants have been working in 11 countries across southern Africa, including Swaziland.

The MAP report revealed that there were some difficulties in getting media houses involved in the project. The report stated that bureaucracy in newsrooms across the region was a difficult factor in making progress.

‘[A]ppointments are reneged on, refusal to release certain information and failure to set dates for workshops. In some cases, because of the high staff turnover in this sector, change of staff (new boards, new editors or journalists etc) almost always means the facilitators have to start the process all over again to ensure new staff members give buy-in to the process,’ the report states.

The MAP project is not the first attempt to increase the awareness and skills of journalists in southern Africa, but it is thought to be the first that also includes gender awareness.

MAP is coordinated by the Southern African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and Gender Links is responsible for part of the project.

See also
BID TO IMPROVE HIV AIDS REPORTING
POOR HIV AIDS REPORTING IN SWAZILAND

Monday, 17 March 2008

GENDER AND MEDIA DIVERSITY ONLINE

Information on media and gender in Swaziland and the whole of southern Africa is now available online following the official opening of a new website called the Gender and Media Diversity Centre (GMDC).

By clicking here you can get to an on-line resource centre; a photo library; an email newsletter and online networks and communities.

The GMDC also contains searchable databases of resources.

The GMDC is aimed a number of users, including media practitioners, trainers and training institutions, students, researchers and gender and media activists.

The GMDC wants people to ‘interact with the centre’ in a number of ways. These include submitting ‘examples of your own research to the Media Diversity Journal and online; seek out collaborators on your projects and offer your own experience to others’.

The GMDC says that its main objectives are

- To promote more analytical, responsive and contextual journalism.
- Develop and share a body of knowledge on gender and media diversity.
- Publicise the work of media scholars, students and practitioners.
- Provide resources that makes the links between media theory and practice.
- Create a space for participatory discussion and debate on gender and media diversity.
- Develop global and local partnerships with strategic organisations.
- Become a centre of excellence on new approaches and fresh thinking.

Gender Links and the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA)manage the centre.

SWAZILAND CUT OFF FROM I.T. WORLD

News that the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) has taken delivery of 41 new computers – courtesy of a business donor has caused some excitement in the Swazi media.

The Swazi Observer thought the story was so important it published two news reports on the event on the same day (Wednesday 11 March 2008).

For those who missed the story, MTN gave UNISWA the computers and the university has created what is being called a ‘cyberzone’ at its Luyengo campus.

According to one of the Observer reports, the MTN Board of Directors Chairperson Senator Winnie Magagula handed over the computers and said, ‘The country’s ability to achieve and maintain a high standard of living and remain internationally competitive depends on the extent to which it can harness science and technology.’

In its second report the Observer called it a ‘world-class laboratory’.

The Observer reported UNISWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Cisco Magagula saying, ‘the state-of-the-art computer laboratory would make it possible for both staff and students to prepare their lectures, assignments, manuscripts, search for information through the internet and communicate as well as interact through the internet with experts throughout the globe.’

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s party and I certainly believe that UNISWA needs more computers, but all this stuff about ‘world class’ and interacting with experts ‘throughout the globe’ is not true.

What both the Observer reporters missed was that the computers have limited use because the Internet coverage in Swaziland is pretty useless.

It doesn’t matter how expensive the computers are (and the Observer says the total cost of the computers and refurbishing a room for them cost E750,000 – about 110,000 US Dollars) if you can’t connect them to cyberspace.

I work at UNISWA and I can tell you that it is impossible to get on the Internet for most hours of the day. If you want to get on the World Wide Web on weekdays you need to do it before 8am and after 7pm. Sunday mornings is also a good time (when the rest of the Swazi population is at church).

I am not the only one in Swaziland having trouble getting on to the Internet. The Internet World Stats (IWS) website puts Internet ‘usage’ in Swaziland at 3.7 percent of the population or about 41,000 people. Unhelpfully, IWS doesn’t define ‘usage’, but I doubt very much of it means the number of people who have their own accounts with an Internet service provider company.

The African Media Barometer – Swaziland 2007 published in January 2008 by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)Swaziland Chapter reported that Internet is still unaffordable for most Swazis and is limited to the main towns. Most Internet cafés charge at least E20 (about 3 US dollars) for 15 minutes. Broadband is still not available, as the government is yet to license operators, so connections are slow and unreliable.

Add to this the fact that about 75 percent of the people in Swaziland live in rural areas and electricity doesn’t reach all of them, and that about 70 percent of the population live in abject poverty on an income of less than one US dollar (E7) per day and more than half the population presently rely on food aid from overseas organisations to stop them starving, the availability of an Internet connection is not an important consideration in the lives of most people.

I was at a workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week, which was attended by people from across southern Africa. One of the topics we were talking about was how the Internet ‘empowered’ people to make their own media.

Participants at the workshop gave examples of how people are publishing their own opinions for people to read on the Internet. It is also possible to publish your own ‘newspapers’ on line.

None of this is available to people in Swaziland. The technology isn’t there, but it wouldn’t take much to improve the system. The most obvious thing to do is to introduce broadband connections to Swaziland. This would enable more people to access the Internet and to have faster connections.

This is not an original idea and I wonder why it hasn’t already been done. Perhaps the answer is that Swaziland is not a democracy and that media in Swaziland are mostly under government control. With that kind of control why would the rulers want people finding things out for themselves by using the Internet?

So, until we have a government committed to freedom of expression that is willing to allow Swazis to properly access the Internet, UNISWA’s new computers will remain virtually idle.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

SWAZI POLICE SHOOT IN THE BACK

Swazi police shot an innocent woman bystander in the back as they attacked striking textile workers during a legal picket.

Heavily armed police shot five workers by the end of the unprovoked violence. In total 16 workers and one policeman were hospitalised.

Police fired indiscriminately and some people who were not textile workers were also attacked.

Swaziland’s two newspapers were yesterday (15 March 2008) full of eyewitness accounts to the mayhem created by Swazi police.

Even the Weekend Observer - perhaps the newspaper most loyal to the non-democratic regime in Swaziland - gave detailed accounts of the violence.

In its reports the Weekend Observer described the scene as a ‘war zone’. The newspaper reported the ‘heavy smell of teargas and gunfire’.

The Swazi News likened the scene to something from Iraq. Police were ‘armed to the teeth’, according to the newspaper.

The violence happened after striking workers met to listen to their union leader. After he finished speaking ‘police pounced on the unsuspecting workers and immediately fired teargas canisters without uttering a word,’ according to the Weekend Observer.

The report continued, ‘That marked the beginning of complete mayhem as the police assaulted every worker on sight with batons.’

The Weekend Observer quoted a woman eyewitness saying,

‘We ran helter-skelter as the police had a field day on us. Some workers sought shelter in nearby shops but were removed and further assaulted. I have never seen such brutality in my life.

‘They were heavily armed and were scattered all over the industrial area.’

The eyewitness continued, ‘They were literally running after us, obviously enjoying what they were doing.’

The Swazi News reported that a women vendor who was not involved in the strike was shot in the back. The Swazi News reported the woman saying, ‘I just saw a police car speeding towards us and while it was moving I was shot in the back. I just don’t know why they shot me when I am just a vendor selling ice blocks, biscuits and fish.’

The Weekend Observer found the vendor at hospital with a bullet lodged in her back.

The Weekend Observer interviewed a man who said police deliberately fired into his knee. The newspaper quoted him saying,

‘They [the police] came and started assaulting us and asked why we were not at work. One officer pulled out a gun and fired at my knee. I fell down and several of them started assaulting me with batons all over the body, with blood oozing from the gunshot wound.’

This was not the first unprovoked attack by police during the current textile workers’ strike, which is over pay and has lasted two weeks so far. In a previous incident police attacked a woman who was eight months pregnant and hit her all over her body with batons.

The Weekend Observer put several reports of the violence on its website.

To see the reports click
here
here
here
here
here

See also
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK PREGNANT WOMAN
SWAZI POLICE RAMPAGE AGAIN

Friday, 14 March 2008

SWAZI JOURNALISTS CAN’T ADD UP

Textile factory owners in Swaziland have been able to mislead the public over the effects of the national strike in their industry because journalists are no good at arithmetic.

The Swaziland Textile Exporters Association (STEA) put out a press release saying that the 16,000 striking workers would have lost over E2 million (about 290,000 US Dollars) in wages over the first three days of the strike that hit Swaziland last week.

The Times of Swaziland diligently copied the press release into its newspaper last Thursday (6 March 2008) and in typical fashion, journalists asked no questions and sought no other comment on the claim, so the STEA statement became accepted.

The point of the statement was to make the striking workers believe they were going to face hardship unless they returned to work immediately.

This sentence from the Times’ report gives the game away.

‘In their press statement, the STEA warns that the strike would have a great impact on the livelihood of workers if the strike continued as they were not going to be able to cater for their basic necessities.’

Let’s leave aside the fact that the textile workers cannot afford ‘basic necessities’ on the pay they are getting, which is why they are on strike.

My main concern is that no journalist did the arithmetic. If someone picked up a pocket calculator they could do the sums.

Here we go.

There are 16,000 workers who have ‘lost’ E2 million in pay over three days. This means that one worker has lost E125 (about 20 US Dollars) over three days or put another way E41.66 per day. (It works out at E416 per fortnight).

The E41.66 per day exposes the STEA and demonstrates that the strikers were right all along and they are paid appalling wages.

Had the journalists been alert, they could have exposed the STEA for the exploiters that they are.

See also
SWAZILAND WORKERS ‘NEAR STARVING’
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK PREGNANT WOMAN

Thursday, 13 March 2008

WOMEN IN THE MEDIA

Frederico Links, a journalist in Namibia, southern Africa, has written about the role of women in journalism in that country. In a report for the Namibian newspaper, Links says that it is a fact ‘that while women make up the majority of applications and entries to journalism schools and departments, the female voice in general remains underrepresented and skewed towards stereotyping in media coverage’.

When I read Links’ article I was struck by how similar Swaziland is in regard to this matter. Everything Links says about Namibia applies to Swaziland.

See for yourself. The report was circulated by AllAfrica.Com and if you want to see the original article click here

Namibia: Women in the Media And the Gender Issue
7 March 2008


Frederico Links, Windhoek

"Women generally don't last long in this profession. They don't have the stomach for it," an editor friend once told me while discussing why female journalists tended to go for coverage of lighter issues.


The issue of women in the media, especially in journalism, has become something of a political issue and for years now media organisations have been bombarded with the messages of gender mainstreaming and gender sensitivity.

At issue is the fact that while women make up the majority of applications and entries to journalism schools and departments, the female voice in general remains underrepresented and skewed towards stereotyping in media coverage.

But while gender messages are commendable, and very necessary, they have largely lost meaning and effectiveness.

The issue has become little more than a fashionably profitable catchphrase for organisations selling themselves as diehard fighters in the cause for newsroom change and equality.

A large amount of mostly donor money is invested in this decidedly piecemeal approach to women's emancipation and empowerment in the media sector.

The thing that always strikes me about the messages of the gender-mainstreaming project is that some crucial element is always missing.

There is always a fundamentality that is not being addressed.

The question is where we are missing the mark - for we are missing the mark - on this issue.
Having been a journalism student in classrooms filled with female students and having worked with female journalists, I have come to realise that the issue is much more complex than the solutions put forward.


What the gender messages fail to fully appreciate is the extent of the denial of the voice of the girl-child.

Women in this part of the world, if not everywhere else as well, are the products of paternalistic societies.

In short, the male voice is always the dominant and authoritative voice and from birth the girl-child is schooled to unquestioningly respect this authority.

The little girl is never encouraged to have passionate opinions about issues, but rather to conform to apportioned gender roles in society.

She is not encouraged to speak or to make herself heard.

The pressure to conform to accepted gender roles and the censoring of her own voice, compounded by years of poor education, manifest themselves in low confidence levels in the young woman, especially the young black woman.

By the time she steps into the journalism classroom or newsroom, submissiveness has been internalised.

As a student and journalist she shies away from critically confronting the male-dominated structures of society and eventually leaves the profession to take up a much more 'safe' position in the corporate sector.

And thus her silencing is complete.

The odds are against her overcoming this situation in her lifetime.

Against this background workshopping for change in the newsroom will always only lead to cosmetic change.

That is not to say that campaigning for change should not be done, but rather that hoping for revolution at this late stage is something of a pipe-dream.

The fact is that change has to occur somewhere else.

With the theme of this year's Women's Day being 'Investing in women and girls', and in the media context 'Women and girls in the media', the question has to be asked: Where and what do we invest? The media sector, and journalism specifically, is supposed to play the role of agenda-setter and agent for change in society, but cannot realistically be expected to patiently nurture and unfurl the inherent potential of the female journalistic voice.

There are too many other pressures demanding prioritisation.

And this is something the gender and media campaigners do not seem to understand.
These campaigns always seem to have a suddenness to them that demands an immediate reaction, something that is virtually impossible.


And rather than speaking to the media organisation and journalist, they tend to speak at them, in an accusatory tone.

Most media organisations and journalists are probably aware of the gender dynamics at play in society and the newsroom and are probably receptive to the messages of campaigners.

However, most are probably also realistic enough to know that there is very little, aside from spreading the message that change is necessary, that they can do.

Most media organisations spend a lot in employing, nurturing and encouraging female talent.
A real case can also be made for the media doing more.


However, the investment is there, but there is only so much that can be done at any level.
Fighting the media organisation and journalism profession about this issue is the right fight at the wrong place.


Without negating media influence and responsibility on this issue, and with all due respect, the fact is that the real fight, or investment, has to take place somewhere else in order for us to produce confident and courageous female journalists, something which at present is the exception rather than the rule.

See also
SWAZI PRESS EXCLUDES MOST WOMEN
TOUGH FOR WOMEN JOURNALISTS