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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

AMNESTY PRAISES MARIO MASUKU

The following is a speech made at the ceremony to present Mario Masuku, president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) with a Democracy Award, in Denmark, earlier this month (March 2010).


It was made by Lars Normann Jørgensen, general secretary of Amnesty International in Denmark.


Amnesty International has for many years criticized the widespread persecution of opposition in Swaziland, and has within the past year, been particularly concerned about the consequences of the terrorism legislation, the government introduced in 2008. It is the organization's view that certain provisions of the legislation are clearly contrary to the human rights.


Amongst other things the act has caused random arrests of some Swazi people, mistreatment of detainees, and taken legal actions without a sufficient evidence base.


Mario Masuku was charged after one of these provisions, and his party PUDEMO was one of the four organizations that were declared illegal after the terrorism legislation.


In September last year, Mario Masuku was completely acquitted because the court did not found enough evidence from the prosecution's allegations. Amnesty International congratulates Mario Masuku on the acquittal, and hope that it could pave the way so there in the future will be less arbitrary arrests based on bad unsubstantiated accusations.


Simultaneously, the organization will continue to put pressure on the Swazi Government to remove those provisions that undermine legal security for political activists, journalists and the citizens of Swaziland. Amnesty International hopes that the prize given by Swaziland Democracy Watch will help to promote that development.


Lars Normann Jørgensen, general secretary in Amnesty Denmark

Monday, 29 March 2010

STOP THE LIES ON SWAZI DEMOCRACY

Lutfo Dlamini, the Swazi Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is getting agitated by the continuing demand across the globe that Swaziland become a democracy.


But the trouble is he is lying to the people of Swaziland and the world in his defence of King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and his puppet government.


Dlamini’s latest outburst came yesterday (28 March 2010) after news spread across the globe that democrats in Swaziland and their supporters across the world were demanding targeted sanctions against members of Swaziland’s ruling elite. One suggestion is that the European Union and others should stop paying for Swaziland’s leaders to travel outside the kingdom.


Dlamini reacted loudly and dishonestly to this suggestion. He told the Times Sunday newspaper, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, that the ‘current government was legitimately voted into office’.


He also said, ‘the Southern African Development Community (SADC) observers and other international organisations liked Swaziland’s election system.’


Let’s look at Dlamini’s statements. First, the government was not elected by the people. Barnabas Dlamini, the prime minister was not elected by anyone.


King Mswati ignored the Swaziland constitution and gave the job to Dlamini.


More than half the cabinet ministers were appointed by the king, along with 10 members of the House of Assembly and 20 senators. The other 10 senators are chosen by MPs – none are elected by the people. That’s not what I call a government ‘legitimately voted into office’.


The king also chooses members of influential committees and councils in Swaziland. The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, reckoned that in total at least 20 princes and princesses and 16 chiefs have been appointed to highly influential decision-making positions that they will occupy for five years.


In his outburst Dlamini also said the SADC and ‘other international organisations liked Swaziland’s election system’.


That statement is a distortion of the truth. The Commonwealth Expert Team (CET) that monitored Swaziland’s last election in 2008 was so unhappy with the system that it advised Swaziland to look again at its constitution, this time ensuring that there is full consultation with the people, civic society and political organisations.


The CET said that the elections were not entirely credible because the constitution banned political parties and members of parliament had few real powers.


The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) also denounced the poll because political parties were not allowed to take part.


Immediately after the election amid many accusations that MPs had bribed voters, the Times of Swaziland called many new MPs ‘cheats’. It said, ‘We no longer have an election; we have a selection of those who were able to buy their way into power.’


Even Swaziland’s Attorney General (AG) Majahenkhaba Dlamini has said that candidates bribed voters to win parliamentary seats.


After the elections, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) criticised the Swaziland Supreme Court for siding with the Swaziland state and confirming a constitutional right to ban political parties in the kingdom.


Then it was the Swazi gender activists who were angry that King Mswati III betrayed their hopes, and the Swaziland Constitution, by not appointing more women to the House of Assembly and the Senate.


And it goes on. All of this is no secret. Lutfo Dlamini knows this and we should not let him get away with telling the international community that all is well in Swaziland.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

KING’S PAPER CENSORS OWN EDITOR

The following is from the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Swaziland chapter, concerning censorship at the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.


Friday, 26 March 2010


An attempt by the Board Chairman of the state-owned Swazi Observer newspaper Tim Nhleko to censor the paper backfired badly when the editor, who had been employed only a month ago, tendered his resignation in protest.


On the night of 21 March 2010 the Editor, Sifiso Dhlamini, was ordered by the newspaper chairman to withdraw a front-page story as the paper was about to go to the printing press. The story concerned a man, suspected to be an acquaintance of the board chairman, who had been recommended for employment as CEO of the Mbabane City Council, Gideon Mhlongo under unclear conditions.


Nhleko told the editor that the story would spoil the man’s chances of employment and ordered that the story be dropped. Grudgingly, the editor obliged but tendered his resignation the following day in protest. In desperation, the paper’s management quickly apologized to the editor with Nhleko admitting that he erred. He withdrew his order for the story to be dropped and told the editor to go ahead and publish it as he wished. The paper is yet to run the story.


Speaking to MISA-Swaziland, the editor said he was very happy at the developments. “I have been very hurt by management’s action. I felt my professional judgement was undermined. To me, this was an ordinary story that did not warrant any form of censorship. However, I accept the chairman’s apology and I am happy that we will now publish the story,” said Dhlamini.


Asked if he had withdrawn his resignation, the editor said that was still to be discussed with management.


MISA-Swaziland condemns the censorship attempt by the Chairman of Swazi observer and welcomes Dhlamini’s professional stance as victory for press freedom and hopes that other Swazi authorities will learn from this incident and refrain from censoring journalists.


SOURCE:

Friday, 26 March 2010

FALSE DAWN FOR BROADCAST FREEDOM

News that the state-run radio and television in Swaziland are to change and become ‘public service broadcasters’ is not true.

A statement from the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) – Swaziland chapter said that the Swaziland Public Broadcasting Bill, expected to be tabled before the Swazi Parliament within the next six months, will see the present broadcasting stations ‘transformed’.

It is true that there is a bill, but it will not lead to ‘public service broadcasting’.

In the debate taking place around the new bill there is a basic misunderstanding about what ‘public service broadcasting’ is.

In Swaziland at present we have a’ public broadcasting service’, that is a service that is broadcast to the public. The ‘service’ is state controlled and the new bill does not intend to change that. Radio and television will come under a new commission that will be appointed by the Minister of Information. Radio and television will continue to be an arm of the ruling elite, while Swaziland remains an absolute monarchy.

‘Public service broadcasting’ is a very particular kind of broadcasting and most definitely not broadcast from Swaziland. Public service broadcasting aims to inform, educate and entertain in a way in which the commercial or state sector left unregulated would not do. Generally, it is understood that public service broadcasters air a wide range of programmes in a variety of tastes and interests. They speak to everyone as a citizen and everyone has an opportunity to access the airways and participate in public life.

Public service broadcasting in providing access to a wide range of information and ideas empowers people through its programming. This empowerment goes against the grain in Swaziland, which is not a democracy. Currently, broadcasters in Swaziland serve the interests of the ruling elites and not those of the people. Broadcasting is state-controlled, that means no criticism of the staus quo is allowed on the airwaves in Swaziland. Any criticism of the ruling elite is seen as ‘non-Swazi’.

In the past the minister responsible for broadcasting has taken a ‘hands-on’ role, believing he has the right to make day-to-day decisions that affect the broadcasting organisations. This was made explicit in 2003 by the then Minister of Information Abednego Ntshangase who announced a censorship policy for state media, saying that, ‘the national television and radio stations are not going to cover anything that has a negative bearing on government’.

Today that policy of censorship continues.

Public service broadcasting cannot exist alongside state control. Public service broadcasting must keep a distance from vested interests (in the case of Swaziland that’s the ruling elite). Radio and television stations need to be left alone to make their own decisions regarding business and the content of their channels. The new Public Broadcasting Bill does not do that.

Sorry, but it’s business as usual with the new Public Broadcasting Bill – don’t be fooled.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

SIKHUPHE: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

The Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, has been ‘talking up’ Sikhuphe International Airport by pointing out the ‘business opportunities it will bring.


Unfortunately, it couldn’t come up with much more than a few cleaning and maintenance jobs – not much for the 1 billion US dollars the airport is expected to have cost if it ever gets completed.


The Weekend Observer article, written by Derrick Dlamini, goes on to claim that the airport will become a vital place for airlines to park their planes (even if they don’t use the airport to land at).


Again, hardly value for money.


Dlamini lets the cat out of the bag about when the airport, a vanity project of King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will be operational.


The king promised it would be operational this month (March 2010). Others claimed it would be receiving planes in time for the FIFA World Cup in neighbouring South Africa which starts in June 2010.


Dlamini reckons ‘within a couple of months, planes will technically be able to land and take off’.


Technically? He goes on, ‘Of course this doesn’t mean that the whole facility will be or need to be, completed. An educated guesstimate suggests that by the end of the year, to early next year, core construction will be done and the place will be fully functional.’


Thanks Dlamini, but this isn’t what the king has been telling international business people.


There is a lot of ‘whistling in the dark’ here. There is no evidence that the airport is needed and to date no airline has said it will use it when it eventually opens.


I am reminded of a report from the IPS news agency in 2004, when the plan for Sikhuphe was announced.


IPS pointed out that there were plenty of airports nearby already.


‘Johannesburg International airport in South Africa’s main commercial centre, about 45 minutes by air from Swaziland, has just completed renovations on some of its terminal buildings.


‘The port city of Durban in South Africa, some 20 minutes east of Swaziland, has also revamped its airport facility – while renovations are proceeding at the airport in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. This facility is ten minutes by air from Sikhupe.


‘Possibly a greater threat is the new Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMI), which boasts of the world’s largest thatched roof – and which offers quick tourist access to South Africa’s renowned Kruger game reserve in the east of the country.’

IPS also reported that, ‘The two commercial air carriers that currently service Swaziland say they have no intention of relocating to the small eastern community of Sikhupe, where the airport is being built. Both want to continue operating out of an existing airport at Matsapha, located near Manzini – the kingdom’s commercial hub and most populous urban centre.’


In 2004 it was concluded that Sikhuphe was not needed – so please tell me what has changed now?