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Saturday, 31 July 2010

SIKHUPHE: FANTASY THAT NEVER DIES

Could the propagandists in Swaziland please get their stories straight about the opening of Sikhuphe International Airport.


About 10 days ago they told a bunch of Taiwanese businesspeople it would open in October 2010.


Now, they’ve told a different group of Taiwanese it’ll be ready by the end of March 2011.


I get the feeling they just make it up as they go along.


Those readers of this blog with the stamina to follow my Fantasy Watch game will know that the completion date for the airport, estimated to cost one billion US dollars by the time it is finished, keeps moving.


King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, who came up with the idea for the airport in the first place, confidently told the world it would open in March 2010.


But March 2010 came and went and no airport is operational. Then Barnabas Dlamini, the man the king illegally-appointed Prime Minister, said it would open for the FIFA World Cup in June 2010. It didn’t.


In the latest attempt to convince the world that Sikhuphe will eventually open, a group of Taiwanese journalists were taken for a visit to the site. In typical Swazi fashion the two fellows leading the jaunt told journalists they were not authorised to make statements to the press.


Personally, I don’t blame them. Anything they say about the airport could come back and bite them on the bottom.


I’ve been monitoring the statements made about the airport over the past year or so and it’s clear to me that no one is telling the truth – either about the completion date or about how many airlines are going to want to use the airport when (if?) it does open.


According to a report in the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, ‘managers were working on developing new routes to bring long-haul flights from across the world. At the moment, the Matsapha International Airport handles between 70 000 to 80 000 passengers annually; while Sikhuphe will handle up to 300 000 passengers a year. The terminal here has been designed to handle about 300 people per hour.’


We’ve heard this before when it was claimed Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates wanted to use the airport. We’ve heard nothing since from Etihad.


Take a tip from me don’t believe a word they say about Sikhuphe.

Friday, 30 July 2010

INTERNET TRUTH ABOUT SWAZILAND

King Mswati III of Swaziland recently decried the way information about his kingdom seeped onto the Internet, telling the world about things he’d rather we didn’t know.

I bet he’s giving his brother Prince Mahlaba a good kicking today after his threat that journalists ‘who write bad things about the country will die’ became an international scandal. Mahlaba also said journalists wrote lies.

Mahlaba must have thought he could get away with bullying the media in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. He made his comments at the Smart Partnership, a talk shop organised and controlled by Swaziland’s ruling elite.

But Mahlaba didn’t reckon on the influence of the Internet. Once the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, bravely reported the threat on its website, there was no going back.

Within hours the influential media freedom organisation the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had rallied behind the Swazi media and condemned Mahlaba. Then the story went truly global. I’ve counted more than 25 Internet sites from every continent on the planet that carried news criticising the prince and by extension the whole undemocratic regime in Swaziland.

It’s a lesson for us all that it’s important to get the news out. Even when sometimes the mainstream media are too frightened to publish we on the bloggersphere and other social media can tell the world the truth about Swaziland.

Meanwhile, Mahlaba may find himself in deep trouble. The South Africa National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has said King Mswati and his government must ‘repudiate the prince’s view and, in the absence of such an unequivocal statement, [Sanef] would report the threat to the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the United Nations.’

Sanef said Mahlaba’s accusations against journalists and about how they operated were outrageous and contemptuously rejected, but the threat to kill journalists who wrote critically about the governance and leadership of the country was extremely menacing, designed to intimidate journalists and their publications.


Thursday, 29 July 2010

POLICE TORTURE IN SWAZI ‘BOMB’ CASE

Swazi police tortured two men accused of terrorist activities to get them to confess.


The Swaziland High Court was told that more than 12 police officers tied one of them to a bench, handcuffed him and then used a rubber tube, plastic bag and surgical gloves to suffocate him in an attack that lasted more than an hour.


Bhekumusa Dlamini, who is accused of involvement in a spate of petrol bottle attacks in Swaziland, said in a written statement to the court that he was arrested at his home and taken to KaPhunga Police Station where he was attacked by at least 12 police officers.


Bhekumusa Dlamini said, ‘I was insulted, called names, slapped on my face and all over my body by the whole contingent of officers therein.'


He went on, ‘At KaPhunga Police Station, I was severely tortured, tied onto a bench facing up, my chest tied around the bench, my legs as well and my arms were handcuffed at the back around the bench.


‘For over an hour or even more I would be suffocated by use of a rubber tube, plastic bag and surgical gloves. One officer carried a jar full of cold water that he would spill onto my face each time the suffocation tools were momentarily moved.


‘I was suffocated to the extent that I soiled myself and I was in no position to deny anything I was told to admit.’


In another separate incident, Zonke Dlamini, who is charged alongside Bhekumusa Dlamini, told the High Court in a statement that he was taken to KaPhunga Police Station and tortured in the same way as Bhekumusa Dlamini, but this time 18 police officers were involved.


In a statement to the court he said he almost lost consciousness several times. He says the torturing made him confess to involvement in terrorism.


Torture by police officers in Swaziland is common. On Monday this week (26 July 2010) I reported how at least 10 police officers were caught torturing a suspect at Mbabane police station.


On Tuesday I reported how a case had been filed in the Swaziland High Court against police in Manzini after a man accused of stealing a cellphone was suffocated after he had his hands cuffed and his feet tied.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

'SWAZI QUEENS ON SHOPPING SPREE'

Unconfirmed reports are swirling around Swaziland that a group of the king’s wives are on another multi-million dollar international shopping spree.


It is said that the queens (King Mswati III has at least 13, but it is unclear how many are on the trip) are travelling to Brussels in Belgium and then to London, UK.


About 80 other people are said to be on the trip to tend to the needs of the queens.


If anyone can confirm these reports or has other information I’d be happy to hear from you (swazimedia@yahoo.com)


The latest reports have the ring of truth about them as the queens have form when it comes to extravagant shopping trips.


In August 2009, five of King Mswati’s wives went on a shopping trip through Europe and the Middle East that cost an estimated 6 million US dollars.


As I reported at the time the media in Swaziland were warned not to report on the trip because it would harm the king’s reputation. Media houses were told they would face sanctions, including possible closure, if word got out.


But newspapers and websites across the world followed the story. The Times of London, for example, reported how the queens went on a shopping spree while the subjects of King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, went hungry.


The Australian newspaper said the king ignored the Swazi poor and the newspaper reminded readers that Swaziland relied on international aid from the European Union and the United States.


The previous year in August 2008 when a group of the king’s wives went on a similar shopping spree ordinary Swazi women were so outraged that they took to the streets of Swaziland in protest.


The latest news of the king’s reckless spending comes in the month that the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by the king himself, reported that unemployment in Swaziland averaged 40 percent and in the Shiselweni region it was more than half.


In addition, seven in ten people in Swaziland live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day.