The Swaziland Government is running around like a headless chicken to try to stop Swazi people using Facebook sites to criticise it.
Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime minister, issued a statement yesterday (24 March 2011) saying the government would not be responding to its critics. Then, he flatly contradicted himself by saying he would use the full force of the law against them.
‘One; it was not its policy to respond to every gratuitous comment appearing in these sites and by anonymous people.
‘Two; the feeling is that the comments on these sites were so appalling such that to respond to them would be tantamount to sinking to the same degraded levels.’
In his statement, Dlamini said the government would only respond to reports or comments published by ‘officially recognised and registered media entities’.
But, which are the ‘recognised’ and ‘registered’ media entities? In Swaziland all broadcast news outlets are state-controlled. One of the two newspaper groups in the kingdom is owned by the king and that just leaves one ‘independent’ news group, the Times of Swaziland.
And, as we saw last Sunday in its reporting of the mass protest calling for the resignation of the government, the Times censors itself when it comes to criticism of King Mswati.
So, Dlamini hasn’t much to fear from the Swazi media. That leaves the international press. Will Dlamini not talk to Reuters, the Associated Press, AFP or the BBC? Or, perhaps he will, but only if they ‘register’ with his ministry of propaganda.
Dlamini also said that Swazi people who post messages on Facebook and other Internet sites did so ‘under the cowardly cloak of pseudonyms and other forms of anonymity’.
That’s a distraction and mostly not true. As anyone who regularly reads Internet postings about Swaziland will know, the overwhelming majority of posters (including the one you’re reading now) use their own names.
But, who can blame Swazi critics if they don’t want to be identified by the government? Swaziland is a kingdom where (like Sipho Jele) you can be arrested for wearing a T-shirt supporting a banned organisation and end up dead hanging from the ceiling at a state correctional facility.
The real ‘coward’ here is Barnabas Dlamini himself. He consistently refuses to engage with his critics: whether at home in Swaziland or in Cyberspace.
His unwillingness to engage is precisely why there is so much activity on Facebook and the other Internet sites. People have no other way of expressing their frustrations with King Mswati and the governments he handpicks. They have no other way of putting forward alternatives to the disastrous polices Dlamini is following that have run the kingdom into the ground.
Instead, Dlamini pretends that the critics aren’t really ‘true’ Swazis. Then, who does he think they are? In his fevered mind all Swazis believe in Dlamini, the king and the discredited tinkhundla system of non-government in Swaziland.
Because Dlamini is too scared to engage, he has only one ‘answer’. Yesterday, he warned Internet critics that the Swaziland Constitution allowed him the power to punish critics ‘where the comments conflict with the best interests of public defence, safety [and] order’.
He said, ‘There is no safe haven from the full force of the law, now reinforced by the promulgation of the Electronic Evidence Act.’
We have been warned, but we won’t be silenced.
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