Here are the contrasting stories of two editors in Swaziland.
One, Mbongeni Mbingo, the managing editor of the Swazi Observer, is feeling pretty smug at the moment because he has found out that King Mswati III loves his newspaper.
The other, Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation, is feeling pretty wretched because he faces two years in jail because he has found out the king and his supporters hate his magazine.
Mbingo first: His newspaper reported Thursday (18 April 2013) that King Mswati III was a great fan of the newspaper.
He revealed this to the Observer readers in an ‘exclusive interview’ on the eve of the king’s 45th birthday.
The Observer report gushed about how pleased the king was to meet the newspaper’s journalists
Mbingo reported in breathless tones how excited he and his journalists were to discover that the king reads their newspaper.
‘I have not seen anything so far that has not pleased me,’ the newspaper reported the king saying about the Observer.
What Mbingo did not tell his readers (and he never does) is that King Mswati is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and widely seen outside of his own kingdom as a despot intent on keeping his subject’s poor while he and his family live lavishly at their expense. The king has no respect for human rights and uses state police and militia to silence any opposition to his regime.
Nor did he say that the king, in effect, controls the newspaper through Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, an investment fund with extensive shares in a number of businesses, industries, property developments and tourism facilities in Swaziland. The profits from Tibiyo are supposed to be used for the benefit of the people, but the vast majority is actually used for the king’s own personal use.
What Mbingo did say was that at the meeting, ‘The Swazi Observer team also informed His Majesty that they had received birthday wishes from Swazi nation ahead of the birthday celebrations at Siteki.
‘This also seemed to have excited the king who asked Mbingo if he had brought the birthday wishes with him.
‘When Mbingo said they had not brought them, His Majesty then requested that they be brought to the palace, because he said he would be interested to read each and every one of them.’
Contrast this to the story about another editor that broke on the same day. Bheki Makhubu edits the Nation magazine, the only pro-democracy print publication in Swaziland.
He faces two years in jail after the Swazi High Court convicted him of scandalising the courts by commenting in his magazine on how close some judges were to the ruling power elites.
Although the king’s name was not mentioned by Makhubu, readers will have known what he was getting at.
Makhubu’s sentence has been publicly condemned by people across the world, but not by the Swazi Observer.
The South Africa National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) said in a statement the decision of the High Court silenced ‘legitimate scrutiny of judicial conduct and attitudes’.
SANEF went on to state, ‘We strongly urge the South African government and the African Union to more vigorously remind the Swazi authorities of the importance of a free press and open democratic environment.’
SANEF understands the ‘importance of the free press’ but Mbingo and the Swazi Observer do not.
Makhubu must pay an E200,000 (US$22,000) fine by early next week or he will go to jail for two years.
Mbingo meanwhile will continue to live high on the hog in service of King Mswati and in disservice to the people of Swaziland.
Makhubu will surely face financial ruin if he can get together the money to pay his fine. And, if he cannot, he will live out his next two years in one of King Mswati’s stinking jails.
Mbingo will continue to be despised by people who believe that newspapers are to serve the people and not to tell lies for the ruling elite.
Makhubu will be honoured as a Swazi patriot and true journalist: a man who fearlessly tells truth to power.
This has been a tale of two Swazi editors.
PUDEMO CONDEMNS EDITOR’S CONVICTION
ARTICLES THAT MIGHT GET EDITOR JAILED
SOUTH AFRICA EDITORS BACK MAKHUBU
HIGH COURT SUPPRESSES MEDIA FREEDOM
MISA: EDITOR’S CONVICTION ‘BRUTAL’
EDITOR’S CONTEMPT SENTENCE ‘SHOCKING’
EDITOR SET FOR TWO YEARS IN JAIL