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Monday, 30 September 2013

POLICE POINT GUN AT JOURNALIST


A Swaziland police officer pointed a gun in the face of a newspaper photographer to try to force him to destroy pictures he had taken of police beating up a protestor.

Walter Dlamini, of the Times Sunday, had taken photos at Gege where police had broken up a peaceful protest march by youth in the area. They were protesting against alleged irregularities at the recent election.

The Times Sunday reported, ‘Dlamini’s only sin was taking pictures of some police officers who were mercilessly beating a protestor, who was only identified by his name Brother next to a police vehicle. The officer pointed a short gun at Dlamini’s face and demanded why he took pictures of the officers who were at work.

‘The intervention of his colleague Mduduzi Magagula saved the day as the officer was informed to stop interfering with the work of journalists. He left in a huff as the reporters told him that the pictures they had taken would not be deleted.’

In an editorial comment, the paper’s companion title, the Times of Swaziland, said, ‘[T]his is harassment and intimidation of the highest order, an implicit threat to the life of the journalist.’ 

It added, ‘This sorry excuse for a police officer had reason to be worried; he and his colleagues were caught in the act assaulting a protestor who was manifestly not being threatening but was obviously being “punished”; being struck on the knee (where permanent damage could occur) with a heavy wooden truncheon by one uniformed brute while two others held him and another watched from a short distance, truncheons dangling in readiness from their hands.

‘The casual work-a-day savagery of these police officers and their sense of entitlement to brutalising Swazi citizens with impunity goes a long way to explaining why they would attack with teargas and batons what was a peaceful protest march before their intervention; once again proving the police are responsible for much of the violence that erupts during protests.’

Saturday, 28 September 2013

ELECTION COVERAGE FOUND WANTING



Newspapers in Swaziland set out to mislead their readers about the true nature of this month’s national election, claiming that people were voting for a government when they were not, a report just published says.

And, rather than discussing issues relating to the social, political or economic policies a new government should pursue, media concentrated on trying to demonstrate the election’s legitimacy.

Swaziland is not a democracy and King Mswati III rules his kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The newspaper and broadcasting houses in Swaziland support the status-quo and it was an imperative for media to continually show support for the political system of tinkhundla / monarchical democracy, according to a report published by Swazi Media Commentary. 

This meant there was no debate about which social, political or economic policies a new parliament should pursue. Newspapers confused readers about the nature of the elections: constantly claiming that they were to elect a ‘government’, when they were not. King Mswati appoints the Prime Minister and senior ministers.

The report called Media Coverage of the Swaziland Election 2013 is available on scribd dot com. It reviews coverage by local, international and social media in the months running up to the election on 20 September 2013.

Newspapers failed to cover the whole of Swaziland in the election reporting and were biased towards favoured candidates.

The report is critical of the standards of journalism in Swaziland. It says media in Swaziland, ‘are partisan, inaccurate and generally unprofessional and they are turning into an irrelevant vehicle in public discourse. Journalists lack credibility. Content in the Swazi newspaper is compromised by a lack of professionalism in writing and editing. Interesting news stories are watered down by the incomprehensible way they are written, leaving the reader confused and bewildered. 

‘Comment articles expose readers to un-researched opinion pieces that have compromised journalistic standards and some journalists willingly work as propagandists, especially at the SBIS radio.’
 
Journalists, the report says, ‘sensationalised news and often reported as facts, pure conjecture’.

In contrast, the report says international news media were not very interested in covering the election, because, unlike in democracies, no power could change hands as a result of the voting. When they did report on the election they emphasised the fact that it had little meaning because the parliament that was being elected had no power.

The report also looks at social media sites that were publishing information and comment in contrast to the mainstream media in Swaziland and advocating for democracy. The report concludes that social media probably had limited influence within Swaziland because only about 7 percent of the population has access to the Internet.

See also

Swaziland Media Need Code of Conduct for Covering Elections

The state of Swazi journalism, 2013


Friday, 27 September 2013

INTERVIEW WITH NEW MP JAN SITHOLE

Jan Sithole the MP
By Shaun Raviv

Swazis voted for members of Parliament last Friday, and though international media have presented little hope for change in the kingdom based on the outcome—calling the election a “selection” and the King the “only winner”—at least two results show that voters are yearning for new leadership. Whether new faces in the House of Assembly will be able to institute any serious change in a country where political parties are effectively banned and Mswati III appoints two-thirds of the more-powerful Senate remains to be seen, writes Shaun Raviv.

At the very least, Swazis showed their dislike of sitting Parliamentarians, electing more than 40 new faces out of 55 electable seats. Gone is the shameful Hlobsile “Hlobi” Ndlovu, whose wisdom over the past five years has given Swazi women a bad name. Voters also said good riddance to at least one MP who is sitting in jail, plus royal apologist Lutfo Dlamini.

One man who has spent the past two and a half decades boycotting elections, Swaziland Democratic Party head and pro-democracy activist Jan Sithole, has been elected as an MP representing Manzini North. I spoke to Sithole a few hours before the election results were in, and asked the famed Swazi union leader why he has gone from boycotting to campaigning. Some have expressed disappointment that Sithole is supporting a system that is not promoting true voice-of-the-people democracy. But Sithole says his change in strategy is just a continuation of his past actions and beliefs. 

“I still subscribe to social justice, human dignity, democracy, rule of law, separation of powers,” Sithole told me on Friday while standing in the shade at a polling station. “I believe in seeing a Swaziland that is economically vibrant, with jobs for all. And a Swaziland that provides equality for men and women and respects the international covenants that it has ratified. That’s me in the past, that’s me now. What has changed is the forum that I want to use to achieve the same principles.”

Famous for his “27 demands”, a list of economic and social changes that he promoted as head of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), Sithole now hopes to make demands from within Parliament. “Part of the demands that we made then was calling for a human rights–driven constitution with a bill of rights. We have a constitution with a bill of rights. But it’s not being operationalized by Parliament,” said Sithole. 

“We can begin to tilt the governance of this country towards a democratic space using the constitution, calling upon Parliament to make laws that are in sync with the dictates of the constitution, including political parties. But you have to have a law that regulates that. Parliament should make those laws.”

The 27 Demands garnered Sithole death threats, police intimidation, and even potential deportation in the mid-90s, but he says he will continue to fight against corrupt politicians even as he joins their ranks as an MP. “Those that go into Parliament are not concerned about the social development of the people, but about what they get from being in government,” said Sithole. “When things are difficult they cut old age grants and they stop the OVC school fees, but still make a big cake for themselves. It’s a self-centered approach that does not take into account the concerns of the majority poor.” 

“The IMF says Swaziland is not poor. The problem in Swaziland is unfair distribution of the wealth created. It’s skewed distribution. A lot of funds goes to few people and into white elephant projects. The actual core commodities such as healthcare get less. Education gets less, agriculture gets less, and people get poor. Yet the country is rich.”

One of Sithole’s goals has been to see a true right of assembly in Swaziland, rather than one that exists on paper only. “Swaziland had political parties before independence,” Sithole told me. “And had political parties after independence until 1973. We had political parties and no one died. The sun never fell. There was no corruption; there was debate, there was vibrancy.” 

“Now we have freedom of assembly, but the police use the Public Order Act of 1963 to disburse gatherings. The problem is with Parliament. There’s a discord in the law and to make this right you need to go where those decisions are made, where you can begin to actualize the spirit of the constitution so the citizens will benefit.”

Sithole says that Swaziland is not a true democracy because it does not apply its own constitution in practice. “Democracy is not what is in the book. It’s what you practice, it’s what you live,” he said. “For me democracy is a full package of freedoms.”

With Sithole switching his strategy to make change from the inside, it will be interesting to see if he falls prey to the temptations of being an MP, and if the alteration proves more successful. “Boycott is a strategy for those that believe in it. The difference for me is that the strategy should be a means of meeting your principled objectives, and if the strategy doesn’t work you must change it. You have continuous assessment. Even if boycott is a strategy then it has not been evaluated in the last 25 years.”

Shaun Raviv is a freelance writer who has written about open borders and adult male circumcision in Swaziland for The Atlantic.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

WHY ARE FULL POLL RESULTS NOT OUT?

Voters in Swaziland still do not know the full results of last week’s election – and it may be many days before they do.

The Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) says the result might be available later this week or early next.

The lack of progress on releasing the details of the voting is leading to speculation that the turnout for the poll was so low; it will be an embarrassment to King Mswati III and his supporters.

The EBC was quick to announce the winners of the election in each of the 55 constituencies in the election for the House of Assembly after polls closed on Friday (20 September 2013).

Although it announced the winners and gave the number of votes cast for the victorious candidate, it did not publicise the number of votes cast for each of the losers.

In 10 of the 55 constituencies the EBC only announced the winner’s name but not the number of votes he received.

The EBC said privately this week it was still compiling the lists and would not be able to give details for some days.

But, if the EBC knows who won at each constituency, it also knows the number of votes each losing candidate got. From there it is a small step to adding up the total number of voters across the kingdom so we can know the total turnout in the election.

Either the EBC is being spectacularly incompetent or it is trying to keep back something from the Swazi people.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

NO CHANGE AFTER SWAZI ELECTION

Six of eight government ministers standing in the House of Assembly election in Swaziland on Friday (20 September 2013) were defeated. Of the 55 members of the House standing for re-election, 43 lost.

It looks like a massive vote of no confidence in the outgoing parliament. But, who knows? It is impossible to make conclusions of these results because, in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, all public debate of politics is prohibited.

Political parties are not allowed to take part in the election and any discussion prior to the poll that questioned the validity of what King Mswati and his supporters like to call Swaziland’s ‘unique democracy’ was suppressed by police and state security forces.

According to the Swaziland Constitution, all MPs are elected as individuals to serve their local constituency. This meant that at the election candidates could only make promises (many empty) about the ‘development’ they would bring to their constituents if elected. There was no debate about which social, political or economic policies a new government should pursue.

Voters do not choose a government: that is the prerogative of the king. He is not obliged to choose his ministers from among those people selected by his subjects. It would be no surprise when he announces his new government next month that he returns to office some of the ministers defeated at this election.
Media in Swaziland, which are heavily censored, or self-censoring in favour of the monarchy, reported the election result as if it were a vote of no-confidence against the out-going government. 

But, they provided no evidence for this. The media in Swaziland want it both ways. On the one hand they say that under Swaziland’s tinkhundla system of government the people elect MPs as individuals who support their constituencies and on the other they say the people have elected a group of MPs who they believe collectively will bring them change.

We do not know if the people really seek ‘change’ because there is nowhere in Swaziland where they can freely debate the strengths and weaknesses of the present system of governance and discuss possible alternatives. Certainly, the media do not provide that space.

No media outlet in the kingdom has suggested that if people have voted for change it might be a change in the political system and a move to democracy that they seek.

What is certain is that the election will not actually bring change. In Swaziland only 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly are elected by the people. King Mswati appoints the other ten members. None of the 30-strong Swazi Senate is elected by the people; the king appoints 20 senators and the House of Assembly elects the other ten.

Parliament has no power, it acts for King Mswati. He can and does overrule any decision parliament makes if he disagrees with it. This happened most starkly in October 2012 when the king refused to accept a vote of no confidence passed by the House of Assembly on his government, even though he was obliged by the constitution to do so. 

The truth is that the voters could dismiss all 55 of their elected members of the House of Assembly and replace them with 55 other individuals and nothing would change, unless the king approved and there is no reason to believe he is ready to give up his power and privileges anytime soon.

See also

POWER STAYS WITH KING – WORLD MEDIA

Monday, 23 September 2013

CENSORSHIP OVER KING’S LATEST BRIDE

Media in Swaziland are once again censoring themselves when reporting about King Mswati III.

The latest case involves his new fiancée, the 18-year-old beauty queen contestant Sindiswa Dlamini.

News broke at a Reed Dance in the southern provincial capital, Nhlangano, in Swaziland last week that the 45-year-old king had chosen her as his new bride from among tens of thousands of bare-breasted ‘virgins’ who paraded before him at annual Reed Dance celebrations.

Media in Swaziland predictably reported the event as if it were quite natural for a middle-aged man to wed a ‘virgin’ who was younger than many of his daughters.

But outside the kingdom, which King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, the media have been more candid.

They reported Dlamini as the king’s 14th bride, although some counted her as wife number 15. The confusion was excusable since the number of wives the king has is considered a state secret in Swaziland and it is considered ‘un-Swazi’ to talk openly about King Mswati’s polygamy.

Media outside Swaziland are reporting that ‘Naughty Sindi’, as the Sunday Sun newspaper in South Africa describes her, has had affairs with two of King Mswati’s sons, Prince Majaha and Prince Bandzile, who are both in their early twenties.

One unnamed source told the newspaper, ‘Sindi has dated both these boys. She’s a party girl used to having fun.’

Another informant told Sunday Sun, ‘Sindi is no virgin. She drinks and smokes a lot and has tattoos on parts of her body I cannot mention.’

One source told the newspaper, ‘She is only doing it [marrying the king] because she comes from a poor background.’

The media in Swaziland never report about the king without his permission. This means people across the world are better informed than the king’s subjects, the Swazi people.

This is not the first time the media in Swaziland have refused to keep its readers informed about the Swazi Royal Family. In August 2010, the world’s media were excited by the case of Swaziland Justice Minister Ndumiso Mamba and King Mswati’s 12th wife, 22-year-old Inkhosikati Nothando LaDube. This was after pictures appeared of Mamba hiding in a bed before his arrest at Royal Villas, a hotel at Ezulwini just outside Mbabane, where he was said to have had regular adulterous meetings with LaDube.

The City Press in South Africa reported at the time that when police pounced, ‘in a desperate effort not to be found out Mamba cut into the base of the bed and slid in – but police ordered him out and Mamba, dressed in a brown suit, was soon taken ­into custody’. He was later forced to resign from the government and the Senate.

The aftermath of the scandal ran for at least two months: all unreported by media in Swaziland.

Most of the broadcast media in Swaziland that carries news and current affairs reporting are government controlled and are banned directly from adversely reporting about the royal family.

There are two newspaper groups in Swaziland. One, the Swazi Observer is in effect owned by the king, and the other, the Times of Swaziland censors itself heavily when reporting about the monarchy.

In April 2007, King Mswati personally threatened the Times with closure after the Times Sunday published a minor criticism of him sourced from Afrol, an international news agency. The king said he would close the paper down unless people responsible for the publication at the paper were sacked and the newspaper published an abject apology to the king. These things were done.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

KING’S PAPER CLAIMS 97% POLL TURNOUT


One of King Mswati III’s newspapers has claimed a 97 percent voter turnout in the Swaziland election held on Friday (20 September 2013).

The Weekend Observer, one of a group of newspapers in effect owned by the king, reported, ‘about 400,000 voters braved the scorching sun and went straight to the voting centres to cast their ballots as early as possible’. 

But, official figures from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) state that only 411,084 Swazis living in Swaziland had registered to vote.

If the Weekend Observer report was correct, 97.3 percent of registered voters would have gone to the polling stations.

The Weekend Observer which is widely regarded, even within Swaziland, as a propaganda sheet for the monarchy, has been talking up the success of the polling.

It wrote, ‘The nation witnessed remarkable improvement in the national secondary elections on Friday and all credit can be given to the Elections and Boundaries Commission.’

The EBC, whose members were appointed by the king and is headed by one of his half-brothers, came under intense criticism for the shambles surrounding the nomination process and the primary elections held in August.

King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is keen to demonstrate the validity of the elections. Opposition groups called for a voter boycott because political parties were banned from taking part in the election and the parliament that is elected acts as a rubber stamp for the king.

King Mswati will choose the Prime Minister and his government and is not obliged to choose people elected to parliament.

It is important for King Mswati that there is a high voter turnout. At the last election in 2008 only 47.4 percent of the estimated 400,000 Swazi people eligible to vote did so. The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) in its report on the election attributed the low turnout in 2008 to a campaign for a boycott of the election by progressives in Swaziland.

It reported on the 2008 election, ‘The best indication we have of whether the boycott was a success or not is the voter turnout rate.’

It added, ‘In many ways the call by the trade unions, most of the political parties and many civil society organisations for a boycott of the election transformed the election into a referendum on the legitimacy of the new Constitution and the political order that it enshrines.’

EISA said, ‘From this we may conclude that large numbers of Swazis heeded the boycott call and thereby signalled their disenchantment with the current Constitutional dispensation.’

A low turnout in the 2013 election would confirm that.

See also

‘SWAZIS WANT CHANGE’ : POLL FIGURES

POWER STAYS WITH KING - WORLD’S MEDIA



The world’s media spoke with one voice on Friday (20 September 2013) as they reported on Swaziland’s nondemocratic election.

Major news organisations including the Associated Press, AFP, BBC and al-Jazeera all reported that the elections for 55 members of the Swazi House of Assembly was irrelevant because King Mswati III, who rules his kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will keep all the power for himself.

The BBC reported, ‘Voters in Swaziland are choosing a new parliament, even though political parties cannot take part and the king retains absolute power.’

The AFP news agency said the election was, ‘dismissed by critics as a rubber stamp for King Mswati III's absolute rule’.

AFP quoted a recently-released report from Freedom House, a human rights group, saying, ‘Although the Swazi government boasts trappings of a modern state. The monarch, King Mswati III, chooses and controls all significant office bearers. These must obey his commands at all times.’ 

Al-jazeera TV reported, ‘Mswati holds ultimate sway over the government: he can veto new laws, dissolve parliament and may not be sued or charged.’ 

The Dow Jones agency called it a ‘predetermined election’. It said, ‘Voters in Africa's last remaining absolute monarchy go to the polls to elect a new parliament Friday, and the outcome is all but assured to buttress the reigning king’s rule.’

The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network, a civil society group, which described the polls as a ploy to delay genuine democracy.

‘There is no political change we can expect as a result of these elections,’ Dr. Collins Magalasi, general secretary of the network, told AP. ‘The traditional system in place supports the king.’ 

Closer to home, the media in South Africa, Swaziland’s closest neighbour and political and economic ally, also highlighted the non-democratic nature of the election.

Business Day reported, ‘While the Swazi system of Tinkhundla allows for political parties, candidates for parliament are allowed to stand for election only in an individual capacity and are banned from campaigning. Rising pro-democracy voices are being heard on the sideline but that is where they will remain for now, as the nonparty elections will not change King Mswati’s position as ruler.’

The Independent group of newspapers in South Africa reported, ‘Africa’s only unelected national leader, King Mswati III, will remain firmly in charge whatever the outcome of Friday’s parliamentary elections.’ 

The Mail and Guardian, from Johannesburg, reported, ‘Regardless of who gets into Parliament, King Mswati III – who inherited the throne from his father, King Sobhuza II, in 1986 – holds all the power.’ 

The international media are unavailable to most Swazi people who are too poor to have access to them via the Internet. They are forced to rely on local media where broadcast news is under state control and one of the kingdom’s only two newspaper groups is in effect owned by the king.

An editorial in the Swazi Observer, the king’s newspaper published on the eve of the election, said, ‘Tomorrow presents us, Swazis, with an opportunity to put our unique democracy into full motion.’ 

The newspaper which is widely regarded as a propaganda sheet for the monarchy claimed, ‘Tomorrow ushers in that whole new era of a new government being formed - the promise of a better Swaziland for all.’

The Observer also said, ‘The eyes of the international community [will be] firmly fixed on us.’

In that, the newspaper was correct.