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Friday, 24 October 2014

KING’S ‘ABDUCTION’ OF SCHOOLGIRL



The case of Swaziland’s King Mswati III’s alleged abduction of an 18-year-old schoolgirl to be his bride has resurfaced in the kingdom 12 years after the event as a local newspaper reported that a former attorney-general was to face a sedition charge for allowing a court case against the King to proceed.

The case dates from 2002 when the King ordered the Swazi High Court to drop a case brought against himself alleging that he had ordered the kidnapping of the teenager so that she could become his bride.

Reports at the time could not agree whether she would become his 10th or his 11th bride. In 2014, the King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is believed to have at least 14 wives.

International news media reported at the time that widow and single mother Lindiwe Dhlamini, 39, had provoked the challenge to the King by not accepting the kidnapping of her daughter, Zena Mahlangu, who was taken away by agents of the King on 9 October 2002. Ms Dhlamini went to court to demand that King Mswati return Zena to her.

The Afrol news agency reported,Putting such a case to the courts is unheard of in Swaziland, where the playboy King merely follows tradition when abducting virgins to see whether they please him and eventually may marry them. Mswati has already married nine Swazi girls in this way. Nevertheless, there is no legal basis for these abductions, not even in Swaziland.’

The IRIN news agency reported in 2002 that Chief Justice Stanley Sapire agreed that court papers filed by Mahlangu’s mother indicated she was abducted. At a hearing presided over by a full bench of High Court Judges, including Justices Josiah Matsebula and Thomas Masuku, he asked, ‘I want to know what happens in a case where something is sanctioned by customary law yet it is a crime under common law.’

IRIN continued, ‘The Swazi King and Queen Mother cannot be sued, arrested or prosecuted. The lawsuit filed by Mahlangu’s mother seeking the return of her daughter names the two men who took her away from school. The strategy of government as stated in the Attorney-General’s affidavit is to have King Mswati named as defendant.’ [If the King were named as defendant the case would not be able to continue as he is immune from prosecution.]

‘“(The plaintiff) seeks an order that the two (defendants) return the child forthwith, yet it is clear they were agents of the Royal Kraal. This was cowardly of the applicants. Their attacking the messengers is clear cowardice. The Ingwenyama (King) must be joined in the matter because it is clear he is the principal,” stated the Attorney-General.’

The Swazi Observer reported on Tuesday (21 October 2014) that the Attorney-General at the time Phesheya Dlamini was now to be tried for sedition, obstructing the course of justice and contempt of court.

The newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, did not report that the King himself was the subject of the court case in question.

The Observer reported the case emanated from a letter dated 1 November, 2002, which the former AG had addressed to then Chief Justice Stanley Sapire, Justices Jacobus Annandale and Stanley Maphalala.

The newspaper reported, ‘Dlamini, in the letter, informed the three presiding justices that they were free to proceed with the case in question, but should tender their resignations immediately upon handing down judgment on this matter.

‘This was after the former AG, in the company of army commander Major General Sobantu Dlamini, Commissioner of Police Edgar Hillary, as he then was, and Commissioner of Correctional Services Mnguni Simelane, as he then was, had informed the three judges in an impromptu meeting that they should drop the case because it had tarnished the image of the country internationally or resign.’

News reports in 2002 said the judges continued to hear the case as scheduled and in open court the Chief Justice stated that they would preside over the case despite the threat which had been issued against them.

At the time, the AG’s action was seen in some quarters as an assault on the rule of law in Swaziland.

The court case was halted when the 18-year-old schoolgirl announced that she wanted to marry the King.

Within weeks King Mswati sacked Chief Justice Stanley Sapire for ignoring his decree to drop the case.

Phesheya Dlamini was also removed from office and he became a diplomat. He is presently Swaziland’s High Commissioner to South Africa.

In a twist to the story, the Times of Swaziland, the only daily newspaper rival to the Observer, published a report saying there was no intention to prosecute Dlamini for sedition. On Wednesday (22 October 2014), it reported Registrar of the High Court Fikile Nhlabatsi saying the Observer’s story was not true. 

The Times reported, ‘According to impeccable sources, the matter was erroneously included in the over 200 old cases that were recently recalled by the High Court.’

It said the matter was long withdrawn and it is not in the roll of cases to be heard at the High Court.

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