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Friday, 25 April 2014

T-SHIRT WEARERS ON TERROR CHARGE

Seven members of Swaziland’s best known pro-democracy party the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) have been arrested and charged under a terrorism act for wearing t-shirts and berets with the group’s name on them.

They were arrested outside the Swazi High Court where they were with other members of the public who gathered to show support for Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, who are in court on contempt charges following the publication of magazine articles that were critical of the kingdom’s judiciary.

PUDEMO is banned under Swaziland’s controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) which has been extensively used against opponents of King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), another prodemocracy group banned under the STA, reported that seven PUDEMO members were arrested and charged. It named them as Bongani Gama; Mlungusi Makhanya (the group’s Secretary General); Brian Ntshangase (the group’s public relations officer); Mangaliso Khumalo; Bafana Magongo; Ntobeko Maseko and Size Tsabedze.

The men are expected to appear in court on Monday 28 April 2014.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

NEWSPAPER SACKS QALAKALIBOLI DLAMINI

Qalakaliboli Dlamini, the Swaziland journalist whose articles attacked gays and called battered women ‘bitches’, has been sacked by his newspaper.

But, he was not sacked for his articles, even though they caused a storm of protest from readers.

Instead, he was dismissed because of comments he made on his Facebook page about the Times Sunday, the newspaper that employed him.

Qalakaliboli Dlamini, aged 41, whose real name is Musawenkhosi Dlamini, became notorious during 2012 for articles he wrote for the newspaper. 

Among his targets were battered women. In December 2012 he wrote that they were ‘bitches’ and said ‘most’ women who were beaten up by men brought it upon themselves.

After the publication of the article a range of organisations, among them the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations, Coordinating Assembly for Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO), Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders, Swaziland National Association of Teachers, Swaziland Positive Living and the Swaziland Agricultural Producers Union (SAPU), called for an apology.
 
Makila James, the US Ambassador to Swaziland, also publicly backed readers who complained about the article.

The newspaper refused to apologise. Instead, the newspaper’s readers’ representative ruled that Dlamini had a right to his views.

Readers boycotted buying the newspaper in protest.

In May 2012, Dlamini was briefly suspended by the Times Sunday after he wrote an article attacking homosexuals as ‘satanic’ and ‘evil’. In the article he said, ‘I hate homosexuality with every fibre of hair or flesh in my body.’

The article received what Times Sunday editor Innocent Maphalala called an ‘unprecedented’ number of complaints.

At the time, Dlamini responded to his critics saying, ‘I am not at all apologetic for my choice of words.’
He added, ‘I will continue to stand up against homosexuals and if need be, I will run a public anti-homosexual campaign.’

His sacking was not the result of readers’ complaints. Times Sunday editor Innocent Maphalala, writing in his own newspaper, said Dlamini was dismissed because ‘while writing for us, he used Facebook to disparage management and staff of the Times Group of Newspapers.  

‘He also had many unkind words to say about our other columnists like the respected Musa Hlophe and the likeable Bundu Teacher.’

He added, ‘We were alerted to this by Facebook users who wondered what was going on because they thought we were one big happy family, especially after I defended Qalakaliboli a year or so ago, when everybody was against him for bashing women and gays in his articles.’

Dlamini’s sacking took place in January 2014, but has only now become public. Maphalala said this was because Dlamini had been writing comments on his Facebook page which were ‘detrimental to the image of the Times Sunday, in particular, and the Times Group of Newspapers in general.’

He added, ‘I view his behaviour as unprofessional and have sent email messages, privately warning him to stop. He has not.’

See also

THE ‘TIMES’ AND PRESS STANDARDS
GAY HATE JOURNALIST UNREPENTANT

PEOPLE UNHAPPY WITH SWAZI DEMOCRACY

More than six people in ten in Swaziland say they are not satisfied with the way democracy works in the kingdom.

This was one of the findings in a report called ‘Let the People Have a Say’, published this week by Afrobarometer.

The research surveyed 34-countries in Africa and asked a series of questions about what people thought about democracy and how democratic they thought their own country was.

But, only in Swaziland were researchers were not allowed to ask a question about whether people rejected ‘one man rule’. In its report Afrobarometer said this was because ‘a near-absolute monarch resists democratization’ in the kingdom.

Among the report’s main findings were that in Swaziland 46 percent of people surveyed said ‘democracy is preferable to any other government.’

Only 35 percent of people were ‘somewhat or very satisfied’ with the way democracy worked in Swaziland.

A total of 22 percent of people said they believed non-democratic governments can be preferable to democracies.

In Swaziland political parties are banned from taking part in elections and political parties that campaigned for democracy in the kingdom have been banned as terrorists. Even so, 70 percent of people strongly disapproved of one-party rule.

Dissent in Swaziland is often put down by police and state forces, but 86 percent of people rejected military rule for Swaziland.

Across the continent seven out of 10 Africans prefer democracy to other political regimes.

The report raised questions about the depth of Africans’ support for democracy, suggesting that levels of support depend on whether citizens were experiencing democracy and whether they felt they were benefitting from it.

The report concluded the demand for, or commitment to, democracy was much lower in countries where democracy is disputed or elections are not held – such as Algeria, Egypt, Madagascar and Swaziland.
The report was authored by Professor Michael Bratton of Michigan State University in the United States and Richard Houessou of the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy (IREEP) in Benin.

See also

SWAZIS WANT DEMOCRACY - SURVEY
SEVEN IN TEN SWAZIS GO HUNGRY

Thursday, 17 April 2014

KING'S DEFIANT SUBJECTS 'WILL BURN'

King Mswati III’s right-hand man has told a community they ‘will burn’ if they continue to defy instructions from the King.

And, the Swaziland King ordered a ‘complete silence’ from his subjects in the kaLuhleko chiefdom about his decision to appoint their chief.

The warning was delivered by Ludzidzini Royal Residence Governor Timothy Velabo Mtetwa, who is commonly known in Swaziland as the ‘traditional prime minister’. This means he is the voice of the King and more powerful than Barnabas Dlamini, the man the King appointed as Swaziland’s figurehead PM.

Mtetwa and a delegation from the King visited kaLuhleko on Monday (14 April 2014) to issue a dire warning. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch,  reported ‘Bhekwako Dlamini of kaLuhleko has been mobilising the people to snub meetings called by the newly appointed Chief Zulwelihle Maseko, who was blessed by Their Majesties last June.’ 

The newspaper reported, ‘His Majesty roared through Ludzidzini Governor Timothy Velabo Mtetwa commonly known as TV.

‘“It has gotten to the attention of His Majesty the King and the Queen Mother that there is something irregular happening here and that is why we are here today,” he said to deafening silence.

‘“There is a bad habit that has come to the attention of the authorities that there are some people who still choose to defy the chief and do not recognise a man who has been appointed by the King. Where have you ever heard of that? This is the person who has been chosen to take over from Mfanwenkhosi Maseko and I have been sent by His Majesty to order that there be complete silence in this place,” said the tough talking Mtetwa.’

The Observer reported Mthethwa warned that people who did not adhere to the directive issued by the King ‘will burn’.

Swazi chiefs have enormous power. It is through chieftaincies that King Mswati maintains control of his people and chiefs do his bidding at a local level. People know not to get on the wrong side of the chief because their livelihood depends on his goodwill. In some parts of Swaziland the chiefs are given the power to decide who gets food that has been donated by international agencies. The chiefs quite literally have power of life and death in such cases with about a third of the population of Swaziland receiving food aid each year. 

Chiefs can and do take revenge on their subjects who disobey them. There is a catalogue of cases in Swaziland. For example, Chief Dambuza Lukhele of Ngobelweni in the Shiselweni region banned his subjects from ploughing their fields because some of them defied his order to build a hut for one of his wives.

Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers.

In November 2013, the newly-appointed Chief Ndlovula of Motshane threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a E5,000 (US$500) fine, the equivalent of more than six months income for many.

He said his subjects had illegally built homes on land put aside for grazing.

See also

CHIEF FORCES SUBJECTS TO GREET KING

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

COURT CANNOT CURB SUPPORT FOR EDITOR

Police and court officials in Swaziland have been caught on the hop by the support given to the magazine editor and human rights lawyer presently in jail awaiting trial on charges arising from criticisms they made of the judiciary in the kingdom.

At the latest hearing in the Swazi High Court, relatives and supporters of Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and lawyer Thulani Maseko were denied entry into the courtroom.

The two men have made a number of appearances at the High Court since they were charged with Contempt of Court on 18 March 2014. At each appearance the courtroom has been packed with their supporters.

On Monday (14 April 2014), at the latest hearing, court authorities moved the session to the smallest court in the building, even though larger ones were available. This meant that many people who wanted to attend the hearing could not.

Police also reportedly blocked the entrance to the High Court to prevent supporters entering the building. The incident was widely reported with words and pictures on social media as it was happening.

The extent of the support in court for the two accused men is unprecedented in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and free speech and freedom of assembly are severely restricted.

Two days earlier police had illegally abducted prodemocracy leaders to prevent them addressing a meeting calling for freedom in Swaziland. They were also expected to have spoken in support of Makhubu and Maseko.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been extensively used to inform people about the happenings in court. Broadcast media in Swaziland is state-controlled and has ignored the proceedings.

Of the two newspaper groups in the kingdom, one is in effect owned by King Mswati and the other has restricted its coverage. Innocent Maphalala,  editor of the independent Times Sunday, went so far as to tell his readers in print that he feared being sent to jail if he wrote anything that was deemed unacceptable by the authorities about the case.

The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best known of the pro-democracy groups in Swaziland, said the police action to deny entry to the court was ‘a brazen disregard for the rights of relatives and friends’ of the two accused men.

In a statement it said police and court authorities were aware of the huge interest in the case and the large number of people that previously attended, and as ‘an obvious act of sabotage’, chose to use the smaller court. It added that plain-clothed policemen were also placed in the court to take up as many available seats as possible.

Makhubu and Maseko are expected to appear in court again on 22 April 2014 for the start of their trial.

Prodemocracy groups from across the world have called for the immediate release of the two men. Amnesty International has named them ‘prisoners of conscience’.

See also

POLICE ABDUCT DEMOCRACY LEADERS
BACK TO JAIL FOR EDITOR AND LAWYER

Monday, 14 April 2014

KING DIVERTS WEALTH FROM HIS SUBJECTS

Swaziland’s autocratic King Mswati III holds assets worth E1.39 billion (US$140 million) in the vast Tibiyo TakaNgwane conglomerate of companies that he owns ‘in trust for the nation’.

Tibiyo made E218 million from its operations in a single year, according to financial results just published.

Although the King is said to hold the assets for the nation, he in facts uses a substantial amount of the money to finance his own lavish lifestyle. Swaziland has a population of 1.3 million, people and seven in ten of them live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 a day.

Meanwhile, King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has 13 palaces, a private jet, fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars and at least one Rolls Royce.

The money is also said to finance lavish lifestyles for his family. His 13 wives regularly enjoy luxury holidays in some of the world’s most glamorous tourist attractions.

Financial results published in the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, revealed Tibiyo made E218.1 million in the year ended March 2012. According to the company’s latest financial report, revenue increased by at least 46.6 per cent during that period.

Profits recorded in 2012 amounted to E116 million.


The Times reported at the end of 2012, Tibiyo had assets worth E1.39 billion.

Tibiyo fully and partly owns 23 major companies operating in the Swazi economy in manufacturing, property, agriculture, media, mining and tourism industries.

Tibiyo was established by Royal Charter in August 1968 by King Sobhuza II. 

Among companies owned or part-owned  by Tibiyo  are Swaziland Beverages, Parmalat Swaziland, Dalcrue Agriculture Holdings (Pty) Ltd, Nedbank (Swaziland) Limited, Swaziland Development and Finance Corporation (FINCORP), the Simunye Plaza, Bhunu Mall and the Swazi Observer newspaper.

Themba Dlamini, Managing Director (MD) of the company, said Tibiyo’s cash cow was largely the sugar cane industry. It has a stake in Ubombo Sugar (40 per cent stake), Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation (50 per cent shares) and Inyoni Yami Swaziland Irrigation Scheme (IYSIS) among others.

In a report in 2013, the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa called Tibiyo a ‘closed, largely secretive, mega entity that accumulates wealth for the monarchy. Through it, patronage and nepotism are believed to be rewarded.’

Swazi people are not allowed to criticise King Mswati, but in 2013, the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) launched a Red October Campaign to cut all his financing. The CPS said in addition to Tibiyo TakaNgwane, the King he received income from Tisuka Taka Ngwane, which is a residential and commercial property developer.

‘Both funds account for some 50 percent of the Swazi economy,’ CPS said.


Kenneth Kunene, CPS General Secretary, said, ‘That poverty and disease are such blights on the lives of the Swazi people is directly and incontrovertibly linked to Mswati’s sources of income.

‘We think it is high time that everything held in trust for the Swazi nation is now handed over to the people. Mswati has done a bad job at holding it in trust for us. The country needs its wealth back, and the CPS is calling on people to demand what is theirs.’

The Red October Campaign also demanded that the R400 million given to the royal family each year from the state budget be immediately cancelled.

‘Mswati and his family are no different than an organized crime syndicate,’ said Kunene. ‘And the way you deal with organized crime is to cut off its access to ready cash. That way it will shrivel up and die. And that’s what we want to see happen with the Mswati regime.’

See also

KINGDOM’S WEALTH STAY WITH THE KING

Sunday, 13 April 2014

POLICE ABDUCT DEMOCRACY LEADERS

Police in Swaziland illegally abducted prodemocracy leaders on Saturday (12 April 2014), drove them up to 30 kilometres away, and dumped them to prevent them taking part in a meeting calling for freedom in the kingdom.

Police staged roadblocks on all major roads leading to Swaziland’s main commercial city, Manzini, where protests were to be held.

Police also physically blocked halls to prevent meetings taking place.  Earlier in the day police had announced on state radio that meetings would not be allowed to take place.

The intended protests were part of the annual 12 April commemorations in Swaziland. On 12 April 1973 King Sobhuza II issued a Royal proclamation dissolving parliament, banning political parties and placing all power in the kingdom in the hands of the monarchy. This was because he disapproved of some of the MPs elected to parliament by his subjects.

Today, King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Swazi media reported that trade union leaders including Vincent Ncongwane, the Secretary General of Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA); Quinton Dlamini, President of National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) and Thandokwazi Dludlu, Secretary General of the Public and Private Sector Transport Union (PPSTWU) were separately arrested by police and taken to a series of police stations for questioning. They were denied access to lawyers.

The Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reported, they were separately taken to up to 30 km away from the planned meeting place and then dumped.

The leaders were among a number of trade unionists reportedly picked up by police for questioning.

Meanwhile, more than 50 workers from textile firms were blocked from a meeting organised by TUCOSWA at a school in Manzini. Police made sure the workers could not meet elsewhere and blocked the gates to Caritas, a popular venue for prodemocracy meetings, in Manzini, Local media also reported armed police were at the Mandlenkhosi Ecumenical House to prevent a meeting taking place there.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

BACK TO JAIL FOR EDITOR AND LAWYER

Swaziland’s justice system was in a state of confusion on Thursday (10 April 2014) when magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were remanded in custody until 14 April 2014, despite having been released by the High Court only last Sunday (5 April 2014) after spending 20 days in jail.

The two men have been in and out of court over the past three weeks and it is thought they will be there again on Friday (11 April 2014) for a pre-trial conference.

Meanwhile, an appeal lodged with the Supreme Court by the Attorney-General’s Office against the release of the two men seems to have been overlooked. It was to be heard in May.

At the centre of the case are contempt of court charges that have been laid against Makhubu and Maseko after they wrote articles in the Nation magazine in Swaziland criticising the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. The two men had spent 20 days in jail after Ramodibedi himself issued an arrest warrant and, in a closed court, without lawyers present, had sent them to jail to await trial.

On Sunday (5 April 2014) High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini ruled they should not have been jailed.
Makhubu and Maseko were freed, but later it transpired that no liberation warrants had been served and the pair might not have been legally released.

Then on Wednesday the two men sent their lawyers to the High Court in front of Judge Mpendulo Simelane in an attempt to get him to stand down from hearing the contempt case against them. This was because Simelane was one of the judge’s criticised in the articles.

Judge Simelane then issued warrants for the re-arrest of Makhubu and Maseko because they had not appeared in his court. This was even though they had been released from jail and an appeal against this had yet to be heard. Their lawyers argued this meant there was no compulsion for the men to appear.
Later in the day they were apprehended and jailed.

On Thursday they appeared in a courtroom packed with supporters. After legal arguments that the arrest warrants for the two men were not legal, because Judge Simelane acted beyond his powers, Judge Simelane himself ruled the warrants were lawful and remanded the two men to jail.

There is now also confusion about the status of the Supreme Court appeal. It appears that High Court Judge Simelane has pre-empted that appeal and in effect decided himself that High Court Judge Dlamini was wrong in her judgment last Sunday.

Judge Simelane has been subjected to some criticism since his appointment by Chief Justice Ramodibedi to the High Court in February 2014. The Sunday Observer, a newspaper in Swaziland in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, said Simelane lacked the necessary experience.
 
On Thursday the Law Society of Swaziland said it had tried to register an application challenging the appointment of Simelane as a judge of the High Court, but the Registrar of the High Court was refusing to accept it due to pressure from Ramodibedi.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

EDITOR AND LAWYER TO BE RE-ARRESTED

Warrants were issued for the re-arrest of the editor of the Nation magazine Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko in Swaziland on Wednesday (9 April 2014).

It happened when they attended the High Court to attempt to have Judge Mpendulo Simelane stand down from hearing a case against them. Both men are charged with contempt of court after they wrote articles in the Nation magazine critical of the Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Instead, Judge Simelane issued warrants for their arrests.

Makhubu and Maseko had previously been remanded to jail by Ramodibedi, but on Sunday after 20 days they were released by the High Court and had been free since then.

Judge Simelane said Wednesday no liberation warrants had been issued after the High Court judgement on Sunday. This meant that the men had not been lawfully released.

At the centre of the case is Ramodibedi, who on 17 March issued warrants for the arrest of Makhubu and Maseko and then sent them to jail on remand. He did this in closed court without lawyers present.

High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini in a judgement that took her less than a minute to read out, released the men. On Monday the office of the Attorney General appealed the High Court judgment. This should be heard by the Supreme Court in May. 

In her written judgement, Dlamini said that Ramodibedi had sent the men to jail without hearing arguments or submissions why they should not be.

She added that the law in Swaziland stated that it was a magistrate’s job to issue arrest warrants.

She said the affidavits used to support the warrant of arrest were ‘incompetent in law’ because they were raised by the Chief Justice’s clerk, who was representing the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice claimed to be injured by the contents of the articles the two accused men wrote.

Judge Dlamini said, ‘A person attesting an affidavit must be completely objective and have no interest of any kind in the contents or input of that affidavit.’

She went on to say that the hearing should not have been heard in the Chief Justice’s chambers.

‘A matter of such magnitude viz. incarceration of persons ought to have been deliberated fully in an open court.’

See also

DOES CHIEF JUSTICE KNOW THE LAW?

PUBLIC BANNED FROM KING’S NEW AIRPORT

The Swazi public have been banned from visiting the new King Mswati III Airport in Swaziland in case they wear out floor tiles in the passenger lounge.

The no-visitors directive has been issued by the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA). The airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, was opened in March 2014, but no commercial flights have used it and none are planned.

The cost so far of the airport is E3 billion (US$300 million), much of the money came from the Swazi taxpayer.

King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, issued a directive that the airport should remain in sublime condition.

The Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland and a critic of the building of the airport, reported SWACAA Director Solomon Dube saying the airport was not a museum or a mall. He also said visitors were banned for ‘security reasons’.

The newspaper reported him saying, ‘Everyone should cool down and stay away from the airport for now. This arrangement goes in line with the call from His Majesty the King, who said it should be kept in sublime condition.’

Dube said letting people into the facility could cause damage to some parts of the infrastructure, such as the ceramic tiles on the floor for the building.

‘Ceramic tiles are expensive and their disproportionate use could damage them and it would cost us a lot of money to replace them. We also do not want the structure to age before passengers and airlines even use it,’ he said.

The airport is under 24-hour guard by the Royal Swaziland Police who worked with private security firms to ensure that anxious visitors who were excited by the structure were kept out of the facility, the Times reported.

The airport, dubbed King Mswati’s ‘vanity project,’ needs about 400,000 passengers a year to break even.

See also
‘KING’S AIRPORT STILL HAS NO LICENCE’

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

CONFUSION OVER EDITOR’S ‘RE-ARREST’

There was widespread confusion in Swaziland on Tuesday (8 April 2014) regarding the status of Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.


Both men were released from jail by the Swazi High Court on Sunday after spending 20 days on remand awaiting trial on contempt of court charges, following the publication of articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.


But, reports were circulating in Swaziland that new arrest warrants had been issued against the two men, but that police officers were reluctant to execute them without the express command of the Swazi Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula.


At the centre of the case is Chief Justice Ramodibedi, who on 17 March issued warrants for the arrest of Makhubu and Maseko and then sent them to jail on remand. He did this in closed court without lawyers present.


High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini in a judgement that took her less than a minute to read out, released the men. They had been in jail for 20 days.


In her written judgement, Dlamini said that CJ Ramodibedi had sent the men to jail without hearing arguments or submissions why they should not be.


She added that the law in Swaziland stated that it was a magistrate’s job to issue arrest warrants.


She said the affidavits used to support the warrant of arrest were ‘incompetent in law’ because they were raised by the Chief Justice’s clerk, who was representing the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice claimed to be injured by the contents of the articles the two accused men wrote.


Judge Dlamini said, ‘A person attesting an affidavit must be completely objective and have no interest of any kind in the contents or input of that affidavit.’


She went on to say that the hearing should not have been heard in the Chief Justice’s chambers.


‘A matter of such magnitude viz. incarceration of persons ought to have been deliberated fully in an open court.’


On Monday the office of the Attorney General appealed the High Court judgment. This should be heard by the Supreme Court in May. 


Meanwhile, the Swazi Observer newspaper has reported that the Chief Justice is angry that Makhubu and Maseko were freed from jail after the High Court ruling. It reported that Judge Dlamini had not specifically stated the two men should be freed and no release warrant had been signed. 


It reported that on Monday Ramodibedi summoned to his chambers Superintendent Joseph Mahlindza, the Officer-in Charge at Sidwashini Correctional Services, where the two had been jailed, together with two officers. They had to answer to him why the two prisoners had been released without a liberation warrant.


Under normal circumstances, the liberation warrant is signed by the Registrar of the High Court, the Observer reported.


 
See also

DOES CHIEF JUSTICE KNOW THE LAW?

DOES CHIEF JUSTICE KNOW THE LAW?

Either Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi does not understand the law in the kingdom, or he chooses not to apply it.

That has to be the main conclusion after a High Court judgement that freed Nation magazine editor, Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko from jail on Sunday (6 April 2014).

The two men had been sent to jail on remand to await trial on contempt of court charges. This followed publication of articles in the Nation that were critical of CJ Ramodibedi.

Makhubu and Maseko went to the Swazi High Court to demand their release because they had illegally been arrested and sent to jail. They argued that CJ Ramodibedi had unlawfully issued a summons for their arrest and then heard the case behind closed doors in chambers, without lawyers present. They argued that he had no power to send them to jail and that no law officer had requested they be imprisoned.

High Court Judge Mumcy Dlamini agreed with them and in a judgement that took her less than a minute to read out, she released the men. They had been in jail for 20 days.

In her written judgement, Dlamini said that CJ Ramodibedi had sent the men to jail without hearing arguments or submissions why they should not be.

She added that the law in Swaziland stated that it was a magistrate’s job to issue arrest warrants.

She said the affidavits used to support the warrant of arrest were ‘incompetent in law’ because they were raised by the Chief Justice’s clerk, who was representing the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice claimed to be injured by the contents of the articles the two accused men wrote.

Judge Dlamini said, ‘A person attesting an affidavit must be completely objective and have no interest of any kind in the contents or input of that affidavit.’

She went on to say that the hearing should not have been heard in the Chief Justice’s chambers.

‘A matter of such magnitude viz. incarceration of persons ought to have been deliberated fully in an open court.’

Dlamini added that she did not think Chief Justice Ramodibedi would have issued the arrest warrant and acted the way he did if he had known these things.

Which begs these questions: does the Chief Justice of Swaziland not know basic law, or is it that he knows the law, but chooses not to apply it to his critics?

See also

AMBASSADORS SUPPORT JAILED WRITERS

1,000 PEOPLE IN JAIL FOR BEING POOR

More than 1,000 people are in jail in Swaziland because they are too poor to pay fines. That is nearly three in ten of the entire prison population.

In Swaziland offenders are often given the option of jail time or paying a fine. There are people in jail because they could not pay fines for a range of matters, including traffic offences, theft by false pretences, malicious injury to property and fraud.

Figures revealed recently show that in Swaziland, where seven in ten people live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day, 1,053 of 3,615 inmates in Swazi jails were there because they did not have the money to pay the fine option. This is 29.1 percent of the entire prison population.

Correctional Services Commissioner Isaiah Ntshangase said the numbers in prison because they could not pay fines was growing. He wants offenders to be given the option of paying fines in instalments, rather than going to jail.

‘The fact that the courts gave them the option of a fine means that they were not a threat to peace and security. Creating payment terms for those who fail to pay lump sum fines won’t harm anyone,’ the Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported Ntshangase saying.

He added, ‘Offenders who committed minor offences and qualified for fine but failed to pay should be given a further option of paying such fines in instalments.’

He said often offenders were required to pay the fine immediately of go to jail. They were not given time to raise the money.

‘Once an offender is convicted, his bargain power dwindles. This has caused many to rot behind bars yet they could have been released if they paid the fines,’ he said.

Ntshangase said keeping people out of prison would stop them being exposed to hardened criminals.

Friday, 4 April 2014

AMBASSADORS SUPPORT JAILED WRITERS

The European Union Ambassador to Swaziland Nicole Bellomo and the US Ambassador to Swaziland Makila James both visited the High Court on Friday (4 April 2014) in solidarity with the magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko who have been jailed on remand after writing articles critical of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the Swazi judiciary.

The unprecedented show of solidarity was the latest turn of events in a saga that started on 17 March 2014 when both men were arrested and charged with contempt of court. Makhubu and Maseko were remanded in custody by CJ Ramodibedi, the man who was on the receiving end the writers’ criticism in articles published in the Nation, a monthly comment magazine in Swaziland.

The decision to jail the two men took place behind closed doors and the men’s lawyers were not present.
The jailings caused an international outcry, with human rights organisations calling for the two men to be freed immediately. Amnesty International has named Makhubu and Maseko ‘prisoners of conscience’.


Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The King appoints the government and top judges and freedom of speech is severely restricted in his kingdom.

On Wednesday (2 April 2014) the Judicial Services Commission, which is chaired by CJ Ramodibedi and consists of people handpicked by King Mswati, issued a public warning against commenting about the case. Independent observers have interpreted this as a threat to critics of the regime that they too will be jailed.

US Ambassador James in an impromptu media conference at the High Court said the United States was concerned about their arrest because Maseko and Makhubu were expressing their opinions. ‘We are here in solidarity and to give moral support,’ she said.  

Hundreds of supports turned up at the High Court on Friday as Maseko and Makhubu appeared in court in leg-irons for the third time in a week. The men were trying to get the court to overturn CJ Ramodibedi’s jailing order.

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JUDICIARY NO RIGHT TO BERATE MEDIA

SOCIAL MEDIA FIRST WITH THE NEWS

Social media in Swaziland are beating mainstream media to the punch in the coverage of the arrest and jailing of a magazine editor and a human rights lawyer.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko were arrested on 17 March 2014 and charged with contempt of court for writing articles in the magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary and Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi in particular.

Posts on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, told the world of the arrests almost as they happened and posters have been following the case every step of the way as the two accused appear in court, seemingly day after day.

The posts alerted human rights organisations in Swaziland and across the world to the plight of the two men. Within hours condemnations of Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, were transmitted across the world. Amnesty International immediately named Makhubu and Maseko ‘prisoners of conscience’.

The articles, originally published in the Nation, which has a tiny circulation in Swaziland, were posted on the Internet ensuring that many more people had the chance to read them than would have been the case.

Mainstream media outside of Swaziland quickly followed up on the stories and now the case of Makhubu and Maseko is international news.

Within Swaziland, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reported that state broadcast media, which are almost every radio and television station in the kingdom, have ignored the case.

MISA reported, ‘It must be said that the broadcast media in Swaziland is more censored than the print media and operates under a greater internalised fear of the authorities. The government has in place Public Service Announcement Guidelines for the state-controlled TV and radio, which among many other measures that restrict free speech, requires people to get approval from their local chief before issuing a statement.’

There are only two newspaper groups in Swaziland, the Swazi Observer, described by MISA in its annual report on press freedom in Swaziland as ‘propaganda’ for the Swazi Royal Family and the independent Times of Swaziland. Both have given extensive coverage to the trail of the two accused, but neither have given their readers details of what they have supposed to have done, beyond reporting they are on contempt of court charges.

The newspapers live in fear of reprisals from the state if they overstep the mark and criticise the judiciary, who are handpicked by King Mswati.

The Times Sunday refused to publish a comment article written by its regular columnist Musa Hlophe, himself a human rights activist, for fear of retribution. The unpublished article was subsequently published on the Swazi Media Commentary blogsite and shared extensively on Facebook. The Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa later published it on its own website.

Social media sites were also the first to report the news that the US Ambassador to Swaziland Makila James had attended the Swazi High Court to offer her support to the two accused. The US Embassy had previously roundly criticised the Swazi authorities for the arrests. Social media reported James saying that the court case would have an implication in an investigation the US is undertaking on human rights in Swaziland. If improvements are not made by 15 May 2014, Swaziland risks losing its preferred trading status with the US under the AGOA agreement. This could risk 20,000 jobs in the textile industry in Swaziland.

Social media is fast becoming an essential vehicle for finding out the truth about what is going on in Swaziland. More and more ordinary people as well as established democracy advocates are taking to the Internet to get the message out.

It probably will not stop with the Makhubu and Maseko case. On 12 April, Swazi activists will mark the anniversary of the 1973 Royal Proclamation that turned Swaziland from a parliamentary democracy to an autocratic kingdom ruled by decree. We can expect to get a more complete picture of the anti-government and anti-monarchy activities on that day from social media than ever we can from Swaziland’s mainstream media.

See also

EDITOR IS A SECRET SECURITY RISK

Thursday, 3 April 2014

JUDICIARY NO RIGHT TO BERATE MEDIA

Swaziland’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) had no power to warn the kingdom’s media against criticising judges.
 
The constitutional role of the JSC is to oversee judges, not to involve itself in the conduct of the media or members of the public.

The JSC commented on the ongoing case of Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer. Both men have been in jail on remand since 17 March 2014 awaiting trial on contempt of court charges. These arise from articles they wrote in the Nation criticising the Swazi judiciary and in particular the Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

The JSC in a statement to media warned organisations and members of the public that it was wrong for anyone to comment on the pending contempt of court proceedings.

It said the Swaziland Constitution did not allow for freedom of speech in such cases.

The JSC is chaired by the CJ Ramodibedi, who is the man at the centre of the criticisms published by the Nation.

The JSC has overstepped its powers by making the statement. The JSC is set up under the Swaziland Constitution, which states that its functions are to advise the King on the appointment, discipline and removal of the Director of Public Prosecutions and other public officers.

It is also required to review and make recommendations on the terms and conditions of service of Judges and persons holding the judicial offices.

The JSC also functions as a complaints bureau and receives and process recommendations and complaints concerning the judiciary.

It has other functions, including advising the government on improving the administration of justice generally and appointing people to legal positions.

Nowhere in the constitution does it say it has a role to make public statements about judicial matters.

Nobody who observes Swaziland will be surprised that the JSC has over-reached its powers. It was created by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The chair of the JSC is the Chief Justice, who is appointed by the King. There are five other members of the commission: four are directly appointed by the King, and the other has to be Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, himself chosen by the King.

The judiciary in Swaziland is not independent since all judicial officers are appointed by the King and they owe their allegiance to him. Meanwhile, the Swaziland Constitution puts the King and the Queen Mother beyond the reach of the law.

As Freedom House, in an analysis of Swaziland, noted, ‘The King’s absolute authority over the judiciary renders the Swazi legal system hazardous for investors, attorneys and anyone who displeases the King.’

See also

JUDICIARY BID TO STOP MEDIA SCRUTINY