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Monday, 26 May 2014

BIZARRE CLAIMS FOR KING’S AIRPORT

Apologists for the newly-opened, but as yet unused, King Mswati III Airport in Swaziland are going to extraordinary lengths to talk up the value of the project, dubbed by critics the King’s ‘vanity project’.
 
Leading the charge is the Swazi Observer group of newspapers that is in effect owned by the King.

The Sunday Observer (25 May 2014) claimed the airport was a ‘heat’ (presumably it meant a ‘hit’) in Botswana. It then manufactured a story claiming that government ministers from all over Africa, who were in Botswana for the ANOCA games, ‘praised the standards of the airport’.

In fact, it only quoted one of them, Sudan’s Minister of Sports, who admitted he had never been to the airport and had never even visited Swaziland.

The Observer is one of the cheerleaders for the airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, which was officially opened in March 2014. No commercial airline has flown in or out of the airport, and none have said they plan to do so in the future.

Even King Mswati himself does not use the airport, built at a cost of at least E3 billion (US$300 million) in a wilderness in southeast Swaziland. He prefers to fly his private jet from the Matsapha Airport, which is close to both the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane, and the main commercial city, Manzini.

This is not the only time recently that the Swazi Observer has misled its readers about the potential of the airport.

On13 May 2014 it quoted Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) Corporate Affairs Director Sabelo Dlamini saying was being discussed to fly passengers from Swaziland to Durban, South Africa, for onward flights to Germany and the United Kingdom. The newspaper ignored the fact that Swazi people wishing to fly to those European destinations can already do so via Johannesburg.

Dlamini has made extravagant claims about the potential of the airport in the past. In May 2011, the Weekend Observer reported him saying, ‘We have established possible routes which we want to market to the operators. Some of the proposed routes from Sikhuphe are Durban, Cape Town, Lanseria Airport in Sandton, Harare and Mozambique.’ But nothing has happened since.

Dlamini also claimed at the time that he met with ‘at least five big airline operators’. The newspaper only named three of them; Knysla Tour Operators, Timeless Ethiopia and Satoa Tours. None of them were ‘big airline operators’ and since 2011 nothing has been heard again about them.

In January 2014, SWACAA placed an advertisement in newspapers in Swaziland claiming, ‘Two airlines have confirmed operations at Sikhuphe.’ It did not name them, but did say there would be flights to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town in South Africa and to Maputo in Mozambique. Nothing has been heard since.

As recently as October 2013, a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Sikhuphe International Airport was widely perceived as a ‘vanity project’ because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it seeks to serve.

In June 2013, an engineer’s report was published by to the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa saying the structure of the airport was defected and large jet airlines would not be able to land,

No independent study on the need for Sikhuphe Airport was ever undertaken and the main impetus behind its construction has been King Mswati. He believes the airport will lend credibility to his dream to make Swaziland a ‘First World’ nation by 2022. 

In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said Sikhuphe should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes of less than US$2 per day. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. The King has 13 palaces and a personal fortune once estimated by Forbes Magazine to be US$200 million. Meanwhile, seven in ten of his subjects live in abject poverty with an income of less than US$2 a day.

Swaziland already has an airport at Matsapha, which carries an estimated 70,000 passengers a year.

SUPREME COURT THREATEN TO QUIT



Two Supreme Court judges have threatened to resign if a warrant issued by the Swaziland Chief Justice for the arrest of three High Court judges who are critical of him is served, a South African newspaper has reported.

Now, the Mail and Guardian reports arrests may take place immediately after the present Supreme Court session ends on Friday (30 May 2014).

Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael reportedly issued the warrants on 16 May 2014, but the Swazi police did not make the arrests. 

The three judges are judges Mumcy Dlamini, Bheki Maphalala and Mbutfo Mamba.

CJ Ramodibedi denied a report that originally appeared in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and who appointed the Lesotho-born Ramodibedi to his office.

In its report, the Observer said the arrest warrants were issued because the CJ felt the judges were ‘ignoring his orders and bringing the High Court into disrepute’.

The newspaper reported, ‘According to a reliable source at the High Court, the Chief Justice alleges that Judge Bheki Maphalala is influencing his staff members not to take orders from him. Maphalala, according to the source, is spearheading a High Court rebellion.

The Observer added, ‘Judge Mamba is alleged to have tried taking over the bail application of The Nation Editor Bheki Makhubu and Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko.’

After Ramodibedi’s denial of the story, the Observer ran an editorial saying it stood by its report.

The Mail and Guardian reported an unnamed source saying the execution of the warrants had been delayed ‘because two foreign judges of the supreme court – Swaziland’s court of appeal – had threatened an immediate walkout if the arrests took place.

‘The supreme court is in session until May 30, and there are fears that the arrests could take place immediately after it goes into recess.’

In its original report, the Observer said Ramodibedi already had replacements lined up to take over from the arrested judges.

See also

‘CJ ARREST WARRANTS FOR CRITIC JUDGES’

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

CONFUSION OVER KINGDOM’S AGOA STATUS

There is confusion surrounding the United States’ announcement on the future of Swaziland’s status under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). 

On Friday (16 May 2014) the AFP news agency reported Makila James, the US Ambassador to Swaziland, saying the kingdom had lost its status because it failed to meet five conditions relating to workers’ and human rights.
 
Swaziland had been given until 15 May 2014 to comply or risk losing AGOA status, which allows Swazi goods to be sold in the United States under preferential terms.
 
But, the following day media in Swaziland reported that James denied talking to the AFP.

The Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, reported Ruth Newman the Swaziland US Embassy spokesperson, saying, ‘I have checked with her [the Ambassador] and she is surprised where AFP got the report, because they never called her in the first place. The quote attributed to her, were not hers.’

Newman was also reported saying, ‘There is no decision yet.’

The Swazi News, an independent newspaper, reported Newman saying a statement on Swaziland’s AGOA status would be made, ‘when they are ready’.

A press conference due to be held by the US Embassy on Monday (19 May 2014) to make the announcement was called off at the last minute. No reason for the cancellation or alternative date for the announcement was given.

The United States had given Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, an ultimatum to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

It appears the Swaziland Government has failed to meet the requirements and it is widely anticipated that when the announcement is made it will say Swaziland will lose its AGOA benefits from the start of 2015.

An editorial in the Swazi Observer, another newspaper in effect owned by the King, on Monday (19 May 2014) said, ‘it was just a matter of time’, before AGOA benefits would be lost.

It added, ‘We are also aware that the AGOA axe has been hovering above our heads for some time.’

An editorial in the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper, gave two reasons why the Swazi Government was to blame for the loss of AGOA. It said, ‘One; for the first time in the history of Cabinet, we had ministers in office who were highly incompetent to a point of costing thousands of people their jobs. Two; there never was any intention to meet the demands in the first place, because retaining the status quo supersedes the livelihood of thousands of citizens or even the Constitution.’

In Swaziland the Government is not elected, it is hand-picked by King Mswati.

See also

SWAZI HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD KILLS AGOA
KINGDOM FACES HUMAN RIGHTS PROBE

Monday, 19 May 2014

‘CJ ARREST WARRANT FOR CRITIC JUDGES’

A newspaper in Swaziland reported on Monday (19 May 2014) that the controversial Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi had issued warrants for the arrest of three High Court Judges because they disagreed with his actions. 

He was reported to be ready to appoint his own judges to replace those arrested.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who appointed Ramodibedi, said the three judges were Justices Mumcy Dlamini, Bheki Maphalala and Mbutfo Mamba. At the time of this report (Monday 19 May 2014) police had not executed the warrants.

The Observer reported Ramodibedi allegedly issued the warrants last Friday. They were issued, it said because the CJ felt the judges were ‘ignoring his orders and bringing the High Court into disrepute’.

The newspaper reported, ‘According to a reliable source at the High Court, the Chief Justice alleges that Judge Bheki Maphalala is influencing his staff members not to take orders from him. Maphalala, according to the source, is spearheading a High Court rebellion.

‘Judge Mamba is alleged to have tried taking over the bail application of The Nation Editor Bheki Makhubu and Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko

‘This is alleged to have angered the CJ and he decided to have him also arrested. “Judge Mumcy is the number one enemy of the CJ. It is no surprise that she has been included in the list of those whose warrants of arrest were issued,” the source alleged.’ 

‘Judge Mumcy has on record ruled that the CJ erred in the way he issued the warrants of arrest that landed The Nation Editor Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko in jail. She released the duo but they were later re-arrested soon after gaining freedom.’

The newspaper added, ‘[The] CJ is alleged to have highlighted in his chambers that he no longer trusted most of the Judges of the High Court. This is alleged to have transpired when The Law Society of Swaziland wanted their application for the removal of Judge Mpendulo Simelane allocated a judge. The Chief Justice is alleged to have failed to allocate the matter and highlighted that he no longer trusted most of the judges.’

The Observer reported. ‘Should the warrants be effected and the judges arrested, the CJ is alleged to have planned to appoint interim judges who will deal with the Law Society, which wants a full bench to listen to their application calling for the firing of newly appointed Judge Mpendulo Simelane. The CJ is alleged to be afraid to have the three judges sit in the full bench and listen to the Judge Mpendulo case as they might rule against him.’

Ramodibedi is at the centre of a number of controversial decisions in Swaziland. Last week the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa reported that Ramodibedi has told Swazi judges that they have a constitutional duty to obey him. He has also ordered that judges could not hear cases against King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, or royal institutions.

The Mail and Guardian reported that Ramodibedi had a reputation for intimidation. He has intervened in the continuing trial against Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine, who is in court on contempt of court charges after publishing articles critical of Ramodibedi and the Swazi judiciary.
The newspaper reported, ‘Ramodibedi’s interventions in the Makhubu trial, some of doubtful legality, are seen as driven by both a personal grudge and a desire to gratify Mswati. The treatment of Makhubu shows signs of vindictive overkill: armed police stormed his parents’ rural homestead and a heavily armed police guard escorted him from prison to court.

It added Ramodibedi laid two contempt charges against Makhubu.

‘Makhubu was denied bail as an alleged flight risk. Ramodibedi has also personally threatened the managing editor of the Swazi Observer with arrest if the newspaper continued to comment on the Makhubu trial,’ it said.

Friday, 16 May 2014

SWAZI HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD KILLS AGOA

Swaziland has been excluded from a lucrative trade deal with the United States because of its abysmal record on human rights.

The United States announced on Thursday (15 May 2014) that the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, had failed to retain its status under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). This means the kingdom will no longer receive preferential access to the US market.

US ambassador to Swaziland, Malika James said Swaziland had not fulfilled all the requirements of the programme, including respect for human rights.

Swaziland is allowed duty free trade with the US, which is used mainly for textile exports. However this arrangement will now lapse in January 2015. About 17,000 jobs in the textile industry may be under threat as a result.

James said in February 2014 that Swaziland had been given eight years to comply with the requirements but nothing significant had happened. The US set a deadline of 15 May 2014 for reforms to be made.

The US wanted Swaziland to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.
James said that there needed to be greater accountability of the police force in Swaziland. ‘There is a need to give police better guidance so they can do proper law enforcement.’
International organisations have over the past year highlighted numerous human rights abuses in Swaziland.

In July 2013, AfriMAP, a group that monitors and promotes good governance, reported, ‘The current form of governance in Swaziland is a complete anathema to the conventional wisdom that prevails in almost all AU [African Union] member states, and certainly in SADC [South African Development Community]; the issue of dictatorships, absolutism and total state control of the citizenry is a forgotten and unacceptable notion; which is why Swaziland government must realize that it cannot delay political reforms, since it will only undermine its credibility, delay progress, economic and social development of the very people it is supposed to uplift and protect.’
A report on human rights in Swaziland, published in 2013 by the US State Department revealed, ‘The three main human rights abuses [in 2012] were police use of excessive force, including use of torture, beatings, and unlawful killings; restrictions on freedoms of association, assembly, and speech; and discrimination and abuse of women and children.
‘Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and persons with albinism; harassment of labor leaders; child labor; mob violence; and restrictions on worker rights.
‘In general perpetrators acted with impunity, and the government took few or no steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.’
In May 2013, in its annual report on Swaziland, Amnesty International reported, rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued to be violated in the kingdom. There were also ‘arbitrary arrests and excessive force used to crush political protests,’ the report stated, and ‘torture and other ill-treatment remained a persistent concern’ in Swaziland.
Amnesty noted that in May 2012 the African Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution ‘expressing alarm’ at the Swazi Government’s failure to implement previous decisions and recommendations of the Commission relating to the rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
These violations included the use by police of, ‘rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to break up demonstrations and gatherings viewed as illegal’.
In April 2013, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that recently Swaziland police and state security forces had shown ‘increasingly violent and abusive behaviour’ that was leading to the ‘militarization’ of the kingdom.

OSISA told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia, ‘There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections.’
In April 2013, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), two organiastions campaigning for democracy in the kingdom, in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a ‘private militia’ with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime. This was after about 80 armed officers broke up a public meeting to discuss the lack of democracy in the kingdom.
See also
KINGDOM FACES HUMAN RIGHTS PROBE
US PRESSURE FOR SWAZI REFORMS

Thursday, 15 May 2014

KING MSWATI SPENDS AND SPENDS

Swaziland's King Mswati III has increased his annual household budget for 2014 by more than 10 percent to US$61m, this is on top of the 13 percent increase he had in 2013.

The spending increases came after the king, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, promised his subjects he would freeze his personal budget during the kingdom’s present financial crisis.

The AFP news agency reported on Wednesday (15 May 2014) this year’s figure also includes provisions for construction work on palaces that will cost the tax payer about $12.6m.

In October 2012, the then Swaziland Finance Minister Majozi Sithole told international media the king had asked him to freeze the Royal budget.

In October 2012, the Times of Swaziland reported that Sithole told CNN that the king wanted to do his bit to help his kingdom that is facing economic meltdown. 

Sithole was reported by CNN saying, ‘I brief him [the king], he has concerns and he will, as he did this year, say whatever you work don’t even increase my budget because I understand the fiscal situation.’

But, the truth about of the King’s spending has been consistently hidden from the Swazi people, his budget is never debated in parliament, and audits of the budget are only presented to the King himself and the Royal Board of Trustees chaired by the minister of finance. 

Media in Swaziland had access to the full budget estimates which contained information about the increase in the king’s budget but refused to publish it. State media in the kingdom are heavily censored and the private media censors itself when reporting about the king.

King Mswati is estimated to have 14 wives and a royal family that is so large nobody is quite sure of its exact size.

He has taken huge increases in his slice of the Swaziland budget in recent years.

In the Swazi national budget introduced in February 2012 King Mswati and his royal family received E210 million (US$21 million) a year from the Swazi taxpayer for their own use. This was the same amount they got in the financial year 2011/12, but was an increase of 23 percent over 2010/11 and a 63 percent compared with what the king took from his subjects in 2009/10.

Observers note that the king has had many chances in the past to cut back on his spending and reduce the amount of money he takes from his subjects, but so far has in fact increased his budget, rather than reduced it. In 2011, as Swaziland hurtled towards financial meltdown Sithole in his budget demanded 10 percent budget cuts (later increased further) from government departments, but in the same budget the amount of money given to the king increased by 23 percent.

All this is happening while seven in ten of Swaziland’s tiny 1.3 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 a day; three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.

Despite the poverty of the kingdom, King Mswati continues to live a lavish lifestyle. He has 13 palaces, fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars and at least one Rolls Royce.

In 2012 he acquired a private jet, estimated to cost US$17 million. He refused to say who had paid for it, leading to speculation that the money came from public funds.

The king continues to travel abroad in style. In May 2012  he went to London to visit Queen Elizabeth II for lunch on a trip estimated to cost US$794,500.  

The previous year he was in London with a party of 50 people for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middlelton, staying at a US$1,000 per night hotel on a trip that was also estimated to cost US$700 000 for the hire of a private jet to take the king and his party from Swaziland to the UK.  

In 2012 Queen LaMotsa, the second of the king’s wives, stayed at a Johannesburg hotel on a personal trip at a cost of US$60,000 a month. 

In July 2012, some of the king’s 13 wives went on a shopping trip to Las Vegas, where 66 people reportedly stayed in 10 separate villas – each costing US$2,400 per night. The party were reported by South African newspapers to have travelled by private jet which might have cost US$4.1 million.
In August 2009, five of King Mswati’s wives went on a shopping trip through Europe and the Middle East that cost an estimated US$6 million.  

In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that King Mswati himself had a personal fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes also said King Mswati is the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income. The trust has been estimated to be worth US$10 billion.  

King Mswati also holds ‘in trust for the Swazi nation’ the profits of Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, an investment fund with extensive shares in a number of businesses, industries, property developments and tourism facilities in Swaziland. This money is supposed to be used for the benefit of the people but the vast majority is actually used for the king’s own personal use.

See also

NO SACRIFICE FROM KING MSWATI
IMF CALLS FOR SACRIFICE FROM KING

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

MINISTER MISLEADS OVER IMF SUPPORT

Swaziland’s Minister of Finance Martin Dlamini misled the people of the kingdom and the global community when he claimed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had given Swaziland an ‘almost clean bill of health’ on its economy.

He was reacting in local media to the latest IMF statement following its recent ‘mission’ visit to Swaziland.

In fact, the IMF statement issued on 12 May 2014 said the opposite. It said Swaziland’s challenges were ‘significant’.

It said in particular that, ‘the economy has suffered from weak growth performance, which adversely affects social developments. Furthermore, there are risks to Swaziland’s economic prospects, in particular the uncertain global and regional economic outlook that could lower SACU [Southern Africa Customs Union] revenues.’

It went on say that Swaziland should make reforms to its public sector, by which it meant reduce the amount of money spent on public servants’ salaries.

‘To help implement the prudent fiscal policy, the mission also encourages the authorities to enhance efforts for public sector reforms and public financial management reforms, while welcoming further efforts to enhance tax administration,’ it said.

It also said Swaziland had ‘weak growth performance’, adding, ‘This weak performance has been largely associated with low private sector development (depressed private investment in particular).’

It concluded, ‘In this light, the [IMF] mission encourages the authorities to proceed with wide-ranging structural reforms, including further improving business climate, facilitating financial intermediation, and pursuing land management reforms.’

This is not the first time the Swaziland Government has misled the public about its relationship to the IMF. 

In 2013, the then Finance Minister Majozi Sithole was untruthful when he said the kingdom’s economy had recovered. He said at the time, ‘I can safely say the economy is now under control. We have survived the worst economic challenges ever.’  

But, the IMF had never said such a thing. Instead, in February 2013 it reported the Swaziland economy, ‘will be unsustainable over the medium term and subject to significant downside risks’. It said there needed to be ‘upfront expenditure cuts, including on the wage bill’.

The IMF said that in the recent past the government had repaid some of its debt but this was ‘partly achieved through cuts in education, health, and other poverty-alleviating spending’.

To underline the fragile state of the economy, the IMF said, ‘Swaziland’s economic prospects remain difficult and that, without credible and comprehensive fiscal adjustment and structural reforms, the current fiscal and external position will be unsustainable over the medium term and subject to significant downside risks.’

There are many similarities between the 2013 IMF report and the one published this month, including poor economic prospects, underfunding of social care projects and the need to reduce spending on public service spending.

The Swazi Government has a long history of being untruthful about the IMF and what it says about Swaziland.

In 2011, the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini called a press conference to announce that the IMF was about to issue a ‘letter of comfort’ that would express its confidence in the Swazi economy and allow the Government to seek loans from international organisations such as the Africa Development Bank. But, no letter existed and since that date, the IMF has never given its support to Swaziland’s economic policies.

See also

IMF CONFIRMS ECONOMY IN TROUBLE

NOT MUCH COMFORT FROM IMF

Thursday, 8 May 2014

KING MSWATI SNUBS HIS OWN AIRPORT

King Mswati III of Swaziland snubbed the newly-opened airport that bears his name and landed his private jet at the old Matsapha Airport on his return from a trip to Qatar.

The King opened the airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, and widely regarded by his critics as a personal ‘vanity project’, in early March 2014, but since then no commercial airline has landed at the airport and none has agreed to use it in future.

King Mswati said the airport, which has been built in the wilderness of south-east Swaziland at a cost of at least E3 billion (US$300 million) was a ‘first-world’ facility.

Members of the public have been banned from visiting the airport for ‘security reasons’, according to the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA). SWACAA Director Solomon Dube said the King wanted people to stay away so the airport could remain in ‘sublime condition’.

No reason has been given by King Mswati why he did not use the new airport on his trip to Qatar.

However, there are doubts about whether the airport has a licence to operate. In late March 2014, after the King had opened the airport the Regional Director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Meshesha Belayneh, told the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) in South Africa that Swaziland still needed to follow due process before the ICAO could issue a licence for the new airport.

The Swazi airport has been dubbed King Mswati’s ‘vanity project’ by critics. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The King has 13 palaces and a personal fortune once estimated by Forbes Magazine to be US$200 million. Meanwhile, seven in ten of his subjects live in abject poverty with an income of less than US$2 a day. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.

See also

GOVT’S ‘VICE-LIKE GRIP’ ON BROADCASTING

The Government in Swaziland has a ‘vice-like’ grip on broadcast media in the kingdom and nearly all radio content is censored, a report just published said.

No announcement ‘that is negative or does not support the Government’s agenda is allowed, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) revealed.

In an overview of media freedom in 2013, MISA said in Swaziland Swazi TV and the state radio Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), ‘act as government propaganda mouthpieces.

It added, the only privately-owned TV channel in Swaziland, Channel Swazi (Channel S),has not added much value in terms of media diversity or independence’.

It added, ‘Channel Swazi has only survived by outdoing the state-owned broadcasters in kowtowing to the authorities and influential people. Owing to severe State and self-censorship, when criticism is offered by much of the media it is often offered in defence of the King.

King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties cannot contest elections in the kingdom and most are banned outright. Pro-democracy campaigners are harassed and imprisoned and freedom of speech and assembly is severely curtailed.

In its report called So This is Democracy? MISA reported, ‘Government maintained its vice-like grip on the state-controlled broadcast media.

Members of parliament and government ministers were prevented from speaking on state radio and TV by the Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini. He used the Public Service Announcement (PSA) Guidelines for broadcasting to ban any announcement that is negative or does not support the Government’s agenda’.

MISA reported, The government invoked the PSA guidelines not only to suppress dissenting voices but also to suppress the voices of Members of Parliament in the State broadcasters.

The legislators felt the guidelines were meant to frustrate them as they were accused of using radio to campaign. 

The ban imposed during election campaigns drove MP Masende Zwane to tears as he pleaded with the PM to lift it, claiming it frustrated progress and the free flow of information. 

MP Zwane was stopped from making public announcements on State radio. The head of government did not budge an inch.

The ban also affected ministers who were told to slow down on the usage of national radio in the lead up to the national elections. According to Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku this was done to avoid a situation where some people would have unfair advantage, because not everyone would have access to national radio.

Ministers were only allowed to speak on official business. Even before then, they would have to seek permission from the deputy prime minister’s office. These measures effectively gagged election candidates in the broadcast media.’