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Tuesday, 21 January 2020

EU gives Swaziland humanitarian aid to feed hungry while absolute monarch buys his family 15 Rolls-Royce cars

Only two months after King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), spent E53 million on a fleet of Rolls-Royce cars for himself and members of his family the European Union has announced it will give Euro 1 Million (E16 million) in aid for the hungry because the kingdom cannot feed its own people.

About 232,000 people (25 percent of the rural population) are expected to experience severe acute food insecurity, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

A statement from the European Commission said the money was to help people affected by drought to get food. European Union Ambassador to Swaziland Esmerelda Hernandez Aragones said areas in the Lubombo, Hhohho and Shiselweni regions would get the money.

Swaziland takes humanitarian aid from a number of different countries although it is not officially a poor country. It is designated a ‘lower middle income’ nation by the World Bank.

The situation in Swaziland is that the King and his family drain resources for themselves. Their lavish spending has been reported and criticised by international agencies for many years.

The King takes 25 percent of all mining royalties and controls the profits of the conglomerate Tibiyo TakaNgwane. Officially he keeps these monies ‘in trust’ for the Swazi nation, but in reality much of it goes to fund his own lifestyle. 

He has two private airplanes, at least 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range cars. At his 50th birthday in 2018 he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds that weighed 6 kg. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

King Mswati once again made international news in November 2019 when he bought 15 Rolls-Royce cars for himself and his family. Days later the government that he personally appointed took delivery of 84 BMW cars and 42 BMW motorbikes, which were reportedly for ‘escort duties’.

After the purchases, Lisa Peterson, United State Ambassador to Swaziland, in a public speech, said, ‘As a development partner, I have serious concerns about  the leadership example currently coming out of the palace.’

She added, ‘While the government continued using its existing vehicle fleet, the palace sees fit to acquire more than a dozen Rolls-Royce vehicles with a minimum  price tag of US$3.71 million (E53 million). To accompany this royal fleet, there is now an even larger fleet of official escort vehicles, purchased  with public funds.’

She said, ‘It  is exceedingly difficult for development partners to continue  advocating for assistance to eSwatini when such profligate spending or  suspicious giving is taking place.’

An official transcript of the speech issued by the US Embassy in Swaziland, reported her saying, ‘Should the people of eSwatini really be comfortable with such disregard for the perilous fiscal state of the country, particularly with so many of His Majesty’s subjects living below the international poverty line?’  

Ambassador Peterson had previously criticised the absolute monarchy in Swaziland. In an article published in November 2018 by both of Swaziland’s two national daily newspapers she called for the decree that puts King Mswati in power as an absolute monarch to be repealed. She also called for political parties to be allowed to contest elections. 

In 2016, after reports that three of the King’s wives had taken an entourage of 100 people on a shopping trip to Toronto, Canada, Peterson warned Swaziland that the kingdom might not receive further food aid from her country because of the King’s ‘lavish spending’ on holidays.

News24 in South Africa reported at the time Peterson said the US had limited funds for drought relief. She said, ‘When we hear of the lavish spending by the Swazi royal family – especially while a third of their citizens need food aid – it becomes difficult to encourage our government to make more emergency aid available. You can’t expect international donors to give more money to the citizens of Swaziland than their own leaders give them.’

See also

Oxfam names Swaziland most unequal country in Africa on personal income
No let up on poverty in Swaziland as absolute King makes public display of his vast wealth
Lavish spending leads to food aid cut

Monday, 20 January 2020

Swaziland court bans public sector pay strike

The Industrial Court in the absolute monarchy of Swaziland (eSwatini) has banned a strike by public servants over pay because it is against ‘the national interest’.

Trade unions have been calling over the past three years for pay increases to meet rises in the cost of living. 

Unions had taken strike action in September 2019 but this was banned temporarily. Now, the court has made a judgment to ban it completely.

The unions involved in the court case were the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT).

Swazi police had used teargas, rubber bullets, water cannon and live ammunition during the strike. At least 15 people were injured. The violence happened in Mbabane after what local media called ‘a long day of peaceful protest’. The police brutality was condemned by international human rights observers.

Judge Abande Dlamini in his judgment said that the national interest had been threatened by the strike. He blamed the violence on the union members. 

See also

Swaziland union leader shot by police during strike put his hands up and pleaded: don’t shoot 

Swaziland police shoot union leader in back as peaceful workers’ protest turns into a ‘battlefield’
Swaziland police fire rubber bullets and teargas injuring 15 during national strike
Swaziland police fire teargas into classroom packed with children
 Swaziland police brutality under attack from international workers’ group

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Swaziland refuses to register LGBTIQ human rights group because it is ‘annoying’

An LGBTIQ rights group in Swaziland (eSwatini) has been denied permission to register because its objectives are deemed ‘annoying’.

The Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorites (ESGM) was also told the Swazi Constitution did not include sexual orientation on the list of protections against discrimination.

Melusi Simelane, Founder and Executive Director of ESGM, said this suggested the government refused to recognise the existence of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer) people in the kingdom.

Simelane was writing in a report on LGBTI experiences in Swaziland recently published. He said LGBTI identities were not criminalised in Swaziland but colonial laws that included the crime of sodomy still existed. He said this suggested homosexuality was ‘simply about a sexual act rather than a broader issue of love and respect’.

He added the outdated laws violated constitutional rights. He said despite the law the state did not prosecute consenting adults.

The government has refused to register ESGM which would allow it to operate legally in the kingdom. 

Simelane said it wrote to the group saying it could not be registered ‘because the objects of the organisation are “misleading” and “annoying”. 

‘They quoted the common law contrary to their assumed policy of not prosecuting consenting adults. This, coupled with the government blatantly saying the constitution doesn’t list sexual orientation on the list of protections against discrimination, suggests that the government refuses to recognise our existence and further our rights and freedoms.’

He added, ‘When addressing policy makers evidence of human rights violations is necessary to make the case for LGBTIQ equality. In a society that scares people into silence and invisibility, evidence becomes a scare commodity.’

A report published in 2019 written by two academics and the Southern and East African Research Collective on Health found evidence of serious human rights violations against Swazi people who are LGBTI. The report concluded they suffered ‘social exclusion, marginalisation and stigma’ because they were seen as being different from the rest of the population.

This, the report said, ‘has a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex’.

Swaziland is a deeply conservative kingdom ruled by the absolute monarch King Mswati III. The King has in the past described homosexuality as ‘satanic’  In May 2016 four organisations jointly reported to the United Nations about LGBTI discrimination in Swaziland. Part of their report stated, ‘LGBT[I]s are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBT[I]s as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians.’  

See also

LGBTI discrimination in Swaziland leads to big mental health issues, report finds
LGBT Pride film shows what it’s like to live with prejudice and ignorance in Swaziland

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

No let-up in restrictions of freedom of association and assembly in Swaziland: Human Rights Watch

Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in Swaziland (eSwatini) continued in the past year, a new report from Human Rights Watch stated.

The new Police Service Act of 2018 limited police powers to prevent gatherings as it required only a ‘notice of gathering’ to be submitted to the relevant local authority, unlike the previous 1963 law that needed the police to issue a license to permit public gatherings, HRW stated.

In a review of events in 2019 it said in August, Swazi public servants began mobilizing for a nationwide strike to demand an increase in wages. 

‘The police did not disrupt the nationwide mobilization campaigns, but fired teargas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesting government workers on September 23,’ HRW stated.

Although eSwatini signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January 2018, the government did not take steps to ratify or implement the Charter.

The public servants were part of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), the Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP), and the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU).
HRW said, ‘The various legislative improvements on freedom of association and assembly contained in the new Public Order Act of 2017, which imposes restrictions on the government’s power to limit freedoms of assembly and association, were not fully tested in practice in 2019 as restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued.’

HRW said eSwatini remained an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III, who has led the kingdom since 1986, with a 1973 decree banning opposition political parties. Despite the adoption of the 2005 constitution which guarantees basic rights, and the kingdom’s international human rights commitments, the government had not reviewed the decree or changed the law to allow the formation, registration, and participation of political parties in elections.

This was not the first report to detail human rights abuses in Swaziland. The United States State Department in its review of events in 2018 reported there was no appetite to investigate human rights abuses or corruption.

A 24-page report detailed ‘human rights issues’ across a wide range of areas which included, ‘restrictions on political participation, corruption, rape and violence against women linked in part to government inaction, criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced, and child labor’. 

The report stated, ‘The government often did not investigate, prosecute, or administratively punish officials who committed human rights abuses. With very few exceptions, the government did not identify officials who committed abuses. Impunity was widespread.’

Freedom House scored Swaziland 16 out of a possible 100 points in its Freedom in the World 2019 report. It concluded that Swaziland was ‘not free’.

Freedom House stated, ‘The king exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs. Political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Additional human rights problems include impunity for security forces and discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.’

Freedom House scored Swaziland one point out of a possible 16 for ‘political pluralism and participation’ stating, ‘The king has tight control over the political system in law and in practice, leaving no room for the emergence of an organized opposition with the potential to enter government. The vast majority of candidates who contested the 2018 general elections were supporters of the king.’

See also

Swaziland in economic freefall with human rights failings, report shows
King Mswati in complete control as another year of human rights struggle ends in Swaziland 

Police violence, undemocratic elections, hunger and disease: highlights of Swaziland’s human rights violations

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Six in ten school support staff in Swaziland not paid for three months as financial crisis bites

Six in ten people working as support staff in schools across Swaziland (eSwatini) have not been paid for the past three months, a trade union reported.

Phumelele Zulu of the Swaziland Union in Learning and Allied Institutions (SULAI) said 60 percent of its 860 members were owed salaries dating back to October last year. 

In total they were owed more than E5 million.

Swaziland which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch is in financial meltdown and public services across the kingdom are grinding to a halt.

The Times of eSwatini reported Zulu said the Swazi Government had not released money to pay for the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme. 

Zulu said, ‘The situation, particularly in rural schools, is worse as infrastructure is dilapidated and needs serious upgrading. Paint on the walls is peeling off and windows are broken. We have been raising these issues with the Ministry of Education and Training and urging them to at least find a strategy that would see the grants being released on time to schools but to this day, nothing has changed.’

In July 2019 Minister of Education and Training Lady Howard-Mabuza met school principals as schools in the kingdom crumbled through lack of funding.

The Swazi Government had not paid schools fees and support staff were sacked as a result. Teaching supplies ran out and in some schools pupils had been without a teacher for more than a year.

The Minister said that plans for building new schools had been put on hold and hiring of teaching staff was frozen.

More than six in ten schools in Swaziland did not have enough teachers because of government financial cutbacks, the Eswatini Principals Association (EPA) President Welcome Mhlanga had previously said.

Howard-Mabuza said the government was broke and could not afford to finance education.

The problem is not new as the government, appointed  by King has run the economy into the ground over many years. Public services across the kingdom, including health, education and policing are crumbling. The government owes its suppliers about E3 billion (US$215 million).

In July 2019 teachers and school principals marched on government to present a petition calling for urgent action.

See also

Swaziland schools run out supplies, exams threatened, as govt financial meltdown bites

Monday, 13 January 2020

Swaziland Government breaks promise to pay overdue student allowances

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Government has broken its promise to pay tertiary student their living allowances. It is the latest in a string of broken promises.

Students who boycotted classes in protest across the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch only returned after the promise of payment was made.

The latest deadline of 10 January 2020 has been missed, meaning students have not been paid for five months. The Swazi Government first gave a deadline for the missed payments of 20 November 2019.

It is mostly first year students from universities and colleges across the kingdom who are affected.

Registration for the second semester started on Monday (13 January 2020).

The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, reported Thulani Mkhaliphi the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security said there were ‘technical challenges’ in making the payments.

Swaziland is in financial meltdown and public services across the kingdom are grinding to a halt because the Government has not paid bills to suppliers. 

The newspaper reported some students had been evicted from their rented flats in Manzini because they were unable to pay rent.

In November 2019 police fired live ammunition and shot a university student with a rubber bullet at the Southern Africa Nazarene University (SANU) in Manzini during class boycotts.

Students across the kingdom were angry that the government failed to keep its promise to pay them their allowances for books, accommodation and other equipment.

See also

Swaziland police fire gunshots and shoot student with rubber bullet as campus protests continue
Swaziland students boycott classes as Govt. breaks promise to pay allowances
Striking Swaziland students win victory in dispute with government

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Swaziland democracy activists tell High Court police raids on their homes illegal

Four democracy campaigners in Swaziland (eSwatini) whose homes were raided by police and had phones and other gadgets confiscated appeared in the High Court to argue that the raids were illegal.

They said the search warrants used were not valid.

The four were Sibongile Mazibuko, Musa Nkambule, Jan Sithole and Wandile Dludlu. They are leaders of various political groups in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as absolute monarch. They all belong to the recently-formed Political Parties Assembly (PPA). Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups that campaign for democracy are outlawed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Police raided homes of political activists across Swaziland after warrants were issued on 25 November and 19 December 2019. 

The four said that the search warrants were illegal because they did not specify what the police were looking for. They also said the warrants were issued by magistrates who did not have authority to do so.

The case was heard on Wednesday (8 January 2020). A ruling is expected on 24 January 2020.

The Swaziland United Democratic Front, one of the groups targeted in the police raids, in a statement circulated on social media at the time, said, ‘This comes weeks after the all progressive formations in the country resolved to unite under the banner of the Political Party Assembly to fight against the Tinkhundla regime. This led to the start of a campaign that was dubbed #MSWATI MUST FALL and has since been gaining momentum and meeting equal resistance from the autocratic regime.’

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre in a statement said, ‘We are concerned by the actions of the police, which appear to be targeted at those activists who have been prominently involved in protests relating to workers’ rights and who have been promoting multi-party democracy and government accountability in the country.’

See also

Swaziland police in mass raids on homes of democracy activists, some detained
Swaziland police say they raided democracy activists’ homes for ‘state security’
Police question Swaziland political leader amid fears of treason charge
Swaziland ex-Govt minister in hiding after calling on absolute monarch to hand over power