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Saturday, 21 July 2018

Expect Chaos and Rule-breaking at Nominations for Swaziland’s Election, if Last Time is a Guide

As nominations for elections in Swaziland / Eswatini take place next weekend, we might expect confusion, chaos and rule breaking if the experience of last time is a guide.

The credibility of the nomination process in 2013 was severely damaged when it became clear that many people who wanted to nominate candidates were prevented from doing so and some were nominated against the election rules. Many boycotted the nominations altogether.

Swaziland’s election process is long drawn out. King Mswati III rules as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs and political parties are banned from taking part. People must stand as individuals with no affiliations. The nominations will take place on 28 and 29 July 2018 at chiefdoms. 

According to guidelines from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), the name of the nominee is raised by a show of hand and the nominee is given an opportunity to indicate whether he or she accepts the nomination. If he or she accepts it, he or she must be supported by at least ten members of that chiefdom. The nominations are for the position of Member of the House of Assembly (Parliament), Constituency Headman (Indvuna) and the Constituency Executive Committee (Bucopho).

The minimum number of nominees is three and the maximum is twenty. The nomination process takes place in the open, persons are nominated by a show of hand and the nomination is done by the community. Those nominated then contest elections at primary level.

Once the nominations are finished a primary election will take place on 25 August 2018. These are by secret ballot at chieftaincies. At the end of the primary elections, there should be one candidate for the position of the Member of Parliament and one for the position of the Constituency Headman who are going to contest at the secondary election at constituencies (known as tinkhundla) on 21 September 2018.

The credibility of the nomination process in 2013 was severely damaged when it became clear that many people who wanted to nominate candidates were prevented from doing so; some people were nominated against the election rules and cabinet ministers in the outgoing government who were nominated might not have been eligible to stand. EBC Chair Chief Gija Dlamini said some nominated candidates who did not have consent letters from their employers should have been disqualified. Speaking on state-controlled radio, he said it was expected that public servants should have brought with them the letters, which in turn should have been read in front of all the voters. Some people boycotted in protest that venues selected for the nominations were unsuitable. 

Elsewhere equipment failures delayed the start of nomination. There was reported corruption with the EBC saying some people were offered bribes of E100 (US$10 at the then exchange rate) or E200 to register twice.

About 400 residents of Ebutfongweni in the Manzini region under Kukhanyeni Inkhundla said they would not participate in the nominations process because it was being conducted at Nkiliji under Chief Mkhumbi Dlamini. They said they did not pay allegiance to Chief Mkhumbi as their area was at Mbekelweni, under Chief Nkhosini.The Times Sunday (4 August 2013)  reported that the residents, all of whom were registered voters, insisted that they would not participate in the process under Nkiliji after EBC officials did not show up at Ebutfongweni. They expected officers from the commission to conduct the nominations in the area as they had done so in the past. The Times Sunday reported they were the same residents who had previously taken Chief Mkhumbi to court during the elections registration process saying they had a constitutional right to register at a place of their choice.

Meanwhile, a change of a nomination centre at the last moment resulted in more than 50 residents of Siweni, a tiny village near Mbadlane which falls under the Malindza chiefdom, boycotting the nominations process. The Times Sunday (4 August 2013) reported voters were angry after being told by election officers that nominations had been moved to Othandweni Primary School and not Siweni Care Point, as earlier announced.

In Mzimnene, residents were unable to make nominations because they had not been told by the EBC where they should go. The same thing had happened in June when people were unable to register to vote. Elsewhere, equipment failures were blamed for the late opening of nomination centres across the Lubombo region. 

Missing church keys marred the nomination process at Moneni as officials from the EBC were forced to remain in their vehicles with the voting kit, as the Free Evangelical Assemblies Church remained closed. Church leaders said they were notified at very short notice that the church was to be used as a nomination centre. 

The Times of Swaziland (7 August 2013) reported some people who wanted to nominate candidates were prevented from doing so because electoral officers would not allow it, while some names of those who were nominated were then left off the EBC’s official list of candidates. It reported that some people who wanted to nominate candidates could not so because they failed to get the attention of the electoral officer. The process used required people to gather at a meeting place, often a kraal, and wait to be called by an electoral officer to make their nomination. At many places crowds were large and not everyone who wanted to make a nomination was spotted by the electoral officer.

Women were banned from being nominated to stand as a member of parliament because they wore trousers at the nomination centre. Mana Mavimbela, aged 18, was disqualified from putting her name forward at Lubulini Royal Kraal. The Times of Swaziland, (7 August 2013) reported the presiding officer Lindiwe Sukati refused to allow her to stand because Mavimbela was wearing a pair of black jean trousers and a golf T- shirt. Mavimbela later said police forced her to lie in her statement that she did not intend to stand for nomination. The police officers ordered her to say that she had been joking. Eventually, Mavimbela won a case at the High Court and the EBC was compelled to postpone the election in her chiefdom at Lubulini to allow her to stand.

Meanwhile, Fakazile Luhlanga of Ndvwabangeni in the Mhlangatane constituency was also not allowed permission to nominate a candidate as she was wearing cargo pants. The Times of Swaziland (6 August 2013) reported Luhlanga saying she was told that she was dressed like a man and would be a bad influence to the community members as they would want to emulate her. Some chiefs across Swaziland imposed the ban on women wearing trousers, shorts or mini-skirts at nomination centres. Chief Petros Dvuba of Mpolonjeni in Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital, said people who would be going to the nominations should dress properly and show respect as it was King Mswati III’s exercise. He told the Times of Swaziland (2 August 2013), ‘Even those who have relaxed hair should cover their heads when going to that place.’

A chief’s headman at Ludzibini, ruled by Chief Magudvulela a former Swazi Senator, threatened that people would be banished from their homes if they nominated a widow for the election. Dumisani Dlamini warned residents that if they voted for Jennifer du Pont they would be evicted from the area. The Times Sunday (4 August 2013) reported, ‘He warned that those who would nominate her should be prepared to relocate to areas as distant as five chiefdoms away. Her sin was that she attended the nominations only a few months after her husband died.’ He said she should still be mourning her husband. The newspaper reported du Pont did not wear standard black mourning gowns and was dressed in a blue wrap-around dress known as sidvwashi. Enough people in the chiefdom defied Dlamini and du Pont was duly nominated.

There was confusion over the status of nine cabinet ministers who were nominated. The Times of Swaziland (8 August 2013) reported they could be disqualified from taking part in the election because they held public office and this was not allowed under the Constitution. The confusion was made worse because it was uncertain whether technically the nine were still cabinet ministers. Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini told the newspaper that ministers were not supposed to stand for nomination if they were still in office – as the nine maintained.

‘Their nomination was irregular because a Cabinet office is a public office. If anyone can challenge their nomination in court they (challenger) can be successful,’ the newspaper reported him saying. He added, ‘That is why even police officers and other members of the security forces as well as any government employee have to resign or apply for leave of absence in order to stand for the elections because they are in public office. They (ministers) ought to have also resigned from office so as to be eligible to stand.’

In a major blunder some people had to nominate candidates for a second time after the EBC erroneously combined two election districts. When the mistake was discovered the EBC ordered the people of Njabulweni, near Lubhuku, in the Dvokodvweni Constituency, to nominate again. The Times of Swaziland (14 August 2013) reported that Njabulweni and Malindza were combined for the nominations, although they should have been separate.

Richard Rooney

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Friday, 20 July 2018

Swaziland’s Claim to be Close to Reaching ‘First World’ Status Far From Reality

There is no stopping the media in Swaziland / Eswatini as they continue to mislead their audiences on how close the kingdom is to achieving King Mswati III’s aspiration to be the ruler of a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.

One cannot be entirely surprised by this since the King rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch and in effect owns the Swazi Observer, one of only two newspaper groups in the kingdom. Nearly all radio and television in the kingdom is state-controlled and censored.

The King can and will close down media houses if it suits him and there are plenty of reasons for journalists and owners to be afraid of him.

But that should not stop independent observers from discussing the King’s claim that his kingdom is on track to be a ‘First World’ nation. 

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Swaziland issued a report in 2014 that received no publicity in the kingdom at the time, that said if Swaziland were to achieve ‘First World’ status it would have to be ‘among high human development countries like Norway, Australia, United States, Netherlands and Germany to name a few’.

UNDP went on to give these statistics comparing present-day Swaziland with Norway, the United States and Germany.

Life expectancy: Swaziland (48.9 years); Norway (81.3); United States (78.7); Germany (80.6).

Mean average years of schooling: Swaziland (7.1); Norway (12.6); United States (13.3); Germany (12.2).

Percentage of population with at least secondary school education: Swaziland (48); Norway (95.2); United States (94.5); Germany (96.6).

The UNDP in Swaziland did not comment on the likelihood of Swaziland reaching ‘First World’ status by 2022; it did not have to. Any independent observer can see from these statistics that Swaziland is not even close to reaching the King’s target.

The UNDP is not alone in this. In 2012 a report published by 24/7 Wall St in the United States, and based on data from the World Bank, identified Swaziland as the fifth poorest country in the entire world.

It said 69 percent of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects lived in poverty.

Its report stated, ‘[T]he country’s workforce is largely concentrated in subsistence agriculture, even though the country faces serious concerns about overgrazing and soil depletion. While these factors harm the nation’s economy, health concerns are likely one of the major factors preventing Swaziland’s population from escaping poverty.’

In 2017, the global charity Oxfam named Swaziland as the most unequal country in the world in a report called Starting With People, a human economy approach to inclusive growth in Africa that detailed the differences in countries between the top most earners and those at the bottom. The Oxfam report stated the government, which is handpicked by King Mswati, ‘failed to put measures in place to tackle inequality, with poor scores for social spending and progressive taxation, and a poor record on labour rights’.

Despite these obvious facts the media in Swaziland will continue to claim that the kingdom is on-track to 2022 and any alternative view will be suppressed. This is because it was King Mswati himself who decreed that the kingdom should achieve ‘First World’ status and the media are terrified of contradicting him.

Here’s an example of how far the media will go in its sycophancy to the King. In October 2013, the Observer on Saturday, part of a newspaper group described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on press freedom in the kingdom, as ‘a pure propaganda machine for the royal family’ reported that King Mswati told an admiring audience in Swaziland that Americans ‘have travelled to the moon and stayed there for about six to eight months’ and he hoped Swazi people would one day do the same. 

Richard Rooney

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Thursday, 19 July 2018

Police, Emergency Services ‘to Grind to Halt’ as Govt Fails to Pay Fuel Suppliers

Police, fire and other emergency services in Swaziland / Eswatini are set to grind to a halt because of a fuel shortage for vehicles after the government failed to pay suppliers.

It follows reports that medicines are running out in government hospitals and clinics and schoolchildren are going hungry because food bills have not been paid.

The government owes a total of E2.78 billion to its suppliers, it was revealed last week.

The Times of Swaziland reported on Thursday (19 July 2018) a source revealed, ‘It was highly likely that all government cars could soon be grounded, something which would affect essential services like the police, health sector, Fire and Emergency Services, among others.’

It added, ‘Furthermore, the insider alleged that the shortage of fuel had been caused by government’s cash flow challenges which had been experienced by the country since the economical meltdown started some years ago.’

The Times reported, ‘Sources from some of the government departments which provide essential services in the kingdom attested to the looming crisis.’

Swaziland is broke and as of 30 June 2018 owed a total of E12.9 billion, the equivalent of 20.8 percent of the kingdom’s GDP. Of that nearly E3 billion is owed to suppliers of goods and services.

All areas of public services have been hit by the financial crisis as companies refuse to supply the government until outstanding bills are dealt with, announced it had run out of stocks of medicines because the government has not paid its bills.

Last week Swazipharm, Swaziland’s largest distributor of pharmaceutical products and medical equipment to the healthcare system of Swaziland, including government hospitals, private hospitals, local government, clinics, humanitarian organisations, private organisations, missionaries, pharmacies and chemists, reported it was running out of stocks because bills had not been paid.

Long before Swazipharm’s announcement medicines, including  vaccines against polio and tuberculosis had run out in many government hospitals and clinics because drug suppliers had not been paid. In June 2017, Senator Prince Kekela told parliament  that at least five people had died as a result of the drug shortages. About US$18 million was reportedly owed to drug companies in May 2017.

In June 2018 it was reported that children collapsed with hunger in their school because the government had not paid for food for them. The kingdom had previously been warned to expect children to starve because the government had not paid its suppliers for the food that is distributed free of charge at schools. The shortage was reported to be widespread across the kingdom.

Meanwhile, King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with gold weighing 6 kg, at his 50th birthday party in April. Days earlier he took delivery of his second private jet, a A340 Airbus, that after VIP upgrades reportedly cost US$30 million. He received E15 million (US$1.2 million) in cheques, a gold dining room suite and a gold lounge suite among his birthday gifts. He now has two private planes, 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range BMW and Mercedes cars.

Seven in ten of Swaziland’s 1.1 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. 

Despite the funding crisis, the Swazi Government still found US$30 million to buy the King a second private plane. It has also earmarked E1.5bn this year to build a conference centre and five-star hotel to host the African Union summit in 2020 that will last only eight days and it has budgeted E5.5 million to build Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini a retirement house. There are also plans for a new parliament building that will cost E2.3 billion.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program has said it cannot raise the US$1.1 million it needs to feed starving children in the kingdom in the coming six months.

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Wednesday, 18 July 2018


Swaziland’s King Mswati III airport dubbed a vanity project for the King and a white elephant has failed to attract any new airlines in the four years since it opened, the kingdom’s civil aviation authority has admitted.
This was despite continued claims that airlines from across the world wanted to use the airport at Sikhuphe built at an estimated cost of US$250 million in the wilderness in southeastern Swaziland about 70 km from a major city.

Sabelo Dlamini, Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) Marketing and Communications Director, told the Observer on Saturday newspaper (14 July 2018) a number of presentations had been made to airline services, but so far none had agreed to fly into the airport.

The Swazi Government also failed to launch its own airline called Swazi Airways. It was claimed it would fly to 10 countries once it had become fully operational.  The destinations were the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana. The airline closed for business in April 2017 when it became clear the tiny kingdom could not afford a single aircraft. Even so, E20 million (US$2 million) had been spent on leasing a 29-year-old Boeing 737-300 that never once flew commercially. In addition, an estimated E750,000 a month was paid to 23 airline staff who had no work to do.

There has been constant misinformation about the prospect of airlines choosing to use the airport. In October 2009, King Mswati claimed Etihad Airways from the Gulf State of Abu Dhabi was showing ‘deep interest’ in using the airport. 

In May 2011, the Swazi Observer reported Sabelo Dlamini 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.’ 

In June 2012 he told Swazi media that at least three airlines from different countries had ‘shown interest’ in using the airport, but he declined to name them. He remained optimistic about the prospects for the future and said SWACAA was talking to airlines in other countries as well. 

Then in February 2013 SWACAA Director General Solomon Dube told media in Swaziland, ‘We are talking to some including Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airline and various Gulf airlines.’ 

In March 2013 SWACAA claimed five airlines had signed deals to use the airport when it eventually opened, but an investigation by Swazi Media Commentary revealed that two of the airlines named did not exist. It also said Botswana Airways would use the airport, but it did not.

In October 2013 SWACAA claimed it had targeted small and medium business travellers to use the airport. It said low-cost airlines were interested in using it for business travellers who might want to fly to nearby countries ‘on a daily basis’.

In March 2016 Minister of Public Works and Transport Lindiwe Dlamini said Air Mauritius would fly from the airport.

In January 2016 the Swazi Observer reported Swazi Air was ready to fly to Dubai, Cape Town, India and Durban.

KMIII Airport was built on the whim of King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs. No research was undertaken to determine the need for the airport.

Critics argued for years that there was no potential for the airport. Major airports already existed less than an hour’s flying time away in South Africa with connecting routes to Swaziland and there was no reason to suspect passengers would want to use KMIII airport as an alternative.

During the 11 years it took to build the airport was called Sikhuphe, but the name was changed in honour of the King when it officially opened in March 2014.

The airport cost an estimated E2.5 billion (US$250 million) to build.

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

Since it opened only one commercial passenger airline, Swaziland Airlink, which is part-owned by the Swazi Government, has used the airport. The airline was forced to move from the Matsapha Airport, even though an independent business analysis predicted the airline would go out of business as a result. 

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Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Swaziland: Striving for Freedom. Latest review of human rights from Swazi Media Commentary

Swaziland might never be the same again. King Mswati III demonstrated his absolute power by renaming his kingdom Eswatini. He did this during the so-called 50-50 Celebrations to mark his own 50th birthday and the half-century of Swaziland’s independence from Great Britain. The King also made headlines when he wore a watch worth $1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds at his birthday party. His lavish spending is notorious; days earlier he took delivery of his second private jet, this one costing about $30 million after upgrades.

These were some of the stories published by Swazi Media Commentary over the second quarter of 2018 and published in Swaziland: Striving for Freedom Volume 30 April to June 2018, available to download for free from Scribd. While the King and the Royal Family continued to spend millions on themselves the kingdom’s economy was in freefall with the government admitting it was broke. Suppliers remained unpaid and public services ground to a halt. Hospitals were without medicines and schoolchildren went hungry as food supplies dried up.

Registration for the national elections to take place in September descended into chaos with reports of inefficiency and corruption. The election board’s claim that 90 percent of the eligible population signed up to vote was met with scepticism. Political parties are banned from taking part in the election which is widely regarded outside of Swaziland as bogus. King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister and Government ministers and no members of the Senate are elected by the people.

Swaziland saw its first ever LGBTI Pride parade in June. Unwittingly it demonstrated how conservative and backward Swaziland is. Newspapers took the opportunity to demonise LGBTI people but despite this the event proved a success.

Laws in Swaziland have been used by the State as weapons against human rights defenders, a major investigation of the kingdom by the International Commission of Jurists revealed. Separately, the United Kingdom reported it was to undertake an investigation into human rights abuses in Swaziland and in its annual report on the kingdom the United States highlighted, ‘The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections; institutional lack of accountability in cases involving rape and violence against women; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; trafficking in persons; restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.’

Swazi Media Commentary is published online, updated most weekdays. It is operated entirely by volunteers and receives no financial backing from any organisation. It is devoted to providing information and commentary in support of human rights in Swaziland.

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Monday, 16 July 2018


The Health Minister of Swaziland / Eswatini Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane called on police to arrest a journalist who was photographing government ministers’ cars outside the Deputy Prime Minister’s office.

She demanded that the photographs be deleted which the journalist did.

It happened on Friday, according to a report in the Sunday Observer in Swaziland (15 July 2018).

The newspaper had previously published a report about government ministers’ BMW cars being in a bad state of repair. It was checking a government claim that the vehicles had been repaired and were back on the road.

The newspaper reported the journalist clearly identified himself to Ndlela-Simelane but she demanded that security personnel call the police.  

It added, ‘As soon as she left, the security warned the reporter about the issue at hand and requested assistance from a female police officer on what to do with him.  She advised him to let the journalist go as there was nothing they could charge him on.’

Journalists face harassment all the time in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs. Broadcasting is severely censored and one of only two national newspaper groups in the kingdom is in effect owned by the King.

In February 2018 prison warders attacked a journalist in a public street near Kwaluseni when he took photographs of them travelling in the backs of overcrowded vehicles.

In December 2017 editor of Swaziland Shopping Zweli Martin Dlamini fled to neighbouring South Africa after he received death threats. He had written a story about the King’s dealings in the telecommunications industry.

In January 2017 the editor of the Times Sunday Innocent Maphalala and senior reporter on the paper Mfanukhona Nkambule received threats of grievous bodily harm, ‘possibly even leading to death’, according to the Times of Swaziland newspaper. It said, ‘The threats emanate from a story the publication is pursuing regarding one of the country’s security forces which has engaged in an action that has compromised this country internationally.’

It reported, ‘Further attempts to engage the Times Managing Editor, Martin Dlamini, and the Publisher, Paul Loffler, also failed to convince this publication to drop the story.  Even though the people who issued the threats remain faceless, they threatened that should the story see the light of day, the duo risked being eliminated.’

There is no media freedom in Swaziland, according to the latest annual report from Reporters Without Borders which ranked the kingdom at number 152 out of 180 countries in the world ranking. It stated the kingdom, ‘prevents journalists from working freely and obstructs access to information. No court is allowed to prosecute or try members of the government, but any criticism of the regime is liable to be the subject of a prosecution. For fear of reprisals, journalists censor themselves almost systematically.’

The US State Department in a review of human rights in Swaziland for 2017 stated, ‘Officials impeded press freedom. Although no law bans criticism of the monarchy, the prime minister and other officials cautioned journalists against publishing such criticism with veiled threats of newspaper closure or job loss.’

The report stated, ‘The law empowers the government to ban publications if it deems them “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Journalists expressed fear of judicial reprisals for their reporting on some High Court cases and matters involving the monarchy.’

The report stated, ‘Broadcast media remained firmly under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts. A controversial ministerial decree prohibiting MPs from speaking on the radio was apparently lifted. The government noted the decree had never been enforced. There was no instance, however, in which an MP had violated it. Despite invitations issued by the media regulatory authority for parties to apply for licenses, no licenses were awarded. Stations practiced self-censorship and refused to broadcast anything perceived as critical of the government or the monarchy.’
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Friday, 13 July 2018


Students at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) who have completed their exams have been given their results despite a report they had been withheld because the government had not paid their tuition fees.

More than 3,200 students - almost half of all students at the university -  still owe fees, the Swazi Observer reported UNISWA Registrar Dr Salebona Simelane saying.

‘Millions of emalangeni’ was owed in fees by the government. The newspaper reported on Monday (9 July 2018), ‘UNISWA Registrar Dr Salebona Simelane made it clear when asked on what would happen to those students who were government-sponsored and had not paid their tuition fees. Simelane said it did not matter whether a student was self-sponsored or sponsored by government.’

It added, ‘The registrar said the university would exercise the same measure across the board and would not be lenient with any party, whether government sponsored or not.’

Now, UNISWA has issued a statement saying the results have been released to ‘both privately and government sponsored students, owing and non-owing students’.

The Government still owes the money to the university, but it is not clear whether UNISWA expects to receive it. 

The press statement warned, ‘There is a condition attached to this position: owing students are required to sign an undertaking to clear their debts in due course.’

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