Swazi Prime Minister Themba Dlamini has apparently ‘expressed shock’ that Swaziland is ranked among the worst nations in the world when it comes to press freedom.
He is reported to have asked a meeting of media editors, ‘Where does this come from, I wonder?’
According to a report in the Swazi Observer (9 May 2008), the PM was addressing the Swaziland Editor’s Forum at a monthly breakfast meeting he holds with its members.
Welile Dlamini of the Swaziland Broadcast and Information Service (SBIS) radio was reported to have told him that such information didn’t come from the Editor’s Forum.
One can forgive Welile Dlamini his comments. He does after all work for the government propaganda machine and he is expected to support the prime minister and his government whatever nonsense they may sprout.
But, how can the Prime Minister really not understand the state of media freedom in Swaziland? I suggest that he reads the publication So This Is democracy? The State of Media Freedom in Southern Africa 2007 that was published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) last Saturday (3 May 2008).
In that he can be reminded that a entire newspaper publishing house (The Times of Swaziland) was threatened with closure by King Mswati III last year because he objected to a report it had written on how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) believed that the king’s lavish lifestyle was deterring overseas’ investors from supporting Swaziland.
The Prime Minister came in for a kicking on his views on media freedom and the new Swazi Constitution at a conference of human rights activists being held in Swaziland.
The Observer reported (9 May 2008) that the Lawyers for Human Rights told the conference, ‘We regret with sadness to inform you and all the participants in this gathering, all that the Prime Minister said was totally incorrect and devoid of any truth and honesty.’
The Observer continued,
‘They [the Lawyers for Human Rights] argued that the premier conveniently omitted to mention that the constitution was a product of a flawed process in that not all citizens were allowed to participate in its formulation, conception and adoption.
‘They claimed the constitution was written under a state of emergency that had been imposed on the people since 12 April 1973.
‘They said the decree was announced through a King’s Proclamation that repealed the 1968 independence constitution, banned political parties and any form of political activity.’
The Observer reported the lawyers saying that the new Swazi Constituion had some good points, but ‘people still do not have the sovereign power to elect a government of their own choice … because they do not have the right to assembly and associate peacefully to form and join political parties’.
The Observer added, ‘On upcoming elections they said people were not allowed to elect representatives of their choice through political parties as they remain unlawful.’
This is pretty strong criticism of the government and I am sure many people will be surprised to see it published in the Swazi Observer, which is considered to be very loyal to the status quo in Swaziland. Only last week I attended a meeting to commemorate World Press Freedom Day at which the Observer was criticised for being ‘a government newspaper’.
Maybe the Observer is trying to shake off that label. If it continues to tell the Swazi people the truth about the government, the Swazi Constitution and the forthcoming elections it will deserve to be known as an independent newspaper.
SWAZILAND MEDIA FREEDOM DAY
SWAZI MEDIA FREEDOM ON HOLD