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Sunday, 31 August 2008


Armed royal guards harass, assault journalists

Times Sunday


31August 2008

MATSAPHA — Officers from the Royal Guard, known as the Close Protection Unit, had strict instructions to ensure that members of the public and the media should not see the arrival of Emakhosikati, [the wives of King Mswati III] and the luggage they brought home.

Interestingly, this only happened on Tuesday, and not on Wednesday when the king returned.

Attempts by journalists from this publication to take photographs of the Emakhosikati’s arrival provoked physical harassment from two officers from the Unit, when they forcefully grabbed a camera from photojournalist, Walter Dlamini, albeit after a scuffle.

During the scuffle over the camera, Times SUNDAY driver, Felix Dlamini, who tried to assist Walter, was injured on the ribcage.

The officers took the camera after Walter had taken photos of a crowd of people who had been chucked out of the public viewing area, often used by people who go to the airport to see their relatives off. He also attempted to take pictures

The officer, stone-faced and whose name could not be established, ensured that no one entered the area—lodged the attack in full view of members of the public briefly abandoned his post and charged after our photographer, demanding that the photographs taken should be deleted in his presence.

When it was explained to him that his request would not be entertained, he grabbed the camera, while Walter held on to it. The officer was joined by an armed colleague (both plane clothed) and a mini fight ensued, as Felix joined to assist Dlamini, however, the former was grabbed and thrown on the floor—wrestling style. Eventually, the officers displayed their fighting skills as they managed to leave with the camera.

The matter was reported to the police, who returned the camera to our newsroom through Police Spokesman Superintendent Vusi Masuku and Assistant Superintendent Musa Zwane.

"It was handed to our officers at the Airport by security agents from the army. There were no details as to how they got hold of it," he said.

A charge of theft and assault has been registered with the Sigodvweni Police Station.

Not only were locals prevented from seeing Emakhosikati, but tourists were also denied any chance to see them alight from a chattered jet.

Outside the airport premises, a crowd of alleged protestors waited patiently for the Emakhosikati motorcade to leave the airport. With security tight, Emakhosikati and members of their delegation were quietly chauffeured out of the airport’s VIP area, leaving airport personnel and security agents to off-load their luggage.


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King Mswati III of Swaziland does read the newspapers in his kingdom.

This was confirmed by his daughter Princess Sikhanyiso in the Times Sunday today (31 August 2008).

So what? I hear you cry. What’s the big deal?

The point is that the apologists for King Mswati have been saying that he doesn’t know what is going on in Swaziland because his advisers don’t tell him. Even Swaziland’s media believe this.

Only this week the Times of Swaziland on two separate days ran editorials saying that the king must be told the truth.

This week I wrote that to say that the King doesn’t know what is going on in his own kingdom is to insult his intelligence.

The independent newspapers in Swaziland have been reporting constantly about the poverty in the kingdom, the non-existent health service and the crumbling education system. Even if his ‘advisors’ were not telling him the truth, the King could read about the problems himself in the newspapers.

Now, we have confirmation that King Mswati does read the newspapers.

The Times Sunday interviewed the King’s eldest daughter Princess Sikhanyiso, ahead of her 21st birthday this week. The interview is pretty gushing (as might be expected of the media in Swaziland when writing about the monarchy). In the interview the Princess is asked, ‘Tell us about your first kiss’.

To this she replies (Blushing, the newspaper says), ‘Well, I can’t because the king will read this and I do not want him thinking what kind of child did I raise.’

So there you have it. It might seem a trivial point to make but this revelation from the King’s eldest daughter puts to bed the lie that King Mswati doesn’t know what is going on in Swaziland and this is the fault of his advisers.

The truth is the King does know about Swaziland’s problems and we must now ask: what are you going to do about them?

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I wrote on Friday (29 August 2008) that Swaziland’s King Mswati III was thought to have an image problem in the United States because he encouraged 40,000 bare breasted maidens to dance before him at the annual Reed Dance ceremony.

The Americans thought that there was an obvious ‘sexual undertone’ to the dance.

With the Reed Dance once more upon us there is bound to be some international media coverage of the event (there always is) and you can bet your house that most of the media reports will be about those breasts.

I was reminded of this ‘image problem’ last week by an article the Sunday Monitor, Uganda (24 August 2008). It was a piece designed to encourage people to visit Swaziland for its ‘culture’. The writer, Moses Serugo, however, had a bit of a one track mind.

Here are the opening paragraphs. The article called Swaziland: Mountains, mountains and more mountains (make of that what you will) goes on to give an interesting insight into Swaziland’s history since independence in 1968. To read the full article, click here.

To the lecherous mind, Swaziland is nothing more than a parade of bare-breasted maidens. The culturally inclined will become wide-eyed on hearing that the reed dance goes beyond providing King Mswati with yet another chance to increase his harem. The curator at the National Museum will tell you it is a cultural celebration like that of any other community in the world.

The reed dance usually takes place at the end of August but the museum is awash with images that include black and white ones, dating as far back as the early 20th Century to latter day colour pictures showing topless nubile girls that have no qualms about showing their sharp breasts.

These are mostly a male distraction and the temptation to pick up a calendar on which Swazi princesses form part of the photography is high. The princesses have a distinguishing feature on their head gear - red feathers forming a semi-circular scalp adornment that is supposed to make them stand out from ordinary mortals.

The royal daughters are a ravishing lot, which says something about King Mswati’s choice. Hushed voices will however whisper to you that there have been two runaway queens who were not content with the restrictions that come with living in the royal palace - even with the regal trappings that include a plush abode and a sleek BMW vehicle.

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Saturday, 30 August 2008


More than E1 million is to be spent on providing 14 portable toilets for next week’s birthday party for Swaziland’s King Mswati III.

The Weekend Observer reports today that ‘E95 000 is required for each of the 14 mobile toilets needed’. It goes on to list the other sanitary expenses.

He newspaper reports, ‘E173 000 is needed for hiring 10 of 10 000 litre water tanks over the same period [three days]. E94 500 is required for 100 bales of toilet paper, whilst E5 500 is needed for 10 of 25 litre liquid soap. For five boxes of sunlight soap E7 100 is sought, while E7 900 is required for detergents, amongst other things.’ It reckons more than E2 million will be spent in total on sanitary arrangements.

The newspaper calls this cost ‘shocking’, which it is, but it doesn’t say why it is ‘shocking’.

I am pleased that the newspaper published these costs, but it needed to take a further step to make it clear to readers exactly what is going on.

Think of it like this. According to the figures quoted by the Weekend Observer each portable toilet costs E95 000 which is about 1,400 US dollars each. A quick search of the Internet reveals that portable toilets can be hired at a cost starting at 70 US dollars a day (about E500). That means that each of Swaziland’s celebration toilets are overpriced to a tune of E85 500 or (1 330 US dollars).

Even allowing that there may be some shipping costs involved in getting the toilets to the sites where they are needed this is still a vastly inflated price.

What we must now know is who is supplying the toilets, who ordered them and who is getting the kickback for the contract?

Once we’ve sorted that out, we can tackle the cost of the soap and detergent. Again, the prices are hugely inflated. You would get a better deal nipping into the local supermarket.

Now is the time for the media to name names. People are lining their own pockets at the expense of ordinary poor Swazi people – and it must be stopped. Now.

To see the full Weekend Observer report click here.

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It used to be in Swaziland that every time King Mswati III returned from a foreign trip he would hold a media conference and journalists would be able to ask him questions.

More recently the rules of the game have changed. The conference still goes ahead but the media are warned in advance that they can’t ask the king questions about this or that.

And so it happened again this week. The King came back from a trip to the Middle East (he had met up with his eight wives who went on a four million US dollar shopping trip) but came home without them.

On his return to Swaziland the Swazi media were ‘muzzled’ (to use the words of the Times of Swaziland) from asking him questions.

King Mswati is embroiled in all kinds of controversy at the moment. With only a couple of weeks to go until the 40/40 celebrations to mark his 40th birthday and the 40th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence, the Swazi and international media have been carrying highly critical articles about the event, and more generally, in the case of the foreign press, about Swaziland.

Much of this has been about the enormous sums of money being spent on the 40/40 celebrations. As well as the Queens’ shopping trip, 20 top of the range BMW cars have been bought and another 19 have been rented for the birthday bash.

There is also an outcry about the voting that took place in Swaziland last weekend which had to be postponed half way through election day because of numerous irregularities. We still aren’t clear who has won and who hasn’t. I suspect the courts are going to be busy for weeks to come on this one.

On top of this there is King Mswati’s role in ‘mediations’ to solve the Zimbabwe election crisis.

In a democracy the head of state (i.e the King) would be questioned by the media on these controversies.

But, of course, Swaziland is not a democracy and King Mswati III is an autonomous monarch. He can do what he likes.

Yesterday (29 August 2008) the Times of Swaziland in an editorial comment condemned the censorship, but blamed the Swazi Government for causing the problem. The newspaper seemed to forget that if the King wanted to be questioned, he would allow it.

The newspaper wrote, ‘Once again somebody has decided to teach the media how to go about doing its job and barred it from posing questions to His Majesty the King on matters affecting his people.

‘This not being the first time, Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Mathendele Dlamini together with officials from the King’s Office, may have thought they were doing the king a great favour when in fact they continued to embarrass him by suggesting he was incapable of addressing matters to do with his own country.

‘The king is currently the chairman of Troika in the SADC region, a body responsible for resolving conflict. The foreign minister’s action suggests the king is incapable of addressing local issues and by extension implying the same of matters involving other countries.

Not only does this action violate the constitution and the public’s right to information, but it goes a long way to portray the king as a dictator in the eyes of the watchful international community.

‘The king has travelled the world, addressed international gatherings and has needed no protection from foreign media. He is much wiser than the minister to believe we pose any threat.

‘When will the minister and company realise that His Majesty is perfectly capable of speaking for himself?

‘When will they realise that they are hurting the king even more by muzzling the press? Such attempts have been made in the past and we are grateful to His Majesty who has allowed us to proceed with questions. He realises fully that this is the only opportunity the media gets to interact with him, while foreign media is continuously given the red carpet treatment, only to taint the country’s image once they get back home.

‘This has got to stop.

‘To think that we are about to celebrate 40 years of independence and the king’s 40th birthday, while others are hell-bent on taking us back to the colonial era and making him look 18, is an insult to the intelligence of the king, the media and the public we all serve.’

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