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Thursday, 31 January 2013


Ten Swaziland police officers threw a woman into a kombi, drove her to a forest and tortured her for six hours. One woman police officer kicked her in the private parts.

This is the latest in a string of torture cases involving the Swazi police.

The woman told local media in Swaziland she was in bed at 11pm when police arrived at her home demanding she tell them the whereabouts of her husband who was wanted on criminal charges.

‘I explained to them that I did not know where he was and this seemed to irk them and they got violent,’ the woman said.

The Swazi Observer newspaper reported, ‘They then dragged her out of the house and threw her inside the kombi.  She said she was not given a chance to dress up and she found herself leaving from the house with only a kanga around her waist and was barefooted.’ 

She told the Observer, ‘I cried for mercy to no avail. I was pushed, kicked, slapped and shoved around while being threatened with death if I did not co-operate.

‘They later tied me against a tree and told me to say my last prayers. I even wet myself due to fear as the officers took turns torturing me.’

The newspaper reported, ‘She said among them was a female police officers who kicked her in her private parts and other sensitive parts of her body.  She was also “showered” with a bucket full of cold water, which made her shiver more and she felt like vomiting.’ 

She said, ‘After about six hours of serious torture the police realised that I did not know my husband’s whereabouts and then untied and drove me back to my house.’

Police in Swaziland have the reputation for torturing people with impunity. In May 2012 the US State Department investigated the use of torture in Swaziland and found, ‘Security officers reportedly used torture during interrogation, assaulted citizens, and used excessive force in carrying out their duties. Reported practices included beatings and temporary suffocation using a rubber tube tied around the face, nose, and mouth, or plastic bags over the head.’ 

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The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland has come under renewed criticism for its sensationalist journalism after it published a photograph of a blackmail victim and gave intimate details of her love life.

Under a headline ‘The naked truth’ it revealed that the former boyfriend of the woman had put nude pictures of her on Facebook and sent copies to her work colleagues and others who would know her. 

The Times Sunday did not name the woman but did name her ex-boyfriend and published a photograph of the couple with their arms around each other. Although the newspaper put a black strip across the woman’s eyes she would be clearly identifiable to people who knew her and her ex-boyfriend. The newspaper also gave enough details of her place of work to make identification easy.

Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, national director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter, in a statement to Swazi Media Commentary said, ‘It is wrong and it is obscene. We have a constitution that should protect against this sort of thing. Article 18 speaks of “protection from inhuman or degrading treatment”. In MISA’s view, the publication of the photo is in direct violation of the Swaziland Constitution.’

The ex-boyfriend told the Times Sunday his intention was to get the woman to pay him 9,000 British pounds – money he claimed she owed him. When she refused to pay, he published the photographs.

The ex-boyfriend told the paper said that by publishing the photographs, he wanted to make sure that his ex-girlfriend lost her job. He threatened that he would not stop spreading them until this happened.

‘He will not stop exposing her dirty linen until she paid the money,’ the newspaper said.

He told the newspaper, ‘I warned her of the consequences of going public. She did not care, so here we are now.’

The Times Sunday quoted an email the man had sent to his ex-girlfriend’s sister in which he said, ‘You have seen nothing yet. Days and weeks to come videos will be circulating in Swaziland and everywhere.’

By publishing his story, the Times Sunday in effect became an accessory to his blackmail.

This is not the first time the Times Sunday has been criticised for its sensationalist and misogynist reporting. In December 2012, readers boycotted the newspaper and complained to the paper’s advertisers after it published an article from one of its regular columnists that, among other criticisms, called women who leave their physically abusive partners ‘bitches’. 

The Times of Swaziland’s reader’s representative, the ombudsman, dismissed the complaints and said the newspaper always followed the kingdom’s journalism codes of ethics.

But, clearly it does not. The latest report violates a number of the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) code of conduct.

Article 5 is about ‘ Respect for Privacy and Human Dignity’ and it breaks down into five sections: (i) ‘Journalists should respect the right of the individual, privacy and human dignity; (ii) Inquiries and intrusions into a person’s private life can only be justified when done in the public interest; (iii) a journalist should guard against defamation, libel, slander and obscenity; (iv) a journalists shall avoid identifying the exact place of survivors in sexual offences;(v) a journalist shall seek consent of the survivor before taking pictures or conducting interviews with survivors of sexual offences.

If we substitute the word ‘blackmail’ for ‘sexual offences’, the Times breaks all five of the sections in Article 5.

The story has no public interest: it is basically a tale about two people who had a relationship that broke down and then disagreed about dispersal of their assets. The Times intrudes on many aspects of the woman’s private life for no other reason than dwell on the sexual allegations made by her ex-boyfriend.

The Times took the opportunity to turn an ordinary private matter into a public spectacle, drooling over naked pictures and descriptions of the couple’s sex lives.

Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, of  MISA, summed up the criticism of the Times, ‘The reason why this happens - obscene and unethical photos get published - is because there is a lot of repression and censorship when it comes to “real” and “hard” news, therefore the media has resorted to tabloid journalism, which thrives on scandals.

‘In other words, it is this soft and superficial news which is increasingly creeping into our media. MISA urges the Swazi media to be courageous enough to tackle issues which are in the public interest, rather than focusing on scandals and stories of insignificance.’ 

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Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Swaziland’s Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku has claimed that human rights and democratic principles are adhered to in the kingdom in a newspaper interview that denies evidence to the contrary amassed over several years.

He told the South African Sunday Independent this week (27 July 2013) that Swaziland adhered to 29 international and regional protocols, charters and conventions, the majority of which addressed basic human rights.

This flies in the face of evidence supplied by human rights observers.

In 2011, the US State Department reporting on human rights in Swaziland, said, ‘The three main human rights abuses were police use of excessive force, including use of torture and beatings; a breakdown of the judiciary system and judicial independence; and discrimination and abuse of women and children.

‘Other significant human rights problems included extrajudicial killings by security forces; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association; 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; harassment of labor leaders; restrictions on worker rights; child labor; and mob violence.

‘In general, perpetrators acted with impunity, and the government took few or no steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.’

It is also clear that in Swaziland, King Mswati who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is in complete control.

In October 2012, the kingdom’s House of Assembly passed avote of no-confidence in the government by a three-fifths majority. According to the constitution King Mswati was required (he had no discretion in the matter) to sack the Prime Minister and Government.

This he did not do, instead the king put pressure on members of parliament to run the no-confidence vote again, this time ensuring it did not pass. In this way King Mswati ensured that the government he himself handpicked stayed in power. 

On this subject the Sunday Independent quoted Masuku saying, ‘Our constitution contains a Bill of Rights. Recently some members of parliament used parts of it to push a no confidence vote on cabinet. That is democracy at play. The government did not thwart the process. It’s just that the process was flawed.’

Masuku told the newspaper that child rights legislation in Swaziland was world-class. This came two weeks after Timothy Velabo (TV) Mtetwa, one of the leading traditionalists among the king’s supporters and who is commonly known as the ‘traditional prime minister’ said it was all right for children to be taken as brides.

He said this despite a newly-enacted Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, 2012, that aims to make the practice known as kwendzisa illegal. 

Mtetwa was quoted by a local newspaper saying traditionalists would apply for a review of the Act if it was felt to collide with Swazi customs and traditions.

Masuku seems to be on a charm offensive on behalf of the Swazi ruling elite in an attempt to convince international opinion that Swaziland is a fully-fledged democracy.

This year national elections are to be held, on a date yet to be set by the king, and already international democracy watchers have concluded that they will be a fraud. 

The parliament has no powers, as evidenced by the king’s refusal to abide by the constitution and sack the government after the vote of no confidence.

The king selects the Prime Minister in contravention of the constitution which insists that the PM should be a member of the kingdom’s senate. There are two chambers of parliament, the House of Assembly and the Senate. Of the 65 members of the House, 10 are chosen by King Mswati and 55 are elected by the people. In the Senate, King Mswati chooses 20 of the 30 places. The other 10 are chosen by members of the House of Assembly. None are elected by the people.

At the last Swaziland national election in 2008, the Commonwealth Election Team, which has global experience monitoring national elections, declared that the voting was so badly flawed Swaziland needed to rewrite its constitution, if it ever wanted to ‘ensure that Swaziland’s commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal’.

The European Union declined even to send a delegation to monitor the election, declaring that it could not be free and fair if political parties were banned. In 2008 Peter Beck Christiansen, the EU Ambassador to Swaziland, told a press conference there were ‘shortcomings in the kingdom’s democracy’.

In his interview with the Sunday Independent, Masuku claimed that the pro-democracy protests that have been taking place across Swaziland over recent years had been hijacked by ‘criminals’.

He said, ‘Such clashes happen all over the world. We don’t condone it, but some protest actions are hijacked by criminals.’

But if anyone is behaving like ‘criminals’ it is the Swazi state. In its annual report on Swaziland for 2012, Amnesty International said, ‘Arbitrary and secret detentions, political prosecutions and excessive force were used to crush political protests.’

It also reported, ‘Arbitrary and secret detentions, unlawful house arrests and other state of emergency-style measures were used to crush peaceful anti-government protests over several days [in 2011].’

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Swaziland’s Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku has announced that the national elections this year will take place in August.

Usually only the Swazi King, Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, decides on the date and announces it formally to his subjects.

But, Masuku told the Sunday Independent newspaper in South Africa this week (27 January 2013), ‘We hold regular elections and the next one’s billed for August.’

He went on to tell the newspaper that political parties were legal in Swaziland and could fight the election. This statement goes against commonly held belief that political parties are banned.

He told the newspaper, ‘It is inaccurate to say political parties are unwanted because Chapter 3 of our constitution guarantees freedom of association. If someone does not want to exercise that right it is not the problem of the state.’

He went on to say that political parties would have to go to the local government centres, known as tinkhundla, ‘sell their programmes to the people and not fear going to the polls’.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


One in ten people in Swaziland will go hungry this year as the kingdom struggles to feed its population as the economy remains in the doldrums.

A total of 115,712 people face food shortages in 2012/2013, according to the Swaziland Vulnerability Assessment Committee in a report. The number has increased by 88,511 from 2011.

The report highlights problems with the Swazi economy as a major factor. It says that the kingdom is too dependent on food imports and because of high price inflation in Swaziland people cannot afford to buy food.

The report predicts that more people will fall into hunger as prices continue to rise.

People in Swaziland do not have enough choices for food supply and many are dependent on subsistence farming and this makes families vulnerable to hunger.

‘The country’s dependence on commodity imports for consumption requirements is not encouraged as price shocks may reduce households’ access to food and increase food insecurity,’ the report says.

Poor rains played a part in the food crisis which meant less cereal was grown than is needed. The lack of support services to help agricultural production contributed to the problem, the report says.

In July 2012, Nkululeko Mbhamali, Member of Parliament for Matsanjeni North, said people in the Swaziland lowveld area had died of hunger at Tikhuba when crops failed. 

Matsanjeni South MP Qedusizi Ndlovu also said at the time that wherever he went people begged him for food.

In September 2012 the World Economic Forum, United Nations and the Institute for Security Studies in separate reports said the Swazi government was largely to blame for the economic recession and subsequent increasing amount of Swazis who have to skip meals was its fault. 

The reports listed low growth levels, government wastefulness and corruption, and lack of democracy and accountability as some of the main reasons for the economic downturn that has led to as increasing amount of hungry Swazis.