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Thursday, 28 August 2014


At least 40,000 fewer young Swazi women are taking part in this year’s annual Umhlanga or Reed Dance ceremony than in 2013 if newspaper reports in Swaziland are correct.

Newspapers reported on Thursday (28 August 2014) that 80,000 young women, known as ‘Imbali’, had registered to take part in a series of ceremonies that end on Monday when they dance bare-breasted in front of King Mswati III.

But, last year the same newspapers in Swaziland reported 120,000 had taken part. In 2009, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, put the number of women at 130,000.  

The Reed Dance is considered by traditionalists to be the most important event on the Swazi calendar. Unmarried Swazi women, called ‘maidens’, make their way through the Ezulwini Valley during a week of ceremonial activities culminating with a mass dance in front of the King.

The newspapers in Swaziland have not told their readers about the apparent steep decline in support for the Reed Dance. King Mswati rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and most media are strictly controlled. Even, the independent Times of Swaziland newspapers do not criticise the King.

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Police in Swaziland stopped an open-air prayer meeting because leaders of workers’ unions were present.

They said the gathering was illegal.

It happened outside the textile firm Tex Ray in Manzini on Tuesday (26 August 2014) where local media reported about 1,500 textile workers had gathered to hear a local pastor, Zandile Hlophe, preach.

The workers are concerned for their jobs after the United States dropped Swaziland from the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) which allowed the kingdom to export goods at preferential rates. The US made the move because Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has a poor record on political and workers’ rights.

Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom’s textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015.

The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported the prayer meeting was ‘supposed to last for an hour. The prayer was organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) in partnership with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA)’. 

The newspaper, which is the only daily newspaper in the kingdom independent of the state, said, ‘While the pastor was preaching the word of God to the workers, the police came and ordered them to vacate the venue within two minutes. The first reason that the police gave to the organisers was that the gathering was illegal and it could not be regarded as a prayer because of the presence of union leaders.’

It added, ‘SUDF Coordinator Wandile Dludlu, who was with TUCOSWA Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane and ATUSWA Secretary General Wonder Mkhonza, questioned the police’s reason of stopping the prayer. Dludlu asked why they regarded the gathering as illegal and not a prayer because there was a pastor preaching.’

Police regularly break up prayer meetings in Swaziland, claiming they are ’political’. Political parties are barred from contesting elections in the kingdom and most are banned outright under an anti-terrorism law.

In the run up to the 2013 national election a number of prayer meetings were broken up by police and state forces.

In February 2013, about 60 armed police forced their way into the Our Lady of Assumption cathedral while a prayer meeting was taking place. They gave the congregation seven minutes to vacate the building. The prayer was jointly organised by SUDF and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). It had originally been scheduled to take place at the Bosco Skills Centre in Manzini. The venue was changed to the cathedral at the last minute after organisers realised the police intended to block people entering Bosco.

In March 2013, the Swazi Government banned a prayer meeting due to take place in Manzini to mark the first anniversary of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). Without recourse to the law courts, the government announced that the intended meeting was illegal because the Industrial Court had recently decided that TUCOSWA could not be a registered federation in the kingdom.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Girls who do not turn up for King Mswati III at the forthcoming annual Umhlanga Reed Dance in Swaziland will be publicly whipped.

They have been told that if they travel to the event in which tens of thousands of bare-breasted girls dance in front of the King, but do not attended the ceremony, they will be beaten on the buttocks when they return to their homesteads in Mbilaneni.

Thami Thikazi, the headman of the Mbilaneni chiefdom, said if parents disagreed with the punishment they would be forced to wield the lash themselves.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported Thikazi saying, ‘In case parents distance themselves from such, we are going to order them to be the ones administering the punishment in the form of strokes on the buttocks should it be found that they (girls) did something intolerable. The punishment will take place in full view of everyone.’

Tens of thousands of girls and young women known as ‘maidens’, from all over Swaziland attend the ceremony at Ludzidzini each year. It is billed as a tribute to the King and his mother, but in past years it has been noticed that many of the maidens do not attend the ceremony, preferring instead to go off to have fun with their friends.

More than 50 maidens from Mbilaneni have been chosen to attend the Reed Dance this year. Thikazi said in order to be chosen to represent the chiefdom they had to ‘be of good morals and upbringing.’

He added, ‘We therefore have to see to it that they face the music once they misbehave and parents should be ready to discipline.’

The sinister nature of the Reed Dance was revealed in 2012 when about 500 children were ordered to sing a song vilifying political parties. This was part of a clampdown on dissent in the kingdom, where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The children were taught a song to sing at the dance which had lyrics that when translated into English said political parties ‘set people against each other’ and said that if political parties were allowed to exist in the kingdom the king’s people ‘could start fighting each other’.
Political parties are banned in Swaziland, but there is increasing pressure from pro-democrats for this to change. Some traditional authorities also believe that support for the present system that puts them in control is on the wane. In Swaziland pro-democracy demonstrations have been attacked by police and state security forces.

This was not the only year in which children were compelled to sing the king’s praises. In 2009, the South Africa Press Association reported, ‘During the four-hour event, children sang songs which glorified Mswati and condemned his enemies.

‘“This land is your land our king, your enemies want to destroy you,” they sang.’

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Charged with terrorism for shouting ‘viva PUDEMO’

SOURCE Kenworthy News Media, 25 August 2014.

Swazi activists Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini face terrorism charges and could serve 15 years in prison for expressing support for pro-democracy party the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), writes Kenworthy News Media.

“If we have to go inside the prisons and be charged, I am the first one”. This was the prophetic statement of the Mario Masuku, the President of PUDEMO, on May Day in the tiny absolute monarchy of Swaziland.

Mario Masuku and youth leader Maxwell Dlamini, Mario Masuku were arrested shortly after having given speeches to approximately 7,000 people at the 2014 May Day event in Swaziland’s main commercial city, Manzini.

They were charged under section 4 and 11 of the Suppression of Terrorism Act, an act that Amnesty International has called “inherently repressive” and claims “continues to use the sweeping provisions of the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act to detain and charge political activists”. They could serve as long as 15 years in prison if convicted.

Mario Masuku had expressed support for his own organization, PUDEMO, and Maxwell Dlamini had shouted “viva PUDEMO” along with hundreds of others at the May Day event and allegedly sung a song that included the words “the king must go”.

The state prosecution has argued that these utterances are “very serious” and “threatening to the leadership of the country and the nation at large”. Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini for their part vigorously deny being terrorists or that their alleged offenses constitute acts of terrorism.

Both Masuku and Dlamini have been denied bail and are remanded in custody at Zakhele Remand Centre, where Mario Masuku has contracted pneumonia, which has exacerbated by his diabetic condition and led to drastic weight loss and poor eye sight. His legal team is filing a new bail application to try and ensure that he gets the proper medical attention that he has been refused in prison.

According to several members of the democratic movement in Swaziland both Masuku and Dlamini are also facing financial difficulties because of the legal costs of the trial. Their trial will continue in September.

They have both previously faced both harassment and lengthy spells in custody for similar charges from Swaziland’s police and legal system, none of which they have ever been convicted of. Maxwell Dlamini has given a vivid account of his torture at the hands of Swazi police in 2011 and was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder before his arrest.

Swaziland is one of the most unequal countries in the world with nearly 70 per cent of its population living under the poverty line of US$1 a day. King Mswati III of Swaziland is ranked amongst the richest royals in the world.

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Monday, 25 August 2014


Swaziland’s People’s United Democratic Movement’s (PUDEMO) has reported that its President Mario Masuku has fallen ‘critically ill’ in prison where he is on remand awaiting trial on a sedition charge.

PUDEMO is banned in Swaziland as a ‘terrorist organisation’ and is widely regarded as the main opposition political party in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. All political parties are barred from taking part in elections and most are banned outright in the kingdom.

PUDEMO said in a statement, Masuku was ‘suffering from pneumonia due to a combination of various horrible conditions he has been exposed to. He has grown physically weak, pale, lost weight and has lost part of his eyesight.’

Masuku has been on remand at Zakhele since 1 May 2014 when he was arrested during a police clampdown on May Day workers celebrations and charged with sedition.

PUDEMO said in a statement posted on social media, ‘Having to be subjected to a poor diet of porridge, beans and the occasional poorly cooked cabbage has contributed to his deteriorated condition.

‘Zakhele remand centre has refused to put President Masuku in a cell well secured in terms of cold and bad weather conditions since his arrest on the 1st of May 2014. He has been further denied warm clothes and access to his private medical practitioner. Visitors who come to check on him have been made to wait for nothing less than five hours, including refusal of his own son to consult him in his capacity as a lawyer.

It added, ‘Some of his comrades have been banned from visiting him. The ban was constituted after they brought him and Maxwell Dlamini newspapers deemed too political by warders. The reading material included the Nation magazine which is a Swazi monthly publication that is normally critical of the authorities, City Press and the Sowetan which are both South African newspapers.’

When Masuko appeared in court in June 2014, alongside Secretary-General of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) Maxwell Dlamini, who was also arrested and charged with sedition following the May Day event, he was remanded in custody until 24 September 2014.

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Friday, 22 August 2014


The Airline part owned by the Swazi Government is to be forced to move its operations to the King Mswati III Airport, which opened in March 2014 but has not seen a single commercial aircraft land since.

Swaziland Airlink General Manager Teddy Mavuso put on a brave face at a press conference on Wednesday (20 August 2014) when he announced that the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) had told the airline company that its present base Matsapha airport would close and all commercial operations must use the new airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, from 30 September 2014.

Sikhuphe which was renamed King Mswati III Airport in honour of the kingdom’s autocratic monarch is situated in a wilderness in the south eastern part of the tiny kingdom. Matsapha, the airport that is to close as a result, is close to both the kingdom’s capital Mbabane and the main commercial city, Manzini. 

Mavuso told the press conference, ‘As an airline we are the first to admit that change is very difficult to accede to and manage, and yet, on the other hand, change is very necessary to allow for the reorientation of the mindset and the flexibility to explore various alternative solutions in support of developing strategies that are intended to foster growth in the country’s economy.’

He added, ‘Swaziland Airlink undertakes to rise to the occasion in this respect and will exert all possible effort to counter and mitigate any challenges that stand in the way of success in the process.’

Airlink, which is a joint venture between Swaziland and South African Airways, has consistently opposed moving from Matsapha to the new airport. At present it runs a service from Matsapha to Johannesburg.  Matsapha is ten minutes’ drive from Swaziland’s commercial capital, Manzini, but Sikhuphe is about 70 km away.

A 2009 study commissioned by Airlink found air travellers would rather drive to Johannesburg than take the trek to fly from Sikhuphe.

Business Report newspaper in South Africa quoted the study, ‘The road journey takes three hours including a stop at the border post. Total travel time from Matsapha, including getting to the airport, waiting, flying, going through customs and retrieving baggage at Johannesburg and taking ground transport to the destination is on average three hours 30 minutes.

‘From [King Mswati III airport] the journey in each direction will take four hours 20 minutes. This will make air travel from a morning or a day trip unviable as the time taken for travel will amount to eight hours 40 minutes, whereas road travel will take six hours.

The study added, ‘With 60 percent of passengers on this route being point-to-point travellers, it is estimated that as much as 40 percent of these passengers and 20 percent of connecting passengers, or 32 percent of current passengers, will opt for road travel.

‘The risk of a move to [King Mswati III Airport] is unpalatable considering that in a realistic scenario the business will run at a loss… leaving the business unsustainable and an inevitable failure.’

At present Matsapha has about 70,000 passengers a year. King Mswati III Airport needs 400,000 passengers a year to break even.

In 2013, the Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who was unelected by the people, but personally appointed by King Mswati, told newspaper editors, ‘Swazi Airlink will have to use Sikhuphe as it will be our international airport.’

After the official opening of the airport on 7 March 2014, Solomon Dube, Director of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), told local media Swazi Airlink had specifically asked not to operate from the airport for now.

Sikhuphe has cost at least E3 billion (US$300 million) so far to build and is widely regarded outside of Swaziland as a vanity project for the king. Most of the money to build it came from the Swazi taxpayer, even though seven in ten of King Mswati’s subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 a day.

No independent study on the need for Sikhuphe Airport was ever undertaken and the main impetus behind its construction has been King Mswati. He believes the airport will lend credibility to his dream to make Swaziland a ‘First World’ nation by 2022. 

In 2003, when the plan to build the airport was announced, the International Monetary Fund said Sikhuphe should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. 

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

In his press conference Mavuso said although Matsapha Airport would be closed for commercial purposes, King Mswati would still be able to fly his private jet from there.

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014


The Swaziland magazine editor Bheki Makhubu, jailed for two years for writing articles critical of Swazi judges, is to appeal against his sentence.

In the appeal papers lawyers for Makhubu say the High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane erred on several matters when convicting the editor of the Nation magazine.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa reported,  ‘Many local and international observers condemned the sentence of Makhubu and his co-accused Thulani Maseko, saying that the trial highlighted the crumbling state of free speech while raising more questions over the independence of the justice system.’

The Nation magazine and the Swaziland Independent Publishers (PTY) Ltd, which were also found guilty on two counts of contempt of court and sentenced to a fine of E50,000 (US$5,000) on each count, are also to appeal sentence. 

In his appeal statement Makhubu said the sentence had stifled ‘vibrant journalism’ in Swaziland. Broadcast media are almost entirely state-controlled and censorship is endemic

In his appeal, Makhubu said Judge Simelane’s sentence was ‘so harsh that it has the effect of discouraging critical and vibrant journalism in this country’.

In his judgement at the High Court, Judge Simelane had said, ‘No one, I repeat, has a right to write scurrilous articles in the manner the Accused persons did.  Such conduct destroys public confidence in the Courts, without which this country cannot function effectively. The Courts hence have to use the very ammunition of Contempt of Court in self-protection from journalists like the Accused persons.’ 

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