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Thursday, 30 April 2015


Swaziland police have said they will decide who can and who cannot take part in May Day celebrations on Friday.

According to them only ‘recognised’ workers unions will be allowed to take part.

This is seen as a deliberate snub to the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), the labour federation that has organized a rally in Manzini, the major commercial city in the kingdom, for Friday (1 May 2015).

After a long and continuing dispute with the Swaziland state, TUCOSWA is not registered as a recognised federation in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. 

In Swaziland all political parties are banned from taking part in elections and organisations that advocate for democracy have been outlawed as ‘terrorist’ organisations under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In a statement to media, Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba said only recognised unions would be allowed to celebrate the Workers Day.

He added, ‘Having said this, as a police service, we wish to point out as previously stated, that we will be present at the celebrations for the purpose of making sure that law and order is maintained. However, this is on the premise and understanding that the Labour Day is to be commemorated by recognised workers’ unions in the country,’ Mamba said. 

Previously, Mamba had told media since May Day was an internationally recognised day police would not hinder the celebrations by workers but they would arrest people who uttered ‘defamatory statements about authorities’.

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As workers and pro-democracy activists prepare to mark Workers’ Day on Friday (1 May 2015) many will remember Sipho Jele who was killed by Swaziland state forces five years ago. 

The 35-year-old Jele was arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act on 1 May 2010 for wearing a T-shirt supporting the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), an organisation banned in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

He was taken to Manzini Police Station and then to Sidwashini Remand Correctional Institution. He was found hanging from a beam in a shower block on 3 May.

The inquest verdict delivered in March 2011 said in effect that Jele levitated to the ceiling unaided, tied an old piece of blanket around a beam and then around his own neck and then allowed himself to fall to the ground, thereby killing himself by hanging.

Coroner Nondumiso Simelane reported, ‘Further, although there was nothing found at the scene which the deceased could have used as a platform on which to stand to commit the suicide; upon closer examination of the scene and the photos of the deceased captured at the scene, and the pathologists concluding that “it is possible for the deceased to have mounted himself upwards from the floor and then suspended himself without the use of a platform,” and that “after the ligature was applied to the beam and neck he could have lowered himself and the feet would still be above the floor.” 

Simelane recorded Jele’s death as suicide.

Independent Specialist Forensic Pathologist Dr Ganas Perumal at the inquest said there was no evidence that Jele had been hanged.

According to a report in the Swazi News, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, Perumal said, ‘In this case there is no evidence of being hung. The perplexing thing is how he got suspended as there was no object on which he stood. In most cases the object is kicked away for the body to remain suspended. There was no such object that was found. That is the only feature that doesn’t confirm suicide. It is an enigma how he hung without standing on an object.’

Questioned by attorney Leo Gama on whether it was possible that Jele had tied the rope around his neck while seated on the beam he was found hanging from, and then threw himself down for the rope to tighten around his neck, Dr Perumal entirely ruled out this possibility.

‘In that case there would be stretching of the skin and moreover there would be problem with the spine. Looking at the findings, we can exclude that scenario. There are no features to suggest that,’ he said.

It emerged at the inquest that Swazi police and prison warders lied a number of times about the circumstances up to the time of the death. They had claimed that they interviewed people who were in the same cell as Jele about the circumstances of his death; Perumal told the inquest that the cell mates denied being interviewed.

Perumal said, ‘I asked if any of the inmates had been interviewed to see if they had seen him and if any fight had ensued during the night of his death but none had been interviewed.’

This was not the first time that the police had been found out lying to the inquest. Previously, it was discovered that police had recorded in an official journal that Jele was in good health when he arrived at Manzini police station.

The official record – called the RSP 3 book – said the entry was made by Constable David Tsabedze, but he told the inquest that he never made the entry. 

This led to Attorney Leo Gama concluding that Tsabedze never made such entries and left the space vacant, but when the police heard that there was to be an inquest into the matter, someone filled up those spaces without telling Tsabedze. This was so they could show Jele was in good health when he left the police station.

Another anomaly was that although Jele was brought to the police station at 5.30pm on 1 May, he was only placed in a police cell at 11pm and no one could come forward to state what happened in the meantime.

In a bizarre twist the inquest heard that Jele asked to be sent to Sidwashini because he feared being ‘tubed’ (tortured and suffocated) if he was sent back to police custody. The Swaziland Director of Public Prosecutions Mumcy Dlamini said she was pleased to hear this because it meant Jele had not yet been tortured while at the police station. Dlamini told the inquest as far as she knew the only reason why Jele wanted to go to Sidvwashini was his fear of torture by police.

The inquest was told Jele was taken out of the Manzini Police Station’s cell for interrogation purposes for hours on different occasions, but one officer said it was unclear whether they also took him out of the building.

A jailor, Assistant Superintendent Richard Mthukutheli Fakudze, told the inquest he found Jele hanging from a concrete bar in the bathroom of his prison cell at about 5am on 3 May and he just knew Jele had killed himself. While he gave his testimony, he was interrupted by Prosecutor Phila Dlamini who warned him to only say what he observed and desist from giving an opinion. Fakudze had conclusively said Jele hanged himself yet he found him hanging. Said Dlamini, ‘If you insist that he hanged himself, you are actually saying that you saw him tying the blanket around his neck and hanging himself.’

Jele was charged under S19 (1) (a) of the Suppression of terrorism Act for wearing a T-shirt with PUDEMO written on it.

S19 (1) (a) of the STA states, ‘A person who is a member of a terrorist group commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten (10) years.’

Wearing a PUDEMO T-Shirt does not make you a member of PUDEMO and therefore the police had no reason to arrest Jele. But after police arrested him they then took him to his home and searched it and later alleged they had found materials linking him to the banned political organisation.

Amnesty International suspected that Jele might have been targeted for arrest at the May Day rally. Jele was one of 16 prodemocracy activists awaiting trial after they were charged with treason in 2005.

In a public statement, Amnesty said, ‘Mr Jele had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in police custody in the past. He was detained by police in December 2005 and subsequently charged with treason along with 15 others. Mr Jele alleged that while in custody he was beaten around the head causing long-term damage to his hearing, for which Amnesty International was able to obtain independent medical corroboration. He also alleged that he was subjected to suffocation torture while forcibly held down on a bench by six police officers at Sigodvweni police station. Some of his co-defendants made similar allegations of torture by the police.

‘The presiding High Court judge hearing their bail application in March 2006 was sufficiently concerned to call on the government to establish an independent inquiry into their claims. An inquiry was established under a single commissioner who subsequently reported his findings to the then Prime Minister. To Amnesty International’s knowledge this inquiry report was never made public. Mr Jele and his co-defendants had still not been brought to trial on the treason charge by the time of his death.’

At the time of Jele’s death, PUDEMO said in a statement, ‘The Swaziland royal regime has always been giving the international community the wrong information that political dissenters are not imprisoned, harassed and killed. And that Swaziland is a peaceful country. But here is a political activist getting killed for attending Workers Day and wearing a PUDEMO T-shirt.’ 

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Wednesday, 29 April 2015


It is hard to believe the police in Swaziland are serious in their intent to get the kingdom’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi to leave the house he has been holed up in for 11 days after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Ramodibedi who is in his luxury mansion in Mbabane with his wife and two adult children was allowed to send one of his sons out for food last Friday (24 April 2015) and it was reported that on Wednesday (28 April 2015) his maid delivered food to the family.

Ramodibedi, a native of Lesotho, reportedly faces 23 charges, including abuse of power. 

Two High Court Judges, Mpendulo Simelane and Jacobus Annandale, and the High Court Registrar, Fikile Nhlabatsi, have also been charged in connection with Ramodibedi’s case. They have appeared in court and been bailed.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported on Wednesday, ‘The movement, with ease, of some members of the CJ’s family in and out of his residence has left journalists wondering why the police were not using such opportunities to enter the house and arrest the CJ.’

Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba told the newspaper they were still waiting for negotiations between, Lesotho and Swaziland, to be concluded.
It is not known who is negotiating and about what.

Police officers have been camping outside the CJ’s house since Friday 17 April 2015. They said they would arrest Ramodibedi as soon as he came out of the house. There has been no attempt to enter the house forcibly, despite the comings-and-goings of people from the house.

The lack of action by the police is unusual. They have a deserved reputation for smashing their way into the homes of pro-democracy activists, often without warrants. 

There is speculation within Swaziland and on social media about the reasoning for the delay in effecting the arrest warrant. On Sunday (26 April 2015), the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in the kingdom, speculated that Ramodibedi was waiting until King Mswati returned to Swaziland from a trip to the Bandung Conference for Asian and African countries. 

The newspaper reported, ‘The chief justice is said to have stated that the only person he trusts was His Majesty the King.’ 

The newspaper did not say so but it is assumed that Ramodibedi thinks King Mswati will cancel the arrest warrant.

It is true that King Mswati personally appointed and re-appointed Ramodibedi to the post of Chief Justice and that Ramodibedi has been a loyal and vocal supporter of the King. But, it is not so clear that Ramodibedi still enjoys the King’s favour. The King rules over the judiciary and the Swazi Government which he hand-picks and it is inconceivable that the arrest warrant would have been issued without his permission.

One speculation is that the Chief Justice will be allowed to leave his house at the dead of night and escape into neighbouring South Africa.

Many observers find it hard to imagine that Ramodibedi, a personal appointee of the King, will be allowed to be tried in a court of law. The main charges against him are of abuse of power, but international observers will note that the (for now) alleged abuses were made on behalf of and for the benefit of the King.

If the spotlight is allowed to shine on Ramodibedi, it will shine also on the King.

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Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Police in Swaziland said they would arrest anyone at this week’s May Day celebrations who ‘utter defamatory statements about authorities’.

But, they said they would to allow people to mark the day on 1 May.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch, reported on Tuesday (28 April 2015) , ‘Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba said since this was an internationally recognised day, they would not hinder the celebrations by workers but would deal with those that would utter statements against authority.’

He added, ‘However, those that will utter defamatory statements about authorities will be arrested.’

This warning was aimed at people who advocate for democracy in Swaziland where no political parties are allowed to contest elections and opposition groups are banned as ‘terrorists’ under the controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008.

At the May Day celebrations in 2014, People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) President Mario Masuku and the party’s youth congress leader Maxwell Dlamini were arrested and charged with uttering seditious statements. They have been in jail for a year awaiting trial.

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Monday, 27 April 2015


The Swaziland Tourist Authority (STA) falsified statistics on the number of passengers using the new King Msawati III Airport (KMIII) to make it look a success when it was not.

And, the deception is part of an ongoing mission of misinformation about the success of the airport that has spanned several year.

Figures for January 2015 were used by Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), aided by the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, to state that the airport had defied its critics and was a success.

The STA reported that there were 10,138 passengers departing the airport in January 2015 and 6,592 passengers arriving, making a total of 16,730 passengers.

But these figures were entirely bogus. There are only three flights per day departing the airport and another three arriving. The airport serves only one route – to OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Swaziland Airlink is the only passenger airline that uses the airport. Airlink uses the Embraer J135 aircraft which has a maximum seating capacity of 50.

If every flight was full a maximum of 150 people per day could depart the airport, which would make a maximum of 4,500 per month. The 4,500 is only 44 per cent of the numbers of passengers claimed by STA. The total possible number of passengers either departing or arriving at the airport could not be more than 9,000 in a month: 53 per cent of the figure claimed.

No true figure for the actual number of people travelling by plane is available publically but anecdotal evidence suggests that the planes are rarely much more than two-thirds full, and often a lot less.

King Mswati III Airport was built in a wilderness in Swaziland on the whim of King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. No research was undertaken to determine the need for the airport.

Critics of the airport 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.

The Observer on Saturday reported at the time of the opening, ‘The King stated unflinchingly that the airport was not a joke as some pessimists had already hinted that the country does not need such extravagance. He said the completion and commissioning of the airport had proved all doubting Thomases wrong.’ 

The newspaper added, ‘One thing was clear throughout the King’s address that he was extremely passionate about the project and that it was very close to his heart.’

When it was opened the international media derided the airport as a ‘white elephant’, meaning it was of little use.

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 seeks 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.

No other airline has publically said it wanted to use the airport.

Matsapha airport which handled about 70,000 passengers a year is close to Manzini and Mbabane, the two main cities in Swaziland. The new airport was built in a wilderness about 70km from Mbabane. Once it opened to traffic in September 2014, Matsapha was closed for commercial business. It is now mainly used by King Mswati when he travels in his private luxury jet.

SWACAA had said the KMIII airport would attract 300,000 passengers per year (820 per day on average), raising E7 million (US$700,000) per year in service charges. In the present situation where only a maximum 300 people could travel per day, the total it could ever hope to achieve would be 109,500; only 36 percent of the numbers needed for the airport to reach its target.

The Swazi Observer, which was described as a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’ by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on media freedom in the kingdom, used the bogus figure to talk up the airport’s supposed success.

The newspaper first reported the figure in its Sunday edition on 12 April 2015 and again in its daily edition on 21 April 2015

The newspaper was determined to mislead its readers about the success of the airport. The Sunday Observer, for example, in a report headlined ‘KMIII Airport surpasses expectations’ said, ‘When it started operating, sceptics were of the view that people would opt to travel by road because of, among other reasons, the distant location of the airport, which is situated about 70 kilometres from Mbabane.

‘However, passengers going through KMIII International Airport have surpassed the numbers that were recorded at the Matsapha Airport.’

The newspaper quoted SWACAA Marketing and Corporate Affairs Director Sabelo Dlamini saying, ‘We are noting that the figures are rising and for us, it points to a brighter future in aviation. It is also an affirmation of the massive work the government of Swaziland has done over the past five years to do right in the civil aviation industry, in particular the construction of an airport facility travellers are happy with.’

The newspaper reported, ‘Dlamini further noted that the drop in numbers that had been projected by critics had not happened at all.’

There has been a long history of misinformation about the potential for success of the airport. It was controversial from the moment the construction was announced in 2003. The International Monetary Fund said the airport should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. 

Today, about seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes less than US$2 per day, three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. 

The false promises made about the airport are legion. In November 2013, SWACAA said that the Swazi Government was ready to recreate the defunct Royal Swazi National Airways Corporation (RSNAC0) and would set about purchasing a 100-seater jet, at a cost estimated by the Times of Swaziland of E700 million (US$70 million). This compared to the E125 million budgeted for free primary school education in Swaziland that year. It was never explained where the money to buy the aircraft would come from.

SWACAA said RSNAC would fly to 10 destinations in Africa and Asia. Observers estimated RSNAC would probably need a minimum of 10 aircraft to service the routes. For that to happen, Swaziland would have to spend about E7 billion on aircraft. Such a sum of money would bankrupt the kingdom. To put the cost in context the Central Bank of Swaziland has estimated the kingdom’s gross official reserves were E8.24 billion at the month ended November 2013.

The people were regularly misled about the opening date of the airport. At one time the King confidently announced it would be open in March 2010. Then his Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said it would be ready for the FIFA World Cup in neighbouring South Africa in June 2010, but this deadline came and went. SWACAA continued to issue fresh completion dates but these were never met.

Bertram Stewart, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development also misled about the readiness of the airport to open. 

In October 2010, Stewart said the airport would be open by the end of that year, but it was not. He misled again in February 2011 when he confidently told media the airport would be completed by June 2011. It was not. He also said a number of top world airlines (that he declined to name) were negotiating to use the airport, but nothing happened.

He returned to the theme two months later in April 2011 when this time he said the airport would be open by December 2011.

There has also 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. Nothing has been heard since.

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 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 has 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 Sikhuphe for business travellers who might want to fly to nearby countries ‘on a daily basis’.

Now, in April 2015, there are still no prospects of airlines other than Swazi Airlink using the airport.

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Saturday, 25 April 2015


Trade unionists and democracy campaigners in Swaziland are on a collision course with the police and state security after they refused to seek formal permission to hold a May Day rally.

The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) has confirmed that commemorations of the workers’ day will take place at the Salesian Sports Ground in Manzini, the commercial capital of Swaziland, on 1 May 2015.

Vincent Ncongwane, TUCOSWA Secretary General, said his federation had informed the police of its decision to host the event. 

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa, reported him saying, ‘We will not be seeking permission from the police to host the event, it is unlawful to be forced to seek permission and there is no statute in the labour laws that allows the police to demand us to seek permission from them to host Workers Day.’

He added the fact that they had informed the police was sufficient and that they would not be seeking permission as police had instructed them to do in past years.

The decision not to seek permission will almost certainly put TUCOSWA on a collision course with the police and the state security apparatus. 

Public gatherings are routinely disrupted by police unless they are sanctioned by the state. On Thursday (23 April 2015), for example, a newly-formed group called Swaziland Anti-Xenophobia Movement had a gathering broken up by police because they did not have permission from the Municipal Council of Mbabane to meet. 

They were trying to show their support for victims of Xenophobic attacks in neighbouring South Africa and tried to march to the South African High Commission in the Swazi capital, Mbabane.

At May Day celebrations last year (2014), Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, Secretary-General of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), were charged with ‘uttering seditious statements’. One year later they are still in prison awaiting trial.

The two were arrested following a pro-democracy rally at the Salesian Sports Ground, the proposed venue for this year’s rally. 

PUDEMO has been banned in Swaziland as a ‘terrorist’ organisation since 2008, under the controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In May 2013, Muzi Mhlanga, the secretary general of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), was illegally placed under house arrest by police who wanted to prevent him attending a May Day rally. They had neither a court order nor warrant to place him under house arrest.

Arrests were reported across the kingdom as democracy leaders refused police instructions to say at home and not attend May Day events.

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