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Wednesday, 18 May 2016


King Mswati III of Swaziland has lost another round in a long-running court dispute over an alleged unpaid bill of US$3.5 million for improvements and repairs to his private jet.

SG Air Leasing and SG Commodities Trading, two companies associated with businessman Shanmuga Rethenam, popularly known as Shan, have been chasing the King through courts in Canada and the British Virgin Islands for the money they allege is owed by the King and a company he solely owns called Inchatsavane.

At one time the King’s DC-9-87 private jet was impounded in Canada while courts decided on its future. The jet has since been released but the King was required to place US$3.5 million in a trust account in Canada pending the final decision of the court.

On 5 May 2016, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered that the money must remain in the trust account. It also ruled that King Mswati and Inchatsavane must not dispose of the aircraft until the matter is settled by the court.

On Sunday (15 May 2016), the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, where King Msawti rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported the Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini saying the DC-9-87 would not be sold. 

The newspaper said the decision had been taken after a ‘due diligence process of business viability analysis’.

It added, ‘He said it was decided that the aircraft would make a lot of money being leased out to private clients in its customised state.’

The Swazi Government has already announced it will buy the King a A340-300 jet from China Airlines in Taiwan at a cost of about US$13 million.

Swaziland is presently in the grip of a drought and 300,000 of the population’s 1.3 million people are in need of food and other aid. The Swazi Government has appealed to the international community for financial assistance.

About seven in ten of the population live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 a day.

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The Times of Swaziland newspaper has been made to retract a story and apologise after it said one of King Mswati III’s fiercest business critics was ‘robbing’ Swaziland of billions.

The target was Shanmuga Rethenam, popularly known as Shan, who has been pursing King Mswati through courts in Canada and the British Virgin Islands over an alleged unpaid debt of US$3.5 million relating to repairs and improvements to the King’s private jet.

Shan was also a business partner with the King in an iron ore mine venture at Ngwenya that collapsed among bitter recriminations.

The article appeared in the Times of Swaziland on 28 September 2015 and made a number of statements about Shan’s business dealings that it presented as fact.

A letter from Shan’s solicitor Rosin Wright Rosengarten to the Times of Swaziland said the article had ‘directly copied various sections of an article published by the City Press [a South African newspaper]’.

The City Press had also made an apology to Shan. In its apology, City Press said allegations against Shan, ‘have been made by parties who are currently in litigation with Mr Shanmuga Rethenam and remain unproven’.

In its retraction the Times of Swaziland, published in the print edition of the newspaper on 9 May 2016 and carried on the newspaper’s website every day since, said ‘We would like to clarify that these are allegations contained in court documents whose veracity is yet to be tested in a court of law.

‘We therefore retract this statement and further unreservedly apologise to Mr Rethenam for any embarrassment that might have been caused by the article which we have now withdrawn from the online version of the newspaper.’

On Tuesday (17 May 2016) newspapers in Swaziland reported that the Swazi Director of Prosecutions Nkosinathi Maseko had charged Shan with 14 counts relating to business activities.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III who is sub-Sharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, said charges against Shan included, ‘fraud, money laundering, cheating public revenue and theft’.

The newspaper’s report which ran for nearly 2,200 words appeared in full on its website. Usually, the newspaper only publishes one or two paragraphs of a selection of its stories online and then directs readers to a paysite for the rest.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2016


Panama Papers goes to Swaziland
Kenworthy News Media, 10 May 2016
The rich and powerful are also avoiding the tax man in Swaziland. Nineteen of the Panama Papers documents are related to Africa’s last absolute monarchy, writes Kenworthy News Media.

The leaking of the so-called Panama Papers, with details of offshore financial information that “strips away the secrecy that cloaks companies and trusts incorporated in tax havens and exposes the people behind them,” have made headlines around the world.

When the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the documents that name more than 360,000 people and companies behind secret offshore structures in tax havens such as Panama on May 9, nineteen of the documents were linked to Swaziland.

Obscure companies from around the world

The documents include more or less obscure companies such as the Fondation La Perle du Nil, registered in Mbabane, with jurisdiction in the British Virgin Islands and linked to Alpha Management Trading Ltd. in Dubai and the fittingly named Talent Profits Limited from Malaysia.

It also includes individuals such as Ian and Helen McLaughlin, also registered in Mbabane and shareholders of the Bahamian-based Orca Gold Corporation International Limited.

There are links to individuals and companies from places such as Spain, Ecuador, Peru, Russia, the USA, The UK, Samoa, China and Hong Kong, hiding their assets mostly in the British Virgin Islands but also in Panama and Jersey.

Although such companies are often created for tax evasion purposes, being on the Panama Papers list does not necessarily mean that they have done so.

The king pays no taxes

The corporate tax rate in Swaziland is 27.5 percent (down from 30 percent in 2013), which is the same as the average rate for Africa, below countries such as the USA (39 percent), India (34 percent) and South Africa (28 percent) but above the global average of 23 percent.

Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a fund with a total worth of around USD 2 billion that in theory is held in trust for all Swazis, but in practice used as a private fund by King Mswati and the royal family, is exempt from taxes, as is the king himself.


King Mswati III the absolute monarch in Swaziland has ‘donated’ US$150,000 to help victims of drought in his kingdom. It came weeks after it was revealed the government he handpicked will spend US$13 million on a private jet aircraft for him.

King Mswati came under intense criticism after a national drought emergency was declared in Swaziland in February 2016 and the Swazi Government announced it could not pay for necessary relief. It calculated it would need US$16 million in international aid by the end of April 2016.

The European Union in Swaziland reported in February 2016, ‘The drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon has severely affected Swaziland resulting in the loss of more than 40,000 herd of cattle with more than 300,000 people in the country (about 25 percent of the population) facing severe food shortages.’

The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best-known prodemocracy group in Swaziland, said the move to buy a A430-300 Airbus for the King was ‘corrupt’ and ‘insensitive’ at a time when about one in four of Swaziland’s 1.3 million population was in extreme danger of hunger because of the prolonged drought in the southern Africa region. 

In a statement, PUDEMO said, ‘That money used to buy the jet can pay for 2,500 students to finish their degrees at the university from 1st year to 4th year. The same amount can pay for 42,500 children to start form one up to form five in public schools. So the king decided to steal from 45,000 children to live a luxury life.’

PUDEMO also estimated the money spent on the jet could alternatively, ‘recapitalise farmers with 20,000 new cattle and feed; or build a new fully furnished hospital; or build 40 fully-equipped clinics; or build 35 new fully-furnished schools; or build 10 tar roads in rural areas each 20km.’

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported his donation as if it were from his own money. It reported, ‘His Majesty has always advocated the love thy neighbour principle as he has always preached for people to help one another in times of need.’

However, the King has never held a salaried position in his life and his entire income comes from the Swazi people, either in the form of their taxes or money he holds from company profits and mineral royalties ‘in trust for the Swazi nation’.

In reality he uses the money to fund a lavish lifestyle. He already owns a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet aircraft that cost about US$11 million in 2010, but he considers it too small. The King also has 13 palaces and fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of his 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than USS$2 per day.

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Monday, 9 May 2016


Monarchy a luxury that Swaziland cannot afford
Kenworthy News Media, 9 May 2016 
Swaziland’s big-spending absolute monarch King Mswati III is spending millions of dollars on a new personal jet and other luxuries, while many of his poor citizens rely on food aid to survive, writes Kenworthy News Media.

“The monarchy is a luxury that Swazi’s cannot afford. It is like a blood-sucking parasite that has sucked its host dry”, says Swazi activist Bheki Dlamini.

He is doing a Masters in Public Administration, is President of the banned Swaziland Youth Congress and spent nearly 4 years in a small filthy cell in one of King Mswati’s prisons. The charges against him were soon dropped once his case finally went to court, but he subsequently had to flee the country because he criticized the government in a speech.

One example of the opulence of King Mswati is that he is presently buying a new jet for US$ 13 million of public money during a drought that has seen a large part of the population receiving food aid from the UN to survive, says Bheki Dlamini.

Land is central

Swaziland is an absolute monarchy that is not unlike a medieval feudal state. In a report on the country from 2013, called “Swaziland: a failed feudal state”, American research NGO Freedom House speaks of the “shocking realities of oppression, abject poverty, hunger and disease” in a country where the king has seized “private and public property for his personal benefit” while being “immune from civil suits and criminal prosecution”.

At independence land and mining rights were granted to the monarch and not the government or the people, Bheki Dlamini explains.

“Just before independence in 1968, a fund were set up to buy back land from the British colonialists that gave birth to Tibiyo Taka Ngwane [that has stakes or shares in agriculture, property, a printing company and the Swazi Observer newspaper et al] and Tisuka Taka Ngwane [a residential and commercial property developer]. But these two public companies have been taken away from the Swazi’s and tuned out to be royal purse. The land that was bought is now royal land it was never returned to the people for the development of local communities”.

The king rules supreme

Today King Mswati therefore controls over half of the land, as well as the parliament and judiciary. He also has a personal fortune of $100-200 million, receives over $30 million a year from the taxpayers, and generally leads a playboy lifestyle with his umpteen wives and many palaces.

He is a shareholder of many of Swaziland’s companies, from which he receives a considerable percentage of the profit. Ordinary citizens, on the other hand, have no security of tenure in a country where 75 percent depend on subsistence farming for their survival.

Many are therefore evicted, whenever the king or his chiefs want to use the land for vanity projects such as Mswati’s new international airport. Control of the land and economy is therefore at the centre of the struggle that rural people face on a daily basis, says Bheki Dlamini, who himself comes from the rural areas.

Political and economic control

Apart from agriculture, much of Swaziland’s use of land and wealth comes from the utilization of other natural resources such a sugar, coal, gold and iron ore.

“25 percent of everything from the mines goes to the Monarchy. But for what? These huge resources could be best utilised under the national treasury. What is the local community benefiting in Maloma, where coal is mined? What did the community benefit in Ngwenya where Iron Ore was being mined? What is the country benefiting in the recently opened Lufafa Gold mine? Nothing except degradation of the environment and exploitation of workers. All this is meant to soothe the insatiable appetite of a greedy monarchy”.

Bheki Dlamini believes that the resources that are currently being looted by the monarchy could go a long way in eradicating poverty and lack of development in Swaziland. But for this to happen, Swazis must gain control over both the political and economic system.

“The solution to economic emancipation lies with us Swazis, but the struggle for multiparty democracy must never be about voting rights only. The real struggle is on changing the unequal distribution of our resources”, Bheki Dlamini concludes.

Thursday, 5 May 2016


Nearly one in three people surveyed in Swaziland said they got their news from the Internet at least ‘a few times a week’.

One in three also said they used social media for news during the same period.

The figures were released on Tuesday (3 May 2016) by Afrobarometer as part of a World Press Freedom Day report.

Afrobarometer surveyed 36 countries across Africa.

It reported that 32 percent of those surveyed in Swaziland said they used the Internet for news, ‘a few times a week’ or ‘every day’.

It also reported that 33 percent of those surveyed in Swaziland got their news from ‘social media such as Facebook and Twitter’ a few times a week or every day.

Swaziland’s mainstream media are heavily censored. All radio, except one Christian station, is directly controlled by the Swazi Government. One of the kingdom’s two television stations is also under government control.

King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Sahara Africa’s last absolute monarch. He in effect owns the Swazi Observer which is one of only two daily newspapers in the kingdom. He also in effect owns two of the four newspapers that publish at weekends.

Critics of King Mswati’s government have taken to social media in recent years as part of their campaign for multi-party democracy in the kingdom.

Afrobarometer, commenting on the trend for social media use across Africa, reported, ‘Distinct demographic patterns are evident in media use by different groups. In general men, urbanites, youth and the better educated obtain news from all sources more than women, rural dwellers, older people, and the less educated.’

Afrobarometer is a research network that conducts public attitude surveys across Africa on democracy, governance, economic conditions and related matters.

In 2014, a report jointly published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) found young people in Swaziland were turning to social media sites such as Facebook because it allowed them to enjoy ‘the fundamental rights to freedom of expression’ that was denied to them elsewhere in the kingdom.

They also bypassed mainstream media such as television, radio and newspapers in favour of social media. The report called Youth Usage of Social media in Swaziland concluded, ‘The young people have welcomed the emergence of the social media because, among others, it affords them an opportunity not only to inter-act but also enjoy the fundamental right to freedom of expression provided in Section 24 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland adopted in 2005. 

The report added, ‘They can now easily and freely bypass the severely censored mainstream media to access, produce, distribute and exchange information and ideas.

More importantly, the social media has afforded the young people an opportunity to speak in their own voices, not mediated by the mainstream media.

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Nearly six in ten people surveyed in Swaziland said they supported the need for freedom of the media.

The number supporting freedom had increased by 6 percent since 2013.

The figures were contained in a report from Afrobarometer released on Tuesday (3 May 2016) to coincide with World Press Freedom Day.

People were asked whether the media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without government control. A total of 57 percent of people of people asked agreed or very strongly agreed with the statement. This placed Swaziland 13th out of 36 African countries surveyed.

Media in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is heavily censored. The Swazi Government controls the main television channel and all radio that broadcasts news and information. One of the kingdom’s two daily newspapers is in effect owned by the King.

A separate report from Freedom House, also released on World Freedom Day, concluded that media in Swaziland are ‘not free’.

Afrobarometer, which produces reports by social scientists working together across Africa, concluded that support for free media in Swaziland had increased by 6 percent since it last surveyed opinion in 2011 – 2013.

The report suggested that 64 percent of Swazis interviewed believed the media should continually investigate and report on government mistakes and corruption. This placed Swaziland 27th out of the 36 African countries surveyed.

In its report, Afrobarometer said, ‘Investigating government mistakes and corruption is seen as a critical role for the media.’ It asked people in Swaziland how effective were the news media in the kingdom in revealing government mistakes and corruption. A total of 55 percent of people questioned said it was ‘somewhat / very effective’. 

A further 34 percent said it was ’not at all / not very effective’. A total of 11 percent responded, ‘don’t know’. This placed Swaziland 22nd out of 36 African countries for ‘media effectiveness’.

Afrobarometer suggested that changes in the ‘perceptions of media effectiveness’ had improved in Swaziland since the last survey in 2011 – 2013. It reported there had been a 6 percent increase in perception.

When asked whether news media abused its freedom ‘by saying things it knows are not true’, 33 percent of people surveyed in Swaziland said ‘often or always’. This placed Swaziland 16th out of 36 African countries.

Afrobarometer reported that 4 percent more people surveyed in Swaziland thought the media abused its freedom compared to the survey undertaken in 2011 – 2013.

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