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Wednesday, 30 August 2017


Women taking part in Swaziland’s annual Reed Dance where they will parade half-naked in front of King Mswati III have been banned from talking to the news media.

This emerged in a report in the Swazi Observer on Wednesday (30 August 2017), a newspaper in effect owned by the King who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The Reed Dance participants who are generally described as ‘maidens’ or ‘virgins’ are travelling to the Ludzidzini Royal Residence for a ceremony that ends on Monday. The Observer reported that maidens from the Northern Hhohho region were unable to speak to the media. The newspaper wanted to know how much they were looking forward to the event.

The newspaper reported, ‘authorities responsible for the maidens said they were not allowed to conduct interviews with the media because they had not sought permission from their superiors.’

It quoted one saying, ‘Unfortunately, due to the fact that our superiors have not given us the go ahead to speak to the media we are currently in no position to comment on the preparations and we can’t reveal the number of maidens we currently have here.’

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the maidens will once again sing songs at the ceremony against democracy in the kingdom where political parties cannot take part in elections and prodemocracy campaigners are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The Swazi Observer also reported on Wednesday that about 80,000 maidens had registered to attend the Reed Dance (also known as Umhlanga) and more were expected. It spoke to one leader Nonduduzo Zubuko. It reported, ‘Zubuko said they would also be tackling issues of multi-party democracy stating where they stand as a regiment. 

‘“We are happy with our system, we don’t need multi-parties in our country hence we will put that out there for everyone to know in song,” he said.’

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Tuesday, 29 August 2017


The short-lived era of free primary school education in Swaziland has officially come to an end. The move contravenes the kingdom’s constitution.

The Swazi Government has approved a circular allowing the Ministry of Education and Training to charge additional educational fees over and above the Free Primary Education (FPE) grant and Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) grant from government.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom rules by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported on Monday (28 August 2017), ‘The signing and endorsing of the circulars brings to an end the impasse that seems to have existed between the ministry and school administrators.’

Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education  Pat Muir advised all primary schools, with effect from January 2017 to forward applications for charging additional fees over and above the stipulated free primary education, the newspaper reported.

The directive goes against S29 of the Swaziland Constitution.

The Swazi Government pays E580 per child but this is supported by the European Union. 

School principals complained that the money given to them was inadequate. Local media reported that some schools had declared bankruptcy.

The news of the scrapping of free schooling came in March 2017 when Dr Phineas Magagula, Minister of Education, told a budget debate in parliament that top-up fees had been authorised. No additional money would be given by the Government.

Up until December 2016, the EU had spent a total amount of E110 million (US$8 million) to fund the Free Primary Education Programme in Swaziland. In 2015, it reportedly sponsored 34,012 learners in 591 schools. The EU plans to continue paying for the school fees until the end of 2018.

The EU started funding FPE for first grade pupils in the whole country in 2011.

The decision to charge fees contravenes S29 of the Swaziland Constitution which states, ‘Every Swazi child shall within three years of the commencement of this Constitution [2005] have the right to free education in public schools at least up to the end of primary school, beginning with the first grade.’ 

In February 2017, nearly E2.7 billion (US$216 million) was allocated in the national budget for the kingdom’s security forces that comprise the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF), Royal Swaziland Police Service (RSPS) and His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS). 
Security will take up 12.4 percent of Swaziland’s total budget of E21.7 bn ($US1.66 bn), up 11 percent from last year.

Education was allocated E3.5 billion.

Following the latest announcement, Zwelithini Mndzebele, Secretary of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), criticised the move. The Times of Swaziland reported on Tuesday (29 August 2017) he said there was no need for top-up fees at primary school level given that this was a human right enshrined in the Constitution of the land.

‘Government has the obligation to offer Free Primary Education with no option of top-ups as that affects parents,’ he said.

He called on government to increase the FPE grant instead of seeking an ‘easy way out’. He further said this was the same case with secondary or high schools.

He noted that there was a commission set to view the issue of top-up fees in schools and it had offered recommendations. The educator said it would be best if government revisited those recommendations.

The task team, in its recommendations, had noted that top-up fees in schools were the reason many Swazi pupils attended schools in South Africa. The task team compiled the report on the issue of top-up fees in fulfilment of the dictates of legal notice No. 125 of 2014. This, according to concerns raised by head teachers and school committees, depreciated the quality of education as the funds were insufficient to run schools, the Times reported.

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Monday, 28 August 2017


More former male inmates at a jail in Swaziland say they were sexually assaulted by warders.

They say they were stripped and had their genitals groped. One said a warder pulled the pubic hair on his testicles. 

The Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported (27 August 2017) that three former inmates at Bhalekane said the jail ‘created monsters out of them’. 

It said, ‘One of them who had been with the facility for two years before he was released recently indicated that the torture he endured at Bhalekane has made him a hostile animal.’

One former inmate whom it did not name said, ‘They [warders] were doing their usual strip search, where they went on to touch me and some other inmates on our private parts, very intimately, which destroyed our manhood.’

Another former inmate said, ‘One day they returned straight from their gym and did a strip search, they would smash our hands on the floor with the soccer boots, squeeze our genitals.’

The Sunday Observer reported, ‘He further added that one of the officers even went as far as pulling the pubic hair in his testicles.’

Warders were searching inmates for illegal drugs, the newspaper said.

One of the former inmates told the newspaper, ‘Our sentence might have ended but we are definitely not the same people that went in there, we are worse and I would not be shocked if one of the inmates committed murder or any related offence because we are the animals that they are trying to build at Bhalekane.’

Another former inmate told the newspaper he had been kicked in the head by one of the officers. ‘He kept on banging my defenceless head on the ground with his soccer boot. I begged for mercy and he told me that I do not deserve mercy since I was there (jail) to pay for the crimes I committed,’ he said. 

He further alleged that he was made to work in the fields with a gun pointing on his head. 

Bhalekane was in the news in late July 2017 when a former inmate told local media an entire dormitory of prisoners was ordered to strip naked before warders searched them and smacked them on their buttocks. 

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Friday, 25 August 2017


Old folk in Swaziland kicked out two police spies from their Pensioners’ Association meeting.

In Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, public gatherings are strictly monitored. 

It happened, according to the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, at the Roman Catholic Church Hall, in Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital. The meeting was for retired civil servants.

Two plain-clothed officers – one male and on female – were spotted by pensioners attending the meeting and forced to leave.

Chairman of the association Osvart Sukati was reported by the newspaper on Wednesday (24 August 2017) saying, ‘I bravely kicked them out because even culturally, children are not supposed to sit among elders when they have a meeting.’

The newspaper reported, ‘Former District Commissioner Elliot Mkhatshwa bluntly stated that the police had sent spies to illegally solicit information from them.’

The Swazi Observer reported the following day, ‘Chief Police Information and Communication Officer (CPICO) Khulani Mamba said they were surprised to learn that the police officer was chucked out of the meeting. “It is our normal duty to be present in meetings because we are interested in the safety and security of the state. 

‘“We thought the pensioners would educate the police on what the issues they were deliberating in the meeting and allow him to sit and listen. It’s also not correct to say these people were sent by the commissioner as this is our normal duty,” Mamba said.’

The Observer also reported that the pensioners had passed a resolution demanding National Commissioner of Police Isaac Magagula be charged for disrespecting them by sending informants to their meeting.

Swaziland has a long record for denying freedom of association and assembly in the kingdom.
In 2016, a report by Human Rights Watch revealed King Mswati had failed to keep a promise made to the United Nations in 2011 to change repressive laws.

At a United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland, Swaziland had agreed to ‘[a]lign the national legislation with international standards to guarantee freedom of assembly and association, in particular as regards the notification of the organization of peaceful assemblies’.

In a report to the Working Group in May 2016, Human Rights Watch stated, ‘The [Swazi] government has yet to repeal, or amend as appropriate, a number of repressive laws that restrict basic rights guaranteed in Swaziland’s 2005 constitution, including freedom of association and assembly. On the contrary the government has intensified restrictions on these rights over the past four years.  The laws in need of amendment include the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), the 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, and the 1963 Public Order Act. 

‘Police have sweeping powers under the Public Order Act. The king’s 1973 decree banning political parties remains in force despite repeated calls from local political activists to have it revoked. The constitution does not address the formation or role of political parties. Section 79 of the constitution provides that Swaziland practices an electoral system based on individual merit and excludes the participation of political parties in elections. 

‘Traditional leaders and chiefs have powers to restrict access to their territories, and have often used these powers to bar civil society groups and political groups like the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) from having meetings, recruiting, or any kind of presence in their areas. In 2011 PUDEMO challenged in court the government’s refusal to register political parties but the court said PUDEMO has no legal standing to approach the court as it did not exist as a legal entity.   

‘The Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) places severe restrictions on civil society organizations, religious groups, and the media because it includes in the definition of “terrorist act” a wide range of legitimate conduct such as criticism of government, enabling officials to use the provisions of the Act to target perceived opponents of the government. The government has also misused the STA to target independent organizations by accusing them of being “terrorist” groups, and harassed civil society activists through abusive surveillance and unlawful searches of homes and offices. 

‘Individuals who have been targeted for arrest or prosecution under the STA include the leaders of People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) who were arrested and detained under the STA in 2014. Police arrested PUDEMO leader Mario Masuku in May 2014, on terrorism charges for criticizing the government in a speech on May 1. At the time of writing Masuku was out of jail on bail pending the outcome of his trial. If convicted, he could serve up to 15 years in prison. 

‘Police used violence to halt May Day celebrations organized by trade unions in May 2013. In March 2015 police beat leaders of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers and prevented them from hold a meeting ostensibly because the discussions would have included calls for multi-party democracy.’

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Thursday, 24 August 2017


World Vision Swaziland is preparing to launch a national campaign called ‘It takes a world to end violence against children’ before the end of 2017. 

The Christian organisation’s Advocacy and Justice for Children Manager Sakhile Malaza told local media, ‘We’ll be working with multiple stakeholders, the Government, traditional leaders, celebrities and other influencers to play a role to end violence.’

Malaza said not a week passed by without headlines in Swaziland of missing children, suicides or abuse cases.

The Swazi Observer reported on Thursday (24 August 2017) that Malaza said, ‘World Vision continues to raise awareness to all stakeholders that include parents, traditional leaders, religious leaders, law enforcers and the children themselves to be safe and ensure that their whereabouts are known at all times.’

Earlier this month, a UNICEF report revealed nearly nine out of ten children in Swaziland suffered violent discipline in the home, nearly four in ten suffered sexual violence and one in three were bullied. UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) reported that much of this was kept secret within the family.

UNICEF said according to national data, violent discipline in the home, which includes physical punishment and psychological aggression, affected more than 88 percent of all children in Swaziland. The study findings also revealed that sexual violence and bullying affected 38 per cent and 32 percent of children in Swaziland, respectively.

In March 2017, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in Swaziland said nearly a half of all abuse cases reported involved children, And, most abusers were parents or someone well-known to the victim.

A total of 357 cases were reported in the financial year 2016 / 2017.

A report tabled at the Swazi Senate revealed 71 percent of the victims were females.

The most common abuse with 90 cases was described as ‘emotional / verbal’. There were also 76 cases of physical abuse and 69 of neglect.

A total of 47 percent of the cases involved children aged up to 11.

The abuse of children in Swaziland is not new. Swazi culture condones sex abuse of children, especially young girls. Child rapists often blame women for their action.

The State of the Swaziland Population report revealed that women who ‘sexually starve’ their husbands were blamed for the growing sexual abuse of children.

Men who were interviewed during the making of the report said they ‘salivate’ over children wearing skimpy clothes because their wives refused them sexual intercourse.

‘According to the Swaziland Action Group against Abuse (SWAGAA), one in three girls and women between ages 13 and 24 had been a victim of sexual violence. Although rape is legally defined as a crime, many men regarded it as a minor offense. 

‘The number of reported cases was likely far lower than the actual number of cases, as many cases were dealt with at the family level. A sense of shame and helplessness often inhibited women from reporting such crimes, particularly when incest was involved. 

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017


Rehearsals for this year’s Reed Dance in Swaziland have started and the maidens who dance bare-breasted in front of King Mswati III have been told by organisers they must wear short skirts.

The Reed Dance or Umhlanga is an annual event in which tens of thousands of ‘maidens’, some as young as ten, dance for the pleasure of the King. It is widely reported within Swaziland that the dancers are ‘virgins’.

The ceremony has come under criticism in recent years because of its overt political nature. The maidens are taught songs that decry activists who want democracy in the small kingdom ruled by King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

It has also been reported that many maidens are paid to take part in the ceremony or are threatened with public whippings if they do not.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Wednesday (23 August 2017) that rehearsals for the event are underway. It reported that Princess Gcebile,  Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tinkhundla, told representatives of more than 50 chiefdoms in Shiselweni they needed to maintain tradition and attend the ceremony wearing short skirts.

International observers have pointed to the ‘sleazy’ nature of the Reed Dance in which half-naked children dance for the King who is aged 49.

In 2016, the Guardian newspaper, a respected international publication based in the United Kingdom, reported, ‘Traditionally, the King is allowed to choose one of the women as a wife, but in recent years the festival has been more about preserving a cultural heritage.’

The newspaper added that many participants were forced to attend the Umhlanga. It quoted a 29-year-old teacher saying, ‘They say we are not forced, but we are. Families who don’t send their daughters to the Umhlanga have to pay a fine, usually a goat or a cow.’

She added, ‘The girls sleep in small classrooms or tents without proper sanitation. There are also many rules you have to adhere to when you attend the Umhlanga. This is the 21st century. We shouldn’t be forced to wear certain clothes.’

The Guardian reported for some girls, taking part in the festival was a way to make some money. It quoted one teenager who said, ‘It’s going to be a fun week. We are very excited. We are given 500 rand each.’

Zwane, a mother of six, told the newspaper forcing or bribing young girls to attend the Umhlanga was a violation of their human rights. ‘Chiefs abuse their power and penalise families who don’t take part. The whole idea is for women to show themselves naked in front of the King so that he can choose a wife. It’s very degrading to women. We don’t walk around bare-breasted at home. Why should we do it at cultural ceremonies?’

Umhlanga, billed as Swaziland’s foremost cultural day, proved to be anything but in 2013 when 120,000 half-naked maidens reportedly sang a song praising the Kings then-recent pronouncement about his continued rule over his kingdom.

They praised the King for announcing that henceforth Swaziland would be a ‘Monarchical Democracy’. This was a new name for the already existing ‘Tinkhundla’ system that puts all power in the hands of the King. 

The King said he had been told in a vision to make this change.

The song included these words (loosely translated from the original), ‘Your Majesty Swaziland is well governed through the Tinkhundla System of Democracy and will be victorious through it.’

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported at the time, ‘Royal Swaziland Police Superintendent Wendy Hleta who was the Master [sic] of Ceremonies together with former Indvuna YeMbali Nothando Ntshangase noted that the maidens were seemingly pleased with the message conveyed by the new composition.’ 

The sinister nature of the Reed Dance was also exposed 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.

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.

In 2014, it was reported by media within Swaziland that girls had been told if they did not attend that year’s Reed Dance they would be publicly whipped. Girls in the Mbilaneni chiefdom were told that if they travelled to the event but do not attended the ceremony, they will be beaten on the buttocks when they returned to their homesteads.  

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, reported at the time Thikazi said, ‘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.’

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