Search This Blog

Wednesday, 28 February 2018


Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini stands to be paid E150,000 (US$13,000) from a company that has shares in controversial cell phone company MTN Swaziland.

Dlamini in his recently-published autobiography claimed to own 0.1 percent of the investment holding company Swaziland Empowerment Limited (SEL) which has 19 percent shares at MTN Swaziland, the Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported (25 February 2018).

The Observer calculated the Prime Minister was expected to get an estimated E23,856, before taxes this financial year. It estimated the PM, who is not elected but appointed by absolute monarch King Mswati III, had been paid ‘about E150,000 in total since March 2016’.

In Swaziland seven in ten of the population live in abject poverty with incomes less than E23 per day.

Until July 2017 when Swazi Mobile launched, MTN was a monopoly provider of cell phone services in the kingdom.

King Mswati is a major shareholder in MTN Swaziland. The Sunday Times in Johannesburg reported in July 2014 he holds 10 percent of the shares and is referred to by the company as an ‘esteemed shareholder’. It said MTN had paid E114 million (US$11.4 million at the then exchange rate) to the King over the previous five years. 

The Sunday Times reported that at the time MTN had a monopoly in Swaziland and was used by 57 percent of the population. It said MTN was able to keep prices high, citing the cost of 300 megabytes of data in Swaziland as E149, while in South Africa the same amount of data cost E79.

Prime Minister Dlamini’s holdings in SEL have been a matter of controversy for years. As long ago as 2011, Musa Holphe, a human rights campaigner and journalist, highlighted that Dlamini’s holdings in MTN might be a conflict of interest since he was also a key decision maker in the affairs of MTN’s only rival for telephone services, the parastatal, Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC).

Writing in the Times Sunday, a newspaper in Swaziland, (26 September 2011), Holphe said, ‘Since SEL’s main, if not its only, investment is MTN Swaziland it is important to understand that the value of the SEL shares will be slashed if anything happens that affects MTN’s profitability.

‘This government has been at the centre of many decisions that affect the ability of SPTC to properly compete with MTN. 

‘Each government decision seems designed to hamper SPTC and enable MTN to continue its monopoly and unfairly increase the wealth of its shareholders which as we now know includes the private wealth of the prime minister. 

‘It is shocking to see how much money is generated by MTN and that, in spite of the grinding poverty of the majority of us; vast riches are still secretly flowing into the pockets of the elite.’

He added, ‘He may say that it is all perfectly legal but that is the wrong test. Compliance with the law is a minimum standard not a maximum. 

‘Leaders must be held to higher standards. Even if what the PM does is perfectly legal, we should still be asking, is it honourable, decent and wise? Is it moral? 

He added, ‘Corruption is like pregnancy – you cannot be a little bit pregnant and you cannot be a little corrupt. You either are or you are not. It is time to tackle corruption properly and declare all interests openly. Ministers with interests must excuse themselves from any decision-making that affects those interests not just the major ones.’

In 2009, Earl Irvine, then US Ambassador to Swaziland, wrote a confidential cable (later published by Wikileaks) in which he said the King operated in his own financial interest. Part of the cable said, ‘Royal politics and King Mswati’s business interests appear to have caused the ouster of Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) CEO Tebogo Mogapi and halted parastatal Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) from selling the MTN shares it owns to raise money for a Next Generation Networks (NGN) cell phone project. 

‘Industry and press observers privately indicated that the King, who already owns many MTN shares, had wanted to purchase the MTN shares himself at a cheaper price than the buyer, MTN, was offering SPTC. 

‘Government officials later prevented the sale, and recently did not renew the work permit for CEO Mogapi, a South African citizen, apparently in retaliation for his role in the transaction, as well as the CEO’s reported decision to oppose government efforts to use the MTN network for electronic surveillance on political dissidents.’

The cable went on, ‘The government’s halt of parastatal SPTC’s sale of MTN shares demonstrates the impact the King’s and other influential individuals’ private business interests can have on business transactions in Swaziland. 

‘Government officials would likely prefer a more malleable Swazi CEO at MTN who would cooperate more fully with royal and government wishes.’

A research article written by Ewan Sutherland of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, and published in December 2014 in the Communicatio academic journal, explored telecommunications in Swaziland and concluded there was no competition for mobile phones in the kingdom and ‘the monarch and his cronies are financially tied to Swazi MTN, seeking to neuter the state-owned SPTC. The government has no concern for consumers, service delivery or economic growth, with the King and his prime minister looking after their personal financial interests.’

Sutherland wrote, ‘[I]t is difficult to see how any investor could have confidence, unless it had the sovereign on their side and, more likely, in their pocket. 

‘The monarch has a significant and lucrative investment in the principal operator, with the effect of confusing and confounding an already feeble system of governance. The opaque profit-seeking of the King conflicts with the purported aspiration to good governance of telecommunications markets and the interests of his subjects. In a constitutional monarchy, arrangements can be made to keep the investments of a monarch separate from politics, allowing for transparency, accountability to parliament and the avoidance of interference with governance (e.g., Japan and the Netherlands).

‘A feudal monarchy knows no such distinction, there are no conflicts of interest for ministers, regulators and directors – they obey their king. It echoes the problems of Morocco, where its king has private interests in telecommunications, has ministers sit on the supervisory board of the state-owned operator, and he appoints the regulator and is head of the judiciary.’

See also


Tuesday, 27 February 2018


A refugee in Swaziland was sent to jail because he was too poor to pay traffic fines.

The man, a Congolese, who is under asylum protection in the kingdom, was convicted of three offences including driving without a licence.

John Dambayi, aged 38, was fined E1,000 (US$86) by Siteki Senior Magistrate Donald Mavuso with the option of four months in jail. He could not afford the fine and went to jail.

According to a report in the Swazi Observer on Monday (26 February 2018), Dambayi told the court that he was a refugee who had no source of income as he was prohibited from engaging in employment.

It is not unusual in Swaziland where seven in ten people live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day for people to be sent to jail because they cannot afford the fine option.

In August 2014 it was reported that more than 1,000 people were in jail in Swaziland because they were too poor to pay fines. That was nearly three in ten of the entire prison population.

In Swaziland offenders are often given the option of jail time or paying a fine. Correctional Services Commissioner Isaiah Ntshangase said at the time there were people in jail because they could not pay fines for a range of matters, including traffic offences, theft by false pretences, malicious injury to property and fraud.

Figures revealed that 1,053 of 3,615 inmates in Swazi jails were there because they did not have the money to pay the fine option - 29.1 percent of the entire prison population.

Ntshangase said the numbers in prison because they could not pay fines was growing. 

See also


Monday, 26 February 2018


The United States Ambassador to Swaziland Lisa Peterson has spoken out in support of banned political parties in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as an absolute monarch.

Parties are not allowed to contest for elections and people and groups that advocate for democratic reform are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

International organisations such as the European Union and Commonwealth routinely declare that Swaziland’s elections are not free and fair because parties are banned from taking part. After the last election in 2013, the Commonwealth Observer Mission and African Union separately called for a review of the kingdom’s constitution to un-ban parties. 

The King chooses the Prime Minister and top government ministers. 

Peterson spoke at a meeting of editors on Friday (23 February 2018). She said polling suggested that people in Swaziland did not support political parties. She said, ‘For me that speaks to people not seeing what a political party can do for them. You need to build understanding and policy of advocacy at the grass root level so that you can get a number of people thinking in a similar manner.’

She said political entities that supported parties in Swaziland needed to work on the ground to change people’s minds about the value of political parties. ‘Each party or grouping needs to go about it in the way that works best,’ she said.
She added, ‘That plays a part in getting every average Swazi to understand why a political parties might be useful.’

Three political parties have already announced their intention to seek a court ruling to un-ban parties ahead of the election due some time in late 2018. They are the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO); the Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC). 

See also



(Swazi Media Commentary, 12 November 2015)

Traditionalists in Swaziland have been gloating that because ‘only’ 36 percent of people surveyed in the kingdom wanted political parties it proved the present system of autocratic monarchy was the preferred system of government. They have missed the point spectacularly. 

In Swaziland political parties are banned from contesting elections and King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, chooses the government. All debate about alternate political systems is banned in the kingdom. Meetings to discuss political reform are routinely broken up by police and security forces; prayer meetings are closed and advocates for reform are jailed. Political parties and prodemocracy groups are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The media, which are mostly state-controlled under the King, do not allow debate for political reform and schools teach the present ‘tinkhundla’ system as the ‘Swazi’ way of government. Even children at the annual Reed Dance at which ‘virgins’ dance half-naked before the King are taught to sing songs against political parties.

With all this going on, it is close to a miracle that as many as 36 percent of the population still say they want political parties. It does not take a leap of the imagination to suppose that if the Swazi people were given the space to genuinely discuss alternative political systems, the 36 percent would quickly grow to a majority and King Mswati’s absolute monarchy would come to an end.

Monarchists and traditionalists in Swaziland are dishonest about political parties. They say they bring division and chaos, but that does not stop them accepting charity and aid from nations that are multi-party democracies.

As recently as 2 November 2015, the Swazi media praised King Mswati when he returned from India with promises of business loans from that country. What the Swazi people were not told was that India is known as the largest democracy in the world (because of the size of its population) and has a multi-party system.

Taiwan, which set up numerous businesses in Swaziland to exploit the kingdom’s (now withdrawn) special trading relationship with the United States, is a multi-party system. 

South Africa, Swaziland’s neighbour and largest trading partner, is a multi-party democracy. Without the support of South Africa, Swaziland would not have an economy. 

King Mswati gladly receives charity for his kingdom from the European Union, an economic bloc that consists entirely of multi-party democracies. The United States – another multi-party democracy – also provides aid and charity in abundance. 

It is the economic and aid support from multi-party democracies that keeps Swaziland functioning. But traditionalists refuse to openly discuss why it is that all these multi-party democracies have such successful political systems that they can afford to be charitable to Swaziland, while Swaziland, where parties cannot contest elections, cannot support itself.

Tens of thousands of Swazi people are predicted to go hungry during the present drought that grips southern Africa. Swaziland will only stop its people from starving because food will be donated by multi-party democracies. 

While the Swaziland Government runs around like headless chickens unable to cope with the drought, which recurs year after year, other, multi-party democracies in the area have put in place schemes to cope with the crisis. 

In Botswana (a multi-party democracy) for example, dams and pipelines take water from areas with water to those without. Financial schemes are in place to compensate farmers when crops fail and livestock die.

The government has worked on this for years, not only because it believes it is the right thing to do, but also because it knows that if it fails the people will throw it out at the next election and vote in an alternative government to meet their wishes.

People in Swaziland have no such choice. In the Swazi system the people elect only 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly; the King appoints the other 10. No members of the Senate are elected by the people. King Mswati choses the Government: the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini was not elected to parliament by the people, nor did they choose him to be the government leader.

There is nothing the people in Swaziland can do. It makes no difference who they vote for. Whoever they elect into parliament, the decision-making remains with the King and nothing will change.

Richard Rooney

See also


Friday, 23 February 2018


A chief in Swaziland has been accused of unleashing ‘an army of drunken militia’ to beat up a group of community leaders.

Chief Ndlaluhlaza of Bulandzeni did this to stop a dispute among his subjects, the Observer on Saturday newspaper in Swaziland reported (17 February 2018).

The newspaper reported, ‘The group of militia said to be from Buhlebuyeza Royal Kraal and were imbibing on alcohol, hurled insults to the inner council after heavily assaulting them. The chief’s militia group is alleged to have also unleashed a reign of terror on residents, including the inner council leaders with their local leader Indvuna Dzingalive [Magagula], who is now nursing a broken arm.’

It said the incident was alleged to have happened in Mavula, near Sihhoye on Sunday 11 February 2018.

The Observer reported, ‘The militia group came with one mandate; that of assaulting anyone who was at the gathering for blessing newly installed people, in an area reserved for small community businesses.’

It said, ‘The uncompromising militia came armed with spears and wooden rods whereby they first visited the home of the indvuna at Timbondvweni, demanding to know from his wife his whereabouts.

‘The militia is said to have been transported on a van belonging to the chief. After failing to get the indvuna they went for umfana wendvuna (assistant/trustee) John Magagula.’

The newspaper added, ‘The militia allegedly pounced on the unsuspecting inner council and without communicating anything, started assaulting the members and others at the community gathering. They were assaulted with wooded rods and fists. It is said people ran helter skelter as the militia were baying for blood, assaulted everyone, including the elderly.

The Observer added, ‘Police are alleged not to have not set foot in the area to record a statement from the people who were assaulted and injured. Even during the time when they were given the RSP [Royal Swaziland Police] forms for them to be admitted in hospital, no statements were recorded.’

In Swaziland Chiefs are the local representatives of King Mswati III who rules the impoverished kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The chief wields tremendous power over their subjects and can, for example, determine whether people are allowed to live in the area, or whether children can attend universities and colleges. In some cases they decide who lives and who dies as they are in charge of distributing international food aid to starving communities. About a third of the population of Swaziland receiving food aid each year. 

See also


Thursday, 22 February 2018


A team of 26 police officers and 10 prosecutors in Swaziland is poised to force people to buy licences to watch the heavily-censored state-controlled television.

TV Licence Consortium Project Manager Modicai Donga said inspections would be of residential and business premises. In Swaziland a person with a television set or video recorder needs a licence by law.

There are only two television channels in Swaziland: one is commercial; the other, Swazi TV is state-run. Satellite television bought by subscription is also available in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. People are required to have licences even if they never watch Swazi TV.

Censorship at Swazi TV is so tight that every month the Swaziland Government issues directives to the station about what events it should cover. This was revealed in a report tabled at the Swaziland Parliament.

Bongani ‘Sgcokosiyancinca’ Dlamini, the Chief Executive of Swazi TV said the instructions had been given to the TV station in advance of the 2013 national elections by then Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Winnie Magagula.

His revelation was contained in a report tabled by Hhukwini MP Saladin Magagula, chairperson of the House of Assembly select committee in 2015. It was investigating a media ban imposed on MPs on state-owned media. 

According to a report in the Swazi Observer at the time, Dlamini said, ‘It was communicated to the station that any activity outside of government’s calendar cannot be featured as news and that government’s calendar is sent monthly by the press officer in Cabinet and it is normally updated in between.’

Dlamini also said there was a ban on MPs appearing on the news. He said the ban had meant to stop MPs appearing on TV during the run-up to the September 2013 national election. In Swaziland, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and all candidates stand as individuals. The ban was not lifted after the election.

Swazi TV is one of only two television stations in Swaziland. The other station, Channel S is privately-owned, but has a stated editorial policy to always support King Mswati.

Government also controls all radio in the kingdom (except one Christian station that does not broadcast news) through the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS). 

Censorship of radio and television in Swaziland is not new. In August 2014 Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Dumisani Ndlangamandla said the Swaziland Government would not let up on its control of state radio,  He said state media existed primarily to serve the interests of the state.

In August 2012, the government announced that in advance of the national election in September 2013 radio would be banned from broadcasting news and information that did not support the government’s own agenda.

New guidelines also barred ‘public service announcements’ unless they were ‘in line with government policy’ or had been authorised ‘by the chiefs through the regional administrators’ or deputy prime minister’s office’.

The guidelines said the radio stations could not be ‘used for purposes of campaigning by individuals or groups, or to advance an agenda for political, financial popularity gains for individuals or groups’. 

There is a long history of censorship on state broadcasting in Swaziland. Strikes and anti-government demonstrations are usually ignored by broadcasters. Sometimes live radio programmes are censored on air. In July 2011, the plug was pulled on a phone-in programme when listeners started criticising the government for its handling of the economy. Percy Simelane who was then the boss of SBIS and went on to become the government’s official spokesperson, personally stormed the radio studio and cut the programme.  

In March 2011, SBIS stopped broadcasting the BBC World Service Focus on Africa programme after it carried reports critical of King Mswati

In 2010, Swazi police told SBIS it must stop allowing people to broadcast information about future meetings unless the police had given permission. Jerome Dlamini, Deputy Director of the SBIS said this was to stop the radio station airing an announcement for a meeting that was prohibited. 

He said, ‘It’s the station’s policy not to make announcements without police permission.’ 

See also


Wednesday, 21 February 2018


Swaziland’s Senate President Gelane Zwane has been ‘banned’ from attending parliament for up to two years because she is a widow in mourning. Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula has met a similar fate.

Magagula was stopped from attending the opening of parliament on Friday (16 February 2018).

The two senior politicians have been caught up in Swazi tradition which dictates that a woman should mourn her husband for two years and in that time must stay away from public office and not be close to the King and his mother. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Zwane confirmed to the Times of Swaziland newspaper that she would be staying away from parliament where she is leader of the Senate. It is also speculated that she will not be eligible to stand in the national election due later in 2018, nor can she be appointed to any official position until two years have elapsed. Her husband Michael was cremated last week.

Meanwhile, Magagula was stopped from attending the official opening of parliament where King Mswati made his annual speech from the throne. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Paul Dlamini told her not to attend. She separated from her husband Enock Mfanyana Magagula in 1994 and he died last year.

The Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported (18 February 2018), ‘Magagula revealed that the DPM also informed her not to come close to any royal residence, Parliament and anywhere where Their Majesties were present. The minister said when she queried Dlamini on the suspension she was told it was according to Swazi culture.’

The newspaper added, ‘She stated that she would follow the directive by the DPM seeing as he was her elder and she was socialised into obedience.’

The DPM said Magagula could continue her duties as a minister.

The issue of Swazi culture and mourning contradicts Section 28 of the Swaziland Constitution which guarantees that women have the right to equal treatment with men, including equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.

Women in Law in Southern  Africa Swaziland Chapter Director Colani Hlatshwayo told the Sunday Observer mourning culture put women at a disadvantage. She said Swaziland had signed United Nations’ treaties that encouraged women to participate in politics.

Simangele Mtetwa, who is responsible for gender issues in the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), told the Swazi Observer (19 February 2018) the action against Magagula was, ‘Totally unacceptable, and I condemn it in the strongest terms it deserves. This paints a gloomy future for all women in the country.’

She added if the  authorities were serious about the development of the kingdom such practices needed to stop because they were discriminatory in their nature. 

There was a major row at the election in 2013 when Dumisani Dlamini a chief’s headman in Ludzibini, an area ruled by Chief Magudvulela a former Swazi Senator, threatened people would be banished from their homes if they nominated Jennifer du Pont, a widow, for the upcoming election. 

The Times Sunday reported at the time, ‘[Dlamini] warned that those who would nominate her should be prepared to relocate to areas as distant as five chiefdoms away. Her sin was that she attended the nominations only a few months after her husband died.’

The newspaper reported, ‘He said she should still be mourning her husband.’

The Times reported Du Pont did not wear standard black mourning gowns and was dressed in a blue wrap-around dress known as sidvwashi.

Enough people in the chiefdom defied Dlamini and Ms du Pont was duly nominated.

In April 2017, Elections and Boundaries Commission commissioner Ncumbi Maziya told a voter education meeting at Bulandzeni Chiefdom that women in mourning had a constitutional right to stand for election. 

However, the Swazi Observer (3 April 2017) reported, ‘He said a person wearing a mourning gown was not allowed to be near His Majesty the King. If a certain constituency elected a person in such a situation, it was highly possible that the woman could not attend the Parliament opening event, where the King would also be in attendance. Maziya said that was when a woman would have to exercise conscience by at least standing by the gate of Parliament, to avoid being near the King.’

See also


Tuesday, 20 February 2018


Political parties in Swaziland are to go to court to force King Mswati III’s regime to allow them freedom of assembly and to take part in the national election due later in 2018.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. At present political parties advocating democracy in the kingdom are banned as terrorists. The Swazi Constitution does not allow any political parties to contest elections. 

The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO); the Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) have joined forces to take the government to court. 

A national election is due at a date to be set by the King but under the kingdom’s constitution only individuals are allowed to be candidates. 

Swaziland’s previous election in 2013 was considered ‘not free and fair’ by a number of international organisations, including the Commonwealth Observer Mission and African Union which called separately for a review of the kingdom’s constitution. It said members of parliament ‘continue to have severely limited powers’ and political parties were banned. 

In 2008, the EU declined an invitation to observe the honesty of the Swaziland elections because of ‘shortcomings’ in the kingdom’s democracy.

In 2013, the EU which is a major donor of aid to Swaziland told King Mswati he must allow political parties to operate in his kingdom as it was important that international principles of democracy were upheld in Swaziland.

In October 2012, the United Kingdom also called for political parties to be un-banned in Swaziland.

In 2015 an independent survey showed more than one in three Swazi people wanted political parties to be allowed in the kingdom. This was even though all debate on democratising the kingdom is ruthlessly crushed by King Mswati’s state police and security forces. Meetings called to discuss democratic change are routinely disrupted by police and prodemocracy activists are jailed. No news media in Swaziland support political parties.

Afrobarometer reported that in Swaziland 36 percent of people questioned agreed with the statement, ‘The Swazi Constitution should be amended to allow for the existence of political parties in our country.’ A total of 58 percent agreed with the statement, ‘The constitutional ban on political parties has served our country well and should therefore be maintained.’ More than six people in ten people said they were not satisfied with the way democracy worked in the kingdom.

In a 2013 survey Afrobarometer reported two thirds of Swazi people wanted the kingdom to become a democracy and they wanted to choose their own leaders ‘through honest and open elections’.

See also


Monday, 19 February 2018


Three drivers have appeared in court in Swaziland on charges relating to the deaths of 13 people, mostly children aged 11 to 16, who were being transported on the back of a truck that crashed going to the Reed Dance in 2015.

Charges range from negligent driving to culpable homicide. 

But, nobody who ordered up to sixty girls to travel on the back of an open truck like cattle has been charged.

The Principal Magistrate David Khumalo at Manzini criticised the delay in the case coming to trail and said it must be finalised immediately. The prosecution was not ready and the case was postponed to 14 March 2018.

The deaths caused outrage in August 2015. The exact number of deaths in the incident is disputed. The Swazi Government said 13 people died; 11 children and two older people who were their supervisors. There was widespread disbelief in Swaziland that the death toll was so low. The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a prodemocracy group banned in Swaziland, citing the Swaziland Defence Force as a source, put the figure of deaths at 38. It later revised this figure to 65, citing medical officials as a source.

The official figures included an 11-year-old girl and seven girls aged 16 or under.

They died when they were loaded up onto the back of a truck used for conveying building materials. The truck was involved in a road collision on 28 August 2015. They were on their way to the annual Reed Dance or Umhlanga where they were expected to be among thousands of ‘virgins’ to dance half-naked in front of the King.

King Mswati came in for heavy criticism after the crash because journalists were prevented from reporting the event. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and media are heavily restricted in his kingdom.

Thousands of young girls from across Swaziland were forced to travel in trucks standing up  in the open back cheek-by-jowl. There was no space to sit down or even to turn around. Photographs show that at least sixty children were squashed onto the back of a single truck. Many of the trucks that transported the girls were usually used to move building materials.

Young girls travel this way every year to attend the Reed Dance where they are expected to dance topless in front of King Mswati. Media in Swaziland routinely describe the girls as ‘virgins’ or ‘maidens.’ The King was 46 years old at the time of the accident.

Media reports of the accident are inconsistent, but it is generally agreed that the children were thrown from the back of the truck when it was involved in a collision. Police reported that not all the girls died on the spot. International media reported that journalists in Swaziland were stopped from gathering information about the accident.

Media in Swaziland are heavily censored; the Swazi Observer, one of only two daily newspapers in the kingdom, is in effect owned by the King. The Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland chapter in a report on media freedom in Swaziland described the Observer newspapers as a  ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’.

The Reed Dance, which is also known as Umhlanga, is one of the main cultural events in Swaziland and it is strongly connected with the King. In Swaziland reporting negatively about the Reed Dance would be seen to be the same as criticizing the King.

Femi Falana, a lawyer in Nigeria, later sent a petition to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Mr. Juan Ernesto Mendez; the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Dubravka Simonovic; and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Christof Heyns.

Punch, a Nigerian-based news site, reported at the time, ‘The lawyer said it was particularly insensitive of the Swaziland monarch to have reportedly allowed the dance festival to proceed despite the news of the victims’ death.

‘He said it was also condemnable that rather than address the issues of rights violation, King Mswati III had continued to cover it up by trying to prevent publication of reports on the incidents.’
According to Punch, the petition read in part, ‘I argue that the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance itself is unlawful as it has continued to perpetuate forced marriages, entirely inconsistent with international human rights standards.

‘I also argue that religion, culture and tradition cannot be used to justify human rights violations, including violence against women, which is what the annual Umhlanga Reed Dance constitutes. The continuation of the Umhlanga Reed Dance also gives rise to other human rights abuses, including forced marriages.

‘Under international human rights law, states like Swaziland are to be held accountable if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights such as those highlighted above or to investigate and punish acts of violence against women and provide effective remedies and access to justice for victims and their families.

‘By packing the girls onto the back of open trucks, the government of Swaziland should have reasonably foreseen that this would lead to violation of their rights to life and human dignity.

‘In fact, due diligence places a strict standard of conduct upon the government of Swaziland to protect all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including the girls and women.

‘I argue that the government of Swaziland has the supreme duty to prevent acts such as those highlighted above that can cause arbitrary loss of life such as the unnecessary deaths of these girls.’

See also