Amos Mbedzi, a South African, was sentenced to 85 years and six months in jail (but only 25 years will be served) in Swaziland in 2012 after conviction by the Swaziland High Court on five charges including sedition and murder.
He had been arrested following an attempt to blow up a bridge near the Lozitha royal residence in September 2008. Two people with him died from injuries caused when the bomb exploded prematurely.
Since then a campaign to free him has been continuing. Below is a statement detailing the background to the campaign issued by a consortium of 16 organisations.
RELEASE AMOS MBEDZI
The 20th of September 2008 was a major turning point in the political history of the kingdom of Swaziland. It was the beginning of the most oppressive stage in the decades-long oppressive executive monarchy, which has turned the country into a pauper state maintained by using some of the most oppressive tactics known to humankind. On that day, two of the most vocal and dedicated members of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) lost their lives in a tragic bomb blast which still today evokes deep emotions from either side of the political divide. One of the two survivors of that tragedy, Amos Mbulaheni Mbedzi, now stands convicted and sentenced of 5 counts, ranging from being in the country illegally, to the ludicrous one of the double murder of his friends and comrades, Musa “MJ” Dlamini and Jack Govender.
To fully understand the Mbedzi trial and why it was not conducted according to the due process of the law one has to first appreciate the political context within which the September 20 tragedy took place and how the country’s authorities perceive it. Swaziland is a tiny country with a population of a little over a million. Once earmarked to be part of the South African Republic, it maintained autonomy by seeking protectorate status within the British Empire. Once the British decided to reform the empire, Swaziland was granted its independence in 1968, alongside other neighbouring countries such as Lesotho and Botswana.
Leaving behind a largely uneducated, disenfranchised and underdeveloped population, the British left behind a very fertile political climate for dictatorship. And thus it was that, despite a period of five years of relative democracy, the king of Swaziland in 1973 dissolved parliament, outlawed all political activities, banned all political parties and ruled by decree commonly known as the 1973 Royal Decree, most possibly the worst piece of legislation worldwide. This state of emergency was to be later loosened in 1978, when the king felt that he had consolidated his influence and quashed all opposition. These minor reforms amounted to the birth of a rubber stamp parliament, which is effectively the king’s political distraction, a coliseum of sorts where economically ambitious Swazis go to deliberate on policies and laws that the king has already approved.
Only two thirds of this parliament is elected via a constituency based model where aspiring politicians can only run as individuals. The remaining third of the parliament seats are filled by the king’s appointees. From this parliament, which comprises two houses – Senate and House of Assembly – the king appoints the cabinet and Prime Minister, who always comes from the king’s Dlamini clan, meaning that he – always a male – is descended from Royalty.
The king also appoints all senior civil servants, the Secretary to cabinet, Principal Secretaries, Under Secretaries and heads of departments. Naturally, he also appoints head of the army, the police commissioner, and the commissioner of the Correctional Services. The judiciary is also his personal domain as he appoints the Chief Justice, all judges, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General. To sum it up, the king in Swaziland is all three arms of government; he is the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. To speak of “separation of powers” in such a scenario is therefore an illusion. This very powerful position is maintained by a promotion of a dogmatic and almost obsessive interpretation of culture, custom and tradition.
The tools of promotion are the media – which is severely biased towards the monarchy - the school curriculum and the rural aristocratic system which leaves the average Swazis vulnerable to the whims of chiefs and village headmen who owe their power to the king. When these elements of persuasion fail, the Royal Swaziland police and the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (Umbutfo means king’s regiment) and His Majesty’s Correctional Services are always at hand to make sure that maximum force is used to make the people toe the line. Such a political environment is correctly described as autocratic. The fact that the system of governance has produced a high rate of poverty, unemployment and HIV deaths per capita that has led to sincere and consistent opposition from numerous groupings, all of which have had to bear with the suppressive nature of this system. It is also a system which has attracted opposition from outside the country.
Over the years, with the increasing popularity of mass communication tools and the efforts of Swazis, the world has come to know of king Mswati’s autocratic rule. This has led to citizens of democratic countries taking up the issue with their governments and also providing political solidarity to those inside the country who fight against this oppressive government. Amos Mbedzi and Jack Govender are examples of such citizens. Jack Govender was a founding member of the Swaziland Solidarity Network [SSN], a network of progressive organizations based in South Africa who give support to the struggle against Mswati’s tyranny. Amos Mbedzi was to join later as the network progressed. As members of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the MKMVA (uMkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans Association), they both formed a close friendship with Musa “MJ” Dlamini, a member of the banned Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). This friendship was founded on solidarity and the sharing of political and tactical knowledge.
It is therefore not surprising that the three were together on that ill-fated last journey into Swaziland on the 20th of September 2008. They were three men who had over the years built a solid bond based on mutual trust and shared political perspectives. While Dlamini and Govender lost their lives, Mbedzi was the one left behind to face the wrath of King Mswati’s anger and fear of democracy. This wrath has been evident in the manner in which the law has been raped in order to ensure that Mbedzi is convicted of serious crimes that he did not commit. With the conclusion of Mbedzi’s trial, and the absurd conviction of murder, what the world can conclude within reason is that:
1. Mbedzi certainly did enter the country illegally. He has pleaded guilty to this and after four years in jail, he has served more than the maximum sentence for this crime.
2. In Swaziland he was in the company of dissidents, in the person of Musa Dlamini, a prominent Swazi lawyer and revolutionary who formed the Swaziland Chapter of Lawyers for Human Rights, and Jack Govender.
3. MJ and Govender were killed by a bomb blast while in a car that they were travelling in. Mbedzi was seriously injured by the same blast.
4. After miraculously surviving the blast he was taken to hospital by a kind stranger who saw him while on his way to Mbabane. He was taken from hospital the same night and immediately arrested by the police before being treated for his wounds.
5. Mbedzi did not know Swaziland. He had been brought there by his late friends and they knew their way around the country.
Despite all evidence pointing out to the contrary, the state has found him guilty of the following:
1. Unlawfully and with a subversive intention, attempting to damage the Lozitha bridge by placing and assembling explosive devices. He pleaded not guilty to this charge.
2. Unlawfully entering and remaining in Swaziland without a valid passport or a valid entry permit. He pleaded guilty to the charge.
3. He unlawfully and intentionally killed Musa Dlamini. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.
4. He unlawfully and intentionally killed Jack Govender. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.
5. He unlawfully possessed explosives without a license or permit. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.
An objective opinion of this judgment should, at worst, conclude that Mbedzi had entered the country illegally in the company of men who had ulterior motives against the state and failed to report his knowledge of a conspiracy to commit a crime. The question of placing and assembling explosives is farfetched when one considers the fact that he survived the blast, meaning that the explosives were not in his possession when they were triggered. There is also no evidence proving that Mbedzi had ever held these explosives.
The most contradictory part of this biased and unprofessional judgment is the fact that the state on one hand has convicted Mbedzi of having had the intention of damaging the Lozitha Bridge by placing and assembling explosive devices on it. On the other hand, he has also been convicted of intentionally using those same explosives to murder his friends. The motive for this bizarre murder is not stated, which is typical of bogus murder charges. Moreover the prosecution fails to at least narrate how Mbedzi’s motive suddenly switched from subversive bombing of a bridge to the murder of his friends in the middle of a national highway that he was seeing for the first time. The Swazi state’s perceived murderer committed this offense in the middle of a highway in front of at least one witness, who it is alleged had been part of the group. He had absolutely no clue where he was, was disoriented and afraid after the blast and had no mode of transport to take him from the scene of the crime to escape his premeditated murder. To further discredit the state’s bogus charge, Mbedzi remained on the road while severely injured until he got a lift from a stranger who was passing by. His primary concern even then was receiving medical treatment for his wounds, rather than escaping back to his country. These are not the actions of a murderer.
MSWATI AS PROSECUTOR AND JUDGE
On the of 5th of September 2012, the date on which Mbedzi was due to be sentenced for his alleged crimes, Mbedzi’s lawyer, in a thinly veiled statement, made it clear that the judge was acting on the king’s orders and the sentence would reflect the king’s anger at Mbedzi. As stated above, the judge, Bheki Maphalala, like all judges, is the king’s appointee. In his personal capacity he is also a member of the king’s regiments, who swear upon initiation to follow the king’s command above everything else.
The prosecutor, Sikhumbuzo Fakudze, was less subtle. He stated that the nation was looking upon the courts to see to it that the institution of the monarch is protected and justice served in the case involving Mbedzi. In a tone filled with scorn and sarcasm, he went further to say, “The nation is eagerly awaiting the matter of the ‘freedom fighter’ who believes he knows better than Swazis and hence seeks to bring democracy to Swaziland.”
As the prosecutor did not submit any evidence of a survey he did to gather the nation’s views on the case, one has to wonder which this nation that he is talking about is? The answer is clear, King Mswati III, in the eyes of his appointed defenders, is the equivalent of the nation and he wants this “dissident” punished.
TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE
There are few cases in the country where justice and the law have been disregarded as much as in the Mbedzi case. With this judgment the judge has set the tone for another show-down with the court of appeal. The court of appeal, which is comprised of a bench of more learned judges who are more concerned about their professional reputation than their short careers in Mswati’s state, has in the past rejected politically charged judgments of the lower courts and upheld those that the state hoped it would reject. In one such instance, the king cast aside all pretences of respecting the rule of law and ordered the police to disregard the court’s judgment.
As Mbedzi will definitely appeal this conviction, we hope that the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal will have as much courage and respect for justice as they would their profession as those who have preceded them.
ON THE MIS-TRIAL OF AMOS MBEDZI
Amos Mbedzi has been in jail since September 2008. At that time the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was Mumcy Dlamini, wife to Attorney General (AG), Majahenkhaba Dlamini. The Justice System in Swaziland is such that the office of the DPP and that of the AG are independent of each other. Whilst the AG deals with civil cases brought against the government, the DPP’s office deals with public prosecutions on behalf of the state, but it is mandated to consult the Attorney-General in relation to matters where national security may be at stake. The DPP took it upon herself to prosecute Mbedzi. As the case continued, King Mswati appointed her as a High Court judge. Today we have a situation where the wife of the Attorney General of Swaziland is also a Judge. Therefore, whilst we would have ordinarily called for a fair trial, it is clear to everyone that the possibility of Amos Mbedzi receiving a fair trial under this state of affairs is minute.
Further, Justice Maphalala is well known for his involvement in a group commonly known as the Kenya 6. He was once trained in Kenya, as part of a group of people known as the Kenya 6, as an intelligence operative to destabilize the activities of progressive formations, including those of the ANC. His credentials as a loyal servant of King Mswati are well known as he is also part of the King’s regiment. Hence, his close connections to royalty are unquestionable. Therefore, it is not possible that Mbedzi, or any political prisoner thereof, can receive a fair trial in Swaziland, more especially if Justice Maphalala presides.
SAVE AMOS MBEDZI
After being found guilty of all counts, Amos Mbedzi was on the 17th of September 2012 sentenced as follows:
1. Murder of his friend Musa Dlamini – 25 years
2. Murder of his friend Jack Govender: 25 years
3. Unlawful possession of explosives – 15 years
4. Sedition – 20 years
5. Unlawful entry into Swaziland: 6 months
According to the judge the sentences shall run concurrently.
When one makes an honest analysis of the judge’s case, it becomes clear that the Swazi courts will apply just about any type of punishment that King Mswati orders them to impose. We have seen how charges have been concocted just so that he could be denied his freedom. The whole world heard exactly King Mswati’s command, when he had called the nation at his royal kraal in 2008, when he stated clearly that the justice system should show no mercy for dissidents in Swaziland. It follows, logically, that Swaziland courts will not enforce any sentence that is less than that which King Mswati desires.
It is in that light that we plead with all citizens of the world, primarily those in Swaziland and South Africa, to demand the release of Amos Mbedzi. The South African government, the tripartite alliance and all South African citizens cannot rest on their laurels while a citizen of their country is subjected to a kangaroo court and sentenced of crimes he did not commit.
All people who believe in democracy must cast aside all the lies spread by the royal family and see this for what it is; a political case that is being dressed up as a normal criminal case. A political case can only be solved by political pressure; as we have seen from the judgment, the due process of the law has not been followed. It is therefore up to us to apply that political pressure on the king for Mbedzi’s release as he has already served time for entering the country without legal documents. This is a desperate plea to save the life of an innocent man because it is obvious there is no room for a fair trial in Swaziland under these conditions.
Issued by the following organizations:
African National Congress [ANC]
South African Communist Party [SACP]
Congress of South African Trade Unions [COSATU]
People's United Democratic Movement [PUDEMO]
Communist Party of Swaziland [CPS]
African National Congress Youth League [ANCYL]
Young Communist League of South Africa [YCLSA]
Congress of South African Students [COSAS]
South African Student Congress [SASCO]
South African National Civic Organization [SANCO]
South African Council Of Churches [SACC]
Swaziland Solidarity Network [SSN]
National Health and Allied Workers Union [NEHAWU]
Communication Workers Union [CWU]
World Federation of Trade Unions [WFTU]
Southern Africa Litigation Centre [SALC]
AMOS MBEDZI FULL JUDGEMENT