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Thursday, 17 October 2019

Swaziland police comb social media to track down union activists during legal strike

Striking trade unionists in Swaziland (eSwatini) say police are using social media to track them down before taking them in for questioning.

Schoolteachers have been especially targeted, according to union sources.

This is not the first time police have used surveillance and spying against trade unionists.

It happened after a three-day legal strike by public servants who want a 7.8 percent cost-of-living (CoLA) salary increase. The government which was not elected but appointed by absolute monarch King Mswati III says it is broke and has offered nothing.

Some teachers were summoned to the Manzini police station after they were traced on social media platforms. Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) President Mbongwa Dlamini and Secretary General Sikelela Dlamini accompanied some of them.

The Times of eSwatini reported that police knew details of the teachers, including their nicknames and what subjects they taught. Teachers said they used social media groups to discuss topics including their welfare, the CoLA issue and the strike action.

One teacher told the Times ‘I believe they just pick individuals who post or comment about the strike and CoLA issues.’

The newspaper quoted one teacher saying police said, ‘they were inviting us to the police station for our involvement in the clash between the law enforcers and marchers during the recent civil servants’ public sensitisation march’ on 2 October 2019. 

Meanwhile, the Times also reported that the Ministry of Education and Training had instructed regional educational offices to supply it with details on SNAT leaders in their areas. The information is to include the names of branch leaders and members of the national executive council.

Police in Swaziland have a long history of surveillance and spying. In September 2018 teachers discovered a police spy at their union conference and threw him out. His name and photograph and a picture of the car he was using was published on social media.

A week before the conference police shot and wounded a schoolteacher when they fired into a group of teachers during a protest over pay. 

In July 2018 it was reported that police were video recording and keeping data of protest marches by political parties and labour federations. They then used the information to deprive people of college scholarships, jobs in the army, police, and correctional services or promotions in government departments, the online newspaper Swaziland News reported.

The newspaper said the Police Intelligence Unit had been captured filming a protest march organised by the Trade Congress Union of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) in June 2018.

In September 2017 police in Swaziland disguised themselves as news reporters at a march of public servants in Mbabane. The Sunday Observer in Swaziland at the time called it ‘spying’ and said it had happened before at other public demonstrations, ‘They [police] are always plain clothed and carry traditional journalistic tools including cameras and notebooks,’ the newspaper reported.

The march was legal. A police spokesman said they were not spying because the march took place in a public place.

In August 2017 it was reported that police infiltrated a Pensioners’ Association meeting to make notes on proceedings.

In July 2013 it was reported that police in Swaziland were spying on the kingdom’s members of parliament. One officer disguised in plain clothes was thrown out of a workshop for MPs and one MP reported his phone had been bugged. Ntondozi MP Peter Ngwenya told the House of Assembly at the time that MPs lived in fear because there was constant police presence, in particular from officers in the Intelligence Unit. 

In May 2013 the Media Institute of Southern Africa reported that police spies had infiltrated journalism newsrooms in Swaziland, which had led to a heightened climate of fear. 

It is legal in certain circumstances to tap phones in Swaziland. The Suppression of Terrorism Act gives police the right to listen in on people’s conversations if they have the permission of the Attorney General.

See also

Swaziland police shoot union leader in back as peaceful workers’ protest turns into a ‘battlefield’
Swaziland police fire rubber bullets and teargas injuring 15 during national strike
State police spy on Swazi MPs
Police spies infiltrate media

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Swaziland breaks promise to pay off its suppliers to halt public services meltdown

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Government failed to meet its promise to repay E3billon (US$200 million) its owes to suppliers by the end of September 2019.

Public services, especially in heath and schools, are in crisis because businesses are refusing to provide goods and services until their bills are paid.

The government has failed to secure loans to settle the arrears. The failure is a significant setback to the government that was not elected but handpicked by absolute monarch King Mswati III.

After it came into power following the September 2018 election it pledged to get the ailing economy back on track.

The Times of eSwatini, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported, ‘When asked whether they had been able to meet the September deadline as earlier promised, Ministry of Finance Communications Officer Setsabile Dlamini could only say: “raising money for the settling of arrears is work in progress. However, it still has to go through Parliament.”’

Dlamini added, ‘Government was engaging a number of financiers, both local and external, with a view to pay up the arrears with intent to ultimately bolster eSwatini’s economy for the better.’

The Times reported, ‘Dlamini assured that a detailed austerity measures report would be issued soon.’

It added ‘In his presentation of the integrated annual report, Central Bank of Eswatini Governor Majozi Sithole further noted that the economic activity was projected to decelerate to 1.4 per cent in 2019 from 2.4 per cent in 2018.’

This contradicts a statement by Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg who as recently as September 2019 told the African Development Bank, ‘We believe there’s not a problem we can’t solve … We believe that we’ve turned a corner. The indicators … are turning from an unsustainable future to a sustainable future.’

In June 2019, he told newspaper editors in the kingdom, ‘Government is working on proposals to financiers to secure funding of arrears of around E3billion as at 31st March 2019. It is important to note that payment of suppliers is an ongoing process, payments have never stopped, we pay as and when revenue is received.’

Meanwhile, the Swazi Government continues to insist that it does not have the money to pay public servants 7.8 percent cost-of-living salary increases. Unions have been striking for more pay while the government has offered zero percent.

Public services across the kingdom have ground to a halt with reports of people dying for lack of medicines and children going hungry because the government was unable to pay suppliers of meals for children.

In 2017 King Mswati was named the third wealthiest King in Africa by the international website Business Insider. It reported he had a net worth of US$200 million (about E3 billion in local Swazi currency). The King rules a population of about 1.3 million people and seven in ten of them live in abject poverty with incomes of less than E30 per day. 

King Mswati and his family live a lavish lifestyle, at the expense of the people of Swaziland. 

The Swazi Government paid US$30 million to buy the King a private jet plane in 2018. King Mswati now has two private planes, 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range BMW and Mercedes cars. He wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds weighing 6 kg, at his 50th birthday party in April 2018. He received E15 million (US$1.2 million) in cheques, a gold dining room suite and a gold lounge suite among his birthday gifts. 

His family regularly travel the world on shopping trips spending millions of dollars each time.
Meanwhile, the World Food Program said it could not raise the US$1.1 million it needed to feed starving children in the kingdom.

See also

More deaths in Swaziland as government fails to pay medicine suppliers
Swaziland schoolchildren learn under trees or in tents as government runs out of money

Monday, 14 October 2019

Swaziland police violence rampant, children die as economy collapses, report shows

Police in Swaziland (eSwatini) attacked striking public servants with live ammunition, rubber bullets, teargas and water cannon as a long-running dispute over pay dragged on. The police behaviour has become typical in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. The number of injured was initially estimated as 15, but that more than doubled as more information became available. Separate from this there were new fears that police had a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy after three men who escaped from a correctional facility were gunned down.

These were some of the main events in the period July to September 2019 and contained in Swaziland: Striving for Freedom, volume 35 of the compilations of reports posted on the Swazi Media Commentary website and available to download free-of-charge from Scribd.

The kingdom continues in financial meltdown, with health and educational services crippled. Schools and hospitals have run out of supplies and staff have been sacked and other vacancies left unfilled. Up to 200 teachers had reportedly died from stress-related illness over the past two years as a result. Cancer patients have been refused treatment because the government has not paid hospital bills. At least 11 children died of diarrhoea because of drug shortages.

Elsewhere, Lisa Peterson, United States Ambassador to Swaziland renewed her call for the Royal Decree that keeps King Mswati in power as an absolute monarch to be scrapped. Oxfam, the international anti-poverty charity, named Swaziland as the country with most income inequality in Africa. Human Rights Watch reported restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued in Swaziland although the kingdom had signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January.

An extensive survey revealed LGBTI people in Swaziland suffer mental health issues and many have attempted suicide because of the way they are discriminated against in the kingdom.

Swazi Media Commentary is published online, updated most weekdays. It is operated entirely by volunteers and receives no financial backing from any organisation. It is devoted to providing information and commentary in support of human rights in Swaziland.

See also

Swaziland public services in meltdown and corruption goes unchecked: new report surveys the kingdom

Swaziland in economic freefall with human rights failings, report shows

King Mswati in complete control as another year of human rights struggle ends in Swaziland

Friday, 11 October 2019

Norwegians protest against Swaziland police shooting

Kenworthy News Media

Protestors in Swaziland during the strike. Pictured from Facebook

Norwegian union confederation protests police brutality against striking workers in Swaziland, writes Kenworthy News Media.

In a letter sent to Swazi Prime Minister, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, on Tuesday, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, LO Norway, protests against police firing rubber bullets and teargas at public sector workers on strike last week. Several of the strikers, who were demanding cost of living adjustments and a 7,85 per cent salary increase, were injured.

– LO Norway is shocked to learn that the General Secretary of the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) was shot with live ammunition, requiring his urgent transfer to Raleigh Fitkin Hospital. LO Norway condemns in the strongest terms this brutal attack, part of the letter reads.

– In addition, your government directed the National Industrial Relations Court to have the strike declared illegal, under reasons of being a “threat to national interest”. We recall that the use of violence, even for purported reasons of internal security, constitutes a serious violation of human and trade union rights, the letter continued.

Union condemnation 

Others, including the
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Public Services International (PSI) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have also condemned the conduct of the Swazi police.

– Respect for workers’ rights, good faith dialogue and a government that responds to people’s needs and concerns – just like any other country, this is what Eswatini needs, not state violence against the people. Eswatini’s King Mswati pledged to us earlier this year to build these bridges, yet now we are seeing the government pulling all stops to undermine them, said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

– PSI condemns in the strongest terms the barbaric behavior of the Kingdom of eSwatini police who fired rubber bullets and threw teargas into crowds of striking workers who were only demanding a Cost of Living Adjustment they have not received for 3 years now. Workers attacked included Dumisani Nkuna, Secretary General of the Manzini Branch of our affiliates the National Public Services & Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), who was shot in the back, PSI said in a statement.
Public sector workers were last awarded salary adjustments in the 2015/2016 financial year and all negotiations with employers have not yielded any positive results, PSI added.

– Employers have remained adamant on their position of a 0% salary increment. This put in the context of annual inflation rates estimated as follows: in 2017 it was 6.22%, in 2018 it was 4.83% and in 2019 it is estimated to be 5.63%., the statement concluded.

COSATU, in neighbouring South Africa, also issued a strongly worded statement.

– We strongly denounce and rebuke the manner in which Swaziland police have dealt with the strike action. The peaceful workers’ protest turned into a battlefield when King Mswati once again set his gladiatorial “trigger happy” police force on unarmed civilians in the city of Manzini. Live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas were opened on 8000 workers who were demonstrating, as part of the public servants’ strike for an increase in cost-of-living salary payments, COSATU said in a statement.

In its annual Freedom in the World-report, independent watchdog organisation Freedom House concludes that “political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Any criticism of Swazi culture and traditions or defacement of national symbols—including the king’s image—can draw fines and up to two years in prison”.

Human Rights Watch concluded in their 2017 report that “Swaziland continued to repress political dissent and disregard human rights and rule of law in 2017”.

See also

Swaziland police brutality under attack from international workers’ group

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Swaziland police brutality under attack from international workers’ group

 The International Trade Union Confederation has condemned police brutality during last week’s public sector strike in Swaziland (eSwatini).

Previously the ITUC had criticised other police attacks on workers. It also declared that the tiny southern African kingdom, which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, had one of the worst records on workers’ rights in the world.

More than 30 people were injured when police opened fire with rubber bullets. They also used water cannon and teargas on protestors during a three day strike for a cost-of-living salary increase. 

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement on Tuesday (8 October 2019),‘Respect for workers’ rights, good faith dialogue and a government that responds to people’s needs and concerns – just like any other country, this is what Eswatini needs, not state violence against the people. Eswatini’s King Mswati pledged to us earlier this year to build these bridges, yet now we are seeing the government pulling all stops to undermine them.’

In a letter addressed to Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, the ITUC highlighted past commitments to establishing dialogue. It added, ‘The use of violence, even for purported reasons of internal security, constitutes a serious violation of human and trade union rights.’

Burrow said, ‘The government claimed that the strike was a threat to national interests. If the Swazi people asking for decent working conditions is against this government’s version of “national interest”, then the government has got it totally wrong.’

In the letter to the PM, ITUC, which represents 207 million workers across 163 countries,  called for an ‘urgent and impartial investigation’ into the police shootings. 

It added King Mswati had made a commitment at a meeting with the ITUC at the International Labour Conference in Geneva in June to engage in good faith in dialogue to improve industrial relations. ‘The violence and repression against the protesters and the legal obstacles for strike actions and protests undermine this commitment,’ ITUC said.

Swaziland has one of the worst records in the world for workers’ rights, according to an ITUC report.  Reviewing the year 2018, ITUC said ‘police brutality reached unprecedented levels’ and ‘security forces fired live ammunition at protesting workers’.

In September 2018 police fired live bullets, rubber bullets and teargas at workers and demonstrators who had been legally protesting during a three-day strike. The streets of Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city, were turned into a ‘battlefield’, according to local media. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, said the bus rank in Swaziland’s major commercial city was ‘turned into a warzone as stun grenades, teargas, teasers and rubber bullets became the order of the day’.

The Times of Swaziland , the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, called it an ‘open battlefield’.

The ITUC said there was no guarantee of workers’ rights in Swaziland  and it was getting worse. It put Swaziland near the bottom of 145 countries in its Global Rights Index for 2019 that ranked countries on the degree of respect for workers’ rights in law and in practice.

In July 2018 the ITUC protested to the Swaziland Government after police attacked peaceful demonstrators in the kingdom’s capital Mbabane. Four people were seriously injured, with two left critical, after police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon.

The demonstration organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) was over accusations that millions of dollars had been removed from the national pension fund by the government which was not elected but chosen by King Mswati.

Pictures show the wounds suffered by two of the protestors. Sourced from Facebook

See also

Police fire stun grenades at protest
Two critical after police attack

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Broke Swaziland Govt wants to borrow another E1bn to complete unnecessary convention centre

The Government of Swaziland / eSwatini is to seek another E1.2 billion (US$83 million) in loans to complete the building of a conference centre and hotel to house an African Union summit that will not now take place.

Costs of the building under construction at Ezulwini have already exceeded E1bn and are estimated to be a further E2bn over the next three years.

The International Convention Centre and five star hotel project known as ICC-FISH was started because Swaziland hoped to house an African Union summit in 2020. But it has not won the contract for this.

The Government of Swaziland, which was not elected by handpicked by absolute monarch King Mswati III, tabled a ‘certificate of urgency’ on Monday (7 October 2019) to pass a bill to allow it to borrow US$83 million (about E1.2bn) from the Bank of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

The Times of eSwatini reported there was controversy in the House of Assembly when the bill was sent to be discussed by committee as it was not clear if a majority of members present voted in its favour.

The Eswatini News (formerly Swazi News) reported last week that costs of ICC-FISH had already reached E1.027bn and this had been financed mainly by Taiwan. Bathroom fittings alone at the hotel cost E78m.

Swaziland’s economy is in meltdown and public services in health and education are grinding to a halt. However in March 2018 the government declared the building of ICC-FISH to be a priority and earmarked E1.5bn for it in the national budget. This was more than the sum allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture (E1.4bn) or the Ministry of Defence (E1.15bn). It was the biggest single capital project in Swaziland’s budget that year. Total capital spending was set at E5.6bn.

The hotel and conference centre is another project supported by the King Mswati III. He believes such buildings add to the prestige of his kingdom and will make it a First World nation by 2022. He already has an airport named in his honour that cost an estimated E2.5bn to build but only has one airline using it. King Mswati III International Airport has been described as a ‘white elephant’ and a ‘vanity project’ for the King.

In 2013 when the plan for the development of ICC-FISH was announced the cost was estimated at E1bn. Completion of the work was expected by 2016.

In September 2017 it was reported that King Mswati had visited Las Vegas in the United States to try to get the Caesars Palace company (famous for its hotel and casino) to manage the ICC-FISH. ‘The King’s Office Correspondent’, writing at the time in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported Caesars Palace management had promised to submit a proposal on what it would cost to manage the ICC and hotel. 

In 2013, when the plan for building was announced the Swazi Observer reported, ‘The scope of the project include a facility of international standards with a Swazi theme, a facility to handle up to 4,500 delegates at a time, trade centre for high value exhibition, a secure chamber room to take 53 heads of state, 3,500 seat banqueting hall, restaurants, 1,500 seat theatre, and special holding rooms.’

ICC-FISH was intended to house the African Union (AU) summit which is held twice a year and lasts about eight days.

In February 2019 it was announced Swaziland had missed out to South Africa on the chance to host the 2020 AU summit. Media in South Africa said this was because Swaziland did not have the resources to fulfil the role.

It is no secret that Swaziland is broke. Hospitals have run out of vital drugs and schools have been forced to close because the government has not paid its suppliers. In his budget speech in March 2018 Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said government owed E3.1bn (US$230 million) in total to its suppliers for goods and services. 

In 2016, when King Mswati was Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) he took about E40m, mostly from public funds, to host a lavish Heads of State summit at a time when his government was so poor it could release only E22m of the E305m earmarked for drought relief in that year’s national budget. 

When he formally opened the Swaziland Parliament on 8 February 2019, King Mswati demanded severe public spending cuts for the coming year. He said the kingdom’s spending had ‘surpassed sustainable levels’ and government debts were increasing. The kingdom’s financial reserves were falling and there was little economic growth. He warned that taxes collected in Swaziland would not be enough to pay the bills.

See also

King’s deal with $18bn bankrupt
Swaziland Govt’s investment ‘fantasy’

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Swaziland has highest rate of cervical cancer in world

Swaziland / eSwatini has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world, a new report reveals.

The cancer affects the neck of the womb in women. The top 20 countries in the list reported from Global Cancer Observatory, which is owned by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), are in Africa.

Swaziland has a rate of 75.3 per 100,000 people in a mathematical measurement based on age. Second was Malawi with 72.9.

There are a number of causes of cervical cancer and these can include diet, nutrition, smoking tobacco and the physical activity a woman takes. Early sexual experience and a relatively high number of sexual partners increase the risk and severity of infection and may be seen as indirect causes of cervical cancer, the reported stated.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women in the world with an estimated 570,000 new cases in 2018. Approximately 90 percent of deaths from cervical cancer occurred in low- and middle-income countries. 

WHO stated, ‘The high mortality rate from cervical cancer globally could be reduced through a comprehensive approach that includes prevention, early diagnosis, effective screening and treatment programmes. There are currently vaccines that protect against common cancer-causing types of human papilloma virus and can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.’

According to WHO data there were 380 new cases of cervical cancer and 238 deaths reported in Swaziland in 2018. Cervical cancer topped the list of cancers in the kingdom. It amounted to 36.1 percent of all cancer deaths in Swaziland.

Women in Swaziland are particularly vulnerable because the public health service is in meltdown as the government, which is not elected but handpicked by absolute monarch King Mswati III, has run the economy into the ground.

In July 2019, it was reported cancer patients and other seriously ill people in were being denied life-saving treatment because the government had not paid its bills to hospitals.

At least E66 million (US$4.6 million) was owed through the government-funded Phalala Fund that pays for Swazi people to travel to neighbouring South Africa for treatment. Some of the unpaid bills dated back to 2013. 

See also

Swaziland cancer patients refused treatment because Govt. has not paid hospital bills
Nurses angry as Swaziland Govt ignores health crisis