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Thursday, 28 February 2019

Swaziland ‘not free’ as King keeps grip on power, Freedom House reports

King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland /eSwatini, continues to hold a tight grip on power and all aspects of life in the kingdom, a review of human rights has concluded.

Freedom House scored Swaziland 16 out of a possible 100 points in its Freedom in the World 2019 report. It concluded that Swaziland was ‘not free’.

Freedom House stated, ‘The king exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs. Political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Additional human rights problems include impunity for security forces and discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.’

National elections took place in Swaziland in 2018. Freedom House scored Swaziland zero out of a possible 12 points for its ‘electoral process’. It stated, ‘The king, who remains the chief executive authority, is empowered to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and members of the cabinet. The prime minister is ostensibly the head of government, but has little power in practice. Ambrose Dlamini was appointed prime minister in October 2018, although he was not a member of Parliament at the time of his appointment, as required by the constitution.

Traditional chiefs govern their respective localities and typically report directly to the king. While some chiefs inherit their positions according to custom, others are appointed through royal interventions, as allowed by the constitution.

‘The 69-member House of Assembly, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament, features 59 members elected by popular vote within the tinkhundla system, which allows local chiefs to vet candidates and influence outcomes in practice; the king appoints the other 10 members. The king appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, the upper chamber, with the remainder selected by the House of Assembly. All members of Parliament serve five-year terms. After the parliamentary elections in September 2018, the king appointed six members of the royal family to the House of Assembly, and eight to the Senate. The elections, which were tightly controlled and featured a slate of candidates almost entirely loyal to the king, did not offer voters a genuine choice.

‘In August, a senior official at the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) reported that members of the House of Assembly were accepting bribes in exchange for their votes in Senate elections. At year’s end, no apparent consequences had followed.’

Freedom House scored Swaziland one point out of a possible 16 for ‘political pluralism and participation’ stating, ‘The king has tight control over the political system in law and in practice, leaving no room for the emergence of an organized opposition with the potential to enter government. The vast majority of candidates who contested the 2018 general elections were supporters of the king.’

Political parties are banned from taking part in elections. Freedom House stated, ‘Over the years, political parties seeking legal recognition have suffered court defeats, including a Supreme Court ruling in September 2018 rejecting a challenge by the Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA) to the ban on political parties competing in elections.’

Swaziland scored zero out of a possible 12 points for ‘functioning of government.’ The king appoints the Prime Minister and government ministers. Freedom House stated, ‘The king and his government determine policy and legislation; members of Parliament hold no real power and effectively act as a rubber stamp in approving the king’s legislative priorities. Parliament cannot initiate legislation and has little oversight or influence on budgetary matters. The king is also constitutionally empowered to veto any legislation. The absolute authority of the king was demonstrated by his decision to rename the country in April 2018 [from Swaziland to eSwatini] without any constitutional process or parliamentary approval.

Freedom House is not the only international organisation to highlight the lack of human rights in Swaziland. The United States in its annual report on the kingdom for 2017 (the most recent available) stated, ‘The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections; institutional lack of accountability in cases involving rape and violence against women; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; trafficking in persons; restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.

‘With few exceptions, the government did not prosecute or administratively punish officials who committed abuses. In general perpetrators acted with impunity.’

Amnesty International in a review of Swaziland for 2017 / 2018 stated, ‘Forced evictions continued to be carried out. The Public Order Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) severely limited the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. A ban on opposition parties continued. Gender-related violence remained prevalent.’

It added, ‘King Mswati approved the Public Order Act on 8 August, which curtailed the rights to freedom of assembly and association, imposing far-reaching restrictions on organizers of public gatherings. The Act also failed to provide mechanisms to hold law enforcement officials accountable for using excessive force against protesters or public gatherings.’

Human Rights Watch in its report on events in Swaziland in 2016 stated Swaziland, ‘continued to repress political dissent and disregard human rights and rule of law principles in 2016. Political parties remained banned, as they have been since 1973; the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised, and repressive laws continued to be used to target critics of the government and the king despite the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteeing basic rights.’

See also

Swazi law used against human rights

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Gap between rich and poor in Swaziland continues to grow, Finance Minister reports

Swaziland / eSwatini is broke and ‘is facing an unprecedented economic crisis’, Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg said on Wednesday (27 February 2019) when delivering the kingdom’s national budget.

The ‘economic outlook remains subdued’, he said. Foreign direct investment into the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is getting worse – with a contraction of 0.4 percent in Swaziland’s GDP for 2018.

‘The economy has stagnated and we are failing to attract investment as the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow,’ Rijkenberg said. He added that for too long, ‘this economic reality has not been addressed’.

He made no mention of the vast spending by King Mswati and his Royal Family who continue to spend lavishly. The King has 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars. He and members of his extensive Royal Family (he has had at least 15 wives) live opulent lifestyles and are often seen in public wearing watches and jewels worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The King 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. Days earlier, King Mswati took delivery of his second private jet aircraft that with upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

In recent years public hospitals have run out of vital medicines and schools have closed because supplies of food to feed children have run out. This is because the government failed to pay suppliers. 

In Swaziland, seven in ten of the estimated 1.3 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

In his speech Rijkenberg said, ‘A key component of our crisis is Government’s growing wage bill – in the last ten years our wage bill has grown by 125 percent.’

He said receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) were declining. He said the Swaziland Government’s financial situation was ‘untenable, in the medium term’ as SACU receipts were expected to decline further.

Rijkenberg said in his speech, ‘We are in trouble because our private sector is too small and its growth is too slow. We are in trouble because we have not been balancing our books. We are in trouble because we have not developed a strong policy framework to address the needs of our people. We are in trouble because we have failed to leverage our natural resources, human capital and our strengths. 

‘We are in trouble because we have failed to adequately address corruption. We need a holistic, integrated approach that immediately and radically addresses these structural imbalances and failures - one that requires sacrifice, but that ultimately benefits every Liswati [Swazi person], especially the poorest and most vulnerable.’

He warned, ‘We have to grow our economy, create jobs, and attract investment. We have to educate our children, care for our sick and provide a social safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. We do not have the luxuries of time and infinite resources. We must act now and do so with what we have in our hands.’

He added, ‘Recent history has shown that spending our way out of an economic crisis is not the solution. It is clear that tough measures are required to achieve lasting prosperity. Meaningful growth will be achieved by enabling the private sector to lead and do what it does best, which includes growing our economy and creating employment. Government can no longer be the employer of choice in the Kingdom as it is today.’ 

Rijkenberg said, ‘Government will do its part to enact new policies and pass the required legislation to de-regulate and open the economy for business. This new, enabling environment will allow the private sector to take the lead, unlocking results like food security, accessible and affordable internet infrastructure, a renewable energy industry, increased tourism and full utilisation of our Special Economic Zones.’

See also

Swaziland health crisis getting worse as budgets cut. Rural areas most affected
Swaziland’s national economic recovery plan is nothing but a wish list

Friday, 22 February 2019

Swaziland King’s plan for SADC-wide university of transformation quietly shelved

The plan made by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland / eSwatini, for his kingdom to build  a new ‘university of transformation’ to take students from across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has been quietly shelved.

He made his pledge in 2016 when he was chair of the organisation. He said it would be up and running within a year. He also said Swaziland would pay for 300 students to study at the university.

Now, SADC has quietly dropped the idea. In a move in August 2018 that received little publicity at the time, SADC said it would try to create a ‘virtue university’ instead. No date for it to start operating was set.

A virtual university provides higher education programmes through electronic media, typically the Internet. No details have been worked out yet but it is expected that programmes would be made available through existing universities across the SADC region.

SADC said in a statement the university would ‘focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, commercialisation, technology transfer, enterprise development, digital and knowledge economy, to support the SADC industrialisation agenda’.

King Mswati made the SADC university the major promise of his one-year tenure as Chair of SADC which started in August 2016. 

Both the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, and the Swazi Observer, which is in effect owned by the King, reported on 31 August 2016 that King Mswati told the SADC heads of state summit held at Lozitha, ‘This initiative will give new hope and opportunity to our youth and our women. The intention is to have the first intake of students prior to the 37th SADC summit in 2017.’

The King and the media in Swaziland that enthusiastically and uncritically reported his statement, gave no indication of where the money would come from for the project, who would teach at the university, what academic programmes it would run, and how programmes would be administered.

The University of Swaziland (UNISWA), the kingdom’s largest and oldest university had been unable to start teaching that academic year because students were protesting against cuts in scholarships.

Later, King Mswati announced the University of Transformation would initially be housed at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Swaziland. Limkokwing is a private university. The King did not choose UNISWA, where he is Chancellor.

According to its website, Limkokwing in Swaziland only offers ‘associate degrees’ which are at a level below Bachelor degrees and in many universities are known as diplomas.

The failure to deliver the university is one of many promises the King has not met. These included a plan partly financed from in the oil state of Qatar to build a US$4.8bn ‘world class facility’ that would store at least a three-month supply of fuel for Swaziland. Other plans that failed to materialise included one to build a pharmaceutical plant, a food processing plant, a bottled water plant, a cosmetics plant and a granite and marble venture to create more than 3,000 jobs.

In April 2009 King Mswati announced the building of a multi-billion emalangeni Swazi City, financed by international money and comprising a 25,000 sq m shopping, entertainment and ‘wellness’ centre ‘to rival the world’ creating 15,000 new jobs. 

In October 2010, the Swazi Government, which is not elected but handpicked by the King, announced its ‘fiscal adjustment roadmap’ to save the kingdom’s economy. This would include attracting investment to create, ‘between 25,000 and 30,000 new jobs’ in the private sector. These jobs have not materialised. 

In 1998 the King was said to have teamed up with pop singer Michael Jackson to bring a ‘Netherland-style’ theme park to Swaziland.

See also

Swaziland’s absolute king misses out on AU Chair because his kingdom is broke
King’s new university stalls

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Swaziland’s absolute king misses out on AU Chair because his kingdom is broke

King Mswati III, the autocratic ruler of Swaziland / eSwatini, has lost the chance to be chair of the African Union in 2020 because his kingdom is broke.

The honour will now go to the head of state of South Africa, who is presently Cyril Ramaphosa.
King Mswati had been expected to take the chair of the AU Commission which changes each year, but at its heads of state summit in Addis Ababa earlier in February 2019 the decision was made to make the change.

Media in South Africa reported Swaziland missed out on the chair because it did not have the resources to fulfil the role. 

The AU is an organisation that promotes unity and solidarity among African states.

City Press in South Africa reported officials ‘made a desperate plea to South Africa’ to take over the chair.

It added, ‘They cited “capacity constraints” as the reason eSwatini could not fulfil this duty, according to government officials with knowledge of the meeting.’

The Daily Maverick reported,There was talk initially that it was eSwatini’s turn to lead. Officials, however, said the monarchy – which is heavily in debt – complained about “capacity constraints”. The officials didn’t clarify the meaning of this, but it seems to be about money.’

Swaziland is still expected to host the AU mid-year summit. However, following reforms mid-year summits have been downgraded to ‘gatherings’. 

Even if Swaziland does host the mid-year meeting, South Africa is reportedly expected to meet most of the expenses, the Daily Maverick reported an official saying.

This was, ‘because it would have to provide security and logistics,’ the official said.

Swaziland does not have the military, the cars or drivers to transport all the important people who would be attending, it was reported.

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. 

Even with these debts, the government, which is not elected but handpicked by King Mswati, allocated E1.5 billion for a conference centre and five-star hotel to house the AU summit. 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.

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 E22 million of the E305 million 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

Kingdom fails SADC delegates

Millions ‘wasted’ on luxury vehicles at SADC summit

Absolute king takes chair of SADC

‘Dictator king not fit to chair SADC’

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Muslims in Swaziland fear xenophobia as plan to build mosque rejected

Muslims in Swaziland / eSwatini have accused local government councillors of being ‘xenophobic’ because they refused to allow a mosque to be built in Matsapha, one of the kingdom’s major industrial towns.

They said councillors told them that they were of the Christian faith and therefore they could not allow the mosque to be built.

This was stated during a commission of inquiry set up by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development into the affairs of Matsapha Town Council.

Newspapers in Swaziland reported that the plan for a mosque was made in 2017 and rejected. The Times of Swaziland reported, ‘They [the Muslims] labelled the council as having a xenophobic attitude after it threw out their application.’

The Observer added, ‘All they wanted from the Council was to be granted permission to build the house of worship. They explained that the construction site or plot legally belonged to them, they were not asking for land.’

The Observer added other towns in Swaziland had allowed mosques to be built.

Muslims in Swaziland, who are almost all of Asian heritage, have faced prejudice in the past. 

In November 2016 the Observer on Saturday reported Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Nkosinathi Maseko saying, ‘most nationals of Asian origin were associated with terrorist activities’. It reported he told this to a parliamentary select committee set up to investigate what the newspaper called an ‘influx of illegal immigrants’ into the kingdom.

The newspaper reported Maseko had said, ‘it was public information that most nationals of Asian origin were associated with terrorist activities; and their continued entry illegally put the country and its citizens at high risk of being a nucleus for terrorist activities.’

Maseko and the Observer gave no evidence to support this. 

In September 2016 it was reported undercover police were infiltrating Muslim mosques to attend Friday prayers. The Times, reported that undercover police were also suspected of monitoring the Muslim community.

‘We do not understand the perception of the local people regarding the Islamic religion,’ one source told the Times. He added that Muslims were perceived as people who wanted to perpetuate violence.

At about the same time, the Muslim community in Swaziland were under attack by Christian leaders for distributing meat to needy people. President of the League of Churches Bishop Simon Hlatjwako was among Christian leaders who told people not to attend a special Muslim ceremony at which meat was distributed. Hundreds of hungry people ignored the instruction.

The Imam of Ezulwini Islamic Centre, Feroz Ismail, said guests had visited the kingdom from across Africa for a graduation and Jasla Ceremony. The Times reported him saying the guests, ‘were abused while in the country. They informed me that they were terrorised by the police while visiting some tourist attraction areas including the glass and candle factory.’ 

He said police demanded that the visitors produce their passports and other documents required for visitors to be in the country.

The Times reported Ismail saying, ‘They were ferried in police vehicles to their hotel rooms as the officers demanded that they immediately produce documents which proved that they were in the country legally.’

In 2017 the Swazi Government, which is not elected but appointed by King Mswat III, who rules as an absolute monarch, announced that Christianity would be the only religion to be taught in schools. 

When the present Swaziland Constitution which came into effect in 2006 was being drafted it was decided not to insist that Swaziland was a Christian country. This was to encourage freedom of religion. 

According to the CIA World factbook religion in Swaziland is broken down as Zionist (a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship) 40 percent, Roman Catholic 20 percent, Muslim 10 percent, other (includes Anglican, Bahai, Methodist, Mormon, Jewish) 30 percent.

See also

All Asians banned from Swaziland
Asians evicted from home

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Swaziland youth calls for democracy at National Congress

Kenworthy News Media, 18 February 2019
The biggest youth movement in Swaziland, the Swaziland Youth Congress, called for democracy at its 12th National Congress last weekend. The congress was held in South Africa because of repression in Swaziland against organisations who call for democracy, writes Kenworthy News Media.

The main theme of the first National Congress of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) since 2013 was democracy and “reawakening youth zeal for liberation.”

“We are committed to a peaceful transition from the current dictatorship under the monarchy to a democratic Eswatini [Swaziland]. As young people, we want liberation now, because the injustice to Swazis has long overstayed its time,” says newly elected President Sonkhe Dube.

Dube, a teacher by profession, had told congress that it was an “enormous task to build [SWAYOCO into] an effective organization capable of transforming its beautiful slogans into action.” The congress came at a time when SWAYOCO has been “battered by the regime” in recent years, the organization said in a statement.

In the statement, SWAYOCO also said that it would work with the labour movement and marginalized groups in Swaziland such as the LGBTI-community, and that the organisation was seeking international help to achieve democracy in Swaziland.

Liberation and social justice
SWAYOCO, a member of the International Union of Socialist Youth, was formed in 1991, as the youth league of Swaziland’s largest democratic movement, the People’s United Democratic Movement. Both organisations were proscribed under Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act, an act that Amnesty International called “inherently repressive” when it was implemented in 2008.

Amongst other things, SWAYOCO has previously launched campaigns against Swaziland’s “undemocratic elections” and for political awareness in Swazi schools, demanded smart sanctions against the country’s royal family, and that the International Criminal Court arrest Swaziland’s absolute monarch King Mswati III.

“The renewal of SWAYOCO will inspire the youth to demand their rights and define their role in the creation of a new kingdom of Eswatini [Swaziland]. We will sell the idea of liberation and social justice to the people,” says President Sonkhe Dube.

Outgoing President Bheki Dlamini agrees. “I am delighted to hand over the baton to other comrades. I have dedicated all my youth to fighting Mswati’s oppression. I shall continue to support the new leadership and the broader struggle for democracy,” Dlamini said.

A dangerous job
Sonkhe Dube has, along with many other SWAYOCO-members, personally experienced Mswati’s oppression. In 2009 and 2011, he was detained and tortured by police at peaceful SWAYOCO rallies. And in 2013, he fled to exile in neighbouring South Africa after again having been arrested by police, tortured and threatened that they would “come back and deal with me.”

Because being a member of SWAYOCO, let alone President, is a dangerous job.

SWAYOCO’s first President Benedict Didiza Tsabedze died in a mysterious car accident next to the royal palace in 1996 after having been taken to the hospital by the police. SWAYOCO member Sipho Jele was found hanged in his cell under mysterious circumstances, after having been arrested for wearing a PUDEMO t-shirt.

Several other former SWAYOCO leaders, including Wandile Dludlu,  Maxwell Dlamini and Bheki Dlamini, have all been tortured by police, detained, and later released without charge. Bheki Dlamini after having spent nearly three years in prison.

SWAYOCO member Zonke Dlamini served a long prison-sentence for charges he insists he only admitted to under torture. And other SWAYOCO members have been beaten up, tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets by police, as well as detained, shot and killed.

Amnesty International described in 2017 how “repressive legislation” and “politically motivated trials and laws that violate the principle of legality … continue to be used to suppress dissent” in Swaziland.

See also

Youth want democracy in Swaziland
Swazi law used against human rights
How Swazi state harasses activists