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Friday, 31 May 2019

Doubts over evidence as Swaziland democracy activist Musa Ngubeni jailed seven years

Musa Ngubeni, the democracy activist in Swaziland / eSwatini, has been jailed for seven years with four of them suspended for possession of explosives.

His case took eight years to conclude and the conviction has been criticised for lack of evidence. 

Ngubeni was an activist with the banned Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) and the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). In Swaziland political parties cannot contest elections and groups campaigning for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Ngubeni was found guilty and sentenced by Piggs Peak Magistrate Joe Gumedze. Swaziland which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch does not have jury trials.

Ngubeni was arrested together with student leader Maxwell Dlamini in 2011 and charged with contravening the Explosives Act. They were both arrested during protests against the government which is not elected but handpicked by King Mswati.

According to Ngubeni and Dlamini they were subjected to torture during their interrogation. They were both released on bail in 2012 under strict conditions, including having to report to the police four times a week. Their trial resumed in 2014, where Dlamini was acquitted.
Peter Kenworthy of Kenworthy News Media who has followed the case since 2011 reported Ngubeni and Dlamini both insisted that the charges against them were fabricated and political, and that the state had stalled their case for three years due to lack of evidence.

A mysterious brown shoe box, that was allegedly found near Ngubeni’s home in Mbikwakhe when he was arrested in 2011 and was supposed to have contained explosives, detonators and wires, was never produced in court.

Initially a witness for the prosecution had claimed that the box was too dangerous to bring to court. Later the box was claimed to have exploded after a South African bomb expert had tried to assemble it.

Kenworthy reported the trial has been described as a farce by Swaziland’s democratic movement. Amongst other things because testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were untruthful and contradicted each other, because the pair were interrogated by what appeared to be hired South African Police investigators without the presence of Ngubeni’s and Dlamini’s lawyers, and because Ngubeni and Dlamini appeared in court on occasion without legal representation.

Following Ngubeni’s conviction, SWAYOCO said in a statement the Mswati government tried to deliberately delay and prolong the case to procure ample time to manufacture false evidence for his conviction.

The Communist Party of Swaziland said in a statement, ‘If there is any individual who still doubts that Swaziland’s judiciary remains one of Mswati’s tools through which he suppresses the people of Swaziland, then Ngubeni’s case should be the ultimate illustration point.’

See also

Profile of Musa Ngubeni
Court case against activists a ‘farce’

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Grants for people with disabilities cut as Swaziland Govt financial crisis continues

Grants for people with disabilities in Swaziland / eSwatini are to be cut because the government has run out of money.

Now, only 20 people in each political constituency (known locally as tinkhundla) will get benefits.

There are 59 tinkhundla in the kingdom for about 1.2 million people. In 2016 the then Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini estimated 114,000 people were living with disabilities in Swaziland.

E8.7 million (US$600,000) was set aside in this year’s national budget for the grants. In 2017 that figure was E25.5 million, according to budget estimates for 2019 – 2022.

President of the Federation of People with Disabilities in Swaziland (FODSWA) Sipho Dlamini said he had been told by Swaziland’s Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku the cutback was because of the ongoing financial crisis.

He told the Times of Swaziland (28 May 2019) his organisation would work closely with local leaders to choose who gets the grants.

Sipho Dlamini said people with disabilities were not adequately represented in parliament. The Times reported he said it was because of this that issues of people with disabilities were not given the attention they deserved.

People with disabilities in Swaziland are poorly treated. A report published by SINTEF Technology and Society, Global Health and Welfare in 2011 that studied living conditions among people with disabilities in Swaziland, found, ‘There is a general belief that those who have a disability are bewitched or inflicted by bad spirits.

‘Many believe that being around people with disabilities can bring bad luck. As a result, many people with disabilities are hidden in their homesteads and are not given an opportunity to participate and contribute to society.’

It also found that people with disabilities had been abandoned by the Swazi Government. The report stated, ‘The absence of any comprehensive laws and policies to address people with disabilities’ access to equal opportunities reflect a lack of political will and a failure to recognize disability as a human right issue contributes to the devaluing and dehumanising of people with disabilities.

‘People with disabilities have the same rights as able-bodied people and they are entitled to enjoy all citizenry rights.’

Since that report the Disability Act of 2018 introduced financial grants, but the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, is in economic meltdown. Public health centres and hospitals have run out of medicines, schools are without supplies and children are going hungry because feeding programmes have stopped. All because the government, which is handpicked by the King, cannot pay suppliers.

See also

Disabled people ‘treated like animals’
More deaths in Swaziland as government fails to pay medicine suppliers

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Njabulo Dlamini, democracy activist in Swaziland, dies aged 32

Njabulo Dlamini, one of the best known young democracy activists in Swaziland / eSwatini, has died aged 32. 

Dlamini, who was known as Njefire, was the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) International Organiser since 2017. He was still a student at the University of Swaziland when he joined the party in 2011, the year it was founded. He was elected to the CPS Central Committee in 2013 and served as the party’s National Organiser.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch and political parties are not allowed to take part in elections. The CPS along with other pro-democracy organisations are also banned from the kingdom under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Dlamini took a leading role in pro-democracy campaigns by students and in defence of the people against state-imposed evictions of residents in the Madonsa township. He also spearheaded a number of international solidarity campaigns and helped establish the Swaziland Kurdistan Solidarity Network.  His last major international work was during the 2019 Israeli Apartheid Week where he helped organise activity in collaboration with the leadership of the Swaziland National Union of Students in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Dlamini worked as a teacher and was Secretary of the Big Bend Branch of the Swaziland National Association Of Teachers. He died in Mbabane Government Hospital on 23 May 2019. He had been diagnosed with fungal pneumonia a few weeks earlier.

At the time of his death he was awaiting trial together with Mcolisi Ngcamphalala, Deputy National Chairperson of the CPS, of the traffic offence of jaywalking. They had been arrested while they were on their way to a workers’ planning meeting in Manzini.

In a statement, the CPS said, ‘One thing that did not go down well with some of the former leaders in the union is that Comrade Njabulo tended to pursue issues which were viewed by many as too difficult and impossible to win; issues that had never been attempted before. It was his revolutionary tenacity, persuasion and steadfastness that helped grow the force necessary to convince the leadership that those issues be pursued. 

‘With his practical contribution towards the resolution of those issues, he became highly trusted and a great source of inspiration to many members of the union and beyond. The union gradually transformed and became more radical on its campaigns partly due to his untiring work. This is how he was able, working together with other young workers, to hold activities that were thought impossible before, including a fully-packed night vigil in August 2018 and a young workers’ forum where workers’ self-defence units were formed.’

Photo: Sourced from Facebook

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Swaziland activist who called for prosecution of King for embezzlement charged under terrorism law

A political opposition activist in Swaziland / eSwatini has been charged under terrorism and sedition laws for calling on absolute monarch King Mswati III to be prosecuted for embezzlement and human rights violations. 

Goodwill Sibiya is a senior member of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Communist Party. Both organisations are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. He is also a founding member of a little-known group called the Economic Freedom Guerrillas.

Sibiya made a legal statement calling for the King to be charged for the ‘embezzlement of states funds’ through his use of money generated by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a conglomerate of businesses that is controlled by the King on behalf of the Swazi people; mining royalties and income from MTN the mobile phone company.

In a list of accusations, Sibiya said the King stripped the powers of two chiefs to the benefit of his brother Prince Maguga. The King forcefully grabbed young girls to be his wives and the King appointed Barnabas Dlamini as Prime Minister in contravention of the constitution, ‘so that he can meet his own greedy interest’.

The statement made at the Nhlangano police station was dated 21 January 2019. According to the Times of Swaziland (27 May 2019) Sibiya attempted to file the document at the High Court on 21 May 2019, but was stopped by staff members who then informed the police.

The Times reported police raided Sibiya’s home with a warrant searching for documents that brought ‘hatred to and incited dissatisfaction against the King’. In its report the Times did not detail Sibiya’s accusations, ‘because of their sensitive nature which borders on treason’.

Sibiya was arrested and appeared at the High Court on Sunday. He was remanded in custody until 1 June 2019.

In Swaziland, King Mswati rules as an absolute monarch, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and he chooses the prime minister and government members. He is immune from any prosecution under s11 of the Swaziland Constitution.

Opposition to the King is crushed by use of the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act. Both Acts have been used to stop advocates for democratic reform.

In 2015 Amnesty International renewed its criticism of Swaziland for the ‘continued persecution of peaceful political opponents and critics’ by the King and his authorities. 

The human rights organisation called for the two Acts to be scrapped or drastically rewritten.

It said the Swazi authorities were using the Acts, ‘to intimidate activists, further entrench political exclusion and to restrict the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly’.

Amnesty said the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act also violated Swaziland’s human rights obligations. 

In September 2016, the Swaziland High Court ruled parts of the two Acts were unconstitutional. The Government appealed the case to the Supreme Court and it has yet to be heard.

See also

Swazi law used against human rights

Monday, 27 May 2019

US Ambassador to Swaziland’s optimism over political progress in kingdom misplaced

The confidence Lisa Peterson, US Ambassador to Swaziland /eSwatini, has that the kingdom is honouring the rights enshrined in the constitution and allowing political marches is misplaced. The facts show the opposite is happening.

Ambassador Peterson made her comments in an article published in both the two national newspapers in Swaziland. She wrote after the publication of the annual US State Department report on human rights in Swaziland. It covered the year 2018.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. He chooses the government, top judges and senior civil servants. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups that advocate for democracy in the kingdom are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In her article Ambassador Peterson wrote, ‘If you look back at prior year human rights reports, you will see that prior restrictions on public gatherings were part of what drew international attention to Eswatini’s failure to honour the constitution’s fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression.

‘Having explicitly political marches take place [in 2018], and having the organisers able to publicly highlight their success, shows that Eswatini is better honouring the rights enshrined in its constitution. Such improvement should be celebrated.’

She made no reference to the numerous cases where state forces attacked legitimate protestors during 2018. Live ammunition, rubber bullets and teargas were repeatedly used.

In August 2018, for example, police attacked three separate demonstrations by workers protesting for better pay and conditions. 

Police fired several gunshot blasts while textile workers, mostly women, protested at Nhlangano about poor pay. More than 200 paramilitary police and correctional facility warders with riot shields, helmets and batons guarded the entrance to Juris, one of the major factories, according to a local media report. It happened on 30 August 2018 when five firms closed after management locked gates after workers gathered.

On the previous Friday police shot and wounded a schoolteacher during a march in Manzini. On the Wednesday that week in Mbabane nurses were tasered. Both groups were protesting at the Swazi government’s decision to offer a zero increase in their salary cost of living adjustment.

In September 2018, police blocked nurses who were legally trying to deliver a petition to government as part of their ongoing campaign against service cuts. One local newspaper reported a policeman’s baton was broken in two during the confrontation.

Also in September, police officers were captured on video viciously attacking defenceless workers on the street in Manzini during a legal protest over pay. Dozens of  officers in riot gear and waving batons were seen chasing workers. At least one officer appeared to be wielding a whip. Workers were seen running fearing for their safety. The police indiscriminately hit the fleeing workers around their bodies. It was on the first day of a three day national strike organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). Protests took place simultaneously in the towns and cities of Mbabane, Manzini, Siteki and Nhlangano.

The strike had earlier been declared legal under Swaziland’s Industrial Relations Act.

Four protesters were injured on 29 June 2018 when police opened fire with rubber bullets and stun grenades during a workers’ protest in Mbabane against government policies. AFP reported, ‘Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at about 500 protesters, as well as using water cannon and wielding batons, as demonstrators threw stones at officers.’ Reuters put the number of protestors at 2,000. 

Reuters reported they marched against poor service delivery, alleged misuse of state pension funds and a proposed law to charge citizens who marry foreigners.

On 13 April, police fired rubber bullets as about 2,000 workers and supporters took to the streets of Mbabane to protest against worsening living conditions. The AFP news agency reported one protestor was hit in the thigh by a rubber bullet.

In April, police fired rubber bullets and arrested eight students when they put a rubbish skip in the middle of a road during a protest against poor teaching and Limkokwing University, Mbabane. 

On 15 March, police armed with batons blocked a road in Lobamba to stop a petition rejecting the national budget being delivered to parliament. Police with guns watched from a distance. About 100 members of civil society groups, community organisations and political parties under the banner of the Swaziland Economic Justice Network marched from Somhlolo National Stadium heading to the Parliament gate.

On 31 January, police reportedly fired live ammunition during a protest by students from Swaziland Christian University about delays in receiving allowances and problems over graduation.

The Department of State report was not only one to detail human rights in Swaziland  during 2018. Freedom House concluded in its annual review that King Mswati  continued to hold a tight grip on power and all aspects of life in the kingdom.

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 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.’

Richard Rooney

See also

Swaziland police fire gunshots during textiles dispute, third attack on workers in a week

Swaziland teacher who stopped police chief shooting into unarmed crowd appears in court

Police in Swaziland attack nurses with taser during peaceful protest over pay

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Swaziland police force schoolchildren back to classes after boycott supporting suspended teachers

Police were called when pupils at Mhubhe High School in Swaziland / eSwatini boycotted classes in support of two of their teachers who had been suspended from duty.
The pupils at the school in Ngulwini gathered around the school yard, singing and chanting for about four hours. The Times of Swaziland reported on Friday (24 May 2019), they were ‘demanding that the suspended teachers at the school be brought back to resume their duties’.

The two suspended teachers are Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) President Mbongwa Dlamini and John Hoffman, who is also a union activist.

SNAT has accused the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) of an attack on the union for suspending Dlamini who is accused of absenteeism from school.

SNAT said in a statement, , 'Chief amongst these charges is becoming a union leader and participating in legitimate trade union activities.’

There have been disturbances at the school in recent weeks after pupils demonstrated against some teachers who they said were sexually abusing them. Police fired rubber bullets and teargas at the pupils.

Six pupils were later charged with theft and destruction of property. They were denied bail and remanded in custody. An online petition organised by Swaziland Human Rights Network UK called for their release on bail. The pupils were later released on bail. 

Teachers boycotted classes for two days because they felt insulted to be accused of sexual misconduct. They returned to work on the instruction of MoET.

See also

Swaziland police fire rubber bullets at schoolchildren protesting sexual abuse by teacher
Swaziland teachers claim victimisation as govt hits union president with disciplinary charges
Swaziland police shoot, wound teacher during protest over pay, tensions high on eve of national election

Friday, 24 May 2019

Total of 430 rape cases reported in Swaziland over seven months after new law introduced

There were 430 cases of rape reported in Swaziland / eSwatini over seven months, new figures reveal.

They were among 2,900 cases brought under the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (SODV) that came into force in 2018.

A total of 2,068 cases of domestic violence were also recorded, a workshop for members of parliament was told. This was for the period August 2018 to March 2019.

The SODV Act was introduced into Swaziland in an attempt to clarify the law. It has proved controversial among traditionalists in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The Act also makes sexual harassment, stalking and flashing illegal.

Commenting in 2018 on the SODV Act before it was passed the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said attitudes in Swaziland towards domestic violence demonstrated strong support for traditional gender roles, high levels of rape-supportive attitudes and tolerant attitudes for violence.

The ICJ said, ‘For example, only 51 per cent of men have been surveyed as believing that a woman may refuse to have sexual intercourse with her husband, while 88 per cent believe a woman should obey her husband and 45 per cent believe a husband has a right to punish his wife if she does something he deems is wrong.’

Police in Swaziland have in the past been criticised for their lack of concern over rape victims. In July 2017 the Swazi Observer said rape victims reported their plight was not being treated seriously by police and often they were simply dropped off at hospital and made to find their own help. It came at a time when 1,082 rapes had been reported in Swaziland in the previous two years.

See also

‘Urgent need to pass sex offences bill’
Alleged rape of two-year-old in Swaziland covered up in name of local culture
Campaign growing for arrest of Swaziland Prince over kidnapping and rape allegation
Dad rapes daughter (16) to test her virginity
Wives say husbands can rape them

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Hundreds march in Swaziland after forced evictions leave families destitute

Hundreds marched at Malkerns in Swaziland / eSwatini to protest the forced eviction of people last year who have been left homeless and destitute.

It happened on Saturday (18 May 2019) and was jointly organised by a variety of civil society organisations.

Times Sunday, reported one of the evicted people saying, ‘We eat from the bins as we do not have homes and cannot practice farming.’

The newspaper also reported Mhlatase Dlamini saying, ‘Our houses were brought down and our belongings were taken and dumped. My children are all over and eat from dustbins.’

In April 2018, Dozens of people, including 33 children, were left homeless after their homes at Embetseni were demolished using bulldozers in the presence of 20 armed police. 

At the time Amnesty International called to  people across the world to protest. Amnesty said the evictions were in violation of international human rights standards. 

In a statement it said four homesteads with 61 people, including 33 children, were forcibly evicted from a farming area. It said, ‘Representatives of a private farming company that owns the land together with the Sheriff of the High Court of Mbabane and armed local police officers were present during the demolition of the homesteads. They arrived in the morning and told the families to remove their belongings from their homes if they did not want them destroyed during the demolition. 

Afterwards, bulldozers demolished the four homesteads.’

The Swazi High Court had in July 2017 ordered their eviction.

Amnesty added, ‘In violation of international human rights standards, residents of the homesteads were not given adequate advance notice of the eviction and were not provided with alternative housing thus rendering them homeless, and at risk of other human rights violations.’

Forced evictions across Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as an absolute monarch, are common. Farmers have been evicted from their land to expand the monarchy-controlled sugar industry for decades.

American independent watchdog organization Freedom House stated in a press release from 2013 that the Swazi police ‘are increasing pressure on farmers resisting their unlawful evictions from land that they have occupied for generations.” A report from the organization on Swaziland from the same year concluded that, “in Swaziland, property is insecure, and rightful owners have no effective redress in the legal system which places the king above all laws.’

Photograph of the demonstration sourced from Facebook.

See also

Evicted farmers take on Swaziland absolute monarch to get their land back
Bulldozers move in to evict families
Homes destroyed for king’s vanity project