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Friday, 31 January 2020

Swaziland police chief threatens social media users with wrath of the law if they criticise King

Police in the absolute monarchy of Swaziland (eSwatini) are to hunt down and arrest people who criticise King Mswati on social media.

The National Commissioner of Police William Dlamini said the law would deal with them harshly.

He made the announcement in a written statement published in media across Swaziland on Friday (31 January 2020).

The eSwatini Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported, ‘He stated that the police service was hot on their trail and they will see to it that the perpetrators of the cybercrime ultimately face the wrath and might of the law.’

Human rights are severely curtailed in Swaziland. 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’.

There is very little media freedom in Swaziland, where one of the only two daily newspapers is owned by King Mswati. All broadcast news is controlled by the government, whose members are handpicked by the King.

Democracy campaigners use social media sites such as Facebook to draw attention to human rights abuses.

Dlamini said there were ‘highly insolent and morality devoid characters disseminating seditious, slanderous and very insultive statements about the country’s authorities via social media’.

He added, ‘The intent and motive of these statements is seemingly to vilify and pour scorn on the country’s authorities, which we find completely unacceptable and an insult to the entire nation.’

The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, reported, the National Commissioner announced that they had launched a high-level investigation that would uncover those behind these vitriolic and damaging statementsso they could be dealt with according to the law. He said they have noted that these individuals were in a mission to plant a seed of disorder and anarchy in the Nation.

This is not the first time the Swazi state has threatened social media users.

In March 2018, Swaziland’s then Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini hinted his government might try to restrict access to social media, but he told Senators there was nothing police could do ‘at the moment’ about the posts.

The Swazi Observer reported at the time, ‘The premier said it was unfortunate that social media was a very complex phenomenon, which no single person or organisation could control.’

The Swazi Government has a history of hostility to social media. In 2011, Prime Minister Dlamini said it was important to keep information published on Facebook away from the Swazi people. ‘If such stories from these websites then make it to the newspapers and radios, then the public at large will start to think there is some truth in the story yet it was just malicious gossip,’ the Times of Swaziland reported him saying at the time. 

He was commenting after information about a cabinet minister had appeared on social media.

The Swazi Observer also reported at the time, ‘Dlamini said government did not have any measures to control the internet but relied on the support of the media which assists by shying away from information published or sourced from the internet.’ 

In the run up to April 2011 a group used Facebook to try to drum up support for an ‘uprising’ for democracy in the kingdom. The Government threatened the online activists with prosecution.

In May 2011, the Times of Swaziland reported Swaziland had specially ‘trained officers’ to track down people who used  Facebook to criticise the Swazi Government. Nathaniel Mahluza, Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology, said the government was worried by what the newspaper called ‘unsavoury comments’ about the kingdom being published on the internet. 

In March 2012, Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze said he would use the law against people who criticised Swaziland on the internet. He told the Swazi Senate that he would use what he called ‘international laws’ to bring the internet critics to task. He was reacting to concerns from Senators that the internet sites showed ‘disrespect’ to the King.

Academic research published in 2013 suggested that people in Swaziland used the Internet to communicate with one another and share information and ideas about the campaign for democracy, bypassing the Swazi mainstream media which was heavily censored. They debated and shared information about activities designed to bring attention to the human rights abuses in the kingdom.

The research suggested, ‘It is clear that social media sites have extended the public sphere to offer opportunities for a wider range of people both in the country and outside it, to produce, distribute and exchange information and commentary about the kingdom – especially in the context of the need for political change. People speak in their own voices and are not mediated in the way mainstream media are in Swaziland.’

National Commissioner of Police William Dlamini
See also

PM hints at social media restriction
One in three use Internet for news
Swazi people speak up for themselves
Government threatens Facebook critics
Swazi police track Facebook users

Friday, 24 January 2020

Public sector corruption in Swaziland getting worse, Transparency International report suggests

The public sector in Swaziland (eSwatini) is ‘corrupt to highly corrupt’, according to the latest annual report from Transparency International.

The kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and where political parties are barred from taking part in elections, scored 34 out of a possible 100 in the 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI).

On the scale zero is ‘highly corrupt’ and 100 is ‘very clean’. The index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople.

The score of 34 puts Swaziland in the area of corrupt to highly corrupt according to the CPI scale. In 2018 Swaziland scored 38 and in 2017 it scored 37.

Transparency International recommended, ‘To end corruption and restore trust in politics, it is imperative to prevent opportunities for political corruption and to foster the integrity of political systems.’

In Swaziland the King chooses the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers. He also picks senior judges and senior civil servants. 

Following elections in 2018, King Mswati appointed eight members of his Royal Family to the kingdom’s 30-member Senate and another six to the House of Assembly.

In July 2019 nearly one in four people (24 percent) surveyed in Swaziland believed their Prime Minister was corrupt, according to a separate report from Transparency International.
Nearly one in three (32 percent) thought government officials were corrupt. Just over half (51 percent) thought corruption had increased in the previous 12 months. 

Nearly one in five (17 percent) users of public services reported they had paid a bribe in the previous 12 months: 21 percent said they had paid a bribe to get an ID card; 10 percent said they had bribed the police.

The results were published in the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Africa survey, a collaboration between Afrobarometer and Transparency International. 

In an annual review on human rights in Swaziland published in 2019 the United States Department of State reported, ‘there was a widespread public perception of corruption in the executive and legislative branches of government and a consensus that the government did little to combat it’. 

The report stated, ‘There were widespread reports of immigration and customs officials seeking bribes to issue government documents such as visas and resident permits. In March [2018] police raided the Department of Immigration, where they confiscated files and arrested and charged two senior immigration officers. The government filed charges against one of the senior officers based on allegations she had processed applications for travel documents for foreign nationals who were not present in, and had never visited, the country.’

It added, ‘Credible reports continued that a person’s relationship with government officials influenced the awarding of government contracts; the appointment, employment, and promotion of officials; recruitment into the security services; and school admissions. Authorities rarely took action on reported incidents of nepotism.’

See also

Swaziland King appoints eight of his family to Senate amid reports of widespread vote buying elsewhere
New drive against corruption in Swaziland leaves out King Mswati, the biggest drain on the public purse
Nearly one in four in Swaziland believe Prime Minister is corrupt, Transparency International reports
Swaziland Auditor General fears fraud as govt pensions paid to the deceased

Thursday, 23 January 2020

‘Plot underway to assassinate Swaziland absolute monarch’, international defence journal reports

Mercenaries from Israel and Lebanon are plotting to assassinate King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), the Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy journal reported.

The journal published by the International Strategic Studies Association said the plot was supported by the African National Congress (ANC) which is the governing party in South African, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the Government of the United Kingdom.

The journal reported (Vol. 47, No. 11/12, 2019) the mercenaries entered Swaziland in November 2019 but were unable immediately to get to the King because he was in seclusion as part of the annual Incwala ceremonies.

Swaziland is not a democracy and political parties are barred from taking part in elections. Groups that advocate for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The King chooses the Prime Minister and cabinet and top judges. 

Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy journal reported the plot was backed by the UK because it ‘had reportedly been promised concessions to exploit eSwatini reserves of diamonds and natural gas, among other things, in a “post-Mswati” eSwatini. Sensitive UK Government documents confirm that understanding.’

It added, ‘Significant external financial and political support for the revolutionaries has not brought about a national groundswell against the King. The Umbutfo eSwatini Defence Force (UEDF) and the Swati chiefs and peoples reaching into South Africa (including the Johannesburg region, traditionally Swati territory) remain passionately loyal to the King.’

The journal offered no evidence to support its reporting. It gave this analysis of why eSwatini was important globally.

‘Presently, despite its size, it is a pillar of stability relative to South Africa itself, given that collapse of the South African state is a possibility, even as soon as 2020. And Southern Africa is key to monitoring and control of the Cape of Good Hope sea route. South Africa is presently a key component of the PRC’s strategy to control sea lanes and ports globally. 

‘Moreover, eSwatini is the only country in Africa which still recognizes the Republic of China (ROC: Taiwan), rather than the PRC. If South Africa falls apart and an independent KwaZulu-Natal returned eSwatini's access to the Indian Ocean, this would significantly affect maritime strategies in the region. As well, the Zulu Kingdom itself may not necessarily recognize Beijing.’ 

The International Strategic Studies Association founded in 1982 and based in Washington DC describes itself as a worldwide membership Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) of professionals involved in national management, particularly in national and international security and strategic policy.

See also

‘Attempted coup in Swaziland’

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

EU gives Swaziland humanitarian aid to feed hungry while absolute monarch buys his family 15 Rolls-Royce cars

Only two months after King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), spent E53 million on a fleet of Rolls-Royce cars for himself and members of his family the European Union has announced it will give Euro 1 Million (E16 million) in aid for the hungry because the kingdom cannot feed its own people.

About 232,000 people (25 percent of the rural population) are expected to experience severe acute food insecurity, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

A statement from the European Commission said the money was to help people affected by drought to get food. European Union Ambassador to Swaziland Esmerelda Hernandez Aragones said areas in the Lubombo, Hhohho and Shiselweni regions would get the money.

Swaziland takes humanitarian aid from a number of different countries although it is not officially a poor country. It is designated a ‘lower middle income’ nation by the World Bank.

The situation in Swaziland is that the King and his family drain resources for themselves. Their lavish spending has been reported and criticised by international agencies for many years.

The King takes 25 percent of all mining royalties and controls the profits of the conglomerate Tibiyo TakaNgwane. Officially he keeps these monies ‘in trust’ for the Swazi nation, but in reality much of it goes to fund his own lifestyle. 

He has two private airplanes, at least 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range cars. At his 50th birthday in 2018 he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds that weighed 6 kg. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

King Mswati once again made international news in November 2019 when he bought 15 Rolls-Royce cars for himself and his family. Days later the government that he personally appointed took delivery of 84 BMW cars and 42 BMW motorbikes, which were reportedly for ‘escort duties’.

After the purchases, Lisa Peterson, United State Ambassador to Swaziland, in a public speech, said, ‘As a development partner, I have serious concerns about  the leadership example currently coming out of the palace.’

She added, ‘While the government continued using its existing vehicle fleet, the palace sees fit to acquire more than a dozen Rolls-Royce vehicles with a minimum  price tag of US$3.71 million (E53 million). To accompany this royal fleet, there is now an even larger fleet of official escort vehicles, purchased  with public funds.’

She said, ‘It  is exceedingly difficult for development partners to continue  advocating for assistance to eSwatini when such profligate spending or  suspicious giving is taking place.’

An official transcript of the speech issued by the US Embassy in Swaziland, reported her saying, ‘Should the people of eSwatini really be comfortable with such disregard for the perilous fiscal state of the country, particularly with so many of His Majesty’s subjects living below the international poverty line?’  

Ambassador Peterson had previously criticised the absolute monarchy in Swaziland. In an article published in November 2018 by both of Swaziland’s two national daily newspapers she called for the decree that puts King Mswati in power as an absolute monarch to be repealed. She also called for political parties to be allowed to contest elections. 

In 2016, after reports that three of the King’s wives had taken an entourage of 100 people on a shopping trip to Toronto, Canada, Peterson warned Swaziland that the kingdom might not receive further food aid from her country because of the King’s ‘lavish spending’ on holidays.

News24 in South Africa reported at the time Peterson said the US had limited funds for drought relief. She said, ‘When we hear of the lavish spending by the Swazi royal family – especially while a third of their citizens need food aid – it becomes difficult to encourage our government to make more emergency aid available. You can’t expect international donors to give more money to the citizens of Swaziland than their own leaders give them.’

See also

Oxfam names Swaziland most unequal country in Africa on personal income
No let up on poverty in Swaziland as absolute King makes public display of his vast wealth
Lavish spending leads to food aid cut

Monday, 20 January 2020

Swaziland court bans public sector pay strike

The Industrial Court in the absolute monarchy of Swaziland (eSwatini) has banned a strike by public servants over pay because it is against ‘the national interest’.

Trade unions have been calling over the past three years for pay increases to meet rises in the cost of living. 

Unions had taken strike action in September 2019 but this was banned temporarily. Now, the court has made a judgment to ban it completely.

The unions involved in the court case were the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT).

Swazi police had used teargas, rubber bullets, water cannon and live ammunition during the strike. At least 15 people were injured. The violence happened in Mbabane after what local media called ‘a long day of peaceful protest’. The police brutality was condemned by international human rights observers.

Judge Abande Dlamini in his judgment said that the national interest had been threatened by the strike. He blamed the violence on the union members. 

See also

Swaziland union leader shot by police during strike put his hands up and pleaded: don’t shoot 

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
Swaziland police fire teargas into classroom packed with children
 Swaziland police brutality under attack from international workers’ group

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Swaziland refuses to register LGBTIQ human rights group because it is ‘annoying’

An LGBTIQ rights group in Swaziland (eSwatini) has been denied permission to register because its objectives are deemed ‘annoying’.

The Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorites (ESGM) was also told the Swazi Constitution did not include sexual orientation on the list of protections against discrimination.

Melusi Simelane, Founder and Executive Director of ESGM, said this suggested the government refused to recognise the existence of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer) people in the kingdom.

Simelane was writing in a report on LGBTI experiences in Swaziland recently published. He said LGBTI identities were not criminalised in Swaziland but colonial laws that included the crime of sodomy still existed. He said this suggested homosexuality was ‘simply about a sexual act rather than a broader issue of love and respect’.

He added the outdated laws violated constitutional rights. He said despite the law the state did not prosecute consenting adults.

The government has refused to register ESGM which would allow it to operate legally in the kingdom. 

Simelane said it wrote to the group saying it could not be registered ‘because the objects of the organisation are “misleading” and “annoying”. 

‘They quoted the common law contrary to their assumed policy of not prosecuting consenting adults. This, coupled with the government blatantly saying the constitution doesn’t list sexual orientation on the list of protections against discrimination, suggests that the government refuses to recognise our existence and further our rights and freedoms.’

He added, ‘When addressing policy makers evidence of human rights violations is necessary to make the case for LGBTIQ equality. In a society that scares people into silence and invisibility, evidence becomes a scare commodity.’

A report published in 2019 written by two academics and the Southern and East African Research Collective on Health found evidence of serious human rights violations against Swazi people who are LGBTI. The report concluded they suffered ‘social exclusion, marginalisation and stigma’ because they were seen as being different from the rest of the population.

This, the report said, ‘has a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex’.

Swaziland is a deeply conservative kingdom ruled by the absolute monarch King Mswati III. The King has in the past described homosexuality as ‘satanic’  In May 2016 four organisations jointly reported to the United Nations about LGBTI discrimination in Swaziland. Part of their report stated, ‘LGBT[I]s are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBT[I]s as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians.’  

See also

LGBTI discrimination in Swaziland leads to big mental health issues, report finds
LGBT Pride film shows what it’s like to live with prejudice and ignorance in Swaziland

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

No let-up in restrictions of freedom of association and assembly in Swaziland: Human Rights Watch

Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in Swaziland (eSwatini) continued in the past year, a new report from Human Rights Watch stated.

The new Police Service Act of 2018 limited police powers to prevent gatherings as it required only a ‘notice of gathering’ to be submitted to the relevant local authority, unlike the previous 1963 law that needed the police to issue a license to permit public gatherings, HRW stated.

In a review of events in 2019 it said in August, Swazi public servants began mobilizing for a nationwide strike to demand an increase in wages. 

‘The police did not disrupt the nationwide mobilization campaigns, but fired teargas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesting government workers on September 23,’ HRW stated.

Although eSwatini signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January 2018, the government did not take steps to ratify or implement the Charter.

The public servants were part of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), the Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP), and the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU).
HRW said, ‘The various legislative improvements on freedom of association and assembly contained in the new Public Order Act of 2017, which imposes restrictions on the government’s power to limit freedoms of assembly and association, were not fully tested in practice in 2019 as restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued.’

HRW said eSwatini remained an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III, who has led the kingdom since 1986, with a 1973 decree banning opposition political parties. Despite the adoption of the 2005 constitution which guarantees basic rights, and the kingdom’s international human rights commitments, the government had not reviewed the decree or changed the law to allow the formation, registration, and participation of political parties in elections.

This was not the first report to detail human rights abuses in Swaziland. The United States State Department in its review of events in 2018 reported there was no appetite to investigate human rights abuses or corruption.

A 24-page report detailed ‘human rights issues’ across a wide range of areas which included, ‘restrictions on political participation, corruption, rape and violence against women linked in part to government inaction, criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced, and child labor’. 

The report stated, ‘The government often did not investigate, prosecute, or administratively punish officials who committed human rights abuses. With very few exceptions, the government did not identify officials who committed abuses. Impunity was widespread.’

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.’

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.’

See also

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 

Police violence, undemocratic elections, hunger and disease: highlights of Swaziland’s human rights violations

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Six in ten school support staff in Swaziland not paid for three months as financial crisis bites

Six in ten people working as support staff in schools across Swaziland (eSwatini) have not been paid for the past three months, a trade union reported.

Phumelele Zulu of the Swaziland Union in Learning and Allied Institutions (SULAI) said 60 percent of its 860 members were owed salaries dating back to October last year. 

In total they were owed more than E5 million.

Swaziland which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch is in financial meltdown and public services across the kingdom are grinding to a halt.

The Times of eSwatini reported Zulu said the Swazi Government had not released money to pay for the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme. 

Zulu said, ‘The situation, particularly in rural schools, is worse as infrastructure is dilapidated and needs serious upgrading. Paint on the walls is peeling off and windows are broken. We have been raising these issues with the Ministry of Education and Training and urging them to at least find a strategy that would see the grants being released on time to schools but to this day, nothing has changed.’

In July 2019 Minister of Education and Training Lady Howard-Mabuza met school principals as schools in the kingdom crumbled through lack of funding.

The Swazi Government had not paid schools fees and support staff were sacked as a result. Teaching supplies ran out and in some schools pupils had been without a teacher for more than a year.

The Minister said that plans for building new schools had been put on hold and hiring of teaching staff was frozen.

More than six in ten schools in Swaziland did not have enough teachers because of government financial cutbacks, the Eswatini Principals Association (EPA) President Welcome Mhlanga had previously said.

Howard-Mabuza said the government was broke and could not afford to finance education.

The problem is not new as the government, appointed  by King has run the economy into the ground over many years. Public services across the kingdom, including health, education and policing are crumbling. The government owes its suppliers about E3 billion (US$215 million).

In July 2019 teachers and school principals marched on government to present a petition calling for urgent action.

See also

Swaziland schools run out supplies, exams threatened, as govt financial meltdown bites

Monday, 13 January 2020

Swaziland Government breaks promise to pay overdue student allowances

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Government has broken its promise to pay tertiary student their living allowances. It is the latest in a string of broken promises.

Students who boycotted classes in protest across the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch only returned after the promise of payment was made.

The latest deadline of 10 January 2020 has been missed, meaning students have not been paid for five months. The Swazi Government first gave a deadline for the missed payments of 20 November 2019.

It is mostly first year students from universities and colleges across the kingdom who are affected.

Registration for the second semester started on Monday (13 January 2020).

The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, reported Thulani Mkhaliphi the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security said there were ‘technical challenges’ in making the payments.

Swaziland is in financial meltdown and public services across the kingdom are grinding to a halt because the Government has not paid bills to suppliers. 

The newspaper reported some students had been evicted from their rented flats in Manzini because they were unable to pay rent.

In November 2019 police fired live ammunition and shot a university student with a rubber bullet at the Southern Africa Nazarene University (SANU) in Manzini during class boycotts.

Students across the kingdom were angry that the government failed to keep its promise to pay them their allowances for books, accommodation and other equipment.

See also

Swaziland police fire gunshots and shoot student with rubber bullet as campus protests continue
Swaziland students boycott classes as Govt. breaks promise to pay allowances
Striking Swaziland students win victory in dispute with government

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Swaziland democracy activists tell High Court police raids on their homes illegal

Four democracy campaigners in Swaziland (eSwatini) whose homes were raided by police and had phones and other gadgets confiscated appeared in the High Court to argue that the raids were illegal.

They said the search warrants used were not valid.

The four were Sibongile Mazibuko, Musa Nkambule, Jan Sithole and Wandile Dludlu. They are leaders of various political groups in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as absolute monarch. They all belong to the recently-formed Political Parties Assembly (PPA). Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups that campaign for democracy are outlawed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Police raided homes of political activists across Swaziland after warrants were issued on 25 November and 19 December 2019. 

The four said that the search warrants were illegal because they did not specify what the police were looking for. They also said the warrants were issued by magistrates who did not have authority to do so.

The case was heard on Wednesday (8 January 2020). A ruling is expected on 24 January 2020.

The Swaziland United Democratic Front, one of the groups targeted in the police raids, in a statement circulated on social media at the time, said, ‘This comes weeks after the all progressive formations in the country resolved to unite under the banner of the Political Party Assembly to fight against the Tinkhundla regime. This led to the start of a campaign that was dubbed #MSWATI MUST FALL and has since been gaining momentum and meeting equal resistance from the autocratic regime.’

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre in a statement said, ‘We are concerned by the actions of the police, which appear to be targeted at those activists who have been prominently involved in protests relating to workers’ rights and who have been promoting multi-party democracy and government accountability in the country.’

See also

Swaziland police in mass raids on homes of democracy activists, some detained
Swaziland police say they raided democracy activists’ homes for ‘state security’
Police question Swaziland political leader amid fears of treason charge
Swaziland ex-Govt minister in hiding after calling on absolute monarch to hand over power

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

University lecturers ‘forced to weed fields of Swaziland absolute monarch’

University lecturers in Swaziland (eSwatini) say they have been forced to abandon duties to work unpaid in the fields of absolute monarch King Mswati III.

In the past the King has been criticised by modern-day slavery campaigners for forcing people, including children, to work in his fields.

Lecturers said they feared they would lose their jobs if they did not obey the call to work for the King.

This has been going on for years, but has only now been revealed publicly.

The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, reported lecturers at the University of eSwatini (formerly University of Swaziland – UNISWA) ‘were forced to protect their jobs by participating in royal assignments and abandon their professional duties thus comprising the quality of education within the University’.

It said, ‘lecturers who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said they were not comfortable with working in the King’s fields but attend the royal duties in fear of losing their jobs in the event they defy the King.’

Salebona Simelane, the university registrar, confirmed that some lecturers attended the royal fields but said none of them was under duress or forced to demonstrate allegiance to the King.  

Musa Nkambule, a lecturer at the university who is also Chairman of the political party Sive Siyinqaba ‘Sibahle Sinje’, told the News, ‘the administration normally made an announcement among the staff that the university would be closing early for lecturers to attend to the royal duties.

‘We should be marking the [examination] scripts by then but we can’t do that because we are expected to attend to the royal assignment, this is not right,’ he said.

In 2018 King Mswati was named in a global report on modern slavery for forcing his subjects to weed his fields.

The Global Slavery Index 2018, said there was evidence that the practice known as kuhlehla continued, ‘where the community is forced to render services or work for the King or local chiefs’.

The report estimated there were 12,000 people in Swaziland in modern slavery. This number increased from 1,302 people in 2013 and 6,700 people in 2014. The numbers for 2018 may have been distorted by changes in the way victims were counted.

The report stated modern slavery, ‘refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and / or abuse of power’.

This was not the first time King Mswati had been named in a report on modern slavery or human trafficking. The annual Trafficking in Persons Report for 2017 from the United States State Department said it had been reporting conditions in Swaziland for the previous five years. It said, ‘Swazis are culturally expected to participate in the seasonal weeding and harvesting of the King’s fields and those who may refuse are subject to coercion through threats and intimidation by their chiefs.’

A report Child Labor and Forced Labor from the US Department of Labor looking at 2016 stated penalties imposed by chiefs included ‘evicting families from their village and confiscating livestock’. 

Separately, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons report revealed, ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the King. Swazi boys and foreign children are forced to labor in commercial agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country.’

King Mswati was at the centre of an international controversy in January 2015 when Swazi Media Commentary revealed that schools in Swaziland were forced to stay closed after Christmas so children could weed the King’s fields. As many as 30,000 children were thought to have missed schooling as a result. 

The Global Slavery Index for 2016 reported that the Swazi Government ‘attempted to backtrack on its intentions when its use of unpaid child labour was reported by international media’.

Seven in ten people in Swaziland live in abject poverty earning less than the equivalent of $US3 per day. They can be forced to work under the Swazi Administration Order, No. 6 of 1998 which makes it a duty of Swazis to obey orders and participate in compulsory works; participation is enforceable with severe penalties for those who refuse.

This is allowed even though the Swaziland Constitution that came into effect in 2006 prohibits forced or compulsory labour. 

See also

Swazi Govt misleads on child labour
Kids forced to weed King’s fields