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Thursday, 27 February 2020

Swaziland court threatens woman, 19, with jail for wearing miniskirt in public

A 19-year-old woman in Swaziland (eSwatini) was sentenced to three months in jail with the option of a fine for wearing a miniskirt in public. 

It happened in Luvumisa, a town near the border with South Africa.

The Times of eSwatini reported she was stopped on the street by police and told to change her clothes. She was seen about two hours later still wearing the miniskirt and was arrested.

She appeared at court in Luvumisa and was sentenced to three months jail with an option of an E300 fine. 

The Times reported the court was told the woman’s underwear was visible under the skirt.

It is a stated policy in Swaziland to arrest women who wear miniskirts.

In late 2012 Swaziland Police announced that women found wearing a miniskirt in public would be arrested and face a fine or imprisonment. Swazi Police official spokesperson Wendy Hleta told the Times Sunday newspaper that it would only take one complaint for a woman in a miniskirt to be arrested. She said police would use a law dating from 1889.

She was commenting after police stopped a march by women protesting at the harassment they received from men when they wore miniskirts or other clothes such as low-cut jeans or crop tops that displayed their stomachs. The men wanted them to wear clothes they considered more appropriate to Swazi tradition. 

In the course of the interview Hleta said that men might be tempted to rape women who wore skimpy clothes.

By coincidence around the same date the Times of Swaziland published a letter from a woman who recounted a trip she and her female friend made to Manzini police station to report a crime. She was wearing a miniskirt and her friend shorts. 

She said five male officers verbally attacked them. Among the comments made by the police officers were, ‘You b******, go and get dressed or remove yourselves from our presence. 

‘Can’t you hear that we are telling you to go and dress appropriately first? Or have you come to solicit here? This is not a prostitution site.’ And , ‘Go before we do you harm.’

In July 2019, Vulimpompi Nhleko, the member of parliament for Nkwene, urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to condemn women who wore ‘skimpy’ clothes to church. He spoke during a debate in the Swazi House of Assembly.

See also

Woman in pants banned from election

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Swaziland Govt tells High Court LGBTI acts are illegal because they are ‘unnatural’

A representative of the Swaziland (eSwatini) Government told the kingdom’s High Court LGBTI people were ‘unnatural’ and their campaign group was unlawful.

Siboniso Nkambule, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, was opposing an application from the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM) group to be officially registered.

The Registrar of Companies had previously refused to register the association so that it could operate legally in the kingdom. ESGM has a number of objectives including to advance the protection of the rights of LGBTI people in Swaziland and reduce harm that affect their wellbeing based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nkambule told the court, ‘May I state that every other sexual action other than what is in the order of nature, capable of producing offsprings is unnatural and, therefore, prohibited in terms of our laws.’ 

The Times of eSwatini reported Nkambule said in an affidavit, ‘The actions of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities constitute unnatural action which ought to be stopped in our society for purposes of our young generations as well as the public interest.’

The matter is still pending in court.

Discrimination against LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) people in Swaziland is widespread but in recent years they have become more visible and vocal. The first ever Pride march took place in 2018.

Melusi Simelane, Founder and Executive Director of ESGM, writing in a report on LGBTI experiences in Swaziland 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.

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 were 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

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Reporting of Swaziland Govt finances fails to meet international standards, auditor general states

Government finances in Swaziland (eSwatini) continue to be in a mess with widespread misreporting of assets and liabilities, the kingdom’s auditor general reported.

Timothy Matsebula listed a catalogue of errors that included bank balances that were misstated by nearly E125 million because government cash books did not tally with bank statements.

The figures were part of the auditor general’s annual report for the year ended 31 March 2019 just published. He described the reporting as ‘unacceptable’ and said it did not conform to international standards.

Matsebula reported, ‘Other bank balances were understated by E16,682,280.78 in aggregate; thus, reflecting an incorrect cash position of the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini at year end.’

He also highlighted a bank balance that had nearly E1 billion IMF Special Drawings Rights had not been disclosed.

The auditor general found assets amounting to E1.9 million were incorrectly classified as liabilities in the Detailed Statement of Liabilities. ‘These bank balances were reported as overdrawn bank accounts whereas bank statements showed that the accounts had positive balances, as at the year end.’

Elsewhere, overstated liability account balances amounted to E403 million while understated liability account balances amounted to E87 million.

Matsebula also found there had been unauthorised over-expenditure of E845 million in recurrent expenditure budget. There was also unauthorised over-expenditure of E16 million in the capital expenditure budget.

Matsebula concluded, ‘I draw attention to the presentation and disclosures in the financial statements which reflect an unacceptable financial reporting framework. The current financial reporting practice does not conform to any internationally recognised financial reporting framework and does not present the Government Accounts (Financial Statements) fairly in some accounting areas.’

This is not the first time the auditor general has found the government accounts to be inadequate. Last year billions of emalangeni could not be accounted for. In his annual report for the 2018 Matsebula stated government revenue, assets, and liabilities ‘were materially misstated’. He said in some cases it was impossible to reconcile government cash books with bank statements.

The AG reported then, ‘Misstatements can arise from fraud or error and are considered material if, individually or in the aggregate, they could reasonably be expected to influence the economic decisions of users taken on the basis of these Financial Statements.’

See also

Govt ministries broke law on spending
Govt ministries in financial mess

Friday, 14 February 2020

Swaziland to increase spending on internal security as prodemocracy groups continue protests

Swaziland (eSwatini) ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III is to spend more money on national security in the coming year, the Swazi Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg announced in his annual budget.

Prodemocracy campaigners have been active in recent years and police and security forces have used violence to break up legal demonstrations.

Rijkenberg did not put a figure on the additional expenditure in his speech on Friday (14 February 2020). 

He told the Swazi Parliament, ‘Support to our security forces as we pursue economic stability and growth in the country is key to sustainable development of our nation. This budget seeks to strengthen public order management and state security systems which are important factors in ensuring that the country’s safety and security landscape is conducive for investment.’

The security forces include the army, police force and correctional services.

In recent years police and other security services have been criticised outside the kingdom for their brutal attacks on legal demonstrations. Swaziland is not a democracy and political parties are barred from taking part in elections. Groups advocating for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

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.

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’.

In September 2019 police had used teargas, rubber bullets, water cannon and live ammunition during a strike by public servants. 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.

In September 2018 the Swazi Police were criticised by human rights groups when they attacked workers led by the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) who were demonstrating in Manzini for salary increases, a national minimum wage and an increase in elderly grants (pensions). Police used teargas and stun-grenades. 

Videos and photographs of brutal police attacks were uploaded on social media.

Swaziland Human Rights Network UK in a statement at the time said, ‘The violent attack on peacefully demonstrating TUCOSWA members is reprehensible as it was a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression.’

It added, ‘The eSwatini government has turned the country into a violent police state where the security services have been turned into tools of suppression to protect the interests of not just the government but the regime of King Mswati III.’ 

The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) said in its statement following the budget speech, ‘This means labour unions and other civil society organisations shall be silenced, violently so and no voices of dissent will be allowed. Citizens must keep quiet, toe the line and that equals to peace, money has been set aside to procure guns and all sorts of artillery for that exercise. This is what dictatorships are known for, world over.’

See also

Swaziland police fire rubber bullets and teargas injuring 15 during national strike
Swaziland democracy leaders call on absolute monarch to arrange talks for political change

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Swaziland democracy leaders lose High Court case against police raids on legal technicality

Prodemocracy campaigners in Swaziland (eSwatini) who had their homes raided and property seized by police lost their High Court case calling the raids unconstitutional on a legal technicality.

Police acting on warrants from the Manzini and Mbabane magistrates courts raided homes of members of the newly-formed Political Parties Assembly (PPA) in December 2019.

Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) President Sibongile Mazibuko; Chairman of Sibanhle Sinje National Movement Musa Nkambule; People’ United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) Secretary General Wandile Dludlu and President of the Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA), Jan Sithole argued the warrants had been issued illegally.

Laptops, phones and other devices were confiscated by police in the raids.

High Court Judge Nkosinathi Maseko dismissed their application saying they should have gone to the magistrates’ court to have the warrants overturned. Only if the magistrates refused to do this, should they approach the High Court.

Previously the High Court had blocked the police from proceeding with arrests on the strength of the warrants they obtained. Judge Maseko said this was no longer in force.

After the decision, Jan Sithole told the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, the PPA leaders would attempt to appeal the High Court ruling.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. In the Swazi political system known as tinkhundla parties are barred from taking part in elections and groups calling for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The King appoints the Prime Minister and government members as well as top judges and civil servants.

Following the raids the Swaziland United Democratic Front, one of the groups targeted, in a statement circulated on social media 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.’

At the time 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 

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, 12 February 2020

Bald-headed scalping rises new fear of ritual use of body parts in Swaziland

Bald-headed people might be the latest target in Swaziland (eSwatini) to have body parts used for ritual purposes.

A man who died of natural causes later had his scalp cut off. His family believe this was used in a ritual or as part of a magic potion, the Times of eSwatini reported on Tuesday (11 February 2020). 

The Times reported Mjalimane Myeni, believed to be in his 70s, was mutilated at his homestead in Dzakasini.

It added, ‘This has raised fears that some people are now targeting bald-headed men to have their heads or scalps used in rituals or muti.

‘The country is notorious for ritual killings where people are believed to be murdered for the harvesting of certain body parts which are said to be used in muti to enhance people’s wealth.’

Police reported that Myeni had his scalp cut off while his corpse was kept in a house.

His son Phondo Myeni told the newspaper some unknown people broke into the house while the family was arranging transport of the body to the morgue.

The Times reported, ‘He said family members were only speculating on the motivation for cutting off the scalp, basing it on the common superstition about bald individuals being rich.’

People with albinism, a hereditary condition that causes an absence of skin pigmentation, have been targeted in Swaziland in the past. In 2018, ahead of the national election, there was widespread reporting of abductions across the kingdom. It was believed that body parts were being used to bring good luck to candidates running for the House of Assembly.

In June 2017, during a voter-education workshop, Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) called for an end to ritual killings around voting time. It was concerned about reports of people mysteriously disappearing across the kingdom. 

At the previous election in 2013, The Swaziland Epilepsy Association warned that cases of the abduction of epileptic people always increased during elections. Mbuso Mahlalela from the association told the Swazi Observer at the time it was common for the vulnerable to be targeted and abducted. He spoke after a report that a 13-year-old epileptic boy might have been abducted for ritual purposes.

Before the election in 2008 a
march by civil society groups to draw attention to ritual killings was banned by the government amid fears that it would bring bad publicity to Swaziland and might embarrass King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, who had spoken out against the practice. 

The Times of Swaziland reported at the time the march had been motivated by the mystery disappearances and murders of women. Some of these had been found mutilated fuelling speculating that they were related to rituals.

In 2008, it was strongly rumoured in Swaziland that the reason why members of the government wanted to ban discussion on the ritual murders was that some of them had themselves used muti to get elected.

In January 2017, the Director of Public Prosecution’s office in Swaziland told witchdoctors in the kingdom to stop murdering people for body parts. The witchdoctors, also known as tinyanga, were advised to go to the Ministry of Health for body parts, such as bones. 

See also 

People with albinism want protection
‘MPs use witchcraft for success’

Election: ‘ritual murders will rise’

Swazi Govt bans murders march

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

IMF reports Swaziland public debt rising, foreign reserves fallen ‘below adequate levels’

The economy in Swaziland (eSwatini) continues in free-fall. Public debt is still rising, domestic arrears have grown, and international currency reserves have fallen ‘below adequate levels,’ the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported.

The growth in private investment is slowing and declining external competitiveness is hindering the kingdom’s growth prospects. Now, 40 percent of the population is living in extreme poverty and unemployment is high.

The IMF report published on Tuesday (11 February 2020) came after the group’s latest visit to the kingdom ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III.

The IMF reported, ‘Economic indicators are expected to remain weak. GDP growth [the total value of goods and services in the kingdom] is projected to temporarily pick up in 2020, as the government plans to repay some arrears, but growth would be subdued afterwards as fiscal imbalances persist and the private sector remains hamstrung.’

The IMF predicted the government’s deficit was expected to remain large and public debt would rise to above 60 percent of GDP over the medium-term and contribute to further reduce international currency reserves.

Swaziland’s economy has been in freefall for many years. The government which is not elected by the people but handpicked by King Mswati has failed to pay its suppliers. 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.

Last week (5 February 2020) Swazi Minister of Finance, Neal Rijkenberg said government suppliers and service providers would have to wait six more weeks for their payments. The government had previously promised payments would be made by the end of January 2020. Previously, the deadline for payment had been set at the end of September 2019.
It is unclear how much the government owes and it has itself reported the figure as E4.2 billion and E2.2 billion.

Rijkenberg reported the Office of the Auditor General and the Office of Internal Audit were trying to verify how much was owed. 

In November 2019 the Swazi parliament approved a bill to allow government to seek a E2 billion loan  from the AFREXIM Bank to clear arrears and for other expenditure.

In 2017 Business Insider reported King Mswati 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. 

See also

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

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Man ‘thrown into fire’ in latest case of alleged police torture in Swaziland

A newspaper in Swaziland (eSwatini) has reported the latest in a series of allegations of what it called ‘torture’ by local police. A man said police threw him into a fire.

The Times of eSwatini, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, reported a 20-year-old man from Moyeni had received hospital treatment for ‘bruises on his back, minor wounds on his waist and swollen arms’.

It reported police took Bongani Kunene to Siteki police station after he had allegedly assaulted his cousin. Police also questioned him about other alleged offences.

The Times reported Kunene saying, ‘One of them [police officers] placed a plastic bag round my head and another one hit me with his fists. I cried and shouted for help.’

Kunene was then bundled into a police van and driven to a remote forest.

The Times reported, ‘Kunene alleged that when they arrived in the forest he was handcuffed and then dragged out of the police van.

‘He alleged that one of the officer tightened the handcuffs such  that blood stopped circulating on his two hands.’

It added, ‘He alleged that one of the officers assaulted him with the blade of a bush knife and that they slapped him several times ad further kicked all over the body.’

Kunene said police started a fire and threw him onto it but he crawled out of the flames.

Kunene said for days he was unable to walk properly because of the pain.

The Times listed another four cases of ‘similar incidences’ including a 27-year-old man from Siteki who accused police of beating him until he wet himself.

In a separate case a 50-year-old woman from Magwanyana reported she wet herself as police thrashed her all over her body with batons.

Magistrates in Swaziland have a number of times criticised police for beating up suspects.

In January 2019, Magistrate Sindisile Zwane at Mbabane said she had noticed a number of suspects came before her in court with bruises and swollen faces and other parts of their bodies.

The Swazi Observer reported at the time the numbers were increasing significantly. The newspaper added she said police should be able to question people without beating them up.

In March 2018 Principal Magistrate at Manzini David Khumalo told police they must not beat suspects after a man appeared in court with injuries all over his body. 

There have been many allegations of police assault in recent times. In November 2018 it was reported a man from Mangwaneni was left close to death after being allegedly assaulted by two officers at a police station. He suffered severe internal bleeding, heart seizures, the swelling of his kidneys and nerve damage on both his arms and legs.

In September 2018 four women were reportedly beaten with sjamboks and pipes and scalded with boiling water at Siteki police station. Two of them needed hospital treatment for burns and blisters. They were accused of stealing from shops.

In June 2016 a United Nations review panel looking into human rights in Swaziland was told in a joint report by four organisations, ‘In Mbabane [the Swazi capital], police tortured a 15-year-old boy after his mother had reported him for stealing E85.00 (US$6). The boy alleges that he was beaten with a slasher (metal blade tool for cutting grass) and knobkerrie [club] for five hours. While enduring the pain, he alleges that he was made to count the strokes aloud for the police to hear. Instead of being charged, the boy was physically assaulted and made to sit in a chair for thirty minutes before he was sent back home.’

The report was submitted to the United Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland by the Swaziland Multi-Media Community Network, Swaziland Concerned Church Leaders, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations and Constituent Assembly – Swaziland.

Picture from Times of eSwatini showing injuries to Bongani Kunene

See also

‘Horror tale of Swazi police torture’