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Friday, 29 May 2020

Tens of thousands of jobs at risk in Swaziland as coronavirus pandemic continues

Tens of thousands of jobs were likely to be lost in Swaziland (eSwatini) because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to predictions from trade union and business leaders.

More than 18,000 workers in the Swazi textile industry were in danger of losing jobs or having salary cuts, according to Warnder Mkhonza, Secretary General of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA).

Swaziland has been in partial lockdown because of coronavirus (COVID-19) since 27 March 2020. Many businesses were closed, but some, including textile factories, have been allowed to reopen.

Mkhonza said textile workers already earned ‘close to nothing’ and many textile firms had not followed government regulations set up for the coronavirus crisis about how to deal with lay-offs. He said workers who had returned to work had their salaries cut by half.

Separately, Business Eswatini Chief Executive Nathi Dlamini said it was inevitable that there would be job losses once the pandemic was over.

He said the pandemic had deprived Swaziland of revenues including tax income and employment. He said business performance had fallen to its lowest imaginable level.

In other coronavirus developments in Swaziland:

The COVID-19 Regional Response Teams reported that people in rural areas were not taking the pandemic seriously as they believed it was something that only affected urban areas. In one case a crowd of more than a hundred people had gathered for a soccer match and none wore masks. People took advantage of the setting and went about doing businesses such as selling food and beverages to the crowd.

MBABANE GOVERNMENT Hospital support staff said they were at high risk of contracting COVID-19 as they were not provided with personal protective equipment (PPE). They also said that a bus used to transport them to and from work was never fumigated.

AS OF 28 May 2020 there had been two reported deaths and 279 people tested positive for COVID-19, according to official figures from the Ministry of Health. 

See also

Coronavirus lockdown costs thousands of jobs in Swaziland, people evicted from homes
Swaziland short of coronavirus protective equipment for health workers as prices soar

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Swaziland short of coronavirus protective equipment for health workers as prices soar

Swaziland (eSwatini) is short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line health workers during the coronavirus crisis because suppliers have doubled their prices, the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) said. 

Once a tender for equipment had been agreed suppliers asked for prices to be increased and often more than doubled.

NDMA Procurement Officer Phesheya Dlamini told the eSwatini Observer, ‘Within a week of award, the prices had increased a hundredfold [doubled] to an extent that three companies came back to us requesting a price increase of over 100 per cent of the quoted price.

‘For instance, the supplier of gowns had initially said he would supply us the gowns at E197 each.  He, however, came back and requested to at least supply at a revised price of not less than E400. The only supplier that did not have a problem was the one who had quoted E1,300. Similarly the company that was to supply gumboots ended up failing to do so because of the price hike.’

The Director of Health Services Dr Vusi Magagula said suppliers were struggling to deliver goods on time and some coronavirus (COVID-19) supplies were not available as countries rushed for them due to the pressing demand.

Doctors, nurses and other health workers have had to treat coronavirus patients without correct PPE during the continuing pandemic. On 22 May 2020, Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi said 33 health workers had contracted the virus in Swaziland.

She added, ‘This suggests that in this fight health workers are not spared from this pandemic as they could [be] gripped by anxiety and fears.’

Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini called frontline health workers ‘our frontline soldiers’. He said, ‘In this war against the pandemic that has been plaguing the globe healthcare workers are in the firing end. They are the ones who are bravely protecting us against [the] deadly invisible enemy.’

Separately, voluntary workers in the community were told they should strip off their clothes and wash them outside their homes after each day’s work to avoid taking coronavirus into their homes. 

Participants at a workshop in the National Tuberculosis Control Programme (NTCP) were told this was because PPE was not available.

See also

Swaziland nurses’ union calls for closure of major hospital in fight against coronavirus

Coronavirus: Swaziland hospitals in crisis, PM forms emergency task groups

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Swazi state opposes bail for activist who criticised absolute monarch, faces sedition charge

Ncamiso Ngcamphalala, the Swaziland (eSwatini) democracy activist arrested for sedition after he was quoted in a news report criticising absolute monarch King Mswati III, had an application for bail opposed at the Swazi High Court.

Detailed papers have yet to be filed in the case. Ngcamphalala asked to be released on bail until the court case was heard. In Swaziland, defendants are often held in jail for many years awaiting trial. He told the court his two children had been reduced ‘to mere beggars’ while he was locked up.

Ngcamphalala was arrested on 1 May 2020 and charged with an offence under the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act 1938. The bail application is still pending.

Ngcamphalala who is President of the Swaziland Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), was charged for comments he made in an a article published by Swati Newsweek, a news website.

In the report Ngcamphalala was quoted saying, ‘We want government to change people’s lives, the Swazi Monarchy must know its place. We respect the King, but respect is earned and when pushed into a corner; we will be forced to retaliate. We unapologetically stand for multi-party democracy.’

In Swaziland, King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister and government ministers as well as top judges and civil servants. Political parties cannot take part in elections and groups campaigning for democratic reforms are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In April, Eugene Dube, the Swati Newsweek editor, was arrested, tortured by police and threatened with a charge of treason for publishing the report.

Ncamiso Ngcamphalala, President of the Economic Freedom Fighters-Swaziland

Separately, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe) has drawn attention to two Swaziland journalists, Zweli Martin Dlamini and Eugene Dube who fled the kingdom to South Africa, fearing their lives were in danger.

In statement it said, ‘Dlamini, the editor of Swaziland News, had in April written a story that King Mswati had contracted COVID-19. The police reportedly visited his home where they allegedly harassed his family members.

‘On the other hand, Royal Police visited Dube’s house, at least three times, seeking to interrogate him because the authorities were upset that he was reporting about the activities of an opposition group.

‘The police, on the other hand, claim they wanted to arrest Dube, the editor of Swati Newsweek because he had contravened COVID-19 lockdown regulations. He was detained for nine hours on 23 April, but Dube said the police did not question him on the alleged contravention of lockdown regulations.’

‘We urge the eSwatini authorities to guarantee the safety of the two journalists.’
Dube has written about how he fled from the Swazi police and hid out in a forest for five days.

See also

Swaziland journalist critical of King flees, hides in forest five days

Swaziland journalist critical of absolute monarch, beaten, arrested, faces treason charge

‘No media freedom’ in Swaziland, Reporters Without Borders annual report states
Swaziland journalist ‘tortured by police after criticising absolute monarch in newspaper articles’

Newspaper editor flees Swaziland for second time after arrest and police torture

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Swaziland to destroy 224,000 bottles of beer because of coronavirus lockdown

About 224,000 bottles of beer in Swaziland (eSwatini) are set to be destroyed because of the coronavirus lockdown in the kingdom.

Alcohol is among the ‘non-essential’ products that the Swazi Government said could not be produced or distributed during the lockdown that began on 27 March 2020. 

The beer that belongs to Eswatini Beverages has passed its sell-by date. Brands include Sibebe premium lager, Castle, Hansa, Castle lite, Castle milk stout, Black Label and Lion lager. Other alcohol including Reds, Flying Fish and Smirnoff brands are also set to be destroyed.

The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland reported people had been going into neighbouring  Mozambique at informal border crossings to get alcohol.

In other coronavirus (COVID-19) developments in Swaziland:

AS OF 24 May 2020 the Ministry of Health reported there had been two deaths and 250 positive tests for coronavirus since the pandemic started. Of these 156 people had so far recovered.

THE ESWATINI Observer newspaper reported that Kwaluseni Member of Parliament Sibusiso Mabhanisi Dlamini had held a house-warming party with more than 20 guests against the coronavirus regulations. Police reportedly visited the event after receiving a complaint.

THE UNIVERSITY of Eswatini has adopted online teaching because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Students Representative Council (SRC) objected because many students did not have the money to buy necessary equipment or air time to access the Internet.

THE SWAZI Government has said it wants to start reopening schools from 1 July and has started discussions with various stakeholders.

See also

Charity starts feeding tens of thousands of hungry in Swaziland as coronavirus lockdown grips

One-year-old tests positive for coronavirus in Swaziland

Monday, 25 May 2020

Charity starts feeding tens of thousands of hungry in Swaziland as coronavirus lockdown grips

Tens of thousands of people under coronavirus lockdown in Swaziland (eSwatini) are to get money to buy food from a charitable foundation. Meanwhile the Swazi Government’s scheme to feed more than 300,000 people by 6 May 2020 has stalled.

The Natie Kirsh Foundation began the cash distribution of E45 million (US$2.5 million) on Monday (25 May 2020) in an attempt to feed 69,000 people in 11,000 households in the Shiselweni and Manzini regions. Money will be sent to households in other regions in the kingdom in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini told media, ‘We are cognizant of the reality that many people who were not chronically food insecure before COVID-19 now need food assistance. These include workers who have been laid off, street vendors, hawkers and others.’

The money will be transferred electronically to the bank accounts of households. Each household is expected to get E700 to spend on food items of their choice.

The distribution is separate from a government scheme that was announced on 22 April. Prime Minister Dlamini promised more than 300,000 people would get food aid within two weeks. Swaziland has been in partial lockdown since 27 March.

The scheme stalled after the  House of Assembly refused to back a plan from the Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku to send destitute people money rather than food.

Then it was revealed that the government had no plan to feed people living in towns and cities.

Then there was chaos across the kingdom as people who tried to register for food aid were turned away.

It was also reported that some people were being charged E50 to have their names put on the registration list. In normal times about seven in ten of the population live on incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 (E37) a day.

See also

Chaos as Swaziland Govt. misses target to start food aid for destitute in coronavirus lockdown
Swaziland police fine man trying to buy food for destitute children during coronavirus lockdown
Swaziland Govt. confirms it will not feed the starving in towns and cities during coronavirus lockdown
Swaziland Govt. pledges to feed 300,000 facing hunger in next two weeks as coronavirus intensifies
People face ‘imminent death from hunger’ in Swaziland as coronavirus lockdown hits poorest

Thursday, 21 May 2020

One-year-old tests positive for coronavirus in Swaziland

A one-year-old girl has tested positive for coronavirus in Swaziland (eSwatini) making her one of the youngest victims of the virus in the world.

The child from the Manzini region of the kingdom was reported by the Swazi Ministry of Health to have a ‘mild disease’. No other details were released.

As of Wednesday (20 May 2020) there had been 217 reported cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Swaziland. A total of 97 people had recovered and two people died. Fifty cases were reported last week and 53 cases in the previous week.

In a statement Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi said an increasing number of elderly people were contracting coronavirus, but at least two aged over 60 had recovered and been discharged from care.

The youngest victim of the coronavirus is believed to be a new-born baby in Connecticut, United States. A six-week-old baby in England has also been reported with the virus.

In other coronavirus developments in Swaziland:

MORE THAN 60,000 people from a population of 1.3 million have been screened for coronavirus across the kingdom, including at health facilities and road blocks, according to the Ministry of Health.
THE SWAZILAND Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) has protested that 15 healthcare workers in self-isolation were recalled to work before test results were known. They work at Mbabane Government Hospital. Reportedly three later were found to be positive.

MEMBERS OF the House of Assembly have demanded that the Ministry of Health reveal the locations of the 15 facilities that are being used as quarantine sites. They are believed to be hotels. The Ministry said they requested confidentiality in order to protect their future reputation and business. 

See also

Swaziland coronavirus lockdown extended, but little progress on Govt relief
Coronavirus cases soar in Swaziland, public ignore Govt. lockdown

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Swaziland activist who called on King to be charged with human rights crimes freed from jail after a year

Goodwill Sibiya, the democracy activist who was arrested after calling for King Mswati III the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), to be charged with embezzlement and human rights violations has been released from jail after a year.

He had been charged with terrorism and sedition. All charges against him have been dropped.

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.

He was charged in May 2019 after he 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’.

Goodwill Sibiya
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.

Sibiya was originally charged on two counts. In the first, he is alleged to have professed to be a member the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Communist Party of Swaziland which are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. He is also charged with being a member of the South African Economic Freedom Guerrillas.

In the second count, Sibiya is alleged to have unlawfully attested to an affidavit containing ‘falsehoods’ with the intention to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the King in breach of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act.

The charge under the Suppression of Terrorism Act was withdrawn in October 2019. He was released on Tuesday (19 May 2020) after the other charge was dropped.

Sibiya’s case attracted international attention. The United States in its annual report on human rights in Swaziland listed him as a ‘political prisoner’.

See also

Swaziland activist who called for prosecution of King for embezzlement charged under terrorism law
Swaziland State wants activist who tried to prosecute absolute monarch to take mental tests

Monday, 18 May 2020

Swaziland coronavirus lockdown extended, but little progress on Govt relief

As Swaziland (eSwatini) extended its coronavirus partial lockdown for another month to 19 June 2020 information emerged that the Swazi Government had failed to make progress with two plans to support businesses and feed 300,000 hungry people.

Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, went into lockdown on 27 March. There are restrictions on travel, the size of gatherings and which shops and businesses can open. Schools and colleges are also closed.

Shortly after the lockdown began the government announced plans to help business. The Sunday Observer reported no money had been paid out to businesses from a E90 million (US$5 million) fund. At least 18 businesses were reported to have applied for money but their requests were being tied up by the Eswatini Revenue Authority which is checking their tax status.

There were also concerns raised by Business Eswatini that the maximum E8 million annual turnover threshold to qualify had been set too low and many needy businesses were ineligible to apply.

Business Eswatini Chief Executive Officer Nathi Dlamini told the Observer, ‘However, if the threshold had been pegged higher, a number of business entities particularly those from the hospitality, transport and logistics sectors would have immediately availed for this facility.’

The funds were supposed to be emergency payments to allow businesses to stay afloat during the lockdown.

When he announced the scheme Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini said, ‘This relief will be directed to businesses that have continually supported the development of the country by complying with their tax obligations, which means they have filed and paid their taxes on time up to the 2019 tax year.’

Eswatini Revenue Authority Director  Communications Vusi  Dlamini told the Observer nothing had been paid out so far because it was still conducting compliance checks.

Separately, a plan to feed at least 300,000 hungry people across Swaziland seemed to have stalled.

The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, reported on Monday (18 May 2020) that E500 million had been donated for relief from private companies, non-governmental organizations and international partners, but so far no food had been distributed.

It reported, ‘It has been disclosed that government only distributed donated food from Taiwan to few individuals and nothing convincing has been done with the multi-million cash donations including the E100million approved by Parliament.’

The Swazi Government had set a deadline of 6 May to feed more than 300,000 people through the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). 

Wandile Mavuso, NDMA spokesperson later confirmed that people in urban areas would not get food. He explained on state radio that the government was directing its efforts only to rural areas.

See also

Chaos as Swaziland Govt. misses target to start food aid for destitute in coronavirus lockdown
Coronavirus cases soar in Swaziland, public ignore Govt. lockdown