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Monday, 31 August 2020

Swaziland proposes law with 10 year jail term for publishing ‘fake news’

The government in the absolute monarchy of Swaziland (eSwatini) has introduced a law aimed at censoring all forms of media which could lead to a 10-year jail sentence for people publishing ‘fake news’.

The kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch already has been labelled ‘not free’ by human rights groups.

A government gazette has been published detailing the proposed law. The bill will be piloted by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology which is headed by the King’s daughter, Princess Sikhanyiso.

The Times of eSwatini reported that the bill states that any person who publishes any statement or fake news through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person or group of persons commits an offence. On conviction a person would be liable to a fine not exceeding E10 million (US$600,000) or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both.

The new law would allow the courts to prosecute in some circumstances Swazi nationals who live outside of Swaziland. It also covers a wide range of offences including spamming and cyberstalking. Cyberstalking includes making false accusations, defamation and identity theft.

King Mswati who has been widely criticised by human rights groups controls much of the mainstream media in Swaziland. Nearly all broadcasting is state-controlled and one of the only two daily newspapers in the kingdom is in effect owned by the King. Formal censorship and self-censorship by journalists when reporting matters about the King is almost total.

In recent years news websites that call for human rights reforms in Swaziland have been launched. The editors of two of them are in exile in neighbouring South Africa after publishing articles deemed critical of the King. They face sedition charges if they return to Swaziland. There are also a number of Facebook sites and other social media platforms that carry material critical of the King.

Reporters Without Borders in its World Press Index released earlier in 2020 reported that there was no media freedom in Swaziland. It reported, ‘No court is allowed to prosecute or try members of the government, but any criticism of the regime is liable to be the subject of a prosecution. Far from being an independent protector of rights and freedoms, the judicial system is often used to undermine journalism.’

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.’

In Swaziland political parties are barred from taking part in elections. Groups advocating for democracy are outlawed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

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
Swaziland democracy leader charged with sedition for criticising absolute monarch on news website

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Nearly half the people with tuberculosis in Swaziland don’t know they have it, report suggests

Nearly half of the people in Swaziland (eSwatini) who have the disease tuberculosis (TB) do not know it, according to a new report.

TB in the kingdom is a prominent threat to public health. The situation is serious, especially because it often goes undetected.

TB is a bacteria that usually attacks the lungs, but it can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain.

A report published by Borgan from Seattle, United States, states some people with TB are asymptomatic (they show no signs of it). ‘Thus, there is a disparity between individuals who unknowingly have tuberculosis and others who can become very ill. Common symptoms include chest pain, a strong cough lasting three or more weeks and coughing up blood or sputum.’

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in 2017 estimated that the incidence of TB in Swaziland was 308 per 100,000 people. However, the mortality rate for tuberculosis was low at only 10 per 100,000 people in 2019. This is significantly lower than the 2003 mortality rate of 18 per 100,000 people. The National Tuberculosis Control Programme (NTCP) estimates that children account for only 10 percent percent of all Swazis with tuberculosis.

The report stated, ‘Though these rates may seem low, tuberculosis in Eswatini is still a serious public health issue. Swazis may not be dying from the disease as they once were, but they continue to live with it. Approximately 47 percent of Swazis with tuberculosis have gone undetected.’

The CDC is one organization that works directly with the Swazi Ministry of Health to address tuberculosis infection. It especially focuses on providing technical assistance to promote combined tuberculosis and HIV aid. This assistance includes testing, preventative treatment, and antiretroviral treatment. Its efforts have been effective as the organization reported the tuberculosis treatment rate of success to be 83 percent in 2016.

The Borgan report concluded, 'Tuberculosisi in eSwatini remaains a prominent threat to public health. The situation is serious, especially because it often goes undetected.'
See also

Nurses catch TB from patients

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Swaziland public transport in chaos as bus workers strike over coronavirus lockdown

Public transport in the Swaziland (eSwatini) city of Manzini was severely disrupted when bus operators stopped work and barricaded the bus rank.

The action came amid confusion over how buses – known locally as kombis – would operate as the lockdown of the kingdom due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis starts to be eased.

The problem concerned the route from Manzini, Swaziland’s main commercial city, to Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital. Workers in Manzini wanted to operate normally but those in Mbabane wanted to abide by existing restrictions.

The Times of Eswatini reported on Wednesday (26 August 2020), ‘It was gathered that kombi operators that are registered under Manzini demanded that all their vehicles should be allowed to operate while those in Mbabane were of the view that only 50 per cent of the total number of kombis servicing the route should work.’

About 130 kombis service the route.

Swaziland Local Transport Association Chairperson Mandla Dlamini told the eSwatini Observer an interim resolution had been made for the kombis continue operating until Friday when the association’s executive would make a final decision.

See also

Swaziland bus operators defy coronavirus regulations to run fully loaded despite surge in deaths
More Swaziland schools reopen as health expert predicts coronavirus cases could triple by end of month

Monday, 24 August 2020

Hunger sweeping across Swaziland and is going to get worse, new report suggests

Nearly one in three people in Swaziland (eSwatini) face severe hunger in the coming months and the situation is getting worse.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is only partly to blame. Before the virus struck in March 2020 the kingdom already faced a crisis because of  poor harvests. But, the impact on jobs of the command by King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, to partially shut down the economy because of the virus has hit hard.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) in a report just published said about 366,000 (32 percent of the population) faced ‘high acute food insecurity’ in the coming months.

The IPC analysis was undertaken for rural and urban areas in Swaziland; comprising of four rural districts: (Manzini, Shiselweni, Lubombo and Hhohho); and two urban districts; (Hhohho urban and Manzini urban). At present, 32 percent of the rural population (292,794 people) and 17 percent of the urban population (37,424 people) are in crisis.

Compared with 2019, the kingdom’s food insecurity situation has deteriorated.

IPC reported The COVID-19 pandemic had compounded the food insecurity situation, leading to an estimated 37 percent of households with reduced income and 26.9 percent with reported loss of employment. 

‘High prevalence of HIV and AIDS and its effects on the productivity of most rural households in the country continue to pose a great threat to a large proportion (26 percent) of the rural population. Lower than normal rainfall, coupled with a high prevalence of disease, during the production season negatively affected food production and availability.’

It added the kingdom had recorded a shortfall in maize production of 71.93 metric tons to meet the 162.32 metric tons domestic requirement for the staple crop. Planned import requirements amount to 61.7 metric tons, with an uncovered food gap of 10.22 metric tons. 

The report stated, ‘COVID-19 restrictions continue to disrupt food supply chains in the country, negatively impacting food availability. Humanitarian assistance programmes have been initiated to provide cash and food relief to ease the COVID 19-induced food challenges. 

‘The greater impact of the pandemic weighs heavily on the rural poor due to the disruption of the informal sector – the mainstay of rural livelihood.’

See also

EU steps up to feed destitute during coronavirus crisis as Swaziland Govt. stumbles to deliver aid
Only four in ten receive food aid in Swaziland Govt coronavirus scheme, a month after deadline
People face ‘imminent death from hunger’ in Swaziland as coronavirus lockdown hits poorest

Friday, 21 August 2020

More Swaziland schools reopen as health expert predicts coronavirus cases could triple by end of month

More schools and colleges in Swaziland (eSwatini) are to reopen from coronavirus lockdown just as the Ministry of Health’s epidemiologist predicted cases of the virus could triple before the end of the month.

Dr Vusi Lokotfwako reportedly said positive cases could reach 12,470 over the next 10 days. As of 20 August 2020 the Ministry of Health reported 4,110 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) since the crisis began in March. Of these, 2,643 had recovered. There had been a total of 81 deaths, up from 41 at the end of July.

The eSwatini Observer reported Lokotfwako said people needed to follow guidelines on personal health, wearing facemasks and social distancing to keep the numbers down.

A partial lockdown introduced in Swaziland in March has been eased. The Observer reported, ‘He mentioned that during the lockdown, the cumulative curve [the number of people becoming infected] of the country was very low, however as the economy was gradually eased, a lot of people contracted the virus.’

On Thursday (20 August 2020) Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini announced that more school classes would reopen starting on Monday. Some classes already resumed on 6 July. More university classes would also return from Monday.

School teachers’ leaders oppose the move. The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) already has a case before the High Court after the July reopening asking for schools to be closed again because they continue to be unsafe for pupils and staff.

After the Prime Minister’s statement SNAT Secretary General, Sikelela Dlamini said the teachers’ position had not changed.

In his statement the PM said, ‘Health teams have been deployed in all four regions to monitor and attend to all schools’ concerns with regard to the pandemic, and a National Schools Health team which consists of doctors is in place to assist all schools.’

He also said ‘a noticeable number’ of pupils had not returned to school when they reopened ‘mainly due to pregnancy’. He added others had taken illegal and informal jobs. 

See also

Swaziland schools reopen from coronavirus lockdown amid fears virus not peaked
Swaziland hospitals close to overwhelmed by coronavirus, says Heath Minister

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Swaziland King’s controversial oil storage project rises from the dead and could cost kingdom E3bn

The projected cost of building an oil facility in Swaziland (eSwatini), enthusiastically supported by the kingdom’s absolute monarch King Mswati III, has risen to more than E3 billion (US$170 million) even though it was reported that the contract to build it had been cancelled by the Swazi Government in 2017.

A strategic oil reserve facility to store about 90 million litres of fuel at Phuzumoya in eastern Swaziland was originally estimated to cost E900 million.

The Sunday edition of the Times of eSwatini reported a private company called Kantey & Templer had originally been contracted to build the facility but was dismissed from the project in October 2017.

Now, the Times said the project was continuing and so far E54.89 million had been spent and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy’s estimated costs could eventually reach E3.2 billion. 

The project was controversial from the start when the contract was awarded without going out to tender.

It had the enthusiastic backing of King Mswati who receives 25 percent of all mineral income in Swaziland which he holds ‘in trust for the Swazi nation’. In reality he uses the money to fund a lavish lifestyle. In November 2019 he purchased between 13 and 15 luxury Rolls-Royce cars at an estimated cost of up to US$4 million. He also 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.

In February 2018, the Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in effect owned by the King,  reported the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy was in the process of terminating the contract because little progress had been made.

In October 2013, King Mswati officially launched the construction of the project at a sod cutting ceremony. He said at the time, ‘The project that I bring to you today is one that is geared into transforming lives and take the entire region into higher heights.’

Construction was supposed to take two years and create 300 jobs.

Even though it had already missed its deadline, King Mswati, during the official opening of parliament in 2016, encouraged investors to take advantage of the project.

Once completed the facility would have a capacity for 90 million litres of fuel, enough to last Swaziland 90 days. No independent analysis had been undertaken to see if this was needed in the kingdom.

In January 2015 media were excluded from a House of Assembly session where a special Act of Parliament was passed to allow the Government to make the payment for the project. 

Members of parliament had previously rejected a Bill to guarantee the payment.

Claims of malpractice circulated in the kingdom and members of parliament were concerned that the lucrative contract had not put out to open tender. Media in Swaziland also reported that some people had registered imposter companies as part of a plan to destabilise the project.

After a year the project had not started. It emerged that the company originally contracted to build the project American Tank and Vessel (AT&V) had withdrawn from the contract.

The reason for the withdrawal of AT&V has not been explained publicly, but it is believed that the move was permitted under the terms of the company’s contract.

Then, without public consultation or going through the legal open tendering process, the contract was awarded to South African Company, Kantey & Templer Consulting Engineers.

The Swazi Observer reported the Natural Resources and Energy Minister Jabulile Mshwama saying that ‘since His Majesty had already announced that work had to begin by cutting the sod, her ministry had been working round the clock that the project kick starts and according to Swazi custom once the King has spoken, things have to be done’.

When a Government Bill was first introduced to the House of Assembly, members of parliament threw it out. The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported, ‘The MPs had tossed out the Bill after concerns had been raised about why the tender for the construction of the about E900m facility had not been an open one and they also questioned the particulars of Kantey & Templer Proprietary Limited (Swaziland) [a company formed to oversee the project].’

The Times Sunday, an independent newspaper, reported, ‘MPs are unhappy that other companies were not engaged, through an open tendering system, to bid for the multimillion project.  Suspicion reached high levels when the MPs learnt that a closed tendering system was used to engage the South African company to embark on the project. The nature of the suspicions cannot be repeated for now.’

The Sunday Observer, another newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported that individuals were trying to destabilise the project. It reported, ‘Two prominent individuals identified as being behind the hijack include a present cabinet minister and a businessman who also happens to be a former cabinet minister.’ 

The newspaper reported, ‘An individual close to the project confided that there is serious lobbying, by those who want a stake in the project, to have it stalled.  “The very same people who wanted to register impostor companies are the ones who are now lobbying members of parliament and cabinet ministers to have the project grounded. They are doing this to serve their own selfish interests. They want to create bad publicity around Kantey & Templer and the project in the hope that the tender award would be cancelled,” the well-informed individual said.’ 

Senators also questioned the awarding of the tender. The Observer on Sunday reported, ‘Senator Chief Kusa had also strongly questioned why the initial company AT&V had suddenly withdrew from the project and questioned how the whole project was costed and how the tendered company Kantey & Templer was eventually awarded tender. 

‘Senator Chief Kekela also wondered if the credibility of the company was considered as the country has experienced a number of projects that have failed as a result of companies whose profiles and credibility was not considered. “We have seen companies that have come and made heavenly promises that have however not come to effect and failed and I must say I do not want to work on risks here as a risk is dangerous, we should not therefore risk with the Swazi people,” the Senator said.’

In February 2018, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy told the Observer on Saturday, ‘The contractor [Kantey & Templer] did not meet the agreed upon timelines and we are working within the framework of the agreement for the next steps in this project. It is envisaged that the project will be returned to tendering in the very near future.’

See also

Swazi King fell for US$5bn con-trick