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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Swaziland High Court judge calls for debate on legalising abortion

A High Court judge in the deeply conservative kingdom of Swaziland (eSwatini) has started a debate about legalising abortion.

Judge Qinisile Mabuza heard a case involving a 26-year-old woman who was accused of causing the death of her four-year-old son, by drowning him in a river.

The eSwatini Observer reported that the child’s father had denied paternity, leaving her to rise the child herself. This prompted the judge to question what provisions were available for women who found themselves in similar situations.

The Swazi Constitution provides that abortion might be allowed on medical or therapeutic grounds, including where a doctor certifies that continued pregnancy will endanger the life or constitute a serious threat to the physical health of the woman; continued pregnancy will constitute a serious threat to the mental health of the woman; there is serious risk that the child will suffer from physical or mental defect of such a nature that the child will be irreparably seriously handicapped. 

However, no law exists to put the constitutional provisions into effect. 

According to the Observer, ‘In her subsequent remarks, she [Judge Mabuza] hinted that she viewed the current situation as shackling women’s autonomy, making an undertaking to tackle the current ban on abortion before she retires from the bench.

‘In fact, the learned judge believes it would be reasonable to allow women to make a decision on whether to perform an abortion.’

The Observer reported, she added some of the rights of women had been addressed through the 2018 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act and it was time that society explored the possibility of legalising abortion as well.

Later, a number of representatives from organisations within Swaziland supported the idea of a debate. Acting Director Bongani Msibi of the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), a leader in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights delivery and youth programming in Swaziland, said the illegality of abortion often posed serious risks to women, and that legalisation could help to protect their reproductive and health rights.

Acting Director Zanele Thabede of Women and the Law of Southern Africa (WLSA) said abortion law reform should be discussed. She told the Observer it was important to have meaningful conversations whatever your beliefs about abortion.

Head of the Human Rights  and  Integrity Commission Sabelo Masuku said the group was in support of the call by the judge to have Swaziland revisit its position on abortion.

Because abortions are illegal in Swaziland it is difficult to say accurately how many are performed in the kingdom. However, in August 2018 the Times of Swaziland reported that every month, nurses at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial (RFM) Hospital in Manzini attended more than 100 cases of young women who had committed illegal abortions.

The IRIN news agency, quoting FLAS reported that in October 2012 more than 1,000 women were treated for abortion-related complications at a single clinic in Swaziland.


See also

Death of Swaziland schoolgirl after illegal abortion highlights suffering of women in kingdom


U.S. halts funding to Swaziland NGO as anti-abortion policy bites


Swaziland college principal reveals role abortions play in lives of his students

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Swaziland Army investigates after video showing ‘soldiers whipping civilians’ goes viral

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Army has started an investigation after video that appeared to show two soldiers whipping two civilians circulated widely on social media.

The 30-second video shows two men laying on the ground while one is whipped with what appears to be a branch of a tree. It is reported the assault went on for several minutes.

There is some confusion as to the role soldiers took. In some accounts the two men doing the whipping are soldiers and in others it is said soldiers who are not seen on the video but whose voices are heard were the soldiers.

According to a later report in the Times of eSwatini the incident is believed to have happened in an area near Matsamo on Saturday (26 September 2020), close to the border with South Africa.

The video also shows piles of South African banknotes in front of the two victims.

The Independent News, eSwatini, reported the Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force (the official name of the Army) had started an investigation. A spokesperson said, ‘The defence force has since launched meticulous, internal investigations to determine the veracity of the clip.’

The News reported an unnamed male soldier saying that the defence force did not work like the police who opened charges against suspects. ‘As soldiers they just deal with you on the scene and set you free once you finish your punishment,’ the newspaper reported.


A still from the video circulating on social media

Soldiers in Swaziland have a long history of assaults on civilians, especially in border regions. In November 2019 a pregnant woman was slapped and thrown to the ground by two soldiers at Nsubane in the southeast of the kingdom. When she went to the army barracks to report the matter she was assaulted again.

In March 2019 the High Court ruled the army should pay E70,000 damages to a man it tortured. High Court Principal Judge Qinisile Mabuza also criticised the kingdom’s police for not investigating alleged assaults on civilians by members of the army.

In October 2018 soldiers were said to have tortured farmers who crossed the border at Dwalile to retrieve their straying cattle.

In a separate case in June 2018 three soldiers were charged with assault for burying a man alive after they accused him of stealing a phone from them at Mbekelweni.

In December 2017 soldiers were accused of routinely sexually assaulting women as they crossed border posts with South Africa. The Observer on Saturday reported at the time, ‘The army troops have been accused by women of abusing their powers by touching them inappropriately as they lay their hands on their buttocks just to allow to cross either to South Africa or into Swaziland. 

In July 2017 soldiers reportedly forced a bus-load of passengers to strip naked after it crossed the Mhlumeni Border Gate into Mozambique. Local media reported it happened all the time. 

In June 2017 it was reported women at the informal crossing situated next to the Mananga Border Gate were made to remove their underwear so soldiers could inspect their private parts with a mirror. The Swazi Army said it happened all the time. Soldiers were said to be searching for ‘illegal objects’ using a mirror similar to that used to inspect the underside of cars.

In September 2015, the Swazi Parliament heard that soldiers beat up old ladies so badly they had to be taken to their homes in wheelbarrows. Member of Parliament Titus Thwala said that the women were among the local residents who were regularly beaten by soldiers at informal crossing points between Swaziland and South Africa.

See also

Army tortures recruitment cheats

Army sexual assaults at border posts

Soldiers inspect woman’s private parts


Saturday, 26 September 2020

Swaziland police teargas residents protesting about broken road bridge, fire rubber bullets

Police in Swaziland (eSwatini) fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd protesting that they were being made to pay fines for jaywalking while a broken pedestrian bridge was left unrepaired.

It happened at Eteni on the major Manzini-Mbabane Highway.

The residents complained that they were being charged for jaywalking by traffic officers when there was a bridge they should be using to cross to the other side of the road. The bridge was damaged a few weeks ago when one of the slabs fell off. 


The broken bridge



Protestors lit fires to block the road. Pictures sourced from Facebook

They have to walk long distances to get to the other side of the road. If they cross the road where the bridge is police can give on-the-spot fines of up to E60 for jaywalking. In Swaziland about seven in ten people have incomes of less than E30 a day.

Residents blocked the road on Thursday night (24 September 2020) by lighting tyres. Traffic was held up for several hours. Riot police were called to clear the road.

Police in Swaziland routinely use teargas and rubber bullets against protestors. They have also used heavy-handed methods when dealing with members of the public during the present coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown in the kingdom.

Police reportedly fired a shot and severely kicked and punched residents at Murray Camp, outside the main commercial city Manzini in August. Residents were allegedly drinking  alcohol outside a homestead which is against lockdown regulations.

On 15 April Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini endorsed police beating people during the lockdown. He told a press briefing, ‘If you are found to be violating these regulations, the law will definitely take its course, we won’t compromise on this. Maybe those who were assaulted were found to be on the wrong side of the law by breaking the regulations put in place by government.’

A 15-year-old boy was shot and wounded by police when he played football with friends on a dusty field near Gege. The Times of eSwatini reported their game was being watched by two adults. It said the police officer allegedly fired his weapon to disperse the spectators.

The youngster was struck by a bullet in his left arm and it was later reported he would be maimed for life.

See also

Swaziland policeman shoots boy, 15, playing football during coronavirus lockdown


More reports of police and army violence against civilians as Swaziland coronavirus lockdown continues


Swaziland armed police, army intimidate people to obey coronavirus lockdown. Woman, 85, dies


Swaziland security forces whip destitute woman searching for food during coronavirus lockdown