Friday, December 13, 2019

Democracy leaders detained by Swaziland police as illegal march halted

Three democracy leaders in Swaziland (eSwatini) were detained by police when protesters tried to march through the industrial town of Matsapha.

The march was halted after it had been banned by the courts hours earlier.

It was the latest activity from the recently-organised Political Party Assembly (PPA). Political parties are banned in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

It happened on Thursday (12 December 2019) when the PPA wanted to march from factory to factory in the town to drum up support.

Those detained were Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) President Jan Sithole; Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC) President Sibongile Mazibuko; and Zodwa Mkhonta, Deputy President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

The leaders were arrested on the streets of Matsapha, taken to the local police station and later released. 

The Times of eSwatini said there were also unconfirmed reports that police from the Serious Crime Unit (Lukhozi) rounded up ordinary members of the PPA at the assembly point for the march.

Protest marches are routinely banned in Swaziland where freedom of assembly is severely curtailed.

In July 2019 Human Rights Watch reported restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued in Swaziland although the kingdom had signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January 2018, the government has not taken steps to ratify and implement the charter.

Amnesty International in a review of Swaziland for 2017 / 2018 stated, ‘The Public Order Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act severely limited the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.’ 

It added, The Public Order Act, ‘curtailed the rights to freedom of assembly and association, imposing far-reaching restrictions on organizers of public gatherings. The Act also failed to provide mechanisms to hold law enforcement officials accountable for using excessive force against protesters or public gatherings.’

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’.

See also

Swaziland political parties unite in bid to end absolute king’s power

Thursday, December 12, 2019

U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland renews criticism of King’s lavish spending while people live in poverty

US Ambassador to Swaziland (eSwatini) Lisa Peterson has renewed her criticism of absolute monarch King Mswati III’s decision to buy his family a fleet of Rolls-Royce cars.

Reports on the number purchased have ranged from 13 to 15 and they were reported to have cost up to US$4 million.

Swaziland also bought him 126 BMW cars and motorbikes to escort the Royal family around the kingdom.

In an interview with The Nation, a monthly independent magazine in Swaziland, Peterson said, ‘Since the arrival of the Rolls-Royce fleet [in November 2019] I have both witnessed directly and heard about the level of anger among emaSwati [the people of Swaziland] over these cars that were “purchased privately.”

‘My initial anger was at the excessive luxury enjoyed by a tiny segment of the country, while 40 percent of the population lives on less than E29 per day [US$2], according to the World Bank.’

She added that people in Swaziland felt bound by ‘a cultural expectation’ to keep quiet while more powerful people took advantage of their goodwill and respect.

She said, “Goodwill and respect should be earned based on a person’s actions, which must be guided by giving the utmost consideration to human dignity.

‘They require that a person deal honestly with those around him, particularly those who depend on his conscientious leadership. By always dealing honestly, a leader gains the trust and respect of his public.’

Ambassador Peterson said the United States taxpayers invested E7.5 billion (US$500 million) in Swaziland for the fight against HIV and AIDS. She hinted the future of this investment was threatened.

She said, ‘If your brother’s family is sick but he doesn’t have the money to care for them, you assist without question.

‘But if your brother continues to count on you to pay for his family’s health care even after he buys himself a Rolls-Royce you will surely speak up to question how he can afford one and not the other.’

This was not the first time Peterson had criticised King Mswati for his lavish spending. Last month [November 2019] authorities in Swaziland said they wanted to censor her future public speeches after she criticised the King for his spending on the luxury Rolls-Royce and BMW cars.

An online newspaper the Swaziland News reported she was now under police surveillance.

Peterson had made comments while giving certificates to young entrepreneurs at Nhlangano on 8 November 2019. 

A transcript of her speech issued by the US Embassy in Swaziland quoted her saying, ‘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 E52.5 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.’

She said, However, 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?

Following her comments the former chief executive officer in the King’s Office, now Shiselweni Regional Administrator, Vincent Mhlanga, told the Eswatini Observer (formerly Swazi Observer), a newspaper in effect owned by the King, that he was angered by the Ambassadors speech.
The Observer quoted him saying, ‘Going forward, when she comes to the region for any activity or event, we need to first know what she will say.’

The Swaziland News reported, ‘The Regional Administrator said it was unfortunate that he was not present when the Ambassador made these sentiments, otherwise, he could have stopped her from continuing with the speech.’

The Swaziland News also reported that Ambassador Peterson was under police surveillance. It said plain clothes police posing as journalists took photographs of the Ambassador during her visit to Nhlangano. 

eSwatini Police Spokesperson Superintendent Phindile Vilakati told the Swaziland News, ‘We go to any gathering and collect information, it’s not like we’re only targeting the American Ambassador. We have been doing this for a long time, collecting information for our files.’

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.’

South African media reported that the queens, their bodyguards, protocol officials, family and other ‘support staff’ were on the trip that was expected to last eight days.

Lisa Peterson, US Ambassador to Swaziland (eSwatini)

See also

Threat to censor U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland after criticism of King’s lavish spending

King of impoverished Swaziland takes delivery of 79 luxury BMW cars worth US$6 million
U.S. Ambassador calls for repeal of decree that makes Swaziland an absolute monarchy

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

‘Attempt made to poison journalist critic of Swaziland’s absolute monarch,’ editor says

The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, has called for an investigation following a report that a former government minister and members of an elite group linked to the Swazi Royal Family attempted to poison its political commentator Mfomfo Nkambule after he wrote articles critical of absolute monarch King Mswati III.

Nkambule, himself a former government minister, reported he was targeted at a braai. The Swaziland News reported details of the allegation and those said to be involved. A former government minister and a billionaire businessman were among them, the newspaper alleged.

Swaziland News Managing Editor Zweli Martin Dlamini said the matter needed to be investigated. ‘That’s how they operate, they invite you for lunch or a braai and kill you while smiling. It very unfortunate that in this country you can be killed just for having a different political opinion,’ he told his own newspaper.

Nkambule had recently written a series of articles for the Swaziland News criticising the political system in Swaziland / eSwatini. King Mswati rules as an absolute monarch and political parties are banned from taking part in elections. The King appoints the government. Groups that advocate for democracy are outlawed by the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

In a recent article for the Swaziland News Nkambule wrote, ‘He [the King] has given us the status of servants in this country. As servants, we do not have any right whatsoever. We have no right to vote, no right to form political parties, no right to form a government of our choice, no power to legislate and to appropriate resources. We need a referendum on the King!’

He added, ‘The King has failed us as a people, and we are no longer proud of him as our King.’

He wrote, ‘The Swazi King should not practice deceit, dishonesty, corruption, nepotism, dictatorship, greed, hatred, prejudice, extortion and all the bad things that happen under the sun.’

Nkambule has been a critic of the political system in Swaziland and the role of the monarch for many years.

He attracted international attention in 2008 and 2009 for outspoken articles he wrote each week in the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper.

Nkhambule specialised in criticising Swazi Royalty and the traditionalists who supported the King.

Nkhambule, who had formerly been Health and Social Welfare Minister appointed by the King, was hauled in by Swaziland’s state police and threatened with torture if he continued to criticise the King. 

He was later dropped from his traditional regiment, threatened with banishment from his homeland, and his family was threatened because he refused to be silenced.

In January 2009, he told the Times he had been taken in by state police. ‘They questioned me over the articles I have been writing. I was also warned that the articles were now taking a subversive slant and cautioned me that I was now skating on thin ice.’ 

The Times reported, ‘He said they impressed upon him that the articles were no longer just a column but were starting to hit on the authorities and could incite people to revolt against the head of state [the King] and this was beginning to pose a security threat.’

‘Nkhambule said the officers informed him that as much as the country had a new constitution, there were still laws that could be used against him, which were enacted before independence and they had very serious consequences.’

In April 2009, the Times dropped his column without notice.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter reported at the time that the Times’ Managing Editor Martin Dlamini denied he was under any pressure from state authorities. Dlamini said Nkhambule’s column had simply been affected by the routine changes the newspaper was making with regards to content. 

The ban on Nkhambule came in the same week that the Times was forced to make an abject apology to King Mswati after publishing an essentially correct report that he had purchased up to 20 armoured cars for the use of himself and his wives.

After he was dropped by the Times, Nkhambule published his own online blog.

See also

‘Times’ drops Swaziland dissident

Swaziland dissident attacks king