Friday, July 30, 2010


King Mswati III of Swaziland recently decried the way information about his kingdom seeped onto the Internet, telling the world about things he’d rather we didn’t know.

I bet he’s giving his brother Prince Mahlaba a good kicking today after his threat that journalists ‘who write bad things about the country will die’ became an international scandal. Mahlaba also said journalists wrote lies.

Mahlaba must have thought he could get away with bullying the media in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. He made his comments at the Smart Partnership, a talk shop organised and controlled by Swaziland’s ruling elite.

But Mahlaba didn’t reckon on the influence of the Internet. Once the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, bravely reported the threat on its website, there was no going back.

Within hours the influential media freedom organisation the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had rallied behind the Swazi media and condemned Mahlaba. Then the story went truly global. I’ve counted more than 25 Internet sites from every continent on the planet that carried news criticising the prince and by extension the whole undemocratic regime in Swaziland.

It’s a lesson for us all that it’s important to get the news out. Even when sometimes the mainstream media are too frightened to publish we on the bloggersphere and other social media can tell the world the truth about Swaziland.

Meanwhile, Mahlaba may find himself in deep trouble. The South Africa National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has said King Mswati and his government must ‘repudiate the prince’s view and, in the absence of such an unequivocal statement, [Sanef] would report the threat to the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the United Nations.’

Sanef said Mahlaba’s accusations against journalists and about how they operated were outrageous and contemptuously rejected, but the threat to kill journalists who wrote critically about the governance and leadership of the country was extremely menacing, designed to intimidate journalists and their publications.

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