Swaziland has been labelled one of the world’s hotspots for crime, in a report published by the United States Government.
Gangs armed with knives or firearms roam the streets of the cities looking for houses to break into, while residents live barricaded behind ‘perimeter walls, security guards, dogs, security lighting, window grills, and alarm systems with security response teams […] essential for ensuring the safety of residents’.
Burglaries and home invasions occur frequently. Gangs have been known to break into homes while the residents are still at home.
Pedestrians cannot walk the streets in safety and robberies take place in broad daylight. Motorists are stopped on the roads and robbed.
Swaziland’s autocratic ruler King Mswati III and his supporters constantly say the kingdom is a place of peace. The king, in particular, tells the international community that all is well in his kingdom and his subjects are happy and contented.
A report from the United States Department of State contradicts that picture. It says streets, public parks, roads, homes, restaurants and hotel rooms are not safe.
The US Department of State has designated Swaziland as a ‘Critical Threat Crime Post’.
In a report called Overall Crime and Safety Situation in Swaziland it says, ‘Criminals consider Mbabane, the capital city, and Manzini, Swaziland’s urban industrial center, prime grounds for operation due to the number of people, businesses, and affluent areas.
‘Additionally, crime affects urban and rural areas due to limited police assets.
‘Criminals will resort to force if necessary, including deadly force, in order to accomplish their goal. Gangs are not deterred by confrontations with their intended victims. Car-jackings are not common, but they occasionally occur. Crime increases dramatically during the holiday season.
The report written by US government’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is intended as guidance to Americans visiting Swaziland.
It says, ‘Congested urban areas are particularly dangerous at night; although, daytime larceny is not uncommon. The presence of other pedestrians on the street should not be taken as an indication of a secure or safe environment.
‘Many victims report being robbed in broad daylight in the presence of witnesses.
‘Mob justice exists in Swaziland; suspects can find themselves pursued and beaten by by-standers.
‘Pedestrians are cautioned not to wear jewelry or carry expensive items in plain view. It is not advisable to display large amounts of cash, flashy jewelry, expensive clothing items, or cellular telephones.
‘Walking around at night, either alone or in a group, is strongly discouraged.’
The report says, ‘Most residents in Swaziland take residential security seriously and attempt to protect their homes accordingly. Perimeter walls, security guards, dogs, security lighting, window grills, and alarm systems with security response teams are essential for ensuring the safety of residents. Burglaries and home invasions occur frequently.
‘Gangs, armed with knives or firearms, target homes they suspect possess cash or valuables. Criminals have been known to enter residences while the occupants are home.’
The report says that Manzini, Swaziland’s largest city, ‘is notorious for criminal activity’.
It says, ‘The bus rank in Manzini, which most inter-city transportation must pass through before traveling throughout the country, is routinely cited as being dangerous.’
The report warns motorists to keep doors of vehicles locked and windows rolled up at all times when driving in Swaziland.
‘Do not roll down your window in the event someone approaches your vehicle. Ignore persons outside your vehicle, and drive away if you feel uncomfortable. While stopped in urban traffic, continue to scan rearview mirrors to identify potential trouble.’
It adds, ‘Do not stop your vehicle if you encounter rocks or logs in the middle of the road. This is a technique used in Swaziland and South Africa for robbers to force vehicles to stop. Either drive around the barriers or turn around. Do not stop to assess the situation.
‘Keep belongings out of plain view at all times. While idling at a light or stop sign, leave adequate space between your vehicle and the one in front of you so that you can quickly depart should the need arise. Park only in well-lit areas, preferably in parking lots with a security guard.’
The Swazi police are slow to respond to incidents, if they respond at all, the report says.
‘Swazi police consider a 30 minute response time adequate, even in urban areas. Police are generally willing to assist but often lack the transportation and resources to properly investigate crimes.’
The report paints a picture of constant danger of crime in Swaziland. In tips to visitors on how to avoid becoming a victim, it says, ‘Most crimes that occur in Swaziland are crimes of opportunity. The criminals are generally interested in cellular phones and cash.
‘Visitors should always be aware of their surroundings and maintain visual/physical contact with their belongings. Avoid walking alone, particularly after dark.
‘Travel in groups. Never hail a taxi that has passengers already in the car. If you take a taxi, ensure it is a reputable taxi. Dining establishments have been robbed late at night when there are few diners in the restaurant.’
It adds, ‘The most reoccurring crimes involve robbing victims on the streets, particularly in residential areas, regardless of the time of day. Residential break-ins are very common throughout Swaziland, even when the tenants are in the home. Most residential break-ins occur at houses without security guards and/or centrally monitored home alarms. Criminals often perpetrate such robberies using edged weapons, e.g., a knife or machete, and occasionally firearms.’
It tells visitors to avoid parks in Mbabane, the Swazi capital. ‘In particular, Coronation Park should be avoided at night and only visited as a group (more than two people) during daylight hours.
‘This is often the rally point for marches and demonstrations. At night, criminals have been known to loiter in the park. As a general rule, visitors should avoid night clubs and walking around any town after dark to minimize the risk of being victimized.’