Monday, August 31, 2015


There is deep suspicion in Swaziland that King Mswati III’s regime is not telling the truth about the number of deaths in the Reed Dance road smash on Friday (28 August 2015).

Official police figures put the number of deaths at 13, but one pro-democracy group has said it is as high as 65.

Police initially were reluctant to give any information about the accident on the main Mbabane to Manzini highway at Matsapha. Reports circulated on the Internet that journalists had been prohibited from reporting the incident.

The news was first broken on Friday by the Swaziland Solidarity network (SSN), a group banned in Swaziland where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The SSN said the number of deaths was 38.

The Associated Press (AP) later reported SSN spokesperson Lucky Lukhele saying members of the Swaziland Defence Force alerted the rights group to the accident and gave the number of deaths.

By Sunday, the SSN was reporting the death toll had risen to 65. Lukhele told the Anadolu Agency that 38 girls had been killed instantly on Friday when the trucks they were travelling in collided with another vehicle. 

‘And on midnight Saturday, we received information that another 27 girls had died in hospital,’ Lukhele added.  

He told the Daily Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper, ‘According to our reports from military and medical officials, at least 65 girls were dead by midnight on Saturday.’

The girls were travelling on the back of open trucks in a convoy. They were on their way to attend the Reed Dance where tens of thousands of topless virgins dance in front of the King. 

According to reports in Swazi newspapers, a car or a van hit the back of one truck which resulted in a pileup. The dead were reportedly thrown from the back of the truck which was usually used for transporting building materials and some were said to have been hit by on-coming cars.

Police spokesperson Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba told the Observer on Sunday newspaper in Swaziland that not all the girls died on the spot.

By Monday, police were insisting that the death toll was no higher than 13. It released some details, but no names, of the dead. The youngest was 11 years old and seven were aged 16 or under.

Reports circulated on social media all weekend that the figure was greater than 13 and that scores of children had been taken to hospital, some to South Africa. The Observer on Sunday, quoting government sources, reported that at least 66 girls, including the 13 dead, had been taken to Raleigh Fitkin Memorial hospital.

It was confirmed by international media that there was a clampdown on journalists who tried to report news of the deaths. 

The Daily Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper, on Saturday quoted Bheki Gama, a freelance journalist who was at the scene of the accident. Gama disputed the government’s claims that only 13 people had died. 

The Telegraph reported, ‘He said paramedics had told him that dozens of young women had died at the scene or on the way to hospital. 

‘He said he saw at least five bodies strewn across the on-ramp, which was covered with blood.
‘“It was absolutely terrible,” he said. “There were bodies everywhere. The tar was covered with blood. Many of the bodies had been collected by the time I arrived.”’ 

The Telegraph added, ‘Mr Gama said the government blacked out coverage of the accident and is refusing to release information to journalists.’

The AP also reported, ‘Press photographers were prevented from taking pictures at the scene, said a Swazi journalist who insisted on anonymity for security reasons. However some people managed to take photographs of the aftermath of the crash with their cell phones.’

The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best-known of the banned opposition groups in Swaziland, reported in a statement on Sunday that hospital sources had said 40 people had died. It added the figure, ‘was given with the caution that there is a lot of secrecy involved with giving out numbers of those that have passed on because there is an order circulating that there should be minimum reporting on the matter.’

The Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), the PUDEMO youth wing, called on the government, ‘to provide full disclosure on how many people died and assist the families locate their loved ones.’

It said, ‘It is not acceptable that the nation can engage in public speculation and contradicting media reports on the number of deaths or those injured. Government must put the nation into confidence and make full disclosure as a sign of accountability and transparency.’

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Saturday, August 29, 2015


A rights organisation in Swaziland has called on King Mswati III to cancel the Reed Dance due to take place on Sunday (30 August 2015) and Monday out of respect for the dozens of girls and young women who were reportedly killed in a truck accident on the way to the celebration.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SNN), which is banned in the kingdom where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, made the call in a statement after it was reported at least 38 people were killed in a crash along the Mbabane to Manzini highway.

The girls and young women were among 90,000 ‘maidens’ who were travelling to take part in the annual Reed Dance at which women and girls described as ‘virgins’ dance half-naked in front of the King.

The SSN said 38 people had been killed and 20 seriously injured in the accident on Friday. The dead and injured had reportedly been travelling on the open back of a truck.

In a statement the SSN said, ‘The least that the Royal Family can do at this moment is to cancel this year’s Reed Dance and admit its responsibility in this horrific accident by helping these families bury their children.’

The SSN said ‘inside sources’ had reported that media in Swaziland which is heavily censored had been ‘barred from reporting extensively on this accident’.

It said, ‘What saddens our network is the fact that the loss of life was avoidable. To begin with, carrying people in trucks is against traffic laws. Moreover, the drivers of these trucks clearly did not have any concern for the human lives they were carrying: They were clearly negligent. 

‘This is not the first incident where young girls have been injured on royal assignments; our network once reported how a truck accident was concealed by the Royal Family by falsely claiming that unknown people had thrown rocks at a truck full of young girls. 

‘We hope that the families of the deceased girls will hold the Royal Family accountable for the deaths of their children.’

International media reported on Saturday (29 August 2015) that 38 people had died but social media in Swaziland was awash with speculation that the figure might be much higher. There was a general feeling that the regime of King Mswati could not be trusted to tell the truth on the number of deaths as this would reflect badly on the King.

Late on Saturday, Eyewitness News in South Africa reported the death toll had risen to 65.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015


While Parliament in Swaziland has agreed to purchase a larger private jet for the kingdom’s autocratic ruler King Mswati III that might cost US$30 million, news is circulating in the kingdom that the government is unable to distribute food aid to the starving rural population because it cannot afford to run trucks.
Maize crops have failed this year because of a drought that has hit southern Africa. Figures released in July 2015 suggest that as many as a quarter of the Kingdom’s 1.3 million population are now malnourished.

This week some members of the Swazi House of Assembly threatened to stop attending parliamentary sessions until the government acted and delivered food to hungry people in Swaziland’s rural areas.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where media censorship is heavy, reported on Tuesday (25 August 2015) that Nhlambeni MP Frans Dlamini told parliament that, ‘as legislators, they no longer had any ideas on how to rescue the hungry people and wondered why government had stopped the food distributions. 

‘“What happened to the food aid and what should we do so that government sees it fit to conduct food distributions? I do not know if we should leave Parliament and only return once the food has been distributed,” the Times reported Dlamini saying.

The Times reported MPs were told that trucks to ferry food were not available.

A few days earlier the Swazi Parliament agreed to purchase a jet for King Mswati. His present jet, a MacDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet (also known as MD87), which cost about US$17 million in 2012 is considered to be too small for the monarch to use.

The new jet, which will be purchased on a lease-to-buy contract, might eventually cost as much as US$30 million.
In Swaziland, political parties are banned from contesting elections and King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, appoints the government. The King leads a lavish lifestyle with at least 14 wives, 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars.

Last week it was reported in a newspaper in Botswana, that Prince Majaha, King Mswati’s 23-year-old son, had a watch stolen that was worth US$40,000, the equivalent of 55 years of income for seven in ten of the King’s subjects, who earn less than US$2 per day.

King Mswati’s government has a poor record in helping hungry Swazi people.

In May 2013, international media reported that starving people in Swaziland were being denied food by the government because it was punishing the kingdom’s members of parliament for passing a vote of no confidence against it.

Food intended to feed destitute families, especially those headed by single women with children, had been deliberately left to rot in government warehouses, they said. One Swazi newspaper said, ‘[T]here could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people’
The international news agency IRIN reported the problem was being blamed on ‘bad blood’ between members of parliament (MPs) and members of King Mswati III’s cabinet. This was after the House of Assembly passed a no-confidence vote in October 2012 against Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who is both a relative and appointee of the king. The no-confidence vote was later reversed.

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, in an editorial comment said, ‘[T]here could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people’.  

IRIN reported, ‘Although the country has institutions resembling those in democracies, Swaziland's parliamentarians do not enact legislation; rather, they approve policies of the king’s appointed cabinet.
‘But MPs are still responsible to their constituents - voter registration began a few days ago for this year’s scheduled elections, although a poll date has yet to be announced. Political parties remain banned.

‘Some observers believe the disruption of food supplies was meant as a lesson for the MPs.

‘Aaron Simelane, a Swaziland-based political commentator, told IRIN, “MPs are considered community development agents by the people who vote ... Swazis want their MPs to bring roads, jobs and aid to their communities, but MPs have no power to do any of these things. [The] cabinet has this power.

‘“The people do not know this, and when things aren’t done they blame MPs, who promise to deliver this and that to get elected. By withholding food aid, [the] cabinet is teaching MPs a lesson about power.”’

Local media in Swaziland reported that ‘hundreds of 50kg bags of beans, mealie-meal and boxes of cooking oil’ had been left to rot at the government central warehouse in Matsapha.  

IRIN said the spoiled food included, ‘15,000kg of the staple maize meal, 25,000kg of beans and 600 cartons of vegetable oil.’

The Swazi Observer in an editorial comment stated, ‘[T]ons of donated staples like maize, beans and cooking oil were deliberately being allowed to rot at a government granary in Matsapha, while starving people had to contend with the pangs of hunger out there. 

‘We may be forced to agree with the honourables [members of parliament], who are now claiming there could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people and obliterate them from the face of their army worm-ravaged areas.’

The Observer went on to say, ‘Or much sinister still, it is to alienate the present crop of MPs from their constituents, so they cannot be voted back to parliament, if that was to happen.

‘Are the hungry people being used to hit back at the MPs for their still-born vote of no confidence last year? When things happen in this manner, one starts to believe even the most far-fetched theories, which is why government should avoid such embarrassing situations at all costs.’


Police in Swaziland have warned ‘random’ men not to loiter near camps housing tens of thousands of supposed virgins during the forthcoming Reed Dance or Umhlanga ceremony.

In the past men found in such situations have been illegally whipped.

About 90,000 young women and girls have reportedly registered to take part in the ceremony which concludes on Monday (31 August 2015) when they will dance half-naked in front of King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The women and girls are reportedly virgins and form a regiment known as Imbali.

The warning came from Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, that has been extensively covering the Reed Dance, reported Mamba saying, ‘The police will be there at the national event from the beginning to the end to ensure safety of the public and of the maiden. We would like to advise the public on a number of things such as appealing them to drive with caution on the roads as the Imbali will be marching.

‘The maidens are also expected to be well-behaved while camped for the event so random men are also warned against being found loitering next to the camps where they will be sleeping, as tindvuna [overseers] have also warned.’

The police officer and media did not report what the consequences would be for men found loitering. There is huge secrecy surrounding events such as the Reed Dance, since they are the mainstays of Swazi ‘traditional’ culture.

However, in 2007 the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, broke the secrecy when it reported on the mass whipping of young men during the Reed Dance.

The Times reported on 5 September 2007 that the traditional authorities who were given the responsibility of supervising the ‘maidens’ systematically detained and whipped young men who were caught at night trying to get close to the young women.

In a report starkly headlined, ‘27 men whipped at Reed Dance’, the Times reported that the men were caught, whipped, and temporarily detained after invading the camp where the maidens were staying.

The whipping was not an isolated incident and the Times reported that some men were whipped on Saturday and others on Sunday. It seemed that the detention and whipping of unwelcome visitors was an agreed method of discipline among those tasked with supervising the maidens.

The Times report quoted Muzi Dlamini, one of the men responsible for supervising the maidens, saying that the men were taken to a small tent. ‘They were beaten with sjamboks and sticks. We were disciplining them and I must say they deserved such a punishment.’

He spoke about two separate occasions when men were detained and beaten. ‘After we had detained these boys, there were no more visits from strangers. Indeed it worked for us,’ he said.
The whippings highlighted an issue with Swazi culture. In traditional custom in Swaziland, the punishers may have been entitled to act in the way that they did, but in Swazi law they were not. There was at least a case for Dlamini and the others who helped him beat the boys to face prosecution for assault.

The whipping of the boys and men was not an isolated incident of violence at that year’s Reed Dance. On 4 September 2007 the Times reported that one of the senior overseers of the maidens, Ntfonjeni Dlamini, assaulted a group of maidens with a stick. He hurt two of them so badly, the Times reports, that they had to go to Lobamba Clinic, where one of them was treated for injuries to her right leg and bruises all over her body. The other was reported to have bruises all over her body and was bleeding on her back.

Four other ‘maidens’ were also thrashed, but were not as badly injured. 

The Times followed up the story the following day (5 September 2007) reporting that the two women had reported Ntfonjeni Dlamini to the police. The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse also commented about the wrongfulness of beating children.

In an editorial comment, the Times said, ‘Ntfonjeni Dlamini … seems to believe he holds the right to beat up anybody’s child for no apparent reason.’ It called on ‘traditional authorities’ to take strong action against the blemishing of the Reed Dance, which it described as a ‘colourful event’ and an opportunity for Swaziland to make a bit of money from tourists.

As well as the two stories already mentioned the Times also gave an account (5 September 2007) of eight stabbings in isolated incidents at the Reed Dance. The newspaper reported that those stabbed were involved in brawls over ‘girls’.

In September 2014, the Times reported that more than 30 maidens were given a ‘serious hiding’ for ‘delinquent acts’ during the Shiselweni Reed Dance ceremony, a localised version of the main Reed Dance, held at the Mbangweni Royal Residence.

Most of the girls, who were caned by their headmen, were beaten for not participating in the main event, while they left their respective homes under the pretext that they were going to the Reed Dance ceremony.

The Times reported, ‘It was discovered that while the girls were being punished by the headmen, some got seriously injured as they tried to run away. Most of them were treated by paramedics, who attended to their case overnight (Saturday).

One girl reportedly had spent a night with a ‘male companion.’

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