All cellphones, SIM cards and electronic gadgets in Swaziland must be registered by law, the Swaziland Communications Commission (SCCOM) announced.
Personal details such as addresses will be kept on file. This will include pay-as-you-go deals. Companies that refuse to collect information will be fined.
The SCCOM had been working on the initiative ‘behind the scenes’, SCCOM Chief Executive Officer Mvilawemphi Dlamini told a conference, the Swazi Observer reported on Tuesday (3 April 2018). A steering committee was formed in December 2017 with representatives from Swazi MTN, Swazi Mobile, Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications (SPTC), police, ministry of home affairs, Financial Intelligence Unit and the Central Bank of Swaziland.
News of the move only surfaced on 13 March 2018 when Dlamini announced it at the closing of the first annual ICT stakeholder forum at the Royal Villas in Ezulwini. The Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini is expected to officially launch a registration drive on Friday (6 April 2018).
Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are barred from taking part in elections and groups advocating for freedom are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Freedom of speech and assembly are severely curtailed in the kingdom.
There is deep suspicion in Swaziland that the State spies on King Mswati’s subjects, including members of parliament.
In June 2017, the Sunday Observer reported a number of politicians suspected their phones were tapped. The newspaper reported, ‘House of Assembly Speaker Themba Msibi, when interviewed about the possibility of hearing devices and phones being tapped, said, “I too have concerns as at times calls sound hollow, making one suspect that a third party could be listening in.”’
Minister of Economic Planning Prince Hlangusemphi said he had heard rumours with nothing official and concrete to substantiate them.
The newspaper reported, ‘Minister of Natural Resources Jabulile Mashwama said rumours of bugging have been around since time immemorial.’
In July 2013 it was reported that police in Swaziland were spying on the kingdom’s members of parliament. One officer disguised in plain clothes was thrown out of a workshop for MPs and one MP reported his phone has been bugged. Ntondozi MP Peter Ngwenya told the House of Assembly at the time that MPs lived in fear because there was constant police presence, in particular from officers in the Intelligence Unit.
The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported at the time that at the same sitting of the House Lobamba MP Majahodvwa Khumalo said his cellphone had been bugged ever since he started being ‘vocal against some people’.
It is legal in certain circumstances to tap phones in Swaziland. The Suppression of Terrorism Act gives police the right to listen in on people’s conversations if they have the permission of the Attorney General. When the Act came into law in 2008 Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini said that anyone who criticised the government could be considered a terrorist sympathiser.
In 2011, a journalist working in Swaziland for the AFP international news agency reported on her blog that her phone calls were being listened in to.
In September 2011, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a prodemocracy political party banned in Swaziland, reported that mobile phone communications in the capital Mbabane had been cut on the first day of a planned five-day protest in the kingdom.
It reported sole mobile communication provider MTN Swaziland had shut communication. This was a repeat of what happened the previous year during the first Global Week of Action when communication was shut, PUDEMO said.
POLICE SPIES BACK ON THE STREETS