Thursday, May 31, 2018


A former hotel supervisor told the Swaziland High Court police tortured her to try to make her confess to theft.

She said she was handcuffed, beaten, suffocated to near death, and threatened with hanging. She complained later to the local police commander but felt nothing was one about her complaint, so she went to court.

Phindile Mndzebele is claiming E750,000 (US$60,000) in damages from the Royal Eswatini [Swaziland] Police Service.

She told the High Court was she was the house-keeping manager at the Lugogo Sun hotel when a items and cash were reported stolen from a room. Police accused her of the theft and took her in a police vehicle to a forest up a mountain.

The Swazi Observer reported on Thursday (31 May 2018) that she denied being involved in the theft. Five officers were alleged to have forced her to sit on a grass mat and her hands were cuffed and she was suffocated three times. She was told the assault and suffocation would not stop until she soiled herself. One officer said she would hang if she did not give up the stolen items.

The ordeal ended when the police officers were called away to other duties.

The High Court was told doctors examined Mndzebele and found her muscles were swollen as a result of the assault on her back. She also had to attend daily counselling.

Reports of police torture are common in Swaziland. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a report on Swaziland published in May 2018 stated the Swazi State, ‘continues to be either actively involved in, or turn a blind eye to, torture’. 

It added, ‘Reports of suspects dying in police custody, workers assaulted by state police, suspects shot and killed by the army, as well as suspected poachers tortured and killed by game rangers and private farm owners have come to characterize law enforcement in Swaziland. 

‘Amnesty International reports that, in June 2015, a Mozambican national living in Swaziland, Luciano Reginaldo Zavale, died on the day he was arrested on allegations that he was in possession of a stolen laptop. In August 2015, independent forensic evidence indicated that he did not die of natural causes. An inquest was established to investigate the death, but its findings have never been made public. 

‘In February 2016 at the Kwaluseni campus of the University of Swaziland, a student of the University, Ayanda Mkhabela, was run over by an armoured police vehicle during a student protest and left paralysed. The Commissioner of Police publicly announced that he would institute an investigation within the police service. As at the end of 2017, no public investigation had been undertaken into the incident. The Commissioner of Police had not made public the findings of the internal investigation.’ 

The ICJ said there was generally no independent mechanism for investigating abuses committed by the police.

It added, ‘The students involved in the protest have instituted legal proceedings in respect of damages. The Government is defending the action.’

The ICJ added, ‘Recent situations paint a gloomy picture about the treatment of persons in custody. A former Member of Parliament, Charles Myeza, has added credence to the serious allegations of torture at Bhalekane Correctional Facility, revealing in court papers that officers also treated him in an inhumane way. Myeza, who was serving a custodial sentence at the facility, alleged that he was stripped naked, smacked on the buttocks and had his genitals squeezed by officers, in furtherance of a common purpose to violate his right to dignity. The former Member of Parliament is currently suing the Government.’

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There are ‘widespread speculations’ across Swaziland that a number of recent abductions resulting in mutilations and killings might be related to the ongoing national election in the kingdom, the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) said.

SWAGAA said, ‘Children, both girls and boys, are especially targeted; however, this does not mean adults cannot be a target in future. For this reason, all people should remain on high alert.’

It said in a statement, ‘The fact that there are widespread speculations on whether or not these abductions are for ritual purposes linked to the upcoming Parliamentary elections in Eswatini [Swaziland] cannot be ignored.’

Swaziland has a history of abductions and ritual killings in the run-up to national elections that are held every five years. Voter registration is currently taking place and ends on 17 June 2018. The date for the actual election has yet to be announced.

In June 2017, during a voter-education workshop, Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) called for an end to ritual killings around voting time. It was concerned about reports of people mysteriously disappearing across the kingdom. 

At KaLanga in the Lugongolweni constituency EBC educator Cynthia Dlamini said ritual murder reports increased during election time. The Swazi Observer reported at the time, ‘Dlamini said this was one belief driven by lunacy which tarnishes the image of the country in the process. She said the commission condemns such beliefs and called for intensive investigations against those who would be suspected of ritual killings.’

At the last election in 2013, The Swaziland Epilepsy Association warned that cases of the abduction of epileptic people always increased during elections. Mbuso Mahlalela from the association told the Swazi Observer at the time it was common for the vulnerable to be targeted and abducted. He spoke after a report that a 13-year-old epileptic boy might have been abducted for ritual purposes.

Before the election in 2008 a march by civil society groups to draw attention to ritual killings was banned by the government amid fears that it would bring bad publicity to Swaziland and might embarrass King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, who had spoken out against the practice. 
The Times of Swaziland reported at the time the march had been motivated by the mystery disappearances and murders of women. Some of these had been found mutilated fuelling speculating that they were related to rituals.

Some Swazi people believe body parts can be used as ‘muti’ which is used to bring good fortune to candidates at the election and help them to win seats in parliament. 

In 2008, it was strongly rumoured in Swaziland that the reason why members of the government wanted to ban discussion on the ritual murders was that some of them had themselves used ‘muti’ to get elected.

In March 2018, a campaign called ‘Don’t kill us, we are human beings too’ was launched to raise awareness about people with albinism, a group at particular risk at election time. The Stukie Motsa Foundation is using social media to dispel the false belief that people with albinism cleanse bad luck and bring fortune to people. 

There have been concerns in Swaziland for years that people with albinism have been targeted and murdered. Witchdoctors use the body parts to make spells that they claim bring people good luck.  Sport teams have also been known to use spells to bring them good fortune during matches. Witchdoctors’ services are especially sought after by candidates contesting parliamentary and local elections. 

In January 2017, the Director of Public Prosecution’s office in Swaziland told witchdoctors in the kingdom to stop murdering people for body parts. The witchdoctors, also known as tinyanga, were advised to go to the Ministry of Health for body parts, such as bones. 

During the national elections in Swaziland in 2013, people with albinism lived in fear that their body parts would be harvested by candidates seeking good luck.  

Independent Newspapers in South Africa reported at the time, ‘In the past [people with albinism], who lack the skin pigment melanin, as well as epileptics have been specifically targeted, prompting the police to set up registries.  

‘In 2010, the killing and mutilation of [people with albinism], including in one instance the decapitation of two children in Nhlangano, prompted panic.’ 

In August 2013, Independent Newspapers quoted an academic at the University of Swaziland, who did not want to be named, saying, ‘Ritual killings to achieve elected office are a natural outgrowth of a government based not on rationality or democratic principles but on superstitious beliefs.  

‘The Swazi king claims power through an annual Incwala festival where a bull is brutally sacrificed and mysterious rituals occur, and this sets the tone. No one knows how office-holders are appointed in Swaziland. It’s all done in secret, without recourse to merit or any rhyme or reason, so this fuels irrational beliefs.  

‘Ritual murder has long been part of Swazi life.’ 

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Laws in Swaziland have been used by the State as weapons against human rights defenders, a major investigation of the kingdom by international lawyers revealed.

‘There is a growing perception that the law, in particular the law of sedition, defamation, public order and anti-terrorism is systematically used to target human rights defenders (HRDs) and legitimate pro-democracy campaigners,’ the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) reported.

It stated, ‘As far back as 1990, the Sedition and Subversive Activists Act 1938 (SSA) and the King’s 1973 Proclamation to the Nation were used against HRDs and legitimate pro-democracy campaigners. Leaders of the pro-democracy banned political opposition, the Peoples’ United Democratic Movement, were charged and tried for high treason for having convened a meeting to discuss the political problems in the country,’ it stated in a report called Achieving Justice for Gross Human Rights Violations in Swaziland - Key Challenges.

It added, ‘This approach has continued, with Amnesty International recently concluding that: “Legislation continued to be used to repress dissent”. In 1994, members of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) and the Swaziland Communist Party were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for being in possession of seditious placards. They were also charged under the King’s Proclamation for holding either a demonstration or a political meeting without the prior written consent of the Commissioner of Police. The High Court found them not guilty on the sedition charge, but convicted them on the contravention of Decree No. 13 of the King’s Proclamation.

‘In 2001, the leader of the People’s United Democratic (PUDEMO), was charged with two counts under the Sedition Act, accused of allegedly making statements that were seditious. At the close of the Crown’s case he was acquitted and discharged of the first count, and called to his defence on the second count. He was later acquitted on the second count as well. The judiciary proved to be able to exercise its judicial function independently and impartially without fear or favour. In 2005, a group of HRDs and legitimate pro-democracy campaigners were charged under the sedition law for allegedly committing acts of violence against the State. In the bail application they told the court that, while in custody, they had been subjected to torture and cruel and degrading treatment by State security agencies.

‘The court ordered that “the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland in liaison with the Minister responsible for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, urgently, in the interest of justice and in the national interest, establish a commission of enquiry into the allegations that are before court concerning torture and denying basic human rights enshrined in our Constitution, to investigate and to report publicly the outcome within a reasonable time”.

‘Despite the court’s order, no such commission was set up and no report was made. The HRDs were released on bail and to date [May 2018] the matter has not been called for trial. Neither the applicants nor the DPP have made any follow-up on the order for an inquiry, albeit that nothing prevents the applicants from instituting contempt of court proceedings for the Minister’s failure to give effect to the court order. 

‘In 2008, following a spate of bombings of some Government buildings and some tinkhundla centres, the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008 (STA) was enacted. As soon as the Act entered into force, PUDEMO and three other organizations were listed as terrorist organizations under section 28 of the STA.

‘In the same year, its leader Mario Masuku was charged under the STA and, alternatively, under the SSA. In September 2009 he was acquitted and discharged by the High Court of Swaziland, because the State failed to prove the its case. 

‘Also in 2008, human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was arrested and charged under the SSA. He was released on bail and subsequently filed an application to the High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the SSA having regard to the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

‘This case was consolidated with others that challenged the same law, together with the Suppression of Terrorism Act.  In 2009, another member of the listed PUDEMO, Mphandlana Shongwe, was charged under the STA for shouting a slogan “Viva PUDEMO, viva SWAYOCO” at a civil society meeting. At his first appearance before the High Court, he was released on bail. To date, his case has not been called for trial.  

‘In May 2014, Mario Masuku (leader of the PUDEMO) and Maxwell Dlamini (student leader and member of the PUDEMO youth league, the Swaziland Youth Congress, SWAYOCO) were charged under the SSA and STA for having addressed workers on Workers’ Day in Manzini, and shouting slogans in support of PUDEMO, an organisation listed as a terrorist organisation under the STA. Initially denied bail, they were kept in pre-trial detention from May 2014 until July 2016. They were eventually granted conditional bail and released by the Supreme Court, one of those conditions being that they should “refrain from addressing public political gatherings  pending finalisation of the criminal trial”. Although the Order was made by consent, its effect was that, for as long as they were awaiting trial, these pro-democracy campaigners were deprived of their rights to freedom of  speech, assembly and association and to take part in the discourse of public affairs. 

‘Also in 2014, a group of seven members of the PUDEMO were arrested and charged under the STA and the SSA. They, as well as Maxwell Dlamini and Mario Masuku, filed separate applications at the High Court to challenge the constitutional validity of the SSA and the STA. All the matters challenging the constitutional validity of the two pieces of legislation were consolidated and heard by a full bench of the High Court, which, in September 2016, delivered its judgment. The relevant provisions of the SSA and STA were held to be unconstitutional and were set aside. 

‘Although the Government noted an intended appeal against the judgment, it failed to file the appeal as required by the Rules of the Supreme Court. On 21 November 2017, the Supreme Court struck off the matter and ordered that it should not be reinstated unless with the leave of the Court. On 5 December 2017 the Government filed an application for reinstatement. The application for leave was heard on 13 February 2018. The Supreme Court’s reserved judgment allowed the appeal to be reinstated, finding that: “…the importance of the matters arising from the appeal and form the view that it would leave a bitter after taste in the Court’s palate for such serious matters to be decided by default as it were, due to the confusion that seems to have reigned at the office of the Attorney-General”. 

‘The persecution through the law and prosecution of HRDs and legitimate prodemocracy campaigners continue unabated, even in the face of recommendations of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Although, in both the 2011 and 2016 UPR of Swaziland, the Government accepted recommendations to fully align the SSA and STA with the Constitution of Swaziland and the State’s obligations not to impede the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, it has failed to do so.’

The ICJ report added, ‘In 2017, the Government of Swaziland amended the STA and repealed the Public Order Act (POA). The amendments to the STA are very cosmetic, while the new POA is comprehensive. Under section 28(1) of the POA, the Minister responsible for national security and the Police Service (the Prime Minister) has published the Code of Good Practice. Although the requirement of a permit for holding public gatherings and processions has been dispensed with in favour of a notice procedure, the local authority and/or the Commissioner of Police have the power to prohibit an intended gathering.161 Given the wide discretionary powers of the National Commissioner of Police to prohibit events,162 there is concern that such prohibition is may be applied in an arbitrary, unnecessary and/or disproportionate manner, contrary to international human rights standards on the regulation and policing of gatherings.’

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