Saturday, September 29, 2018

Swaziland Former Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini Dies. Known as Serial Abuser of Human Rights

Swaziland’s former Prime Minister and serial human rights abuser Barnabas Dlamini has died aged 76.

Dlamini was appointed Prime Minister four times by King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

He held office for seven-and-a-half years until 2003. He was reappointed in 2008 and was in office until the national elections of September 2018. He died at the Mkhiwa Clinic, a private hospital in Manzini, after a long illness.

Political parties are banned from taking part in elections in Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by King Mswati). The King appoints the Prime Minister and government ministers. 

When introducing Dlamini as the new PM in 2008, King Mwsati told him publicly to attack prodemocracy campaigners and all who supported them. 

Dlamini set about his task with zeal. He immediately banned four organisations, branding them terrorists. 

His Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini told Swazis affiliated with the political formations to resign with immediate effect or feel the full force of the law. Under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), enacted in 2008, the same year Dlamini resumed power, members and supporters faced up to 25 years in jail. 

Under the draconian provisions of the STA, which is still in force, anyone who disagreed with the ruling elite faced being branded a terrorist supporter. This happened at a time when the call for democracy in Swaziland was being heard loudly both inside the kingdom and in the international community. 

Immediately, the Dlamini-led Government clamped down on dissent. In 2011, Amnesty International reported the ill-treatment, house searches and surveillance of communications and meetings of civil society and political activists. Armed police conducted raids and prolonged searches in the homes of dozens of high profile human rights defenders, trade unionists and political activists while investigating a spate of petrol bombings. Some of the searches, particularly of political activists, were done without search warrants.

Amnesty reported that authorities continued to use the STA to detain and charge political activists. The STA was also used as a basis for search warrants and other measures to intimidate human rights defenders, trade unionists and media workers.

In 2010, Dlamini publicly threatened to use torture against dissidents and foreigners who campaigned for democracy in his kingdom. He said the use of ‘bastinado’, the flogging of the bare soles of the feet, was his preferred method.

Dlamini told the Times of Swaziland newspaper he wanted ‘to punish dissidents and foreigners who come to the country and disturb the peace’.

But Dlamini’s abuse of human rights did not start with his appointment in 2008. He was a former PM and held office for seven and a half years until 2003. While in office he gained a reputation as someone who ignored the rule of law. 

In 2003, he refused to recognise two court judgements that challenged the King’s right to rule by decree. This led to the resignation of all six judges in the Appeal Court. The court had ruled that the King had no constitutional mandate to override parliament by issuing his own decrees.

In a report running for more than 50,000 words, Amnesty International looked back to the years 2002 and 2003 and identified activities of Dlamini that ‘included the repeated ignoring of court rulings, interference in court proceedings, intimidating judicial officers, manipulating terms and conditions of employment to undermine the independence of the judiciary, the effective replacement of the Judicial Services Commission with an unaccountable and secretive body (officially known as the Special Committee on Justice but popularly called the Thursday Committee), and the harassment of individuals whose rights had been upheld by the courts.’  

In recent years he was at loggerheads with members of the House of Assembly and Senate for his dictatorial attitude.

The US State Department in a review of human rights in Swaziland in 2017 stated that in August, ‘the prime minister’s office forced a member of parliament (MP) to withdraw a statement made in the House of Assembly expressing his displeasure that the public had no role in the method used in appointing the country’s prime minister. The Prime Minister’s Office stated that the MP’s criticism constituted an attack on the constitution and the King. The MP was obliged to apologize and to donate cattle to the King as a token of contrition.’

The Swazi people did not want Dlamini to lead the kingdom. In October 2012 the Swazi House of Assembly passed a vote of no-confidence in him and his government. According to the constitution, King Mswati was obliged to sack him. But the King defied the constitution and Dlamini remained in office.

The House vote of no-confidence was not isolated. In August 2012 the Sibaya (where ordinary people gather at a cattle byre to air their views on matters of importance to them) told Dlamini and his government to quit. The people said they were corrupt and destroying the kingdom.

King Mswati claims Sibaya is the supreme policy-making body in the land because it demonstrates the peoples’ will. But, again, he ignored the voice of the people and stuck by Dlamini.

Richard Rooney

 Barnabas Dlamini, who has died, aged 76

One of his last public appearances was on 4 September 2018, his last day in office as PM

He had a long hstory as a human rights abuser

He published his autobiography in early 2018

See also 


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