Prince Mahlaba, a senior member of the Swazi Royal Family who called for journalists who opposed King Mswati III to be killed, has died.
Mahlaba was a stanch opponent of democracy in Swaziland / eSwatini where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
In 2010, he received international condemnation when he said, ‘Journalists who write bad things about the country will die.’ He made his threat at a Smart Partnership meeting.
A Times of Swaziland report at the time quoted Prince Mahlaba saying, ‘I want to warn the media to bury things that have the potential of undermining the country, rather than publish all and everything even when such reports are harmful to the country’s international image.’
His threat became an international scandal. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) rallied behind the Swazi media and condemned Mahlaba. Internet sites from every continent carried news criticising the prince and by extension the whole undemocratic regime in Swaziland.
The South Africa National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said Mahlaba’s accusations against journalists and about how they operated ‘were outrageous and contemptuously rejected, but the threat to kill journalists who wrote critically about the governance and leadership of the country was extremely menacing, designed to intimidate journalists and their publications.’
Prince Mahlaba was an important member of Liqoqo, the group of traditionalists who advise the King, and was appointed to the Swaziland Senate by the King. He was also famed for his opposition to the Swaziland Constitution that came into place in 2006.
In 2009, the Times of Swaziland reported Prince Mahlaba stormed out of a meeting of Liqoqo describing the Swazi Constitution as ‘rubbish’ because it took powers away from the King. The newspaper said he reportedly believed the constitution granted people rights to do as they pleased.
Prince Mahlaba, a soldier by background, complained to Liqoqo that the constitution took all powers from the King and vested them upon judges of the High Court.
According to a report in the Times Sunday, Prince Mahlaba also believed the constitution ‘grants people absolute rights to misbehave in the name of freedom of expression and get away with it’.
Called to comment on these allegations he said the constitution was crafted for the educated elite, saying he was uneducated, hence the constitution was not meant for him.
In July 2010, Alec Lushaba, editor of the Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati himself, asked the King at a press conference if he agreed with comments made previously by Prince Masitsela (another senior member of the Swazi Royal Family) that Swaziland needed to review its current political status if it wanted to meet its stated aim of becoming a ‘first world’ country.
According to a report in the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom (23 July 2010), the question sparked an angry intervention from Prince Mahlaba.
Prince Mahlaba denounced Lushaba as ‘not Swazi enough’ to know what he was talking about. Prince Mahlaba claimed that the Swazi people were all behind the present system of government and did not want change.
When Prince Mahlaba allowed the King to answer the question, King Mswati said prospects of reviewing the kingdom’s political system were closed.
The Times reported that Lushaba told the King that political dissenters were also Swazi people and should be called so they could tell the King what their problems were.
King Mswati, who has banned political parties in Swaziland and branded groups who are in opposition to him terrorists, said dissenters would not be entertained.
Prince Mahlaba, who was born in 1948, died in South Africa. The cause of death has not been made public.
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