Monday, January 12, 2009


Swazi dissident Mfomfo Nkhambule has been forced to apologise to King Mswati III for writing articles in the Times of Swaziland criticising the king.

Nkhambule was hauled before the Swazi state police Intelligence Unit last week and told if he continued writing articles critical of the king he could end up in jail for 20 years.

Yesterday (11 January 2009), Mbongeni Mbingo, the editor of the Times Sunday, revealed that Nkhambule would have been tortured by police if he failed to do what they said.

In a letter written to the king - also published in the Times of Swaziland today (12 January 2009) - Nkhambule apologises ‘unreservedly for the unnecessary anxiety and stress caused [to King Mswati III] by the articles that have been published weekly over the past 16 months’.

I am not surprised by the apology. As research I published for the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter in July 2008 showed, the biggest censor of Swazi media is the monarchy. Journalists are so worried about incurring the wrath of King Mswati that they habitually censor themselves so as to avoid upsetting him.

The king has no hesitating in attacking the media if they dare to criticise him. In March 2007, when the Times Sunday published a report sourced from an international news agency that said King Mswati was in part responsible for Swaziland’s ill, the newspaper’s publisher was summoned to see the king and told his newspaper group (which also includes the Times and the Swazi News) would be closed down immediately unless an abject apology was forthcoming. The king also demanded that the features editor of the Times Sunday be sacked.

The publisher did as he was told.

In his letter to the king, Nkhambule, a former cabinet minister and present chair of the Inhlava Forum political party, says the reason he wrote his articles was to ‘make you [the king] aware of what is going on in the minds of your simple subjects and what they plan to do in order to get out of the hardships they are enduring in this land of their birth under your leadership.’

As we know Swaziland is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy. King Mswati has a wealth of 200 million US dollars (about E1.4 billion) at a time when 70 percent of his subjects live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and last year 60 percent of the kingdom’s one million population relied on international food aid to fend off starvation.

The king rules Swaziland with an iron grip and the kingdom’s parliament has no real powers. In November 2008 the king unconstitutionally appointed Barnabas Dlamini as prime minister.

Since the appointment there has been a reign of terror unleashed by the king and his government against the Swazi people. Only last week Amnesty International said the provisions of a newly enacted Suppression of Terrorism Act threaten human rights, are inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights laws and the Swaziland Constitution, and are already leading to violations of the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly.’

In his letter to the king Nkhambule says, ‘I know what the lion [the king] is capable of doing when it is angry or threatened. I do not want to test your patience.’

Then in one telling phrase he reveals where the real power in Swaziland lays.

‘Your Majesty, you have the power to put me into eternal darkness but I pray that you allow me to continue with what I started doing over 16 months ago.’

In effect Nkhambule is asking the king’s permission to continue voicing his opinion in public.

So there you have, nobody can do anything in Swaziland without the King Mswati’s permission.

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