Thursday, February 12, 2009


Swaziland’s new official government spokesperson Macanjana Motsa must think we are blind.

She has hit out at a new international report from Reporters Without Borders (RWB) that places Swaziland in 147th place in the world when it comes to freedom of the press.

In a statement Motsa rubbished the report and said, ‘press freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland. The Swazi public and the international community is well aware that local media is not repressed in this country’.

Has she been drinking? She certainly hasn’t been paying attention. Her defence of press freedom in Swaziland comes in the same week that the illegally-appointed Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini told journalists that if they criticise King Mswati III’s recent speech to parliament they will face sedition charges.

Over the past few weeks former Swazi Government cabinet member Mfomfo Nkhambule has been hauled before police, threatened with jail and been told he will be disowned by his traditional regiment if he continues to write articles in the Times of Swaziland newspaper that criticise the King and the anti-democratic ruling elite in the kingdom.

Only last month (January 2009) trade unions and other civic organizations petitioned the Swazi Prime Minister demanding that every citizen of Swaziland should be allowed equal access to the three state media organisations: the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), Swazi TV and the Swazi Observer newspaper.

The petition called upon government to ensure that these media houses’ independence was guaranteed. It also demanded ‘equal access to public institutions such as halls, stadiums and tinkhundla centres which are currently the formal meeting place for people without any hindrances’.

Motsa joins a long list of Swazi Government denialists. Whenever there is a report critical of Swaziland, the government blames the messenger and lies about the message.

Bizarrely, Motsa attacked the credibility of RWB because it had once used the UNESCO logo without permission.

Motsa and the Swazi Government know this is a smokescreen. RWB is not alone among international media watchers in criticising Swaziland’s lack of press freedom.

The most recent annual So This Is Democracy? report from the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) highlighted many cases of press repression, including the case of the Times of Swaziland publishing house that was threatened with closure by King Mswati III because he objected to a report it had written on how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) believed that the king’s lavish lifestyle was deterring overseas’ investors from supporting Swaziland.

MISA concluded that the Swazi Government continues to harass journalists. ‘This was evident when the Swazi House of Assembly set up a Select Committee to investigate Mbongeni Mbingo, the editor of the Times Sunday, following a commentary piece he wrote in his newspaper criticising the House Speaker for not allowing a debate to take place on possible amendments to the kingdom’s Constitution. The House of Assembly said the editor was in contempt of Parliament.’

The International Press Institute (IPI) in its annual World Press Freedom Review, published in May 2008 reported how Njabulo Mabuza, the then Minister for Health and Social Welfare, ‘simply banned the media from entering Swaziland’s biggest hospital, after various publications published exposés alleging that a pattern of staff negligence and drug shortages resulted in the death of a young girl. Similar accusations had been published in the past, prompting Mabuza, a week earlier, to issue a government memo to the hospital administration, instructing the same to deny media access to the hospital premises without his permission.’

I could go on ... and on (Click here to read more on press freedom in Swaziland).

This was Macanjana Motsa’s first media release since she was appointed Government Press Secretary. It is not an auspicious start and her credibility for honesty is in tatters. She needs to be careful, I am reminded of her predecessor in the job Percy Simelane; when he tried to defend a report critical of Swaziland’s poor governance, he so outraged parliamentarians they branded him a ‘herdboy’.

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