Thursday, April 23, 2009


Not for the first time Swaziland senators are threatening journalists with contempt of parliament because they are writing reports that they don’t like.

The latest attempt to curtail the freedom of the press comes after Swazi media reported about a verbal fight between the Senate President Gelane Zwane and Senator Ndileka Dlamini that took place in a hotel.

The spate between the two women was over allegations made by Dlamini that Zwane had undermined her in Parliament.

News reports said that the two women had to be dragged apart to stop violence taking place.

After reports appeared, the Senate President raised the issue in Parliament and accused the media of having embarrassed her.

Of course, the fight was public and she was indeed involved in it, so if there was any embarrassment caused it was caused by Dlamini and Zwane. I wasn’t there so I can’t say who tried to throw the first punch, so let’s say they were both equally to blame and both showed themselves up (and senators generally, because we don’t expect parliamentarians to behave like this).

But Swazi politicians being the arrogant lot they are, these two childish senators couldn’t see they were at fault: instead they want to blame the media, yet no one denies the fight took place.

Now, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reports that a senate select committee has been set up to investigate the media with a view to punishing journalists. The senate has warned the media against publishing further reports on the matter.

It is a typical tactic in Swaziland. Senators would do well to remember that the Swazi Constitution allows for freedom of speech and freedom of the media.

The last time senators tried to bully the media by launching a senate select committee was when the Times Sunday editor Mbongeni Mbingo was accused of bringing parliament into disrepute by publishing critical articles. In a groundbreaking decision the committee found Mbingo not guilty and confirmed his constitutional right to free speech.

But then in a contradictory move, the committee said it wanted to accredit all journalists who reported on parliament (in effect choosing who could and who could not be a parliamentary reporter). If such a move went ahead journalists who cover Parliament would be intimidated against reporting critical stories for fear of losing accreditation and maybe their jobs as a result.

Presently in Swaziland there are many attempts to muzzle the media. Among them is the continuing saga of Swazi dissident Mfomfo Nkhambule, a weekly columnist with the Times of Swaziland, who has received threats for criticising King Mswati III.

In February 2009, the government threatened to charge with sedition anyone who criticized the state of the nation address delivered by the king. This followed a number of statements by media commentators that the king’s speech was stale and lacked substance.

MISA reported last month (March 2009) that it had issued a record number of alerts about media freedom violations in Swaziland, mainly around harassment of journalists, censorship, intimidation and assault of media persons.

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