Saturday, August 15, 2009


The media in Swaziland are far too critical of the kingdom’s royal family.

Who says so? The royal family, of course.

I had another of those Laugh Out Loud moments when I read this in the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Prince Masitsela, the king’s brother, told a so-called SMART partnership meeting that there was a growing trend where the media would carry sensational stories about Royalty. He said many of these were ill-conceived and anti-Swazi culture.

Prince Masitsela said there was a marked lack of respect in some media houses in Swaziland. ‘This was never heard of in our time. What you are doing is destroying the country and you must go back to the drawing board. We are not saying do not criticise, but when you do so, do so with responsibility, truthfulness and respect for your country.’

Another member of the royal family Prince Logcogco Mangaliso told the same meeting that in the past children were encouraged to read newspapers to get fresh information and to enrich themselves with knowledge. ‘I wonder if we can encourage them to do the same today,’ he said.

King Mswati himself said the media ‘should be professional at all times and adhere to the spirit of respect, nation building and the promotion of peace’.

Of course it’s all nonsense. The media in Swaziland are not disrespectful of the king and the royal family, or of power in general.

As I revealed in July 2008 in my research for the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) the opposite is the case.

The research concluded fear of monarchy and the power it has over the kingdom and media houses within it is by far the main cause of media censorship in Swaziland. This is both censorship imposed by King Mswati III and self-censorship. The king has threatened to close down titles that offend him and in recent history has done exactly that. There are also high levels of self-censorship around the king and the Queen Mother, since editors, aware of threats made in the past by the king, do not want to get themselves into trouble.

Since my report was published King Mswati has been personally involved in intimidating the media. In May 2009 he forced the Times of Swaziland to drop Mfomfo Nkhambule as a columnist in the newspaper because of his outspoken views on the power structure in Swaziland. The king was also angered by reports in the media (also covered by the international press) that he had spent 2.5 million US dollars (about E25 million) on top of the range Mercedes cars for his wives.

Times publisher Paul Loffler was hauled before the king and told to produce invoices to back up his story about the cars and then he was forced to apologise when he couldn’t. These apologies appeared in both the Times and the Times Sunday.

King Mswati has intimidated the Times group before. In 2007 it was forced to make an apology or face immediate closure after it repeated a news agency report that was critical of the king.

Nkhambule gained international attention for his articles that appeared each Monday in the Times and were largely critical of Swaziland’s ruling elite, including the king. He was hauled in by Swaziland’s state police and threatened with torture if he continued to criticise the king. He was later dropped from his traditional regiment, threatened with banishment from his homeland, and his family was threatened because he refused to be silenced.

To read my full report on media censorship in Swaziland, click here.

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