Saturday, September 5, 2009


I doubt if many readers of this blog would have missed the irony in the Swazi Observer’s report yesterday (4 September 2009) on censorship in the media.

The Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, is the most censored and self-censoring of the print media in Swaziland.

But yesterday, it reported in some detail a speech by Bonsile Dlamini, chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Swaziland chapter criticising curtailments of media freedom in the kingdom.

Dlamini said censorship was so bad that it is killing the journalism profession. Those in the Swazi leadership do not want to be put on the spotlight when it comes to good governance and democracy, Dlamini said.

The Observer quoted Dlamini saying, ‘If truth be told we are not comfortable to handle difference in opinion hence we tend to think it is foreign and unSwazi. We are still locked in the old order where traditional ideologies of customary belief systems continue to fight change with all might and we do not feel comfortable to embrace what is internationally acceptable as tenets of democracy, rule of law, assembly and that of freedom of expression and association.’

She was making the opening address to delegates at the MISA Regional annual general meeting in Swaziland.

‘As long as the media is not free to discuss democracy in Swaziland, as long as political activity is not allowed then we are in trouble because that hinders issues of freedom of speech and is not acceptable in this time and age,’ she said.

As I have reported many times before, journalists in Swaziland are censored by, or censor themselves, to such an extent that people are not getting a true picture of what is really happening in Swaziland. In research I conducted for MISA in 2008, journalists told me they were particularly frightened of reporting about King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and his family. (To see the full research click here)

This is why the media in Swaziland did not report on the shopping trip made by five of the king’s wives recently at an estimated cost of E50 million (6 million US dollars) to the ordinary Swazis.

Dlamini in her address said there were a number of cases where newspapers and magazines in Swaziland were closed down for transgressing on these rules.

‘Journalists have also lost their jobs or have had their careers stunted for showing dissent. We are seeking your indulgence on how we can liberate ourselves from the scourge of fear and intimidation,’ she told her audience.

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