Friday, July 8, 2011


Swaziland’s pro-democracy movement seems to be in control of the media agenda in its campaign to ensure that no loan is made to bailout King Mswati III’s regime without conditions for political reform attached.

A group of activists representing trade unions, banned political parties and civic organisations was in Johannesburg, South Africa, yesterday (7 July 2011) to lobby about the loan and to talk to international media.

The Swazi Government, handpicked by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has asked South Africa for a loan. Some reports say it is for R10 billion (US$1.5 billion), but others put the figure at R1.2 billion.

The South African Government has confirmed that it is considering a loan request from Swaziland, but has not confirmed a figure.

Pro-democracy activists, including representatives of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) briefed the media yesterday and their message has been reported to all corners of the globe, mainly through the Associated Press, Reuter and AFP news agencies.

Media organisations in South Africa have also carried reports from the briefing.

All of them repeated the message of the pro-democracy activists that Swaziland is an undemocratic kingdom with serious human and civil rights issues. They say that no loan should be given without conditions for political reform.

The media have also been reminding their readers that King Mswati is the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa and that he has a long history of using his subject’s money to finance his own lavish lifestyle. He has 13 palaces in a kingdom with a population of 1.2 million and a vast personal fortune.

In none of the media reports has any case been made in favour of King Mswati and the status quo. To the international media it is a given that the message from the pro-democracy camp is true and change must come.

This is in contrast to the media in Swaziland. All broadcast news is state censored and no criticism of King Mswati is permitted. The newspapers are not officially censored, but one (the Swazi Observer) is on record saying it would never criticise the king (unsurprising, since it is in effect owned by him).

The only other daily newspaper (the Times of Swaziland) is independent of government and the monarchy, but it censors itself when reporting about King Mswati and would never repeat the kind of criticism that is appearing in the international media.

There is a new twist in the reporting this week and that is the willingness of Swazi pro-democracy leaders to go on the record when criticising the king.

One of the most outspoken has been Musa Hlophe, the coordinator of SCCCO, who may find himself in trouble for some of his comments.

Hlophe, who lives and works in Swaziland and has a regular column in the Times Sunday newspaper, was reported making stern criticisms of the king.

It is not fanciful to suspect he will be the subject of at least harassment and possibly worse from the Swazi regime when he returns to Manzini. Only last week High Court Judge Thomas Masuku was suspended from office after he made reference to King Mswati and a ‘forked tongue’ in one of his judgments. He has been accused of ‘insulting’ the king.

Hlophe may face the same accusation for reportedly calling the king ‘a dictator’.

Reuter reported him saying that the king was unlikely to agree to political reform.

‘The king is likely to say no. That is in the nature of all dictators’, Reuter reported him saying.
It went on quoting him, ‘But as people increasingly become desperate and in despair, there will be those who say “Enough is enough”, and drag him out of the palace screaming and kicking.’

Business Day, a South African newspaper, quoted Hlophe saying it was a ‘fallacy’ that most Swazis were in favour of the king. Swazis had ‘lived a lie that has confused people’, leading them to believe they were super-custodians of African traditions.

‘We have actually camouflaged our dictatorship in that kind of blanket,’ Business Day reported him saying.

The Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa also reports Hlophe saying offering a financial bailout to Swaziland ‘is like giving money to a drunken wife-beater’.

Hlophe urged South Africans who had been helped by the Swazi people during the days of apartheid to use this opportunity to bring regime change to his country.

These sentiments will not be welcomed by the Swazi regime and it is likely that it will retaliate against Hlophe in some way.

But he has one thing in his favour: the international media will be watching closely . . .

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