Monday, July 11, 2011


The plug was pulled on a state radio phone-in in Swaziland when listeners started criticising the government for its handling of the economy.

Percy Simelane, the boss of Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services (SBIS), personally stormed the radio studio and cut the programme.

SBIS is state-controlled and news and current affairs broadcasts are heavily censored. Simelane said the programme did not have permission to discuss the topic.

This is what happened, according to a report in the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan africa’s last absolute monarch.

Veteran announcer Veli Simelane ‘invited listeners to call and share their views on whether South Africa should give Swaziland a loan and generally their take on the economic crisis in the country’.

‘Veli shelved a scheduled programme for the call-in. He was meant to host Happy Birthdays phone-in programme. He pleaded with listeners to ignore birthday wishes but share their views on the loan application.

‘Indeed, listeners jumped at the opportunity. A number of callers slammed government for reckless spending and felt South Africa should not extend the loan to Swaziland until certain issues were addressed in the country,’ the Observer reported.

The Observer censored itself in its report and refused to tell readers details of what listeners had said. ‘Some of the things that were said by the callers cannot be repeated because of their sensitivity,’ it said.

What the newspaper did not report is that late last week it was revealed that South Africa would grant South Africa a R1.2 billion loan, but on condition that it met stringent financial conditions and that King Mswati ceased to be an absolute monarch and moved towards political reform.

It is not known if these points were raised on the radio show. It is unlikely since, although the report that was originally published in the Southern Africa Report journal, later went global on the Internet, it was not mentioned in the Swazi media.

A source told the Observer that Simelane was ‘livid’ that the programme went ahead without permission.

‘What made the situation critical were the things that some of the callers said on air,’ the source said.

Simelane confirmed to the Observer that he had stopped the programme.

‘In newspapers you have editors who check the stories before they are published. The same applies on radio. Part of my duties is to ensure that all that is aired goes through a vetting process. I was merely editing a programme that got to be hosted without following procedure,’ the Observer reported him saying.

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