Thursday, December 13, 2012


The chair of Swaziland’s main press freedom group MISA is wrong to defend a Swazi newspaper columnist who wrote that battered women who leave their husbands are ‘bitches’ and ‘most’ women who are beaten up by men bring it upon themselves.

Alec Lushaba, of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Swaziland chapter, wrote, ‘As freedom of expression activists we must defend the right of an individual to express his view.’

Writing in his personal capacity on his Facebook page, Lushaba said, ‘We need to defend every individual’s right to express himself, even when we are opposed to his/her view.’

He added, ‘No voice should be silenced.’

That, coming from Lushaba is pretty rich. Until recently he was the editor of the Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Lushaba never practiced what he now preaches. He never allowed a single word of criticism of the king into the paper, although there were many people ready to voice an opinion.

Now, Lushaba wants ‘freedom of expression’ for Qalakaliboli Dlamini, the Sunday Times columnist who wrote that women abuse men more than the other way around.

Dlamini also wrote, ‘In fact, when a woman is battered, she may have caused more internal damage to the male who will have caused her external harm. Let us be honest with each other, women are the biggest abusers in the world.’

The problem with this is that none of what Dlamini wrote above was true. Or put another way: He was telling lies. There is no evidence to support Dlamini’s argument, yet Lushaba reckons Dlamini should be allowed to say it anyway.

Lushaba, and others who have supported Dlamini, need to recognise that there is a difference between having an opinion and expressing a prejudice. An ‘opinion’ should be a reasoned argument based on provable facts. A ‘prejudice’ is a point of view that has no basis in fact.

Dlamini voiced his own prejudice and in doing so deliberately misled Times Sunday readers.

Journalists are expected by their readers to tell them the truth. A certain trust needs to be established between newspapers and readers, so readers can feel that they are not being manipulated. This is especially important in Swaziland where, as Lushaba himself demonstrated while editor of the Weekend Observer, ordinary people are denied access to information.

Dlamini is a serial offender in this. In May 2012 he was suspended from the Times Sunday after he wrote an article saying he was proudly homophobic and hated homosexuals. He based – what was in effect a rant – on a report that he claimed showed that homosexuality was on the increase in Swaziland. No report actually stated such: it was made up by Dlamini as an excuse for him to vent his prejudice against gays.

People responding to Lushaba on his own Facebook page have pointed out to him that Dlamini was inciting hatred and advocating violence against women in his article.

One person responded to Lushaba saying, ‘But there have always been limits on freedom of speech and the incitement of crime and hate speech are two of them. Mr Dlamini’s article clearly crosses these lines and the editorial team at the Times should have appreciated this. His article is not a thought piece or provocative – it’s just a badly written piece of emotionally immature, sexist meanderings.’

Another post said, ‘His use of the Bible to justify gender-based violence can easily be seen as incitement to assault. (As well as theologically ignorant and poorly researched). To say women are the worst abusers when it is typically less than seven percent of gender-based violence cases are against women flies in the face of academic research and truth.

‘As for support for David Simelane [the murderer of 32 women recently sentenced to hang] on the flimsy assertion that apparently he was once wrongly accused of rape, it is as bizarre as it is extreme.

It went on, ‘The argument is that it is not the job of a national newspaper to give a platform for unchallenged, unbridled, factually inaccurate, biased hatred. There are standards that the public expects when it buys a newspaper. We expect truth, decency and a well put together argument. Mr Dlamini’s article fails these tests and it is not censorship to prevent it appearing but good editorial practice.’

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