Tuesday, December 31, 2013


A proposed new ‘loyalty oath’ law in Swaziland could muzzle public servants from revealing corruption in the kingdom.

And, it would forbid public servants from associating with prodemocracy campaigners.

The law called the Swaziland Public Service Charter is being drafted by the Swaziland Government.

The draft law states in part, ‘A public official shall not, except with due authorisation, communicate to any person any information that s/he comes across in the performance of official duties. Whether on or off-duty and except in the performance of lawful duties, a public servant shall not associate with persons whose conduct is the subject of police or judicial investigation, or whose lifestyle is ostentatious to the point of indiscretion.’

If the law goes ahead, public servants will not be able to disclose to the media, non-government organisations or the public wrong-doing they encounter during the course of their duties.

The draft law makes no specific mention of corruption, but in Swaziland, much of the information people know about corrupt behaviour comes through the kingdom’s newspapers, often sourced by public servants.

In 2011 newspapers in Swaziland, often using information leaked by public servants, exposed corrupt land deals involving the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and a number of his cabinet colleagues and senior political figures in Swaziland.

It was only the direct intervention of King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, which stopped the land-scam corruption cases going to court.

The draft law also says a public servant, ‘shall not associate with persons whose conduct is the subject of police or judicial investigation’. This is being taken to include members of the prodemocracy movement in Swaziland, where political parties are not allowed to take part in the kingdom’s elections.

Under the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008, many groups campaigning for democracy in Swaziland have been banned as ‘terrorist groups’. This makes it illegal to be a member or a supporter of such groups. It is known that despite the penalties which include prison, a number of public servants are members or supporters of such groups, which include the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the most well-known opposition party.

The crackdown on public servants, if the law is enacted, will be widely felt across the kingdom where there are thought to be more than 30,000 public servants whose salary takes up about 40 percent of the total Swazi national budget.

The existence of the draft law was revealed by the Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati.

It reported, ‘The oath will be renewed after every five years or when a public servant is appointed to a new office – whichever comes earlier.

‘The allegiance will be pledged to the State and the People of the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

The newspaper added, ‘As part of the oath, the government employees will undertake to carry out their duties and functions as well as conduct themselves in the interests of the people of Swaziland “and not seek instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any person or authority whose interests conflict with those of Swaziland”.’

The Observer added members of the government would not be subject to the new law.

‘Cabinet, which is the executive branch of government, shall have the responsibility of promoting and ensuring that provisions of the Charter are enforced,’ it reported.

In Swaziland, no members of the government are elected by the people, they are all appointed by King Mswati.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013


The United States is to investigate Swaziland’s commitment to workers’ rights and if it is found wanting it will withdraw favourable trading privileges from the kingdom.

The US State Department announced the move just before Christmas. In a media statement it said that Swaziland could lose its eligibility for trade benefits under the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The US has been reviewing all African countries to see if they deserve to continue to be allowed to market in the US duty-free.

The State Department reported, ‘As part of the review, the United States took special note of its continuing concerns about workers’ rights issues in Swaziland and said it plans to conduct an AGOA-eligibility review of Swaziland in May 2014 to assess whether that nation has made measurable progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights.’

It added, ‘The US government annually determines whether each country eligible for AGOA benefits has met or made “continual progress” during the year in meeting AGOA’s eligibility criteria, which include establishment of a market-based economy, the rule of law, economic policies to reduce poverty, protection of internationally recognized worker rights, and efforts to combat corruption.’

Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has a history of attacking workers’ rights. It has banned the workers’ federation, the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), broken up its meeting and harassed and arrested its leaders.

The Swazi government had initially registered TUCOSWA, but later deregistered it after TUCOSWA announced it would campaign for a boycott of the Swaziland national election in September 2013. Deregistration violated the rules of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that Swaziland has ratified.

In September 2013, Swazi state police arrested all members of an international panel of experts who were due to meet to debate the role of trade unions in Swaziland. The meeting due to take place in Manzini was to be chaired by Jay Naidoo, founding General Secretary of COSATU and former Minister of Communications for South Africa.

In December 2013, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) supported workers in Swaziland and called for AGOA benefits to be withdrawn from the kingdom.

It said the Swazi Government, which is not elected, but handpicked by King Mswati, failed to observe the right of association, the right to organise and bargain collectively, and the right to acceptable conditions of service.

‘The Government of Swaziland restricts internationally recognised worker rights in both law and practice. The country has been operating under a state of emergency for the last 40 years,’ the AFL-CIO said.

US imports from Swaziland totalled E670 million (US$67 million in current foreign exchange) in 2012.

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Friday, December 20, 2013


A ceremony in which King Mswati III of Swaziland reportedly has sex with a bull, ‘is probably the most important tradition of the Swazi people’, according to a newspaper in effect owned by the King.

The Incwala or First Fruits Ceremony is ‘our unique identity’, the Swazi Observer said in an editorial comment.

Incwala is a controversial ceremony that takes place between November and January each year. Traditionalists say Incwala is a ‘national prayer’, but Christian groups have criticised it for being ‘un-Godly’ and ‘pagan’.

The ceremony is shrouded in secrecy and participants are barred from talking about what happens. The Observer reported ‘hordes’ of tourists attended the ceremony (50,000 are expected this year, according to one public relations handout), but in fact no one is allowed to witness one part of the ceremony, described by the King’s newspaper as ‘heritage which sets us apart from other tribes that we are branches of’.

The Observer said the rites of Incwala were ‘mystical’ and, ‘it becomes imperative that it cannot be documented by modern documentation apparatus like cameras and video recorders’.

It added, ‘Hence most of the information about such a ceremony can only be gleaned from those who have attended it through word of mouth, further mystifying the ceremony.’

Journalists who try to report the event are harassed and in 2011 a street vendor who sold pirated DVDs of Incwala was hauled in by the police and handed over to traditional authorities for a grilling. He was ordered to reclaim all the copies of the DVD he had sold.
Failure to do so might have seen him banished from his homeland, local media reported at the time.

In its editorial, the Observer also made an oblique reference to ‘the accuracy of the first person accounts’ that had emerged from the ceremony.

It said the accounts, ‘[C]annot be said to be spot on, as there are some elements that are out of bounds to the commoner, while the high priests are naturally sworn to secrecy such that even if they can tell about the rituals, there are those that they know they should not or cannot divulge’.

Although it did not say so, the Observer was probably referring to a first-hand account of the activities of Incwala that emerged in 2011. Then, a number of media outlets, including the Southern Africa Report and Africa is a Country, reported an eyewitness testimony of Incwala.

Africa is a Country said, ‘The ceremony is cloaked in secrecy and marks the king’s return to public life after a period of withdrawal and spiritual contemplation.

‘Among its highlights is a symbolic demonstration by the king of his power and dominance in a process involving his penetration of a black bull, beaten into semi-conscious immobility to ensure its compliant acceptance of the royal touch. The royal semen is then collected by a courtier and stored, for subsequent inclusion in food to be served at Sibaya – traditional councils – and other national forums.’

It also reported, ‘Swazi police has since jumped onto the “testimony” with “an appeal to the nation for assistance in identifying and arresting certain individuals who are printing and distributing pamphlets in business and other public areas” (that’s Scribd and Facebook).’

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Is there the slightest glimmer of hope that attitudes to gays and lesbians in Swaziland might be changing?

Lindiwe Dlamini, the Director of Guidance and Counselling at the Swazi Ministry of Education and Training, has called on school teachers to give support to gays and lesbians in schools and the wider community.

Dlamini told a meeting, organised by the Swaziland National Teachers Association (SNAT) as part of the Gender Links’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign, that gay and lesbian pupils and school staff were afraid to declare their status because they feared prejudice.

The meeting in Matsapha was attended by about 300 teachers from all over the kingdom.

Dlamini said teachers and school administrators must be supportive to gays and lesbians because they are afraid to declare their status as they feared that their colleagues or headmasters were lacking confidentiality.

‘So many children who are gays and lesbians fall into cracks because their teachers are ignoring them,’ the Times of Swaziland, a newspaper independent of King Mswati, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, reported her saying.

‘Teachers must have the culture of tolerance in their hearts,’ she said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Swaziland and gays and lesbians are often shunned by their communities. In August 2013, local media in Swaziland reported that two men suspected of being gay were banished by community police from Mvutshini.

Rather than tackle the issue of prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians in Swaziland, governments deny there are gays and lesbians in the kingdom. In November 2011, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said Swaziland would not give human rights to gay people, because they did not exist in the kingdom.   

Gamedze was responding to criticism of Swaziland by a United Nations working group on human rights that said the kingdom should enact equality laws for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex) people. Discrimination against this group of people in Swaziland is rife and extends to workplaces, the churches and on to the streets. 

HOOP (House of Our Pride), a support group for LGBTI people, reported to the United Nation in 2011, ‘It is a common scene for LGBTI to be verbally insulted by by-passers in public places. [There is] defamatory name calling and people yelling out to see a LGBTI person’s reproductive part are some of the issues facing LGBTI in Swaziland.’

The Times of Swaziland, part of a group of newspapers with a long history of publishing homophobic articles, in an apparent change of attitude, welcomed Lindiwe Dlamini’s comments on gays and lesbians in schools.

In an editorial comment, the Times said Dlamini, ‘is simply saying that we should not judge others for the way they live their lives but should instead provide emotional support when their lives get complicated, as all our lives do at some point. The simple truth is that a portion of our society is sexually attracted to members of the same sex; these people establish relationships and suffer heartache and confusion over love just like anybody else.

‘The only difference is that they can’t talk about it without being judged or, sometimes, physically attacked. Our Constitution does not address the right to sexual orientation explicitly – but it does address the right of people to live the way they want to as long as they do not deprive other people of their rights. Gay lifestyles fall squarely into this category.’

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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Newspapers in Swaziland are deliberately misleading their readers about King Mswati III’s vision of ‘Monarchical Democracy’.

In September 2013, King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, announced that he had ‘a vision’ during a thunderstorm in which he was told to change the name of the present political system in his kingdom from ‘tinkhundla’ to ‘Monarchical Democracy.’

He told media in Swaziland that this meant the king would take advice from his subjects before making decisions that affected the kingdom.

His description of  ‘Monarchical Democracy’ was vague, but in Swaziland, people, even journalists who purport to act on their behalf, are too scared of the King to ask him for clarification.

In fact, the ‘tinkhundla’ system of government puts all power in the hands of the monarchy. King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, members of the judiciary, and he appoints all senior political posts in his kingdom.

Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the Swazi people are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, with the King appointing the others. No members of the 30-strong Swaziland Senate are elected by the people.

When the King made his announcement about ‘Monarchical Democracy’, many people hoped this would mean a change from the present system to something approaching democracy.

But, the supine Press in Swaziland did not explain to their readers that this was not going to happen.

Instead, it took a proper journalist called Ed Cropley, from a proper news organisation called Reuters to get at the truth. Cropley interviewed the King and asked him outright what ‘Monarchical Democracy’ was all about and what was going to change.

The King replied, ‘No change really. It's just a name so people can understand.’

It was, Reuters reported, ‘merely a name change for foreign consumption’.

The news agency reported the King saying, ‘The world really doesn’t understand the Tinkhundla system, but everybody can understand monarchical democracy. It’s an English name. This monarchical democracy is a marriage between the traditional monarchy and the ballot box, all working together under the monarchy.’

So, the King confirmed in his own words that ‘tinkhundla’ and ‘Monarchical Democracy’ is one and the same thing.

Reuters’ report was published worldwide, as well as on social media circulating within Swaziland. Swazi newspaper editors read the report with everyone else.

But, even though the Reuters report was published in September 2013, the Swazi newspapers continue with the fiction that ‘Monarchical Democracy’ might be something new. Reports they have published include statements from the newly-elected MP Jan Sithole who thinks parliamentarians need to have a workshop to learn what ‘Monarchical Democracy’ is all about.

Even though Percy Simelane, the government’s press spokesperson, has confirmed on state-controlled radio, the King’s position, the newspapers continue to mislead their readers that there might be more to it.
No workshops on ‘Monarchical Democracy’ are necessary, because there is nothing new to learn.

However, editors in Swaziland might need to go on a workshop to learn that the prime responsibility of journalists is to tell their readers the truth.

See also