Wednesday, December 17, 2014


It would take 70 percent of people in Swaziland more than 61 years to earn the price of the new custom-built car Princess Sikhanyiso, the eldest daughter of King Mswati III, took delivery of this month (December 2014).

Sikhanyiso took possession of a customised Kia Soul SUV at a cost of E450,000 (US$45,000). Newspapers in South Africa reported the car would usually cost E350,000 but the Princess demanded extras, including passenger video screens as part of an entertainment centre with a premium sound system.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and 70 percent of his subjects have incomes of less than $US2 a day. Thousands of people in the Swazi textile industry are about to lose their jobs because the United States has withdrawn favourable trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) because of Swaziland’s poor record on workers’ and political rights. 

In November 2014 a United Nations report said Swaziland was the seventh hungriest country in the world. A total of 35.8 of Swaziland’s 1.3 million population are undernourished, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said.

The Independent Group of newspapers in South Africa reported Princess Sikhanyiso took possession of the car in a ceremony covered by both the kingdom’s daily newspapers.

The Independent reported, ‘At a ceremonial presentation of the car at a Kia dealership in Mbabane, the Minister of Transportation, who was appointed by Mswati, presided over the lifting of a red veil draped over the princess’s vehicle. 

‘The princess, attended by security personnel wearing traditional warrior attire, expressed her delight at the car.’

King Mswati and his Royal Family have been criticised for years outside of Swaziland for their lavish spending. The King himself has a fleet of Mercedes and BMW cars. In 2009 it was revealed he bought up to 20 Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guards at a cost estimated to be US$250,000 each. 

The cars can resist an attack with small arms projectiles, a grenade or other explosive. One cars’ website described the Pullman Guard as ‘The car of choice for up-and-coming dictators.’

In April 2013, The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a banned political party in Swaziland, reported 32 BMW cars had been delivered to King Mswati ahead of his 45th birthday celebrations.

The previous year the King was embroiled in a row when he took delivery of a private jet plane, worth an estimated US$46 million.

The King claimed that the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 twin-engine jet was a gift from an admirer, but declined to say who it was. This led to speculation that the jet had been purchased out of public funds.  

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014


There is no date set to review restoration of Swaziland’s status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), despite claims from Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini that his government has met requirements to introduce democratic reforms to the kingdom.

Rodney Ford, a spokesman for African affairs at the U.S. State Department, was quoted by Bloomsberg News saying, ‘Swaziland is among many countries under review,’ and no decision had been made on whether the kingdom had taken steps since US President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw AGOA trade benefits from Swaziland.

Bloomberg quoted Ford saying there was no scheduled date for the review to be announced. 

The US announced in June 2014 that preferential trading status under AGOA would be removed on 1 January 2015, from Swaziland which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The US withdrew Swaziland’s AGOA privileges after the kingdom ignored an ultimatum to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

In June 2014 the US Trade Representative Michael Froman said, ‘The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly. 

‘We have made our concerns very clear to Swaziland over the last several years and we engaged extensively on concrete steps that Swaziland could take to address the concerns.’

Now, Swaziland Prime Minister Dlamini, who was not elected to office by the people but appointed to head the government by King Mswati personally, is claiming that the kingdom has met the requirements and should have its benefits restored. He is being supported in this by the Swazi Observer, a group of newspaper in effect owned by the King.

The Observer reported Dlamini saying his government had done its part in making sure that the kingdom met the five benchmarks set by the Americans.

Dlamini and the media in Swaziland have been blaming trade unionists in the kingdom for the withdrawal of the AGOA benefits, even though they have no power to implement the changes the Americans are seeking.

Already 1,450 jobs in the textile industry have been lost in Swaziland and many more are expected to go in the New Year as a result of the loss of AGOA benefits.

Since announcing the removal of AGOA benefits in June 2014, the US has continued to criticise Swaziland for its poor human rights record.

In August it criticised Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini after he called for two workers’ leaders to be ‘strangled’ after they criticised his government’s human rights record. It called the comment ‘threatening’.

In a statement the United States Department of State  said, ‘Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

It added, ‘The United States continues to support and defend fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, and the human rights defenders who fight for these values each day. We call upon the Government to renounce the Prime Minister’s remarks and to ensure respect for the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens.’

In July 2014 the US State Department criticised the jailing for two years of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko after they wrote articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

In a statement the State Department said,  ‘Their convictions for contempt of court for publishing an article critical of the High Court of Swaziland and their ongoing prolonged detention appear to undermine respect for Swaziland’s human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Swaziland’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States strongly supports the universal fundamental freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the actions of the Swazi Government.’

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Monday, December 15, 2014


Media freedom advocates have criticised Swaziland’s Supreme Court for awarding record libel damages against the kingdom’s only privately-owned daily newspaper in favour of the Senate President Gelane Simelane-Zwane.

Africa Echo Ltd, which runs the Times of Swaziland group, was ordered to pay Simelane-Zwane, who is better known in the kingdom as Gelane Zwane, E550,000 (US$50,000) after it published stories stating that she had lied about her birth name.

The Swazi News newspaper had reported in 2009 that Zwane was not born a Simelane and this would make her ineligible for her then office as acting chief of KoNtshingila. At the time she was engaged in a battle to retain the chieftaincy which depended on her being a Simelane.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter said in a statement, ‘This recent ruling has sent further chills through Swaziland's already heavily censored and fearful media.’

It added, ‘The three judges who handed down the ruling - Nigerian-born Esta Ota; American Bar Association member Stanley Moore; and Lesotho-born chief justice Michael Ramodibedi - emphasised the high-status of Simelane-Zwane in Swazi politics and society, suggesting the more powerful one is the more they deserve from a defamation case.’

MISA added, ‘In silencing the media the judiciary is ultimately harming the prospects of the nation. Without open and unfettered debate, progress will only benefit the fortunate few at the top.

‘In suppressing sincerely held opinions or inconvenient truths in the name of respect, the judiciary is displaying remarkable disrespect for the principles of natural justice and tolerance. If freedom of speech is continually trampled on, the image of Swaziland in the eyes of the world will continue to decline. It is not the so-called “disrespectful” or “offensive” speech that causes the problems; it is the criminalizing and silencing of that speech, of that open debate, which causes the problems.

‘In handing out disproportionate rulings in defamation cases in the name of protecting the powerful, the judiciary is harming Swaziland’s constitution, which should be protecting free speech and media freedom.’
Reporters Without Borders called the award of damages ‘exorbitant’ and added it was ‘tantamount to a death sentence’ for the Times of Swaziland.

Cléa Kahn-Sriber, head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, said in a statement,  ‘This damages award, the largest ever made against a Swazi publication in a libel case, is out of all proportion to the harm the newspaper is alleged to have caused the plaintiff, said. In the light of the financial situation of Swaziland’s media, one can only regard this exorbitant award as a government attempt to throttle the country’s only independent daily. We call for this ruling to be overturned as its sole aim is to gag the media.’

The three Supreme Court judges giving their judgement said the newspaper had been reckless in not checking its facts before publishing the stories.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014


News that the construction of a E800m (US$80m) strategic oil reserve facility at Phuzumoya in the Lubombo region of Swaziland has stalled should not surprise anyone.

King Mswati III promised his subjects in 2013 that the facility was ‘geared into transforming lives and take the entire region into higher heights’.

But, like so many of the King’s promises, it did not materialise.

The Sunday Observer newspaper, which is in effect owned by the King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported, ‘The Phuzumoya project is for the construction of a 90 million litres national strategic fuel facility which will see the country’s energy sector assuming a central role in the development of the kingdom and its economy.’

‘When launching the project, His Majesty assured that those to be affected by the project in whatever way would be taken care of, to the satisfaction of everyone concerned. The project will be funded by taxpayers.’

The newspaper reported (7 December 2014) that the project had not started and suggested that King Mswati might have been misled by advisors.

However, the failure at Phuzumoya, is just one of a long line of broken promises made by the King. In November 2009, King Mswati announced a plan partly financed from in the oil state of Qatar to build an E35bn (US$4.8bn at the then exchange rate) ‘world class facility’ that would store at least a three-month supply of fuel for Swaziland. It did not happen.

In November 2012 the king returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Taiwan, claiming that he had secured Taiwanese investment to build a pharmaceutical plant, a food processing plant, a bottled water plant, a cosmetics plant and a granite and marble venture – which, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland newspaper, were expected to create more than 3,000 jobs. It has not happened.

In April 2009 King Mswati III announced the building of a multi-billion emalangeni Swazi City, financed by international money and comprising a 25,000 sq m shopping, entertainment and ‘wellness’ centre ‘to rival the world’. There would be a Science and Technology Park, a hi-technology industrial Site and an expansion of the Matsapha Industrial Site. It would be completed by 2012, creating 15,000 new jobs. It did not happen.

In October 2009 the Government the King handpicked promised an E1.5bn ‘facelift’ for the Swazi capital city Mbabane. That money would buy a civic centre and a shopping mall, described at the time as a ‘fully fledged state of the art 21st Century Civic Centre befitting a country’s capital city’. Work was expected to start in June 2010 and take three years to build. It did not happen.

In October 2010, the Swazi Government announced its ‘fiscal adjustment roadmap’ to save the kingdom’s economy. This would include attracting investment to create, ‘between 25,000 and 30,000 new jobs’ in the private sector. These jobs have not materialised.

These are just some of the plans announced that border on fantasy. The truth is that Swaziland is a poor country that has no need of luxury hotels capable of hosting 53 heads of state at a time. Seven in 10 of the Swaziland population of 1.3 million are so poor they earn less than US$2 a day. No foreign investors are going to want to be involved in such schemes.

The Swaziland Government has no money to build grandiose developments.

A report published by the UK think-tank Chatham House in September 2013 stated that Swaziland’s gross domestic product is only 1 percent of that of its neighbour South Africa and was a relatively poor country compared to other countries in the region and in recent years it has failed to reach the same levels of economic growth as its neighbours.

‘The Swazi economy is on an unsustainable trajectory,’ the report concluded.

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