Monday, September 15, 2014


The Swazi Observer newspaper has been forced to make a ‘humble’ apology to the kingdom’s King and Queen Mother after publishing a report without their permission on what clothes a Princess had worn. 

In Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, media are strictly controlled. The Observer itself is in effect owned by the King. Most broadcast media are state censored and Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation, Swaziland’s only independent comment magazine, is presently in jail alongside writer Thulani Maseko for criticising the kingdom’s judiciary.

The latest attack on press freedom comes after the Observer published a report on 2 September 2014 about the Reed Dance ceremony at which tens of thousands of virgins dance half-naked in front of the King.

The newspaper reported that Princess Temaswati, one of King Mswati’s daughters, ‘wore different traditional attire from the rest of the Imbali [dancers]’. 

The newspaper continued, ‘The princess was spotted wearing tidvwashi underneath, while many of the maidens wore indlamu. In the past, the princess would also wear indlamu along with the thousands of the maidens. Questioned what this symbolised, Acting Imbali Overseer Hlangabeza Mdluli said this meant that the princess had reached a certain stage of a girl child’s life.

The Observer quoted Mdluli saying, ‘A girl undergoes different stages when she grows up. She starts off as litjitji, to being intfombi, ingudlela and then ingcugce. For the first two stages, a girl wears indlamu at events like these but after some time she moves on to being iZungela and that is when she may start wearing tidvwashi in the opposite direction.’

According to the newspaper, ‘Mdluli said the princess’ attire could also mean that there were now people that the princess respected, or that he has seen a potential spouse (sowubukiwe). 

‘The attire that the princess wore is similar to the one that was worn by Inkhosikati LaFogiyane at the Shiswelweni Reed Dance where she was unveiled as His Majesty King Mswati III’s fiancé (Liphovela). At the previous reed dance, she was clad in indlamu along with the Miss Cultural Heritage contestants as she was also a contestant.’

This report so inflamed the King that the Observer was forced to make an unreserved apology.
On Monday (15 September 2014) the newspaper published this retraction, ‘APOLOGY TO THEIR MAJESTIES.’

‘In our recent articles on the Reed Dance, we made particular reference to the dress / attire of Princess Temaswati. While the articles quoted Imbali Overseer, we wish to apologise for not seeking comment from the relevant authorities who are best placed to comment on issues of royalty. We humbly apologise and retract these articles unreservedly.’

This is not the first time the Observer has been forced to publicly apologise to the King. In March 2012 it carried an abject apology to King Mswati III relating to an article that was said to have ‘brought the institution of the Monarchy into disrepute’.

It went on to say restate that it remained ‘committed to its mission statement which is to protect the institution of the Monarchy in particular His Majesty King Mswati III and the Queen Mother and to promote the image and the interests of the Kingdom of Swaziland without prejudice to the people of Swaziland’. 

The article was an obituary for Inkhosikati LaMasuku and included information about the love life of King Sobhuza II, King Mswati’s father.

It is not only the Observer that fears the King. The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper group, also apologies to the King when told to. The most startling example of this was in 2007, when the King threatened to close down the newspaper group after it published part of an article sourced from Afrol news agency in Norway. 

The report included these words, ‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family.’

The article went on to say, ‘The growing social crisis in the country and the lessening interest of donors to support King Mswati’s regime has also created escalating needs for social services beyond the scale of national budgets.’

After the report appeared in March 2007, King Mswati threatened to close down the whole Times of Swaziland newspaper group, to which the Times Sunday belongs, unless an abject apology was published.

He also demanded the sacking of the Times Sunday features editor for allowing the report to appear in the newspaper.

King Mswati got what he asked for.

On the Thursday (22 March 2007) following publication an ‘unreserved apology’ to the king was published on the front page of the Times of Swaziland (repeated in the following week’s Times Sunday). The apology signed by both the publisher and managing editor of the Times Group said the article ‘was disparaging to the person of His Majesty in its content, greatly embarrassed him and should not have passed editorial scrutiny.’

It went on, ‘Our newspapers take great care with matters regarding the monarch, being conscious always of the unbreakable link of the King with the Nation. What occurred is reprehensible and we will renew our vigilance in editorial matters with the utmost vigour.’

To make absolutely certain that there was no doubt of the newspaper group’s subservience to the King, it finished the apology, ‘Once again your Majesty, our sincere and humble apologies.’

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