Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Swaziland MP accuses phone company of bugging callers

A member of parliament in Swaziland / eSwatini has accused mobile phone company MTN of listening in on customers.

It is not the first time the company has been accused of doing this.

Robert Magongo, the Motshane MP, told the House of Assembly MTN staffers listened on to their conversations. He said there was no privacy. He called on the Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Princess Sikhanyiso, to take ‘serious action’ on the matter. 

The Times of Swaziland reported, ‘He said he would be forced to move a motion calling for the closure of MTN if they continued with this behaviour.’ MTN is one of only two mobile phone operators in the kingdom. 

The minister is expected to respond within a week. Princess Sikhanyiso was appointed to the job by her father who rules Swaziland as the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa.

In June 2017 some senior politicians in Swaziland said they feared their phones were being tapped. The Sunday Observer reported at the time, ‘House of Assembly Speaker Themba Msibi, when interviewed about the possibility of hearing devices and phones being tapped, said, “I too have concerns as at times calls sound hollow, making one suspect that a third party could be listening in.”’

Minister of Economic Planning Prince Hlangusemphi said he had heard rumours with nothing official and concrete to substantiate them. 

The newspaper reported, ‘Minister of Natural Resources Jabulile Mashwama said rumours of bugging have been around since time immemorial.’

In July 2013 the Times of Swaziland newspaper reported the Lobamba MP Majahodvwa Khumalo said his cellphone had been bugged ever since he started being ‘vocal against some people’. 

It is legal in certain circumstances to tap phones in Swaziland. The Suppression of Terrorism Act gives police the right to listen in on people’s conversations if they have the permission of the Attorney General.

When the Act came into law in 2008 Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini said that anyone who criticised the government could be considered a terrorist sympathiser.

In 2011, a journalist working in Swaziland for the AFP international news agency reported on her blog that her phone calls were being listened in to. 

In August 2011 Wikileaks published a cable from the US Embassy in Swaziland that revealed the Swazi Government had tried to get MTN, then the only mobile phone provider in the kingdom, to use its network for ‘surveillance on political dissidents’. 

Tebogo Mogapi, the MTN chief executive officer (CEO) in Swaziland, refused to comply and later did not have his work permit renewed and so had to leave the kingdom, the cable said.

See also

‘Observer’ hides king’s MTN links

PM share dividends under scrutiny

MTN ‘keeps Swazi King in its pocket’

Swazi election – sponsored by MTN

US decries King on MTN deal

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