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Sunday, 1 March 2015

SWAZI POLICE HALT DEMOCRACY MEETING



Police in  Swaziland stopped trade unionists from meeting on Saturday (28 February 2015) to discuss the need for multi-party democracy in the kingdom.

Armed police stopped supporters of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) meeting at the Swaziland National Teachers Association (SNAT) Centre in Manzini.

The Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported, ‘The main reason the meeting was stopped from taking place was the inclusion of multi-party democracy in the agenda that was to be deliberated on the day.’

Political parties are banned from taking part in elections in Swaziland and many pro-democracy organisations have been banned by the King’s hand-picked government and labelled ‘terrorist’ groups.

Police mounted road blocks to stop supporters entering Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city.

The Federation’s President Quinton Dlamini said police would not deter TUCOSWA in its fight for democracy. 

TUCOSWA now plans to hold a meeting just outside Swaziland’s borders at the Ngwenya Border Post in South Africa on 14 March 2015.

The Federation’s Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane said this would celebrate TUCOSWA’s third anniversary.

He said, ‘It is clear that we need multi-party democracy because the police are always exercising their powers over us. We have resolved that we take our meeting to where democracy is allowed and that is South Africa.’

In October 2014, the Swaziland Government banned TUCOSWA and all other employer and trade union federations in the kingdom.

See also

OFFICIAL: FEDERATIONS ARE ILLEGAL

TRIALS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED: AMNESTY



Amnesty International has highlighted the case of two journalists jailed in Swaziland for writing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary to demonstrate an ‘upsurge in politically motivated trials and the use of laws which violate the principle of legality to suppress dissent’ over the past year.

Amnesty, in its annual report just published, said that in July 2014 Bheki Makhubu, editor of the monthly news magazine the Nation, and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sentenced by the High Court to two years in prison for contempt of court ‘after a grossly unfair trial’.

Amnesty, which has already declared the two men to be ‘prisoners of conscience’, said, ‘In March [2014] the two men were arrested after the Nation published their articles raising concerns about judicial independence and political accountability in Swaziland. The warrant used to arrest them, issued by Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, subverted the normal legal process. 

‘The police at Mbabane police station, where the men were initially detained prior to their appearance before the Chief Justice, also appeared to have been acting under instructions when they denied the men’s lawyers access to them in the police cells. 

‘The two men were remanded into custody by the Chief Justice following a brief procedure behind closed doors in his office. In April, they were briefly released, following a ruling by High Court judge Mumcy Dlamini that the warrants used to arrest them were defective. The Chief Justice immediately lodged an appeal against this ruling, the two men were rearrested and the trial against them began under High Court judge Mpendulo Simelane. 

‘The judge had a clear conflict of interest in the matter as he was named in one of the cited articles and intervened as a factual witness during the course of the trial. When sentencing the defendants, Judge Simelane criticized their “disgusting conduct”, for running a “defiance campaign” against the administration of justice with “scurrilous” articles and, in respect of Thulani Maseko, for “pursuing regime change”’

The sentences are to be appealed.

Amnesty added, ‘In May [2014], the Supreme Court overturned Bheki Makhubu’s previous conviction in 2013 for one of two charges against him arising from an earlier article in the Nation on the importance of the judiciary in entrenching respect for the Constitution and improving the lives of the people. 

‘The Supreme Court upheld the conviction on the second charge arising from an article concerning the conduct of the country’s powerful Chief Justice, but overturned the sentence of two years’ imprisonment if the editor failed to pay a fine equivalent to nearly US$45,000 within three days. The Supreme Court judges substituted a fine equivalent of US$3,000 and a suspended sentence of three months’ imprisonment conditional on not being convicted of a similar offence.’

See also

SWAZI HUMAN RIGHTS WORSEN: AMNESTY

VARSITY BLAMES GOVT FOR CASH CRISIS



Only one week after King Mswati III of Swaziland publicly declared his support for higher education in his kingdom, it is reported that his Government has not paid monies it promised one of the newest universities and it cannot pay salaries.

King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and hand-picks the Swazi Government, said in his speech at the opening of parliament that his kingdom now had a ‘huge challenge to develop more institutions of higher learning for our youth in the country that will be affordable to parents and of high quality’.

He added, ‘Therefore, government should upgrade our colleges into universities as this is in line with our decentralisation policy.’

However, the reality in his kingdom is proving to be rather different. Media in Swaziland have reported the Swaziland Christian University at Mahwalala, which specialises in health-based programmes, has had to delay paying its staff wages and salaries.

The Observer on Saturday newspaper reported (28 February 2015), ‘This was disclosed by the university’s bursar Lusekwane Dlamini through an internal memorandum which was issued on Wednesday.’

The newspaper reported the memo said, ‘This memo serves to inform you that salaries for this month will be delayed due to the current financial situation faced by the university.’

The newspaper added, ‘According to highly placed sources, the school administration is accusing government of failing to render their salaries. They are alleging that government promised to give them E27 million [US$2.7 million] which was not met.’ 

It reported Minister of Education and Training Dr Phineas Magagula saying there was no money at the moment. He said the Government had paid the university E3m at the beginning of the year.

Last Month (February 2015), it was reported that armed police raided the university’s campus after students boycotted classes. There were protesting about a shortage of lecturers and inadequate teaching facilities.

It was also reported that 25 female students from the university had been raped in the past year. Students blamed the university for not providing them with secure accommodation.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

SWAZI HUMAN RIGHTS WORSEN: AMNESTY

The rule of law, access to effective remedies and protection of human rights in Swaziland continued to deteriorate in the past year as a consequence of the further undermining of judicial independence, Amnesty International said in its annual report.

‘Activists were also detained and charged in several separate trials involving charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act,’ Amnesty stated. 

The report published on Tuesday (24 February 2015) said the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, revived a 2009 sedition charge against Thulani Maseko. His trial on this charge was scheduled to be heard in 2015. A challenge to the constitutionality of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, as well as the STA, was also pending in 2015. 

Amnesty reported, ‘The challenge was brought by veteran activist and leader of the opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Mario Masuku, and eight others facing charges under both laws in three separate trials. The application was due to be heard in the High Court in March 2015.’

The trial of Mario Masuku and youth leader Maxwell Dlamini was due to begin in February 2015. They were charged with sedition and remanded in custody in connection with slogans they allegedly shouted at a 2014 May Day rally. 

Amnesty reported, ‘There was considerable concern at Mario Masuku’s deteriorating health after he was remanded into custody. At the end of October there was a renewed attempt to secure his and Maxwell Dlamini’s release on bail. On 31 October the High Court judge scheduled to hear the application was withdrawn. The application was heard and rejected in November by Judge Mpendulo Simelane.’

Seven members of PUDEMO, which is banned under the STA, were also facing trial at the end of the year on charges under the STA following their arrest at the High Court during the trial of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu in April, who were later jailed for contempt of court for writing and publishing articles in the Nation magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary.

See also


LEGAL CHALLENGE TO SWAZI TERROR LAW
AMNESTY ATTACKS SWAZI JUSTICE

Monday, 23 February 2015

SWAZI KING ATTACKS LAVISH LIFESTYLES

King Mswati III of Swaziland has instructed the kingdom’s revenue authority to pursue people who live lavish lifestyles to ensure they are paying their tax.

The King, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, himself has 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars. He and his royal family regularly take expensive international trips.

The King pays no tax.

In a speech opening the Swazi Parliament on Thursday (19 February 2015), the King said, ‘Time has also come for the authority to fast track the programme of lifestyle audits.’

After the King’s speech was delivered, the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom reported, ‘[Swaziland Revenue Authority] General (CG) Dumisani Masilela told this reporter that qualified personnel had been recruited to carry out the lifestyle audit function aimed at cracking the whip on those involved in corrupt ways of generating income.’

The source of much of King Mswati’s income remains secret. In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that the King himself had a personal net fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes also said King Mswati was the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income. The trust has been estimated to be worth US$10 billion.  

In August 2014 the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa reported King Mswati personally received millions of dollars from international companies such as phone giant MTN; sugar conglomerates Illovo and Remgro; Sun International hotels and beverages firm SAB Millerto.

It reported that MTN, which has a monopoly of the cell phone business in Swaziland, paid dividends directly to the King. He holds 10 percent of the shares in MTN in Swaziland and is referred to by the company as an ‘esteemed shareholder’. It said MTN had paid R114 million (US$11.4 million) to the King over the past five years.

The newspaper also reported that the King was receiving income from Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, which paid dividends in 2013 of R218.1 million. The newspaper reported ‘several sources’ who said it was ‘an open secret’ that although money generated by Tibiyo was meant to be used for the benefit of the nation, Tibiyo in fact channelled money directly to the Royal Family.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of Swaziland’s tiny 1.4 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 a day; three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.

At the last national budget in Swaziland in 2014 the King’s annual household budget increased by more than 10 percent to US$61m, this was on top of the 13 percent increase he had in 2013.

The AFP news agency reported in May 2014 that the figure also included provisions for construction work on palaces that would cost the tax payer about $12.6m.

Observers note that the King has had many chances in the past to cut back on his spending and reduce the amount of money he takes from his subjects, but so far he has increased his budget, rather than reduced it. In 2011, as Swaziland hurtled towards financial meltdown, Majozi Sithole, the then Finance Minister, in his budget demanded 10 percent budget cuts (later increased further) from government departments, but in the same budget the amount of money given to the King increased by 23 percent.

See also

KING AT CENTRE OF IRON MINE FAILURE
ONLY KING GAINS FROM MINE FAILURE
HYPOCRISY OF KING MSWATI III

Friday, 20 February 2015

MEDIA BACK KING’S FALSE HIV PROMISE

Newspapers in Swaziland lost their critical faculties when they reported that King Mswati ‘would personally’ eradicate HIV and AIDS in the kingdom by 2022.

The King made his statement while opening the Swazi Parliament on Thursday (19 February 2015).

In a confused passage in his speech, King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, said, ‘I wish to assure the nation that I will personally see to it that the first world Swaziland is HIV /AIDS free.’

Both the Swazi Observer and the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only two daily newspapers, reported this to mean the King had set himself a deadline of 2022; he has many times in the past said Swaziland would be a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.

The newspapers reported the King’s promise prominently.  The Observer, which is in effect owned by the King, reported, ‘There was unprecedented clapping of hands in the House of Assembly as His Majesty King Mswati III assured the Swazi nation that he would personally see to it that the First World Swaziland is HIV and AIDS free. 

‘Ordinarily, parliamentarians and invited guests shout Bayethe when the King sends a message they fully support, but the gathering was besides itself as the King made this commitment.’

The Times, a privately-owned paper, called it a ‘bold declaration’. It added, ‘This means that the country will be free of the epidemic in seven years’ time.’

The King gave no further information about how he would achieve this goal. The newspapers reported the King’s announcement without criticism. At present there is no cure for HIV, so it could be interpreted that the King personally intends to find that cure.

With 26 percent of adults in the 15-49 age group HIV positive, Swaziland has the world’s highest estimated prevalence rate of HIV-infected adults. In addition, Swaziland’s tuberculosis (TB) incidence rate is the highest in the world and 80 percent of TB patients are co-infected with HIV. 

The catastrophic effect of HIV and AIDS on Swaziland's mortality rates has created a society in which about 15 percent of the 1.2 million population are orphans and vulnerable children, many of whom live in child-headed households.

King Mswati has a long history of unusual responses to the HIV pandemic. In 2014, it was reported his kingdom would pay teenaged girls E200 (about US$20) per month if they refused to have sex. 

The South African news organisation IoL reported Thabsile Dlamini, a health care worker in Manzini, saying, ‘The government will pay girls the allowances so they will have money to purchase necessities and can turn down money offered to them for sex.’

In 2001, King Mswati banned ‘young maidens’ from having sex for five years to halt the spread of HIV/Aids. Any man who contravened the maidens' chastity rule was to be fined one cow. 

Later, the BBC reported, ‘King Mswati transgressed the ban when he took a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife just two months after imposing the sex ban in September 2001, sparking unprecedented protests by Swazi women outside the royal palace.’