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Thursday, 18 September 2014

‘LACK OF EVIDENCE IN BOMB CASE’



Mystery brown shoe box keeps Musa in court

Kenworthy News Media, 17 September 2014
 

Swazi student leader Musa Ngubeni insists that the charges of possession of explosives against him are fabricated and political, and that the state has more or less deliberately stalled his case for over three years due to lack of evidence, writes Kenworthy News Media.

“The brown shoe box was never produced in court, so I am not really sure what I have to answer for in this case,” Musa Ngubeni tells me. He is speaking of a box full of wires, explosives and detonators that the Swazi state claims was found near his home in Mbikwakhe in 2011, but which the prosecution has failed to produce.

Ngubeni was subsequently detained, tortured, and charged with possession of explosives during a spate of democracy demonstrations in the absolute monarchy of Swaziland in April 2011 together with fellow Swazi student leader Maxwell Dlamini.

Initially one of the prosecution witnesses had claimed that the explosives were too dangerous to bring to court. Then the explosives had apparently exploded after a South African bomb expert had allegedly tried to assemble it.

When Musa’s attorney requested to have the remnants of the explosives presented in court, the prosecution asked to use undated photographs apparently taken by the South African bomb expert of what they claimed was the remnants of the explosives as evidence. The judge refused.

According to Musa Ngubeni, other claims by the prosecution that he had shown them the box of explosives are also unfounded. “The prosecution alleged that I led them to a pointing out exercise but the prosecution witness who claimed to have taken photos of the pointing out exercise has failed to produce any photos showing me pointing out anything,” he says.

“A pointing exercise requires that after it has taken place it must be reduced to writing by the pointing out officer and later be submitted to court as admission. But no admission note to pointing was produced in court.”

The fact that the state has not produced any evidence against Musa Ngubeni ought to have resulted in him being acquitted. But while Maxwell Dlamini was finally cleared of the same charges against him last week (although he is still in prison due to other equally questionable charges), Ngubeni will have to contend with further months or years of strenuous bail conditions and an expensive court case.

“The bail conditions require me to report to Mbabane Police Headquarters which is 40 kilometres from my home, which means I have to spend 1400 dollars per year on transport,” Musa Ngubeni explains. “I also need financial assistance for my legal fees. This is all financially draining to me.”

That Ngubeni’s passport is confiscated, as part of his tough bail conditions, also means that he can’t register for his final year at law-school at the South African University UNISA.

He got his Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of Swaziland in 2010 before he was arrested, and did his first year of his Master’s degree at the University of South Africa in 2013. In his final year he is expected to meet with his project supervisor in South Africa, however, which will prove challenging as his passport was confiscated as part of his bail conditions.

As Wandile Dludlu, Coordinator at the Swaziland United Democratic Front, explained in a debate about lengthy trials such as Musa’s on the South African eNews Channel Africa earlier in the month, “the judicial system [in Swaziland] is used as a weapon by his majesty’s government to deal with those who disagree with the system. But also as a warning and as a message to would-be activists or proponents of democracy.”

But Musa, who was a very active student representative council chairperson during a series of student protests when he studied at the University of Swaziland in 2008/09, says he will not be intimidated. “I will remain unshaken and climb every branch of this tree to the very last, where justice will finally prevail.”

Monday, 15 September 2014

KING FORCES NEWSPAPER APOLOGY

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.’

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

LEGAL CHALLENGE TO SWAZI TERROR LAW

A legal challenge is to be made in Swaziland to declare the kingdom’s Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) unconstitutional.

People who have protested for democratic change in Swaziland have been arrested and charged under the act for ‘sedition’. No political Party is allowed to contest elections in Swaziland and all organisations that call for democratic change have been branded ‘terrorists’ under the STA.

People have been charged under the STA for a number of alleged crimes, including carrying banners displaying the names of banned organisations, wearing berets or T-shirts with slogans written on them, and praising individuals who have stood up for democracy.

The STA was introduced in November 2008 following an attempted bombing of the Lozitha Bridge, near one of the King’s 13 palaces in September that year.  

Shortly after the STA came into force Amnesty International and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBA-HRI) called for its immediate repeal or amendment.

More recently in June 2014, the United States withdrew preferential trade rights from Swaziland because, among other things, it had not amended the STA.

In 2009, Amnesty and IBA-HRI said a number of provisions in this Act were ‘sweeping and imprecise’.

They said in a statement that the Swazi Government warned of heavy penalties for ‘associating’ with certain groups, which had been declared to be terrorist ‘entities’ under the law. They said this was ‘contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty and of intimidation amongst a wide range of civil society organizations’.  

The statement read, ‘Amnesty International and the IBA-HRI are gravely concerned that key provisions in this anti-terrorism law are inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights law and are already leading to the violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.’

The statement also said the offences under the STA were ‘defined with such over-breadth and imprecision that they place excessive restrictions on a wide range of human rights – such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly – without adhering to the requirements of demonstrable proportionality and necessity.’

In June 2014, the United States withdrew a preferential trade agreement from Swaziland under the Africa African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) after the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, failed to make reforms on political and workers’ rights, which included amendments to the STA.

The legal challenge which is spearheaded by the People’s United Democratic Party (PUDEMO) is expected to be heard at the Swaziland High Court on 1 December 2014.

See also

AMNESTY CALLS FOR TERROR PROTEST

Monday, 8 September 2014

MAXWELL FREED, MUSA FOUND GUILTY

Kenworthy News Media, 5 September 2014
According to the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice and PUDEMO, Swaziland Youth Congress Secretary General Maxwell Dlamini has been acquitted of the 2011 charges of contravening Swaziland’s Explosives Act, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Maxwell Dlamini’s co-accused in the 2011 case, Musa Ngubeni, was found guilty on circumstantial evidence and will appear before the magistrate again on September 10.

Maxwell Dlamini is still charged under section 4 and 11 of the Suppression of Terrorism Act for criticising the Swazi regime on May Day 2014, where he could face 15 years in prison if convicted.

He is also charged with sedition and participating in an unlawful activity for allegedly organising and participating in a campaign that advocated the boycott of Swaziland’s 2013 elections, that the Commonwealth Observer Mission referred to as being “not credible”.

Maxwell Dlamini was tortured during questioning in 2011, a fact mentioned in Amnesty International’s 2012 annual report, and subsequently received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

See also

TERROR CHARGE FOR SHOUTING SLOGAN
DANES SUPPORT JAILED SWAZI ACTIVISTS

POISON VICTIMS DENIED TREATMENT

Hospitals in Swaziland refused to treat poverty-stricken workers affected by poisonous fumes at a textile factory because they could not afford to pay.

Meanwhile, the Swaziland Government said the number of workers exposed to the fumes was 1,600 – more than treble the number previously reported by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). 

Hospitals were inundated with sick people after the incident at the Taiwanese-owned Tex-Ray factory in Matsapha, near Manzini, on Friday (5 September 2104).

Jim Wang, a spokesperson for Tex-Ray was quoted by the Observer on Sunday newspaper in Swaziland saying that the doctors had refused to give medical attention to some of the workers because they did not have money. 

Wang said ‘I told them we would give them the cash after they had attended to the employees.’ 

Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula was quoted in local media saying, ‘We have received a report on the catastrophe at the factory. A total of 1,600 employees were exposed to the fumes from a spilled chemical.’ 

She added, ‘Currently we do not have more information on the deadly substance, we are yet to conduct thorough research on its effects and the cause of its spill.’ 

Magagula also told the newspaper the chemical was spilled in the clothing mixture room and that a full report that would disclose its name, effects and the extent of damage it had caused was awaited. 

See also 

‘POISON FUMES STRIKE 500 WORKERS’

Saturday, 6 September 2014

‘POISON FUMES STRIKE 500 WORKERS’



About 500 workers at a textile factory in Swaziland needed medical treatment after inhaling poisonous chemicals, according to the kingdom’s trade union federation.

The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) said the incident happened at the Taiwanese-owned Tex-Ray factory in Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city on Friday (5 September 2014).

According to a TUCOSWA press statement doors at the factory were locked making it difficult for workers to escape the fumes. It said, ‘close to 500 workers collapsed and had to be treated in various medical institutions’.

Mduduzi C. Gina, TUCOSWA First Deputy Secretary General, said, ‘It is more disturbing to learn that the management of the company locked the exit points of the factory shell when workers wanted to escape from inhaling the lethal substance.’

Gina said the incident happened at the same time that TUCOSWA had announced it wanted to address Tex-Ray workers on workers’ rights and the lack of political freedom in Swaziland.

Last week, police prevented TUCOSWA and the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) from holding a prayer meeting outside Tex-Ray. Swazi media reported at the time that 1,500 workers had gathered.

The workers are concerned for their jobs after the United States dropped Swaziland from the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) which allowed the kingdom to export goods at preferential rates. The US made the move because Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has a poor record on political and workers’ rights.

Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom’s textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015.

There are about 25 Taiwanese-owned factories operating in Swaziland, mostly textile and garment manufacturers, paying salaries described by workers as close to slave wages. There have been numerous strikes by workers trying to get decent wages, where the pay is so poor that many women workers are unable to feed themselves properly and have to resort to prostitution

Wages in textile factories in Swaziland are so low that companies in South Africa threatened to move their factories to the kingdom to avoid paying the minimum wage in that country. 

A report in 2010 stated that employees in Matsanjeni typically earned E160 a month and were forced to turn to prostitution to survive.

Some women textile workers reported they earned E5.50 per hour (about 85 US cents) and had to live six to a room and three to a bed to get by. They tried to share food as the cheapest meal for one person costs E10 and a piece of fruit costs E1. 

But, wages in Swaziland were still too high, according to Mason Ma, director and vice president of Tex-Ray. He told reporters in 2010 that recent increases had pushed ‘wage levels higher than in some Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia’.

In August 2010, Lutfo Dlamini, who was then Swazi Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, told Taiwan journalists that all profits made in the textile factories for Taiwan-owned companies could be taken out of the kingdom. He said that this made Swaziland a better place to set up factories than anywhere else in Africa.

And, the then Taiwanese ambassador to Swaziland Peter Tsai told reporters a distinguishing feature of Swaziland in terms of investment ‘is that it allows full repatriation of profits and dividends of enterprises operating in the country’. 

Dlamini said in Swaziland, ‘We believe in this country. You invest your money. You make profits and you are able to take the profits away.’

See also

MINISTER RAIDS TEXTILE FACTORY

SWAZI TEXTILE PAY STRIKE ILLEGAL

Monday, 1 September 2014

KING, 46, TAKES VIRGIN, 19, AS 14th WIFE

Swaziland’s King Mswati III has finally married the 19-year-old former beauty pageant contestant dubbed by foreign media as ‘Naughty Sindi’

The King, aged 46, chose the teenager as his wife from among thousands of young virgin girls who danced semi-naked in front of him at the kingdom’s annual Umhlanga or Reed Dance in 2013.

The Observer on Sunday (31 August 2014), a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported that Sindiswa Dlamini had been seen in public at the opening of a trade fair and this indicated that she was now officially the King’s wife. It had been announced in September 2013 that Dlamini had been chosen to be the King’s 14th wife.

Media in Swaziland predictably reported the event as if it were quite natural for a middle-aged man to wed a ‘virgin’ who was younger than many of his daughters.

But outside the kingdom, which King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, the media have been more candid.

They reported Dlamini as the king’s 14th bride, although some counted her as wife number 15. The confusion was excusable since the number of wives the king has is considered a state secret in Swaziland and it is considered ‘un-Swazi’ to talk openly about King Mswati’s polygamy.

Media outside Swaziland reported that ‘Naughty Sindi’, as the Sunday Sun newspaper in South Africa described her, has had affairs with two of King Mswati’s sons, Prince Majaha and Prince Bandzile, who are both in their early twenties.

One unnamed source told the newspaper, ‘Sindi has dated both these boys. She’s a party girl used to having fun.’

Another informant told the Sunday Sun, ‘Sindi is no virgin. She drinks and smokes a lot and has tattoos on parts of her body I cannot mention.’

One source told the newspaper, ‘She is only doing it [marrying the king] because she comes from a poor background.’

The media in Swaziland never report about the King without his permission. This means people across the world are better informed than the King’s subjects, the Swazi people. Most media in the kingdom are under direct state control, opposition political parties are banned as ‘terrorist’ organisations and any political dissent is quickly crushed by police and the army.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

‘HUGE DROP IN NUMBERS AT REED DANCE’



At least 40,000 fewer young Swazi women are taking part in this year’s annual Umhlanga or Reed Dance ceremony than in 2013 if newspaper reports in Swaziland are correct.

Newspapers reported on Thursday (28 August 2014) that 80,000 young women, known as ‘Imbali’, had registered to take part in a series of ceremonies that end on Monday when they dance bare-breasted in front of King Mswati III.

But, last year the same newspapers in Swaziland reported 120,000 had taken part. In 2009, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, put the number of women at 130,000.  

The Reed Dance is considered by traditionalists to be the most important event on the Swazi calendar. Unmarried Swazi women, called ‘maidens’, make their way through the Ezulwini Valley during a week of ceremonial activities culminating with a mass dance in front of the King.

The newspapers in Swaziland have not told their readers about the apparent steep decline in support for the Reed Dance. King Mswati rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and most media are strictly controlled. Even, the independent Times of Swaziland newspapers do not criticise the King.

See also

SWAZI GIRLS FACE PUBLIC WHIPPING