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Thursday, 25 August 2016

SWAZI MAIDENS LEARN POLITICAL SONGS

The political dimension of Swaziland’s annual Reed Dance was at the fore this week as thousands of supposed-virgins were taught songs in praise of the kingdom’s autocratic monarch, King Mswati III.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and is about to become Chair of SADC, reported on Wednesday (24 August 2016) that they sang songs congratulating him on his new appointment. 

In past years the maidens had been taught to sing songs denouncing political parties.

Swaziland is the only country within the 15-member Southern African Development Community where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. King Mswati chooses the government of his kingdom and none of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.

The Reed Dance or Umhlanga is an annual event in which tens of thousands of bare-breasted ‘maidens’, some as young as ten, dance for the pleasure of the King. It is widely reported within Swaziland that the dancers are ‘virgins’.

Newspapers in Swaziland reported that 98,000 maidens had registered to take part in this year’s ceremony.

The Reed Dance, billed as Swaziland’s foremost cultural day, proved to be anything but in 2013 when 120,000 half-naked maidens reportedly sang a song praising the Kings then-recent pronouncement about his continued rule over his kingdom.

They praised the King for announcing that henceforth Swaziland would be a ‘Monarchical Democracy’. This was a new name for the already existing ‘Tinkhundla’ system that puts all power in the hands of the King. 

The King said he had been told in a vision to make this change.

The song included these words (loosely translated from the original), ‘Your Majesty Swaziland is well governed through the Tinkhundla System of Democracy and will be victorious through it.’

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported at the time, ‘Royal Swaziland Police Superintendent Wendy Hleta who was the Master (sic) of Ceremonies together with Former Indvuna YeMbali Nothando Ntshangase noted that the maidens were seemingly pleased with the message conveyed by the new composition.’ 

The sinister nature of the Reed Dance was exposed in 2012 when about 500 children were ordered to sing a song vilifying political parties. This was part of a clampdown on dissent in the kingdom.

The children were taught a song to sing at the dance which had lyrics that when translated into English said political parties ‘set people against each other’ and said that if political parties were allowed to exist in the kingdom the King’s people ‘could start fighting each other’.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland, but there is increasing pressure from pro-democrats for this to change. Some traditional authorities also believe that support for the present system that puts them in control is on the wane. In Swaziland pro-democracy demonstrations have been attacked by police and state security forces.

See also

CULTURAL REED DANCE TURNS POLITICAL
SWAZIS FORCED TO DANCE FOR KING

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

KINGDOM FAILS SADC DELEGATES

King Mswati III, the autocratic King in Swaziland and soon-to-be Chair of SADC, has been exposed for misleading the 15-nation community that his kingdom was capable of holding the organisation’s 36th Summit.

Swaziland is so poor and lacking in infrastructure that is has been unable to find living accommodation for all those wanting to attend the Summit. A call went out this week for people to offer up spare houses to delegates.

King Mswati who has been a controversial choice as the next Chair of the Southern African Development Community has used the Summit as part of his campaign to convince his subjects that Swaziland will be a ‘first-world’ nation by 2022.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported on Wednesday (24 August 2016), ‘a number of the delegates found themselves with no accommodation as most of the hotels and lodges along the Mbabane/ Ezulwini/ Manzini corridor are fully booked. It was gathered that a search for people who own houses that could be used to accommodate some of the delegates was instituted. 

‘A government official, who is part of the committee responsible for welcoming SADC delegates, said they were currently running around trying to get accommodation for the stranded delegates.’

The Times reported, ‘Director of the SADC Unit Chazile Magongo said it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs to provide accommodation for SADC delegates.’

The situation on the ground contradicts the message that King Mswati’s supporters have been spreading in recent weeks that the kingdom was able to support such a prestigious Summit. Seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than two US dollars a day.

The King has been a controversial choice of SADC Chair because Swaziland is the only one of 15 SADC nations where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. King Mswati chooses the government and no members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.

King Mswati had used the Summit to try to impress that his kingdom was a developed country.

Mbongeni Mbingo, editor-in-chief of the Swazi Observer, a series of newspapers in effect owned by the King, wrote as recently as Sunday (21 August 2016), ‘The King’s vision has always been about showing that we are capable of just like the bigger countries in the region, to stage as successful an event as them - and that we can also demonstrate that while we are quite small and have a stunted economy, we can be counted on to show that we are indeed a nation in progress.’’

He added, ‘Prince Hlangusempi informed the media, this past week, that Swaziland had always opted against hosting the Summit, when its opportunity to host came up. It was never ready, and His Majesty always felt that it was not the right time to do so.

‘However, when the opportunity availed itself this year, and His Majesty was to become the next chairman of the SADC, he felt the opportunity could not be missed again - or it could be another 14 or so years before we could host.

‘Therefore, he decided that it was time to accept this challenge. Since then, he has worked hard at ensuring that the country does not do an average job. This meant we had to get the facilities to match our ambition.’

See also

ABSOLUTE KING TAKES CHAIR OF SADC
‘DICTATOR KING NOT FIT TO CHAIR SADC’
KING TO PARTY WHILE SWAZIS GO HUNGRY

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

ABSOLUTE KING TAKES CHAIR OF SADC

Absolute monarchy assumes chairmanship of SADC
Kenworthy News Media, 16 August 16
 
Swaziland assumes the chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community for the first time ever on Wednesday, despite protests from Swaziland and abroad that the small absolute monarchy is not fit to chair the organisation, writes Kenworthy News Media.

The charter of the Southern African Development Country (SADC) clearly states that member states should observe basic human rights such as the right to strike and gender equality, and one of the main objectives of SADC is to support “regional integration, built on democratic principles,” something that SADC’s new chair Swaziland clearly does not.

Suppression, torture and lack of rights
In fact, American research NGO Freedom House ranks Swaziland as the least free country of the 15 members of SADC, in regard to political rights and civil liberties, below countries such as DRC Congo, Angola and Zimbabwe.


Swaziland is the only SADC country where political parties are banned from taking place in elections. King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister and government and has the last say on legal and financial matters. Nevertheless, Mswati told SADC leaders at a SADC Plenary Assembly Session held in June, that Swaziland was a “democracy.”

In their latest annual reports, Amnesty International speaks of Swaziland’s “suppression of dissent”, politically motivated trials” and “torture in police custody,” and Human Rights Watch of “draconian legislation” and “severe restrictions on civil and political rights.”

Protests against ‘stronghold of dictators’
The media in Swaziland are more or less being ordered to praise the “great achievement” of Swaziland leading SADC for the first time, as were the Swazi population at the recently held Sibaya “People’s Parliament,” where Mswati urged his people to be “respectful” during the summit and ordered that “Emanyeva” [thorns] should be uprooted before the summit so they did not “disturb” the SADC guests.


But several protests have nevertheless been voiced against Swaziland’s chairmanship of SADC and hosting of the 36th SADC Head of States summit starting August 17. Both in regard to human rights issues and the reports of king Mswati spending in the region of 40 million rand on the summit while over a quarter of the Swazi population are affected by the drought and people are beginning to die of starvation, also due to the lack of drought relief financing by the Swazi government.

Lucky Lukhele from the Swaziland Solidarity Network told African News Agency that the last thing SADC needed was a chairperson who made the region “look like a stronghold of dictators” that would institutionalise dictatorship across the region.

Mario Masuku, the President of the banned pro-democracy-party the People’s United Democratic Movement said that they were lobbying SADC member states against Mswati and that there were plans to launch protests during the summit.

Abusing public resources while people starve
Swaziland took over the chairmanship from Botswana, a multi-party democracy and one of SADC’s more human rights friendly nations, and criticism of the Swazi chairmanship has been especially strong from here.


Both political leaders and union leaders have said that Swaziland’s king Mswati III should not have taken the chairmanship of SADC because he is “a dictator”.

It is “a matter on great concern to us,” Vice President of the Botswana Congress Party Kesitegile Gobotswang told the Botswana Guardian, “because the country [Swaziland] has thus far refused to embrace the values of democracy. This is an indication that the regional body [SADC] is not committed to democratic values.”

“Mswati does not qualify to hold that position at all … he is a corrupt leader who sees nothing wrong with abusing public resources while people starve,” added President of the Botswana People’s Party, Motlatsi Malapis.

Friday, 12 August 2016

UNREST AT SWAZI KING’S NEWSPAPER

Media workers protest against working conditions at king’s newspaper
Kenworthy News Media, 11 August 2016 

Members of the Media Workers Union of Swaziland (MWUS) have gathered near the offices of the Swazi Observer for several days to protest low wages, management intimidation and poor working conditions. The union was barred from holding an actual picket by Swaziland’s High Court, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Negotiations between the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned and controlled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, and MWUS had started in April, but no real progress has been made since they became deadlocked in June.

Fair pay and decent working conditions
The union demands a 25 percent pay rise, that senior reporters ought to be allowed to be members of a union of their choice, an end what it calls job promotion nepotism and intimidation of union-affiliated members, newly serviced cars that are safe do drive, proper medical aid and the resignation of the managing director.


According to a statement released by MWUS in June, the Swazi Observer management countered by offering no pay rise and the newspapers’ managing director said that management would “plant intelligence within all the departments of the company”, something that was condemned by the union as “threat and intimidating antics”.

Police intimidation
“There is an employee who earns as little as 1500 emalangeni [€100] a month and many of our members are subject to risky conditions as they are made to drive cars which have long been stopped being serviced. One member reported a car he was driving had its steering wheel disconnecting while the car was in motion,” Secretary General of MWUS Sicelo Vilane told members gathered outside the offices of the Swazi Observer on Monday.


An hour after he held his speech, Sicelo Vilane was approached by an intelligence officer who introduced himself only as “Mkhwanazi,” who told Vilane that the police wished to “form part of the negotiations as a third part”. MWUS sees this as a measure of intimidation against the union.

There are also indications that Sicelo Vilane might be arrested for contempt of court for allegedly defying a court order that barred the protesting workers from entering the premises of the Swazi Observer, even though he is adamant that none of the union members had done so and that there had been no wrongdoing on the part of him or the union.

Media censorship and harassment
There have been many previous indications that all is not well at the Swazi Observer and in the Swazi media in general. In 2009, Swazi Observer managing editor Mbongeni Mbingo nearly lost his job for publishing a piece on the king’s fleet of luxury cars. He later wrote, in an article published on the website of the Freidrich Ebert Stiftung, that “the press in Swaziland is largely expected to toe the line and be a lapdog not a watchdog.”

In their 2015 “Freedom of the Press”-report, American research-NGO Freedom House describes how king Mswati “further restrained an already weakened media environment in Swaziland, [where] both journalists and media outlets were targeted by officials through the use of restrictive legislation” and how “the government withholds advertising contracts from critical media outlets”.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2016 world report, “journalists and activists [in Swaziland] who criticized the government were often harassed and arrested … Many journalists practiced self-censorship, especially with regard to reports involving the king to avoid harassment by authorities”.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

POWERLESS PEOPLE’ S PARLIAMENT

Kenworthy News Media
10 August 2016 

The Sibaya ”People’s Parliament,” where Swaziland’s absolute monarch summons his subjects to the royal cattle byre to discuss pressing issues, was held over the last week.  Many issues were raised, but in previous years little has happened as a result of it, writes Kenworthy News Media.

“Raise grants for the elderly”. “Stop repossessing our land in Vuvulane”. “My kids go to bed hungry”.  “Ordinary people don’t have access to radio”. “Minimum wage should by 3000 emalangeni”. “We have no land, even though the constitution says every Swazi should have access to it”. “Cattle roam the streets and are causing accidents”. “The cabinet should be fired”. “Inequality causes division”.

A multitude of issues were taken up at this year’s Sibaya People’s Parliament, an event that according to Swaziland’s constitution is “the highest policy and advisory council” that is meant to enable “the views of the nation on pressing and controversial issues” to be heard.

But one of the problems with Sibaya, as can be seen in the quotes above, is the fragmented nature of the political and social discussions. That there is no direction or common agenda, and any true and structured discussion on political change in the absolute monarchy is drowned in a sea of complaints that might be relevant for the person voicing them, but do not really touch upon the root of the problem, namely that Swaziland is ruled by and for a small royal elite.

Another important matter is that much of the criticism at this year’s Sibaya, while criticizing the Prime Minister and the cabinet who are all appointed by the king, fell short of criticizing King Mswati who, as an absolute monarch with the final say on all matters, actually has the power to change things.

And even when people get to the root of the problem at Sibaya, such as when Dukanezwe Dlamini dared stand up and tell King Mswati that he should allow multiparty elections to be discussed at the “People’s Parliament” so that Swazis could “deal with the issue once and for all and let the nation decide on whether they want parties or not”, nothing really comes of it.

At the 2012 Sibaya, ordinary Swazis also called for the introduction of multi-party elections in Swaziland and for firing Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, none of which happened.

But as Afro-American politician, abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass pointed out in 1857, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” a sentiment shared by President of the banned Swaziland Youth Congress, Bheki Dlamini, who does not believe that Sibaya or the people’s parliament can bring about real change.

“Sibaya is a fruitless exercise meant to deceive the gullible masses and the sceptical international community to believe that there is some semblance of democracy in Swaziland, yet there is none. As Swazis we want real change and this change can only be started in an all-inclusive political process, a national convention with clear terms of reference. The levelling of the political field, which includes unbanning political parties and allowing political exiles to return home, is paramount in the transition process. Mswati must stop fooling us. His dictatorship is too obvious for us not to see it.”

Monday, 8 August 2016

‘DICTATOR KING NOT FIT TO CHAIR SADC’

Political and workers’ leaders in Botswana have said King Mswati III of Swaziland should not take the chair of SADC later this month (August 2016), because he is a ‘dictator’ in his own kingdom.

The King is due to hold the chair of the Southern Africa Development Community because each of the 15 countries in SADC take it in turn.

Botswana is a member of SADC and a multi-party democracy. The Botswana Guardian newspaper reported that civil society groups, labour leaders and politicians were against King Mswati.

The Guardian reported Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang, vice president of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), saying, ‘Although Swaziland is a sovereign state, the fact that King Mswati III is ascending the SADC chair this August is a matter of great concern to us because the country has thus far refused to embrace the values of democracy.

‘This is an indication that the regional body is not committed to democratic values.’

The newspaper reported, ‘In his view, the development is a setback for the region because Mswati III is not competent to meaningfully intervene when there is a crisis especially where democracy is the issue.’

Motlatsi Molapis, President of the Botswana People’s Party (BPP), reportedly said, ‘Mswati does not qualify to hold that position at all. Not only is he a dictator but he is also a corrupt leader who sees nothing wrong with abusing public resources for his benefit while people starve.’

Nelson Ramaotwana, the Botswana National Front (BNF) Secretary for Foreign Affairs, said all countries, including Swaziland, were free to run their affairs according to their own home-grown processes.

‘Mswati is, however, not the right person for the job because he cannot mediate between government and its people where matters of democracy are concerned. In his country, civic right groups including political parties and trade unions are, for all intents and purposes, banned.’

Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, Deputy Secretary General of the Botswana Federation of Public and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), reportedly said, ‘He rules by decree. There is no bargaining council and those who raise their voices about his abuse of power are incarcerated. Above everything else, a leader must be a role model with regards to what the organisation he leads stands for.’

He added, ‘We are liaising with like-minded organisations in the SADC as well as embassies to reject his chairmanship. We will also lobby Swazis here and back home to join us in the rejection of King Mswati III. We seek to isolate him,’ he said.

Opposition groups within Swaziland have also spoken against King Mswati. The Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), in a statement, said, ‘The CPS is astonished that the governments of Southern Africa show such massive disregard for the plight of the Swazi people as to put absolute monarch Mswati III at the helm of SADC, supposedly an organisation that defends democracy, the rule of law and human rights.’

It added. ‘The CPS urges all its supporters in Swaziland and in exile and all those in the broader pro-democracy movement to put the spotlight on SADC’s moral black hole that is Swaziland, as Mswati dresses up as the chairman of SADC and wallows in the applause of SADC’s democratic heads of state.’

SADC states that its objectives are to, ‘achieve development, peace and security, and economic growth, to alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration, built on democratic principles and equitable and sustainable development.’

In August 2015, Human Rights Watch said in a statement, ‘SADC member states have taken little action to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law in all southern African countries despite identifying peace, security, and the promotion of human rights as key concerns within the region.’

Swaziland is the only member of SADC where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and he chooses members of the government. Opposition groups are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Human Rights Watch said, ‘In Swaziland, human rights conditions and respect for the rule of law have deteriorated significantly. Restrictions on political activism and trade unions, such as under the draconian Suppression of Terrorism Act, violate international law, and activists and union members risk arbitrary detention and unfair trials.’

See also

SWAZI HUMAN RIGHTS WORSEN: AMNESTY
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH ON SWAZILAND
‘STAND UP TO SWAZI KING’, UNIONS URGED

Friday, 5 August 2016

BOY, 8, FLOGGED SO HARD HE VOMITS

An eight-year-old schoolboy in Swaziland was thrashed so hard in class he vomited. It is feared he might have internal bleeding as a result.

And, his teacher forced classmates to hold the boy down while he whipped him with a stick.

It happened at Siyendle Primary School, near Gege, the Times of Swaziland reported on Thursday (4 August 2016).

A group of schoolboys had been inflating condoms when they were discovered by the teacher.

The Times reported, ‘When the teacher saw what the boys were doing, he is said to have reacted by telling other pupils to hold the one who had the condom in his hands so that he could deal with him. Apparently, he thrashed the eight-year-old so badly that the pupil began to throw up in the presence of his classmates.

‘The boy’s parents suspect that the child suffered internal injuries, which might have caused his reaction.’

Schoolchildren in Swaziland are regularly subjected to fierce corporal punishment. In a report in 2011, Save the Children said school students were being ‘tortured’. In a submission to the United Nations review on human rights in Swaziland it said Mhlatane High School in northern Swaziland had ‘institutionalised’ corporal punishment.

‘Teachers can administer as many strokes [of the cane] as they desire, much against the limit stipulated in the regulations from the Ministry of Education,’ Save the Children reported.

‘Students at this school are also subjected to all forms of inhumane treatment in the name of punishment. The State has known about the torture of students that go on at Mhlatane High School for a long time, but has not done anything to address this violation of fundamental rights.’

It cited Mhlatane as the worst case, but said excessive corporal punishment was rife in Swazi schools.
It reported, ‘The hitting of students by teachers in schools is not limited to strokes of the cane, but includes such methods as a slap with the open hand, kicks and fists.

‘In one case in a school in the south of Swaziland, a young girl was kicked in the groin by her teacher after she refused to lift up her leg during physical education classes. She had told the teacher she cannot lift her leg up because she was wearing nothing underneath. This angered the teacher and earned the girl a kick in the groin.

‘The damage occasioned led to paralysis as the girl walks with difficulty today, and her menstrual cycle was disturbed since then. Although initially protected by the principal and other Ministry of Education officials in Nhlangano, the teacher was eventually arrested after intervention by the girl’s elder sister.’

There had been 4,556 cases of ‘severe corporal punishment’ of children in Swaziland’s schools over the past four years, an international news organisation reported in March 2016.

Star Africa quoted Zanele Thabede from youth group Super Buddies, who leads a team looking into youth and child issues, who in an interview said the number of whippings dated from 2012.

Star Africa reported Thabede saying, ‘Corporal punishment by teachers and principals is legal and routinely practiced and there is a growing trend of incarcerating of children and youth in the Malkerns Industrial School for Rehabilitation because of “unruly” behaviour.’

There is confusion in Swaziland as to whether corporal punishment has been banned in schools. It is believed that a directive was issued to schools in 2012 not to use corporal punishment but few teachers appear to know it had been made.

The Times of Swaziland reported in October 2015 that Phineas Magagula, Minister of Education and Training, warned that teachers who beat pupils should be reported to the ministry so that they could be disciplined.

As recently as June 2016 it was reported that a 20-year-old female school student had been given nine strokes of the cane on her buttocks at Herefords High School by the male principal. Police were informed.

See also

SWAZI SCHOOL ‘TORTURES’ STUDENTS
 
CHILDREN CHAINED AND FLOGGED BARE
PROBE VICIOUS SCHOOL BEATINGS
 
SCHOOL FLOGGINGS OUT OF CONTROL
 
SCHOOL HEAD PUBLICLY FLOGS ADULTS