Thursday, February 28, 2013

KING’S PAPER MD FIGHTS FOR JOB

Media Institute of Southern Africa, Swaziland chapter
Media Alert, 28 February 2013

Suspended newspaper executive said to have misused funds

Media reports say Alpheous Nxumalo, the suspended managing director of the Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers, allegedly misused funds during his tenure. Chairperson of the Swazi Observer, Sthofeni Ginindza, suspended Nxumalo on 19 February 2013.

On Monday, 25 February 2013 the Times of Swaziland, a privately-owned daily newspaper, reported that Nxumalo allegedly partook in “fraudulent practices and other acts of misconduct”. The newspaper quoted Ginindza as saying “the allegations [against Nxumalo] pertained to financial mismanagement”.

Nxumalo successfully obtained an interdict allowing him to return to work despite the board insisting that he would not be welcome at the newspaper group.

However, the Times of Swaziland reports that since the suspension, the managing director “was further required to hand over all company items, including all keys, computers, laptops, documents and any other item in his possession that belongs to the Swazi Observer”. It would also appear as if he is being denied access to company premises.

Nxumalo is accusing what he describes as a “politically-controlled” board of interference in his work, saying this is what has led to his suspension.

Earlier this year, Nxumalo attracted much criticism after publishing a column in the Swazi Observer in which he accused the media and non-governmental organisations of undermining the authority of the Swazi government and the royal family.

“It is absolutely true that most of the so-called democracy activists find it ‘democratic’ to insult the heads of state and government in the media as a strategy of democratising Swaziland. It is preposterous and fallacious,” he wrote, going on to declare that he “will not submit to a mandate in contradiction with the mandate of the Swazi monarchy and its subsidiary institutions.”

The Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) wrote a letter to the newspaper at the time, calling on Nxumalo to substantiate his claims.

The Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers publishes the Swazi Observer (daily) and Weekend Observer (weekly). Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a royal conglomerate owned by King Mswati III in trust of the Swazi nation, owns the newspaper group.


See also
KING’S PAPER SUSPENDS MD
 
BANNED PARTY ATTACKS ‘OBSERVER’ BOSS
‘OBSERVER’ ROW APOLOGY DEMANDED
EDITORS ATTACK KING’S NEWSPAPER BOSS
NO PRESS FREEDOM AT ‘OBSERVER’

ELECTION DOMINATES NEWS IN FEBRUARY

Swaziland: Striving For Freedom, Vol 2. February 2013
 
The second of Swazi Media Commentary’s monthly round-up of events in Swaziland, aimed at giving information and analysis to those who support the struggle for freedom in the kingdom, has been published.

Swaziland’s forthcoming undemocratic national election dominates this month.  King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, in an extraordinary speech at the opening of parliament, quoting a report from the Pan-African Parliament, claimed that the international community thought the Swazi system of governance was so good it should be followed by other countries in Africa. But, in fact, the report said no such thing: it said the opposite, stating that the banning of political parties from elections did not meet ‘regional and international standards and principles for democratic elections’.

Elsewhere, calls for the election to be boycotted by voters is growing and the main opposition party PUDEMO (outlawed in Swaziland) is asking the international community not to go to Swaziland as election observers. 

The king has yet to announce the date of the election, but that has not stopped armed state police from stopping people talking about it. About 60 officers invaded a prayer meeting at a cathedral church in Manzini calling it ‘political’. Police had no court order or warrant to take the action, but claimed they did not need these: all that mattered was that they suspected a crime would take place. Worshippers had gathered to seek spiritual reflection and guidance from the Bible prior to launching a discussion about the credibility of the election.

Elsewhere, Swaziland’s economy continues to deteriorate, but the government refuses to acknowledge this. In the annual budget delivered this month, Finance Minister Majozi Sithole announced increases in the public sector salaries bill and a cut in taxes.  These measures were the opposite of those recommended by the International Monetary Fund, which is seeking to help Swaziland recover from its economic mess so that it becomes eligible for international loans that could support the economy.

Swaziland: Striving For Freedom, Vol 2. February 2013, is available free-of-charge on scribd dot com is the second volume of information, commentary and analysis on human rights taken from articles first published on the Swazi Media Commentary blogsite in 2013. Each month throughout the coming year a digest of articles will be published bringing together in one place material that is rarely found elsewhere.

Swazi Media Commentary has no physical base and is completely independent of any political faction and receives no income from any individual or organisation. People who contribute ideas or write for it do so as volunteers and receive no payment.

Monday, February 25, 2013

TOP BRASS GET BULLET-PROOF CARS

Swaziland’s three national security chiefs are to join a growing number of ruling elite in the undemocratic kingdom to receive bullet-proof cars.

Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) Commander Lieutenant Sobantu Dlamini, Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) Commissioner Isaac Magagula and His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) Commissioner Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase are each to receive BMW 2013 X5 cars at a total cost of E4 million.

They join about 20 members of the Swazi Royal family, headed by King Mswati III, who already have top-of-the-range Mercedes S600 Pullman Guard cars that can withstand an armoured missile assault.

Local media in Swaziland have been reporting that the latest three cars are ready to be delivered from Germany next month (March 2013).

But, nobody is saying why the security chiefs need bullet proof cars.

Ntshangase did however tell the Times of Swaziland that being a security force boss required a special car owing to the nature of the position. Magagula told the newspaper he did not mind if government saw it fit to buy them the BMW X5s. He said certain positions needed certain cars for their status.

When the BMW X5 Security plus was launched in 2009 it was described by the manufacturers as being capable of withstanding an attack from the AK 47, the world’s most widely-used assault gun.

It also has an amoured passenger cabin, bullet-resistant glass and an intercom system allowing communication with persons outside the vehicle without having to open doors or windows.

The BMW X5s are small beer compared to the 20 armoured ‘military style’ Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard cars King Mswati got in 2009 … to be used by his wives.

They were each valued at valued at E2.5 million (about US$ 250,000) each and said to be capable of resisting an attack with small arms projectiles, a grenade or other explosive.

One website described the car as ‘The car of choice for up-and-coming dictators.’

At the time of the purchase the king was furious that his subjects had dared to discuss how much the cars might have cost.

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, quoted an unnamed ‘source’ saying the purchase price was ‘far less’ than reported. The source did not reveal how much the king did pay.

The Observer did not care how much the cars cost.  It said, ‘Moreover, the status of our Royalty and the pride and value we attach to the institution of the Monarchy dictates that they project the correct image that inspires confidence. The cars and their safety features befit that status. So there is really nothing wrong with the purchase.’

The ‘source’ told the Observer that the money to buy the cars was not from the government.

‘This was not abuse of taxpayers’ money and the money was not transferred from a government ministry, but these were private Royal funds. Remember that there is a budget for Royalty in Swaziland as is the case elsewhere in the world. Even the biggest democracies have such budgets,’ the ‘source’ said.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Seven in ten of his 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 a day. The king, whom Forbes magazine in 2009 estimated had a personal fortune of US$200 million, has 13 palaces, a private jet, a Rolls Royce car and a fleet of BMW cars, in addition to the Mercedes.


See also

SWAZI KING'S GRENADE-PROOF CARS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2009/04/swazi-kings-grenade-proof-cars.html

COST OF SWAZILAND KING’S NEW CARS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2009/04/cost-of-swaziland-kings-new-cars.html

Sunday, February 24, 2013

POLICE NO RIGHT TO DISRUPT PRAYERS

About 60 armed Swazi police broke up a prayer meeting before it had even started, claiming that the law had been broken.

This happened last week (16 February 2013) in a school hall at Salesian in Manzini. Police claimed the people attending were not present for prayers, but had gathered together to plot against national elections due to be held in Swaziland sometime later this year (2013). 

 
This, police said, allowed them to break up the meeting without a court order or a warrant.

Police spokesperson Inspector Khulani Mamba, said they were acting on information that the prayers were a meeting to plan to disturb forthcoming national elections.

‘When we see a crime happening, we don’t need a court order,’ Mamba told local media last week. 
But, Musa Hlophe, the coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisation (SCCCO), one of the best known NGOs in the kingdom, says, nothing had happened at the meeting to give police cause to stop it.

Writing in his regular column in the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland, Hlophe gave details of what happened when the police arrived. 

 
He wrote, ‘In a school hall at Salesian in Manzini (not a church) a meeting was organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. They called it a “Prayer for Multiparty”. 

‘It was publicly advertised as open to all. The Royal Swaziland Police obviously saw the advertisement and decided to please their political masters by not allowing it. 

‘They claimed the meeting was called to plan how to disrupt the upcoming national elections. What law did the police say these people broke? 

‘Even more importantly, where is the police evidence to even suspect a crime? 

‘Dissent and even peaceful disruption or defiance are not crimes. Therefore, planning them cannot be a crime either. 

‘Either way, the police charged in and demanded that the private meeting be broken up. Faced with such a show of force, the organisers reluctantly agreed to these demands. They then thought that by moving to a church, they would be protected. They did so.

‘The Swazi Police reacted by finding the new meeting and invading it again, this time forcing the people out within “seven minutes”.

‘Did the police not see that this would lead to a bigger problem for their masters? 

‘The Highest Authorities in the land including, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), Minister of Justice and those above them, have all spoken very clearly in international meetings like the United Nations and the African Union, that protest meetings are allowed in Swaziland. 

‘They often say they can ban certain public rallies because they think they are a danger to the public. That cannot be the case here since the meeting was of a small number of people in a private area. So the Swazi Police now raid a church to stop a few people protesting against a system they see as being undemocratic?

‘I was going to say the “protesters” were forced to leave the hall but I would be wrong. They had not even started to protest or even to plan their protest. 

‘They had merely gathered together and were yet to speak. The Police found them guilty of crimes before they had opened their mouths.

‘I have talked to the people who were there. They were certainly intending to open debates on whether the national elections that we expect in August 2013 should be contested or boycotted but I am yet to see a crime in that. They wanted to get their campaign off on the right foot by seeking spiritual reflection and guidance from the Bible. 

‘There is not yet a declared law in Swaziland against having a different opinion, yet our police treat it as a crime. 

‘Officially, there is no reason to stop anyone organising a protest but the Swazi police greet peaceful dissidents with brute force, rubber bullets and batons.’

See also

POLICE SAY PRAYERS WERE POLITICAL
RAID ON PRAYERS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
CHRISTIANS CONDEMN PRAYERS RAID
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2013/02/christians-condemn-prayers-raid.html

BUDGET: NO REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Optimistic Swazi Finance Minister’s budget speech is symptomatic treatment
Kenworthy News Media February 23, 2013 

“It is a bold budget that will boost growth and support the vulnerable … the financial system in Swaziland is generally sound … We remain cautiously optimistic,” Swaziland’s Minister of Finance Majozi Sithole said in his budget speech on Friday (22 February 2013), writes Kenowrthy News Media.

Others have less reason for optimism. “Swaziland is tied with Somalia as having the worst performing economy in Africa and there is nothing on the horizon to improve the situation,” a Swazi investment counsellor told Business Report in January. Swaziland’s inflation rate, for instance, is worse than Zimbabwe’s.

“We have witnessed consequential events as we went through the tough fiscal or economic crisis, scholarships being withdrawn, students under the free education program being chased away from schools, a threatened cutting of the wages bill, the cutting into half of elderly grants. In the year 2012, the economy of Swaziland visibly became political,” Swaziland Economic Justice Network said in a press statement on Thursday.

Majozi Sithole, for his part, blamed “the strength of the global economy” for Swaziland’s woes, whilst admitting that Swaziland’s “own economic growth rate remains sluggish and significantly below our potential.” He named slow growth abroad, fewer tourists, reduced government spending, high inflation and a freeze in public sector wages as other reasons.

But Joannes Mongardini, Mission Chief at International Monetary Fund, disagrees with Sithole. After having visited Swaziland in November 2012, he said that “growth in Swaziland has been weaker over the last ten years than in other SACU countries. This is associated with high unemployment, widespread poverty, rising inequalities, and the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world.” This is echoed by the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, where one can read that the “poor management of public finance has aggravated [Swaziland’s] fiscal crisis since 2011.”

The solutions given by Majozi Sithole to his targets of creating jobs, improving the value for money of public spending, and strengthening social sector spending, amongst other things, rather bizarrely included a combination of cutting both public spending and taxes, including corporate taxes.

On the other hand, Sithole made no mention of reducing the money lavishly spent on king Mswati III, who is believed to be one of the wealthiest monarchs in the world, despite two thirds of his countrymen living below the poverty line.

Nor did he announce any cuts on Mswati’s prestige projects, instead stating that “[one of] the largest projects in 2013/2014 will be Sikhuphe International Airport,” a white elephant that the IMF as far back as 2004 said  threatened “to crowd out budgetary resources for meeting the country’s urgent social needs and to weaken sentiment among donors.”

And political and social reforms of Msawti’s absolute monarchy was not mentioned either, even though a new IMF report clearly links growth in Swaziland to reforms. “Swaziland would need to secure a broad political and social consensus on reforms and make continued progress on strengthening the quality of its institutions.”

Instead increased funding of the police and the army, who have been increasingly brutal in their clamp down on Swaziland’s democratic movement, was on the agenda. “Crime is a deterrent for foreign direct investment, particularly violent crime,” said Sithole. “The Police, the Army and the Correctional Services must be recognised for their efforts to make Swaziland a safe place to live and invest. To ensure that these critical institutions are properly resourced, the Budget will provide an additional recurrent allocation of E175 million to the Ministry of Defence, the Police and the Correctional Services.”

See also

SWAZI BUDGET SNUBS IMF ADVICE
KING’S VANITY COMES BEFORE THE POOR

Saturday, February 23, 2013

SWAZI BUDGET SNUBS IMF ADVICE

Swaziland’s Government is on a collision course with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after announcing extra spending on public service salaries and tax cuts for workers and companies.

The decision announced by Swazi Finance Minister Majozi Sithole in his budget speech on Friday (22 February 2013) also puts the kingdom at odds with global banks which it must rely on for loans.

In his speech to the Swaziland Parliament, Sithole announced a budget totalling E13.1 billion (US$1.9 billion), of which E5.2 billion (40 percent) would go on public sector salaries.  This is an increase in salaries of E600 million on the previous year. 
 
Last year (2012), public sector unions took to the streets in protest against the government when it told them workers were expected to take salary cuts of up to 10 percent. Instead, unions wanted a 4.5 percent increase in salaries to meet the rising cost of living.

Sithole expects to get E7.1 billion as receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) in the coming financial year and end up with a budget deficit of E397 million.

With the new increases the Swaziland Government salaries bill would amount to 86 percent of its total income if SACU receipts were excluded from the calculation.

Sithole also announced income tax cuts that would put an estimated E300 million back in the pockets of taxpayers and a cut of 2.5percent in Corporation Tax for companies. 
 
These moves put the Swazi Government at odds with the IMF which has been trying to help Swaziland out of the mess that has been created by successive governments, handpicked by King Mswati III. Swaziland has failed to secure loans from the World Bank and the African Development Bank because it cannot show that it can run its own economy sensibly.

The IMF has told the Swaziland Government that to secure its confidence it must reduce the public sector wage bill and find ways to increase non-SACU revenue through raising extra taxes and collecting them more efficiently than they have in the past.

At the same time, the IMF says, Swaziland should be more careful in the way it spends what money it has, avoiding unnecessary capital projects and putting resources into projects that help poor people.

Sithole’s budget does the opposite of that. He announced two capital spending projects, an ‘international conference centre’ and a ‘millennium hotel’, both costing E80 million. In addition, a further E220 million is to be spent on the discredited Sikhuphe International Airport, dubbed by critics a ‘vanity project’ for King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The cost of these unnecessary capital projects contrast to the spending announced by Sithole on pro-poor projects. Only E125 million will go to free primary education; E170.5 million to
the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Education Fund, set up to help mainly children whose parents had died from HIV-related illness; and grants for the elderly will rise by only E20 per month to E220.

The IMF has yet to respond publicly to the budget announcement, but only this week it released one of its regular reports about the state of the economy in Swaziland.


The IMF reported the Swaziland economy ‘will be unsustainable over the medium term and subject to significant downside risks’. It said there needed to be ‘upfront expenditure cuts, including on the wage bill’.

The IMF said that in the recent past the government had repaid some of its debt but this was ‘partly achieved through cuts in education, health, and other poverty-alleviating spending’.

To underline the fragile state of the economy, the IMF said, ‘Swaziland’s economic prospects remain difficult and that, without credible and comprehensive fiscal adjustment and structural reforms, the current fiscal and external position will be unsustainable over the medium term and subject to significant downside risks.’

See also

KING’S VANITY COMES BEFORE THE POOR

KING’S VANITY COMES BEFORE THE POOR

An extra E220 million (US$73 million) is to be spent in the coming year on Sikhuphe International Airport, dubbed King Mswati III’s vanity project.

Meanwhile, only E125 million is to be spent on free primary education in Swaziland.

The Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Education Fund, set up to help mainly children whose parents had died from HIV-related illness, gets E170.5  million. 

And, elderly people are to get an increase of only E20 per month in their subsistence grant, taking it up to E220.

These figures were announced on Friday (22 February 2013) by Swazi Finance Minister Majozi Sithole when he delivered the annual budget speech to the Swaziland Parliament.

Last year, the Swazi Government allocated E1.2 billion toward the cost of Sikhuphe. It is now impossible to accurately compute the total cost of the airport, including the building of access roads and a rail link, but the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, in 2010 estimated it could be as much as US$1 billion.

Sikhuphe is an on-going project to build an ‘international airport’ in the wilderness in Swaziland. Since the idea for the airport was first raised by King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, more than 10 years ago independent observers have called it a waste of resources.


As long ago as 2003, the International Monetary Fund said itshould not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day.

Meanwhile, the king has a lavish lifestyle, including a personal fortune, once estimated by Forbes magazine to be US$200 million, 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the range Mercedes and BMW cars.

No ‘needs analysis’ was ever made to see if the airport was needed. Swaziland already has an underused airport at Matsapha, close to both the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane, and its main commercial city, Manzini.

Reacting to the news of the additional funding of Sikhuphe, Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) Director Solomon Dube unwittingly revealed that nobody knew whether the airport would attract passengers.

Asked by the Swazi News if SWACAA had identified airlines to operate the airport, Dube said, ‘We are talking to some including Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airline and various Gulf airlines. What remains now, is a study on where do Swazis want to fly to.’

Critics of Sikhuphe, who have dubbed the airport ‘King Mswati’s vanity project’, have argued for years that there is no potential for the airport. Major airports already exist less than an hour’s flying time away in South Africa with connecting routes to Swaziland and there is no reason to suspect passengers would want to use the airport at Sikhuphe as an alternative.

Completion of the airport has been delayed for years. King Mswati had announced it would be open in time for the FIFA World Cup, played in neighbouring South Africa in 2010, but it did not happen.
Sithole said in his budget speech the airport would open this year.

Dube told the Swazi News, SWACAA had received an order from government to complete the project soon.

The newspaper quoted him saying, ‘His Majesty must rest assured that the order will be carried out.’

See also

PROOF: KING’S AIRPORT POINTLESS
IMF REPORTS GOVT ECONOMIC FAILURES
SIKHUPHE AIRPORT IS TOO SMALL

Friday, February 22, 2013

SWAZI KING’S PAPER SUSPENDS MD

Media Institute of Southern Africa - Swaziland Alert
Friday, 22 February 2013

Head of State-owned newspaper group suspended


Media reports say Alpheous Nxumalo, managing director of the State-owned Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers, has been suspended.

The Swazi Observer, published by the Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers, on Thursday, 21 February 2013 reported that the Board of Directors gave no reason for Nxumalo’s suspension, only saying more information would be forthcoming “pending investigation”.

In the media reports, the chairperson of the newspaper group, Sithofeni Ginindza, is quoted as saying “the board was working towards improving the newspapers’ operations”.

Nxumalo is said to have rushed to the High Court on hearing of his suspension, reportedly delivered to him by letter on Tuesday, 19 February 2013. He successfully obtained a court order allowing him to return to work.

“I was at work during the afternoon after I approached the High Court,” he told the Swazi Observer.
 
Nxumalo is accusing what he describes as a “politically-controlled” board of interference in his work, saying this is what has led to his suspension.

Meanwhile, Andreas Nkabinde, a former finance controller at the newspaper group has been appointed as acting managing director. Ironically, Nxumalo suspended him in July 2012 and gave no reasons for the suspension.

Earlier this year, Nxumalo attracted much criticism after he published a column in the Swazi Observer in which he accused the media and non-government organisations of undermining the authority of the Swazi government and the royal family.

“It is absolutely true that most of the so-called democracy activists find it ‘democratic’ to insult the heads of state and government in the media as a strategy of democratising Swaziland. It is preposterous and fallacious,” he wrote, going on to declare that he “will not submit to a mandate in contradiction with the mandate of the Swazi monarchy and its subsidiary institutions.”

The Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) wrote a letter to the newspaper at the time, calling on Nxumalo to elaborate on his unfounded claims.

See also 

BANNED PARTY ATTACKS ‘OBSERVER’ BOSS
‘OBSERVER’ ROW APOLOGY DEMANDED
EDITORS ATTACK KING’S NEWSPAPER BOSS
NO PRESS FREEDOM AT ‘OBSERVER’

BLOATED ELITE IGNORES SWAZI YOUTH

Access to information and studying journalism in Swaziland – both difficult

 
By The Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, 21 February 2013

The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland heard that His Majesty’s government recently labeled journalism a ‘non-priority area’. Journalism and mass communication students at the University of Swaziland, it follows, would no longer receive any financial assistance from the government. 

In the past journalism students might be eligible for a government scholarship, helping them shoulder the economic burden. It is understood that one year’s tuition for the university’s journalism degree is about E13,000 ($US1,440). In addition to paying tuition fees, students require at least E8,000 a year for rent ($US880), and then money for living on top of that, say E15,000 ($US1,660). In total, therefore, the bare minimum needed per year for one Swazi journalism student is about E36,000 ($US4,000).  

The Institute, a media watchdog that promotes freedom of speech, also heard an unfortunate story about a journalism student struggling to pay her tuition fees. A talented and enthusiastic student who has fought tooth and nail to get herself this far (2nd semester of 2nd year journalism studies) was about to drop out owing to poverty and official indifference. 

She needed E6,000 ($US660) to pay the balance of this year’s tuition fees. After exhausting all other avenues to raise the funds – including offering to work for free at a local newspaper where she’d already volunteered during school holidays if they loaned her the money; and writing pleading letters to various government departments – the 20-year-old student tells of approaching the king’s office, where big money and real power reside. 

Swaziland, wedged between South Africa and Mozambique, is often described as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy. King Mswati III has ruled since 1986. A constitution was introduced in 2005 but the king (and, it is said, the king’s mother – known as the ‘Queen Mother’) hold ultimate authority in a land devastated by poverty and AIDS. 

Médecins Sans Frontières, an international health organisation, reported that life expectancy had halved in Swaziland from 60 years-of-age in the 1990s to 31 in 2007. The twin epidemics of AIDS and tuberculosis are the main killers, said MSF. 

The journalism student says the local newspaper went quiet on her offer loan offer, and she heard nothing back from government. At the king’s office (where she left a light-brown A4 envelope containing academic transcripts, a letter urging for help and her parents’ death certificates) she explained her story to a front desk secretary.  The student says she never heard back from the king’s office. 

Before knowing all this it might be easy to simply tell students to get a part time job and ‘suck it up’. It might also be easy for well-meaning international aid agencies and big ‘multilateral’ donor organisations to hijack the student’s poverty, incorporate said poverty into foreign-drafted agendas, drown her in pity and ‘training workshops’, then present her a meaningless certificate and pretend all is okay. The workshop has been held – tick the box. The project has been completed. Another tick. Has the donor organisation got its logo and photo in the paper? Indeed. Has the student been helped? Agh… hmm. 

In a kingdom where youth unemployment is said to be over 50 percent, and in a labour market where it is near impossible to fire anyone – or offer ‘voluntary retirement packages’ to bloated civil servants – that easy refrain, ‘get a job’, or ‘let’s run a workshop’, doesn’t sound so informed, realistic, or, ultimately, compassionate.

When the Swazi chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland) tried to verify the young student’s story, and also to verify if journalism students are currently without any government assistance, all that was found was bureaucratic confusion, unanswered calls and messages, and fax lines masquerading as phone lines. 

One source in the ministry of education said as far as she knew journalism students are “not covered”. She then suggested contacting the scholarships director, located in the Ministry of Labour. The scholarships director’s phone was lonely; the call kept bouncing to an annoyed receptionist, who passed on the number of the Department of Labour principal secretary. The principal secretary failed to answer several calls. The scholarship’s director never returned the call, after several messages were left. Messages were also left for the Minister of Education and Minister of Labour to return calls, to no avail. 

MISA-Swaziland calls on the government to clearly state whether journalism students at the University of Swaziland receive any financial assistance. Or, as has been reported, journalism is a ‘non-priority area’? And, if it is a non-priority area, MISA-Swaziland asks the government why it has been labeled such. If the answer is because help for journalism studies – as well as several other university courses – is not affordable, MISA asks the Minister of Education and Labour: Not affordable when compared against what? Compared, perhaps, to a country of hungry, illiterate students? Or, perhaps, when weighed against the ruling elite’s unearned royalties? MISA-Swaziland asks what the money is being spent on (or lost on due to corruption) instead of helping university students? 

Swaziland, according to the World Bank, is a ‘lower middle income country’ – this means that there is money in the nation. Swaziland has a GNI per capita of E30,000 ($US3,330). Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is total income of a nation divided by the total number of people in the nation. 

Therefore, as a lower middle income nation, if current Swazi wealth was more equitably created and spread, a regular citizen each year might take home a sum closer to E30,000 – about E2,500 each month. 

One wonders how much, in reality, each Swazi takes home each month? And this is before the economy has, one day, shifted from the grasp of a kleptocratic elite to the open pastures lying in wait. 
 
But. If the economy is already back on track, as was said by the minister of finance and dutifully reported by the local media, why is money not flowing into ‘productive areas’ like helping university students to finish their studies?

The short answer is negligence, incompetence and corruption. The Swazi Weekend Observer, a weekly newspaper, on 16 February 2013 reported the following headlines: ‘King rallies nation to work even harder to resuscitate economy’ on the front page; ‘Scholarship official arrested for corruption’ on page 7; ‘Joblessness: youths scramble to sell sand’ on page 14. 

The Times of Swaziland, a privately owned daily, in an editorial on 20 February 2013 says: “The revelation by Labour Minister Lufto Dlamini that around 270 students at [the University of Swaziland] have not yet received their scholarship allowances due to corruption has penetrated the very bedrock of this society… For almost fifty years, Swazis have struggled to go to school, cold, hungry, barefoot, walking kilometres in the dark to get to school on time. Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini was one such pupil and has spoken before of how he strained his eyes studying by candlelight before electricity…” 

That same young student who strained his eyes in the hope of a better future is now the unelected prime minister, appointed by His Majesty King Mswati. He is at the centre of several alleged corruption scandals and last year ignored the parliament’s constitutional decision that should have seen him sacked. 

The young journalism student, who was a breath away from falling into the cracks, has since been loaned the money she needs to finish university. A privately owned magazine, The Nation, lent her the money and in return the student will write stories for the magazine until the loan is paid off: gaining journalism experience from seasoned reporters while finishing her studies. The deal was made possible because the director of MISA-Swaziland is a founding member of The Nation magazine. Now, when the student has finished university she stands a fighting chance of landing a journalism job. 

The Swaziland chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa is a media watchdog that promotes freedom of speech. 

SOCIAL MEDIA SITES PROMOTE FREEDOM

More people than ever before are using social media sites such as Facebook to oppose the undemocratic regime in Swaziland.

Research just published shows that people use the Internet to communicate with one another and share information and ideas about the campaign for democracy, bypassing the Swazi mainstream media which is heavily censored.

People who live inside the kingdom and those abroad join in the debates and share information about activities designed to bring attention to the human rights abuses in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The research, published in Ecquid Novi African Journalism Studies,  looked at a number of blogs, Facebook sites and a Google discussion group to study what they were publishing and see how people used them to share information.

Young people in Swaziland have been using the Internet not only to interact with one another but also using Facebook to ‘influence opinion with a view to effecting change in Swaziland’ and ‘voice their anger at the established ruling regime’.

A survey of some of the most active sites showed they contained information about prodemocracy activities in Swaziland such as protest marches, the delivery of petitions to government ministries and strikes.

Unlike the mainstream media in Swaziland these sites also published material critical of King Mswati and the royal family.

The report suggests that the sites ‘appear to have relatively small, but seemingly highly committed, participants as originators and / or readers’.

The report suggests that the social media sites have extended opportunities for people to share information and commentary about the need for democratic change in Swaziland, but they have not necessarily been an empowering force.

‘It is clear that social media sites have extended the public sphere to offer opportunities for a wider range of people both in the country and outside it, to produce, distribute and exchange information and commentary about the kingdom – especially in the context of the need for political change. People speak in their own voices and are not mediated in the way mainstream media are in Swaziland.’

However, the research suggests, ‘There is little evidence that social media sites are capable of becoming vehicles for actual change in Swaziland.’

It uses the example of the April 12 Uprising Facebook group from 2011 that had clearly-stated objectives to encourage an uprising in Swaziland along the lines of those witnessed during the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011.

Despite a large interest online in the group’s postings, it was unable to turn its aspirations for uprising into actual action on the streets.

The research speculates it was possible the April 12 Uprising Facebook site may have generated ‘unrealistic excitement and anticipation on the part of the general population who became mere spectators, while the bulk of those who had generated the Facebook hype resided outside the country and could not coordinate activities on the ground to actuate their cyber aspirations’.

The research concludes by suggesting the uprising failed because the factors necessary for revolution in Swaziland were absent.

‘Among such conditions are that the regime must appear irredeemably unjust or inept, and must be viewed as a threat  to the country’s future, and that the political elite should be alienated from the state to the extent that they are no longer willing to defend it.

‘In addition, broad-based mobilisation across social-economic classes must follow; and international powers must either refuse to step in and defend the government or prevent it from using maximum force to defend itself.’

See also

FACEBOOK IN SWAZILAND: THE STATS
GOVERNMENT THREATENS FACEBOOK CRITICS
 
SWAZI POLICE TRACK FACEBOOK USERS

Thursday, February 21, 2013

IMF CONFIRMS ECONOMY IN TROUBLE

Information just released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirms that Swaziland’s Finance Minister Majozi Sithole lied when he said the kingdom’s economy had recovered.


Last month (January 2013), Sithole said that receipts of E12.2 billion (US$1.1 billion) due this year to Swaziland, mostly from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), meant, ‘I can safely say the economy is now under control. We have survived the worst economic challenges ever.’ 

Then, earlier this month, the Times of Swaziland newspaper falsely reported in a headline, ‘Financial crisis in Swaziland is over – IMF’. It said, ‘It is now official; Swaziland is out of the financial crisis it had plunged into since 2010, the IMF has declared.’

The paper then allowed Sithole to say, ‘We have no problems with their assessment that we are out of the crisis.’

But, it was not true. The IMF had never said such a thing.  Now, this week, the IMF published one of its regular assessments of the state of Swaziland’s economy, based on information gathered after a visit to the kingdom. 

The IMF reported the Swaziland economy ‘will be unsustainable over the medium term and subject to significant downside risks’. It said there needed to be ‘upfront expenditure cuts, including on the wage bill’.

The IMF said that in the recent past the government had repaid some of its debt but this was ‘partly achieved through cuts in education, health, and other poverty-alleviating spending’.

To underline the fragile state of the economy, the IMF said, ‘Swaziland’s economic prospects remain difficult and that, without credible and comprehensive fiscal adjustment and structural reforms, the current fiscal and external position will be unsustainable over the medium term and subject to significant downside risks.’

Sithole has yet to respond publicly to the news.

See also

‘TIMES’ LIES OVER ECONOMIC RECOVERY
ECONOMY: IMPOSSIBLE TO CUT POVERTY

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

ROYALS WRONG ON WOMEN AT ELECTION

Swaziland’s Indlovukazi (the mother of the king) has joined a growing chorus of misinformation about the kingdom’s forthcoming undemocratic national election.

She called upon all Swazi women to participate in the election and said she would be happy if they dominated top positions during the upcoming national elections. The Times of Swaziland reported her saying the active contribution of women was critical to ensure sustainable and effective development of the nation.

But, while one of the top Royals is telling women they are valued, the king’s behaviour tells a different story. The Swazi Constitution states that 30 percent of the members of parliament should be women. But the king has ignored this and declined to appoint enough women to parliament.

In Swaziland’s election only 55 of 65 seats in the House of Assembly are chosen by the people. King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, chooses the other 10. He also chooses 20 of the 30 seats in the Senate. The other ten seats are chosen by members of the House of Assembly. No members of the Senate are elected by the people.

If the constitution were followed there should be 32 women spread across the two houses of parliament. At the last national election in 2008 only seven of the elected 55 members of the House of Assembly were women and the king appointed a further two to the House and seven to the Senate, making a total of 16.

If the king truly believed that the active participation of women was critical to the development of the kingdom he had ample opportunity to do something about it.

This misinformation from the Indlovukazi is part of a growing trend in Swaziland to misrepresent the election as democratic and meaningful.

Already the king has been exposed in the international media (but not in Swaziland) for misrepresenting opinion about the credibility of the 2008 election. He told the Swazi Parliament that the Pan African Parliament (PAP) had praised the kingdom for the way it ran its election and put Swaziland forward as an example for the rest of Africa to follow.

In fact, the PAP said no such thing. Instead it said the election did not meet ‘regional and international standards and principles for democratic elections’, because political parties were not able to take part.

In a report on the 2008 election the PAP also said women were disadvantaged because ‘cultural norms’ militate against women’s participation.  It recommended, ‘More measures should be put in place to empower women to compete in elections.’

King Mswati also misled people when he opened the Swazi Parliament on Friday (15 February 2013). He said, ‘Elections are a vital tool through which citizens exercise the right to be heard and freely choose their own representatives in the government of the country.’ 

But, in Swaziland the people do not choose the government: King Mswati does that. 

In 2008, he chose Barnabas Dlamini to be PM, even though Dlamini had not been elected by anybody. Most of the government, including Majozi Sithole, who has been Finance Minister for more than 10 years overseeing an economy in ruins, are also selected by the king. The people of Swaziland have no way of selecting a government or of sacking it if it wishes.

King Mswati is in complete control of his kingdom. In October 2012, the House of Assembly passed a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and cabinet. In such circumstances the constitution requires the monarch to sack the government (he has no discretion in the matter), but King Mswati ignored this and put pressure on the House to re-run the vote, this time ensuring that it did not have the required majority to pass. Members of the House did as they were told and the government continued in office.

See also

KING WRONG ON ELECTION SUPPORT
KING IS IN CONTROL - ELECTION MEANINGLESS
SWAZI ELECTION WILL BE A FRAUD

Monday, February 18, 2013

POLICE RAID ON PRAYERS: MISA STATEMENT

Police shut down prodemocracy meeting

Media Institute of Southern Africa, Swaziland chapter
Media Alert

18 February, 2013

It was billed as a peaceful, prodemocracy prayer, organised by the Swaziland United Democracy Front and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. It was to take place on Saturday morning, 16 February 2013 at a Catholic Church in Manzini, the commercial capital of Swaziland, a small kingdom wedged between South Africa and Mozambique in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The first paragraph of invitation to the event, under the title, ‘The Call for a National Prayer Towards a People`s Government’, reads:

“The Leadership of the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), together with the Detachment of activists under the auspices of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), is humbled  to invite every Swazi to a “National Prayer For A People`s Government” [sic].”

The letter continues: “As the year is still dawning, we deemed it fit to make a call to the God of the poor, down trodden and marginalized masses of our motherland to help us realize a government that will be owned and run by ourselves as a people and a nation.” 

The invitation goes on to describe the prayer as the launch of a campaign to usher in democracy to Swaziland. There was no mention of inciting violence in the letter. It is signed, ‘Yours in the struggle for a democratic Swaziland’, above the names Wandile Dludlu [PUDEMO member and SUDF coordinator] and Mary Da Silva [SUDF coordinator]. 

According to reports in the Times of Swaziland Sunday, a privately owned but heavily censored weekend tabloid, the meeting was a nonstarter as police arrived on the scene during formalities, just after 9 am, saying attendees had seven minutes to disperse. 

The Swazi chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), a media watchdog, arrived at the Sir John Bosco centre at 10.30 am, an hour after proceedings were meant to start, only to find an empty hall guarded by 40 police officers, many out of uniform. A group of police was seen sitting on a log under a small tree on top of a nearby hill, in the shade of the morning heat, guns perched on their laps, chatting and smiling. 

On the mountainous drive into Manzini, 35 kilometers southeast of the capital Mbabane, police were casually patrolling the outskirts, armed with guns and batons, dressed in the navy blue of the Royal Swaziland Police Force. Many looked uncomfortable holding their weapons. Many looked unable to chase a thief is the need arose. 

“They don’t have the authority to meet”, came the response from a plain-clothed policeman guarding the Bosco centre when MISA-Swaziland asked why no meeting was taking place. The prodemocracy gatherers had been told to go home. It wasn’t made clear which law the police had invoked to disperse the crowd, and any law that was invoked would seem to clash with Section 25 (1) of the Swazi Constitution: “A person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” 

One of the headlines in the Times Sunday on 17 February read, ‘Cops stop prayer for peace’. On the front page of the Swazi Observer (a propaganda daily effectively owned by the king, ruler since 1986) on February 18 2013 reads, ‘Prayer was to plan election sabotage’. 

In possible explanation of the police clampdown, several of the organisers of the prodemocracy meeting are part of the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a banned political party. PUDEMO members were accused of a spate of bomb attacks several years ago, and this led to recent official fear of their meetings. In the past police have invoked the Public Order Act 1963 to break up meetings and spy on meetings involving PUDEMO members and other people involved in opposition politics. 

And in 2008 the Suppression of Terrorism Act was introduced, giving further power to police and politicians who wish to disallow public meetings and free association. Amnesty International released a report in 2009, An Atmosphere of Intimidation: Counter-terrorism legislation used to silence dissent in Swaziland. The report found that the Suppression of Terrorism Act “has been successful in creating a climate of fear. All those who were vocal are quieter now because of the Act”.

In attendance at the meeting last Saturday was Bishop Paul Verryn, from Johannesburg, South Africa. According to reports in the Times Sunday, Bishop Verryn was at the prodemocracy prayer representing the South African Council of Churches. 

“We have been profoundly disrespected by the police that in the middle of a prayer they came in and stopped us,” Times Sunday reported the Bishop as saying. “If the authorities are afraid of a simple prayer hosted by citizens of the country, then we cannot say Swaziland is a free country.” Verryn said he would report the story of police intimidation back to South Africa’s church leaders. 

Also among the attendees was PUDEMO president Mario Masuku. PUDEMO released a statement after the police lock down, labeling the actions of authorities as “satanic”. The statement, according to local media reports, describes PUDEMO’s version of events, and details how police continued to harass the pro-democracy activists at Manzini’s Catholic Cathedral, where the activists sought shelter after they were told to leave the Bosco centre. 

“PUDEMO condemns the devilish and satanic behaviour of the Swaziland Police of invading the Manzini Roman Catholic Church (The Cathedral) in pursuit of innocent and unarmed citizens who had gathered to pray for justice, peace and democratic change in the country… The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) had organised the prayer gathering at St John Bosco Hall, a facility belonging to the [Catholic Church] but we the people were refused entry and were forcefully removed from the place… After this forceful eviction, the people found shelter at The Cathedral, hiding from the pursuing police who were dressed for war. The fully armed police entered the church premises and disturbed those gathering in prayer while refusing other to gain entry to the church.”   

As the Catholic Church continues its search for a new pope, it might hazard a glance in the direction of a small kingdom in southern Africa, choking under the weight of state-condoned suppression and official neglect. The new pope might spare a few seconds to learn how HIV has wiped out generations and towns in this landlocked nation of good-humored and resilient people. The new pope might also learn how Swazi life expectancy has dropped from 60 in the 1900s to 32 in 2007. Censorship in the media is getting worse and uncertainty among Swazis grows by the day. 

The Swaziland chapter of Media Institute of Southern Africa is a media watchdog that promotes freedom of speech. 

See also

CHRISTIANS CONDEMN PRAYERS RAID
RAID ON PRAYERS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
POLICE SAY PRAYERS WERE POLITICAL