Thursday, January 30, 2014


The Swaziland Government was forced into a humiliating climb down at the High Court when it could not provide evidence that the chief government vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu should be held in prison pending trial on a contempt of court charge because he was a trade union member and therefore might run away to evade trail.

Gwebu had been sent to prison for seven days on remand by the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi for contempt of court. He was accused of unlawfully detained High Court Judge Esther Ota, who was being chauffeured in an ‘authorised’ government vehicle, near Sifundzani. Gwebu believed the judge was not on official business and therefore should not have been using a government car.

The Government opposed bail at a hearing at the High Court on Wednesday (29 January 2014). The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) wanted Gwebu held in prison until his trial date because he was a member of the trade union, the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU).

The DPP claimed to the court that NAPSAWU had ‘politicised’ the case and the union would help Gwebu to evade trial. It also submitted that if released on bail Gwebu might ‘disturb the public order or undermine public peace and security’.

But, when High Court Judge Bheki Maphalala asked the prosecution to supply evidence and clarify how the case had been politicised and how NAPSAWU could assist Gwebu to evade trial, it could not. It then formally withdrew the allegations.

Local media reported Judge Maphalala saying it was the duty of the court to dispense justice to all without fear or favour.

He said the Crown submitted that Gwebu was a flight risk because he was in association with a union, NAPSAWU.

The judge noted that Gwebu surrendered to the police after a warrant of his arrest had been issued.

‘It is also common cause that the union in question is legally recognized in the country,’ he said.

He added, ‘There is further no evidence, at all, that the union has hijacked and politicised the case. The union is duty-bound to assist its members. The allegations made by the Crown are misleading.’

Advocate Norman Kades for the DPP withdrew the allegation and Judge Maphalala released Gwebu on E15,000 (US$1,500) bail. Gwebu had been in prison for nine days awaiting the bail hearing, which had been delayed because the DPP claimed it was not ready to proceed with the case.

The DPP was forced into a second climb down when the prosecution claimed that the papers for the Crown were drafted hastily as they did not have sufficient time. Judge Maphalala, however, informed him that this was not true as they had six days to prepare their papers.
The case involving Gwebu has received international attention because of the way he was charged with contempt of court by the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. Gwebu had been refused legal representation.

Gwebu, in his role as chief government vehicle inspector, had charged and arrested, Vusi Tsela, for driving a government vehicle without authority. Tsela is the official driver for High Court judge, Esther Ota, and, it was reported that he had taken her to one of the elite schools in Mbabane on a Saturday so that she could buy her children’s uniforms before classes resumed.

Gwebu’s case is that Tsela did not have the right papers to allow him to drive the car for that trip, so Gwebu subsequently charged him and impounded the car.

Ota said that she was on her way to court because she was the duty judge for the weekend and had just needed to run some personal errands before going to work.

It has also been reported that Gwebu once impounded Chief Justice Ramodibedi’s official car after he allegedly abused it. Observers say Ramodibedi’s actions in charging Gwebu for contempt of court this time might be ‘pay-back’ for that.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014


The Swaziland Government has wasted more than US$100 million that was meant to help poor people in rural areas, a new auditor-general’s report has revealed.

The money was supposed to be used for projects to alleviate poverty under the Rural Development Fund (RDF), which is administered by the Swazi Ministry for Tinkhundla.

Instead, the money was squandered on useless goods that were left idle and unused.

Media in Swaziland reported that an Auditor-General’s report said as a result more than E1 billion (US$100 million) has been wasted since the RDF was set up in 1999.

Muziwandile Dlamini from the office of the Auditor-General revealed that some constituencies made orders for items that ended up not being utilised. Dlamini said audits conducted in some constituencies had revealed the problem and now more constituencies would be audited.

The Swazi Observer newspaper reported Dlamini saying in some cases, items were ordered and not delivered while in other times the wrong items were delivered and then ended up not being utilised by the constituencies. 

Dlamini said this was a clear indication that some constituencies initiated projects that were not required, but they did so just for the sake of doing something. 

Dlamini added failure to coordinate and plan for their projects was often the cause for collapse of the projects initiated by tinkhundla.

Tinkhundla is the political system used in Swaziland that bans all political parties from contesting elections and places power in the hands of King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Seven in ten of the King’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day. The King is reported have a personal fortune estimated at US$200 million. He has 13 palaces, one for each of his wives, a private jet airplane and fleets of Mercedes Benz and BMW cars.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Five homes and a school will have to be destroyed to make way for the expansion of one of King Mswati III’s 13 palaces.

King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is extending his Lozitha Palace, near the Swazi capital Mbabane.

Electricity lines are also being moved because they will now fall within the boundary of the King’s palace.

One of the homes to be moved houses a 92-year-old man. All the properties affected are on Swazi Nation Land. King Mswati holds all Swazi Nation Land ‘in trust’ for the Swazi people.

The Times of Swaziland, the only daily newspaper independent of the King’s direct control, reported that the King’s Office is presently erecting a ‘concrete boundary’ to the palace. It described the new building as a ‘Royal fort’.

It reported Sihle Dlamini, Estate Manager of the King’s Office, saying the expansion of the palace had been sanctioned by King Mswati.

He said the affected families would be relocated, but he could not say where to.

King Mswati, who rules over a population of 1.3 million subjects, has 13 palaces, one for each of his wives. Meanwhile, seven in ten of his subjects live in abject poverty earning less than US$2 per day.

The King, who was once estimated by Forbes Magazine to have a private fortune of US$200 million, has a private jet airplane and fleets of Mercedes and BMW cars. He and his wives regularly take luxury trips abroad.

In March 2013 it was reported that Swaziland taxpayers were being forced to spend E2.2 million (US$240,000) on a guardhouse at Lozitha Palace to house more than eight soldiers around the clock and it will connect to an underground bunker.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of National Defence and Security, Andrias Mathabela, refused to disclose the purpose of the bunker.

In a commentary on last year’s national budget, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), a group campaigning for democracy in the kingdom, said, ‘King Mswati remains by far the biggest financial drain to the Swazi state. Despite siphoning public funds into private investments, and running Tibiyo Taka Ngwane [a conglomerate of companies he holds in trust for the Swazi nation] as his private investment company, he continues to use public funds to finance his lavish lifestyle and that of his ever increasing family.’

SSN said a total of E256 million (US$37 million) was used each year as ‘royal emoluments’ and was, ‘shared between his wives, children, his half-brother and their mothers, and other relatives of the royal family’.

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Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi has attacked the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper and forced it to apologise ‘unreservedly’ after it published criticisms of his handling of a contempt of court case.

But, although the Times of Swaziland has been gagged, international observers continue to criticise Ramodibedi for his actions.

One article published by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA ) called the case, ‘the end of the road for the rule of law in Swaziland’, the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The contempt of court case involves Bhantshana Gwebu, the Swazi Government’s chief vehicle inspector.

Mantoe Phakathi, wrote on the OSISA website, ‘In the latest shocking display of his utter contempt for the rule of law, Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi sent Gwebu to prison for seven days for contempt of court on January 20 - having refused him the right to legal representation.’

Phakathi added, ‘On Saturday January 18th, Gwebu - in his role as chief government vehicle inspector - charged and arrested, Vusi Tsela, for driving a government vehicle without authority. Now, Tsela happens to be the official driver for High Court judge, Esther Ota, and he had taken her to one of the elite schools in Mbabane so that she could buy her children's uniforms before classes resumed on January 21st.

‘When Gwebu pounced and demanded to see the official documents that allowed Tsela to drive the car to this school on a Saturday, he discovered that Tsela did not have the right papers. He subsequently charged him and impounded the car, while Ota pleaded that she was on her way to court because she was the duty judge for the weekend and had just needed to run some personal errands before going to work.

‘Needless to say, this affront to the judiciary could not be stomached - well not by Chief Justice Ramodibedi.’

Gwebu was rapidly issued with a warrant of arrest and handed himself in to police on Monday January 20.

Phakathi  wrote, ‘With astonishing speed - particularly given the glacial pace of many cases in Swaziland - Gwebu appeared before Ramodibedi in his chambers at the High Court on the very same day. And was then immediately taken off to jail, pending his hearing a week later.’

Phakathi  added, ‘Meanwhile, Ramodibedi himself is facing impeachment charges in his home country, Lesotho, where he was suspended from his position as Court of Appeal president. So it sadly comes as no surprise that Ramodibedi has bypassed the law in this latest case. Despite his position as the head of the judiciary, the law seems to be something that he can take or leave - depending on who is involved. Clearly, he believes that there is a group of powerful, influential people - not just the King and his mother - who are above the law of the land.

‘But it still doesn't entirely explain why Gwebu is languishing for doing his job. The charges against the driver could easily have been dropped. Gwebu could have been given a talking to behind closed doors. But it’s worth remembering that Gwebu once impounded Ramodibedi’s official car for allegedly abusing it. Perhaps this is partly pay-back time for that.’

Journalist Ackel Zwane wrote in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, ‘In his bravery Bhantshana went ahead to even seize Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi’s vehicle while he was on an outside trip. Surely this did not please the giant legal eagle and this time around the warrant of arrest was issued by the grand CJ.’

When the Times of Swaziland ran a version of the story on its website, it attracted a number of critical comments from readers. Ramodibedi then demanded his apology from the newspaper, which is the only daily newspaper in the kingdom free of direct monarchical control.

In a front-page apology, that was not published online, the Times called the readers’ comments ‘contemptuous’. The newspaper said we, ‘unreservedly apologise to the Honourable Chief Justice, as well as Her Ladyship Judge Ota and to the entire Judiciary.’

Journalists who criticise the judiciary are not tolerated by the judges in Swaziland. In April 2013 Bheki Makhubu the editor of the monthly magazine the Nation was convicted of criminal contempt of court after publishing two articles criticising the judiciary. He was fined E200,000 (US$22,000) by the High Court and told if he did not pay within three days he would immediately go to jail for two years. His sentence is on hold pending an appeal to the Swaziland Supreme Court.

Commenting on the Gwebu case, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Swaziland chapter, said, ‘It is unclear if it was a specific comment that sparked the apology and retraction, or whether it was several of the comments. It is also unclear whether political pressure was put on the Times of Swaziland to issue the apology.’

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Thursday, January 23, 2014


Journalists in Swaziland were blocked from taking photographs of the human rights abuser, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, when he arrived to visit King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The president arrived in the kingdom this week with a delegation of more than 50 people, including investors who were looking for business opportunities.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported, ‘The media was initially turned back from the airport as it was stated that orders were that no pictures be captured of the president’s visit to Swaziland.  

‘A protocol officer only referred to as Shongwe approached journalists who were taking pictures of those present at the airport and informed them to stop at once. 

‘“I have been instructed to tell you that you aren’t allowed to take pictures of this private visit so please delete what you have,” Shongwe warned. 

‘As he addressed the journalists, more than 12 police officers came threateningly and surrounded the group of perplexed journalists and closely monitored the situation.  Shongwe later retracted his statement and stated that his superiors had changed their minds, allowing media houses to report on the visit.’

King Mswati has a close relationship with the President of Equatorial Guinea. It was reported in January 2012 that the King had done a deal with the President to import crude oil into his kingdom.

Thembinkosi Mamba, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy, said at the time the Swazi Government had plans to build its own refinery so that, in future, crude oil would be brought directly to Swaziland for refinement and separation, thereby, cutting down on costs.

Swazi Media Commentary reported at the time that the deal looked to be something special the King had dreamt up. In the past, as with the US$5 billion power plant deal that turned out to be a con-trick, the King had bypassed his parliament and made deals on his own initiative. 

At the time of the oil refinery deal, Obiang’s regime had been labelled one of the world’s most corrupt by international rights groups.  Transparency International ranked Equatorial Guinea 168th out of 178 countries for its efforts in tackling corruption.

Human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea are well documented. The US State Department, in a report on Equatorial Guinea published in May 2012, revealed, corruption and impunity continued to be big human rights problems in Equatorial Guinea. 

‘Security forces extorted money from citizens and immigrants at police checkpoints. There was no internal investigation unit within the police, and mechanisms to investigate allegations of abuse were poorly developed.’

It added, ‘security forces sometimes committed abuses with impunity. The government did not maintain effective internal or external mechanisms to investigate security force abuses.’

Lawyers in the country report arbitrary arrests. ‘Lawyers did not have access to police stations and could not contact detainees while they were held there; police superintendents when interviewed stated they did not see the need for or advisability of such access.

In 2012, newspapers in Swaziland suppressed news about Mbasogo during his visit to Swaziland when instructed to do so by a Swazi Government minister.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter reported in its annual review on media freedom, ‘In January 2012, Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), Winnie Magagula held an impromptu meeting with all [print] editors , where she told them they must positively report the visit of Equatorial Guinean President, Teodora Obiang Nguema Mbasago.

‘The newspapers heeded her directive: all the media houses waxed lyrical about the expected socio-economic benefits to be reaped from a questionable oil deal.

‘The editors suppressed President Mbasago’s negative stories of graft and repression that were run by the international media. In fact, the Swazi Observer was forced to apologise for a cable news item published by SAPA (South African Press Association) that negatively exposed the President.’

See also