Monday, March 31, 2014


Warders at a juvenile jail in Swaziland stripped naked, handcuffed and beat children in their care. They inserted fingers into girls’ private parts and forced one boy to drink his own urine.

The revelations at Malkerns Industrial School follow reports in 2013 that warders at the same juvenile jail assaulted children systematically for more than five hours.

The latest revelations are contained in an inspection report called Malkerns Industrial School Students Violence Probe which was leaked to the Observer on Saturday newspaper in Swaziland.

The newspaper reported there was violence at Malkerns Industrial School on 18 June 2013, when one of the boys fought and stabbed another offender with a sharpened toothbrush.

The newspaper reported, ‘The aggressor was instantly beaten without a hearing and all boys known to be his friends were handcuffed and beaten in the still of the night.’

It added, ‘The next morning all teachers were ordered to conduct a strip search, apparently an order coming from the commissioner himself who is alleged to have said ‘uma kufanele, isende lomntwana alibanjwe’ (squeeze their testicles).’

The Observer said the investigation reported there was sporadic use of force at the juvenile industrial school dormitories, ‘which is protected by the head-teacher and remains unreported mainly because the administration also participates in the violence’.

The Observer reported that female correction officers,inserted their fingers into the girls’ private parts using one glove on all the students, exposing them to risks of contracting infectious diseases’.

The newspaper also reported that one child, ‘was beaten such that he urinated and was later forced to drink his urine.

‘“I drank it because of the beatings I received,” the boy reportedly said.

Another child said, ‘My hands and testicles were pressed by the officers who were wearing their boots I thought they were killing me. My only sin was that they found tattoos on my body.’

The Observer reported another child said, ‘I was bleeding from the ears after I was kicked all over the body by the officers.’

This is not the first time violent behaviour by warders has hit the headlines. In 2013 it was reported that children at the industrial school were systematically assaulted for more than five hours by warders.

Some of the children were forced to strip naked for beatings by the officers who used belts, sneakers, open hands and feet to assault them all over their bodies.

The Swazi News newspaper reported at the time that 15 officers were involved and more than two thirds of the 430 pupils at the school were assaulted from 8.30 am until after 2.00 pm, during one day. 

One child interviewed by the newspaper said, ‘They were using belts, open hands and an All-Star (sneaker). We were ordered to strip naked before being assaulted all over the body, indiscriminately.’

The attack was also described by another as being worse than police torture known as ‘lishubhu’.

Another said, ‘Besi bulawa (we were being murdered).’

When asked why they were assaulted, one pupil responded, ‘Watsi lomunye thishela basi faka luvalo (one of the teachers told us that they were instilling fear).’

The pupils said they did not report the matter to the police because they feared being victimised.

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A Swaziland newspaper has reported criticisms of the competence of a judge at a time when one editor and a writer are in jail awaiting contempt of court charges for criticising the kingdom’s judiciary

The Sunday Observer reported criticisms that Mpendulo Simelane, aged 39, who was appointed to the High Court bench in February 2014, was not properly qualified to be a High Court judge.

The Observer is in effect owned by King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The King chooses the judges in his kingdom and the article could be seen as an indirect criticism of the King’s decision.

Welcome Dlamini wrote in the Observer under the headline Mpendulo Simelane: Is he fit to Judge? ‘However, his [Simelane’s] appointment has been met with a lot of misgivings by the legal fraternity which feels he is not yet ripe for the position. The Sunday Observer has it in authority that even some of the judges are not happy with Mpendulo Simelane being appointed to be part of them.’

He added, ‘An impeccable source within the judiciary said it was well known that Simelane’s appointment had not gone down well with his colleagues even though there was nothing they could do about it.

‘“Some of the judges feel he does not yet qualify to be a judge. As a judge, you have to write judgments that will stand their ground throughout the world. Judgments are important because they become a point of reference for other countries. Is Simelane fit to write such judgments? Some of the judges don’t think so,” said the source.’

‘Further, said the source: “The judges would have preferred that the post should have been advertised because there are a lot of lawyers and magistrates who are senior and have the necessary qualifications to be appointed judges. With Simelane, he did not compete with anyone for the position. It was sort of a reward.” 

‘Constitutionally, a person has to meet one of three requirements in order to be appointed judge of the kingdom’s High Court. That person should either have been “a legal practitioner, barrister or advocate of not less than ten years practice in Swaziland or any part of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland”.

‘Or, that person should have served as “a judge of a superior court of unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in any part of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland for a period of not less than five years”.

‘Alternatively, that individual should have either been a legal practitioner, barrister or advocate and a judge of a superior court as stated above for a combined period of such practice and service of not less than ten years.

‘Judge Mpendulo Simelane, according to another source within the legal fraternity, does not meet any of these requirements.

‘“Yes, he was admitted as an attorney 10 years ago but he served for only five years before he was appointed registrar of the High Court and that position cannot be classified as being a legal practitioner,” said the source.’

The publication by the Observer of direct questions about the competence of a judge comes two weeks after Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were arrested and charged with writing and publishing articles critical of Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi. 

The two men have been remanded in custody awaiting trial.

Their arrest has led to an outcry across the world with many human rights organisations calling for their immediate release. Amnesty International has named both men ‘prisoners of conscience.’
Earlier this year, the Sunday Observer was forced to publish an abject apology after it published a criticism of the judiciary. In its apology the newspaper said. ‘[It] is not the intention of the Swazi Observer and its newspapers to disregard the independence of the judiciary, but to be seen to assisting it uphold the rule of law in the country’.

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Friday, March 28, 2014


In Swaziland a magazine editor and a human rights lawyer are sitting in jail awaiting trial on ‘contempt of court’ charges. The ‘crime’ of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, was to write and publish articles in the Nation magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary. The full force of the state was unleashed on them and they now await trial. 

The jailings were meant to intimidate journalists and other critics of the non-democratic kingdom of Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The intimidation has worked and newspapers are censoring themselves and tempering their criticism of the government, the judiciary and the King.

The Times Sunday, a member of the only independent newspaper group in Swaziland, has declined to publish an article this week (30 March 2014), written by its regular columnist Musa Hlophe on the subject.

Hlophe, who is a leading human rights activist in Swaziland, wrote in his article, ‘On trial now is no longer Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, for whatever they might have been accused of, but on trial now is the country and its institutions of power.’

Below is the full article, published with Musa Hlophe’s permission.

What a Boomerang!
By Musa Hlophe

A fortnight ago, we woke up to headlines that said Mr. Thulani R. Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer in Swaziland, had been arrested, and that the Nation's Managing Editor, Mr. Bheki Makhubu was also wanted by  the police. That was soon to be followed with their appearance at the High Court, on allegations of contempt of court.

At this point, no one expected what was to follow. First, they were not brought before  an open court - hence we are not privileged to  know what exactly happened, except to say that we then heard that they had been remanded to prison for another week. Much as this did raise questions, but we said to ourselves, this is Swaziland wherein the rule of law and the respect, protection and promotion of human rights count for nothing. Therefore accept this as it is:  justice Swazi style.

But we were soon to be outraged by the pictures of Bheki Makhubu going to court in leg-irons. What an insult to those Swazis who cherish the ideal of the respect for human dignity? Section 18 of our Constitution has this to say about protection from inhuman or degrading treatment: (1) the dignity of every person is inviolable. (2) A person shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

This provision of our Constitution was totally violated when Mr. Bheki Makhubu was brought to court, in a van, in leg-irons. This was the most humiliating, degrading and embarrassing treatment we, as a country, could subject a decent citizen to.  The embarrassment did not reflect just on the individual we thought we were humiliating, for whatever reason, but it reflected how barbaric we can be as a nation. While it must be humiliating to have two prominent law abiding citizens being incarcerated as the two have been, to put them on leg irons as though they were not only dangerous, but violent common criminals is totally inexcusable and insulting in the extreme.

Unfortunately, for the Government, which is currently worried about its public image and the image of this country in general, this particular case and the manner it is being handled: (as if to instil fear in the lives of the citizens, as Senator Chief Kusa Dlamini observed in parliament,) has renewed the calls for Swaziland to uphold the rule of law and respect and protect human rights. What a Boomerang!  On trial now, is no longer Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, for whatever they might have been accused of, but on trial now is the country and its institutions of power.  As I have said in recent articles on this subject of the country's image, it does not need any mischievous person or persons to paint a bad picture about it, the Government and its structures are good at doing that job. When power is abused by any structure of government, the action reflects, not only on the Government of the day, but on all our institutions of governance. What this reflects is an extreme form of assault not on peoples, rights, but a serious assault on justice and the rule of law in Swaziland. It is that bad!

So, when Mr. Percy Simelane says the King never ordered the arrest of Bhantshana Gwebu, he misses the point that when the State prefers charges against a citizen or citizens, it does so on behalf of the Crown or the King. Therefore, when the charge is said to be The King vs, Bhantshana Gwebu, it does not mean that the King has personally ordered the trial of this citizen, but a certain arm of government has ordered the action. But, above all, Mr. Simelane must know when to defend Government, even when Government actions are indefensible! Sometimes it is advisable just to keep quiet and let those departments or agencies of state which have blundered, sweep their mess. It is called wisdom.

Now, how has this case boomeranged? In this way: it has come about at a time when the Government is facing difficult deadlines on both the issues of the ILO and the imminent cut off from being entitled to low or no import taxes to our goods in the USA through AGOA/GSP. Both these demands are about the promotion and protection of human rights generally, but especially worker rights. The Americans have already expressed their displeasure at how this case came about and how it is being handled. This has a direct   impact on whether we retain our privilege of AGOA/GSP or lose it. We cannot, and must not hope to deceive the international community by doing some patch work on worker rights, in total isolation of the broader rights of citizens to freely express themselves, peacefully assemble and associate, and hope that the international community will believe us. To think so is utter foolishness.

The Prisons Department, by its action of having these two decent citizens on leg irons, their denial of access to them by their regional colleagues, has damaged the image of this country irreparably. At the time of writing this article, I was aware of several high level meetings of jurists in Pretoria, South Africa, to discuss this issue. I was also informed by our colleagues in Brussels, that Trade Unions in Europe were planning their own responses to this insult to human dignity.  It has to be born in mind that the European members of ITUC are very influential to their governments and EU Aid and Trade Preferences are also subject to review if Swaziland openly and seriously abuses human rights.   If they were to take an anti-Swaziland stance, we may face embarrassments in future; if not the same pressure we are faced with, because of how the Unions in the United States of America have done with regards to the AGOA/GSP. We must just wait and see.

But why are we finding ourselves in this mess? Who is responsible for all this? Others will say that it has to do with challenges in the exercise of power by some agents of state. Others will be tempted to blame it on some foreigner or such kind. As you would probably know me by now, I am neither racist nor tribalist! I am, if anything, a pan-Africanist. Therefore I shall never criticize someone on the basis of his/her country of origin.

In the present case, the problem we see is simply a symptom of a much larger political problem. We, as a country, have allowed ourselves to act above the law, with no consequences. The initiator of this scandalous case will not be questioned as to his/her wisdom for doing this thing the way it has been done: bringing shame to the country and its respected institutions. It is because of such bad, if not poor political culture, which has created a culture of impunity and unaccountability by agents of state.

Instead of those in power focussing on those whose actions have brought this shame and embarrassment to the country, sadly, they will be looking for some scapegoats to hang.

What we have seen these past two weeks should embarrass every decent person who knows both Makhubu and Maseko: two decent citizens of this country, and who, by their calling, have demonstrated their love for King and country; will say the government stooped too low in its handling of this case. While I am the first one to say the courts deserve respect from the population. I am also the first one to say, that the courts must earn the trust and respect from the citizenry. Respect and trust are never imposed but earned. The Honourable Minister of Justice needs to know this.

 However, the most astonishing thing in all this is the silence from the Human Rights Commission! Where are you throughout this episode? You mean to tell the nation that this has not come to your attention and caused you worry? Which rights will you ever protect? Do not bother trying to answer: we understand your limitations and they are deliberate.

 Our sympathy goes to the families and friends of both Makhubu and Maseko. Your loved ones may be incarcerated, but may you find comfort in the knowledge that they are not the ones on trial, but that it is Swaziland's justice and political system in the dock.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2014


A South African Sunday newspaper was banned from Swaziland because it published an article that might embarrass King Mswati III.

Swazi Police confiscated from newspaper distributors all copies of the Sunday Sun tabloid within Swaziland when it was realised it carried a report about the 18-year-old beauty contest contestant who the King had chosen to be his 14th wife.

The ban on the paper that is usually widely available in the kingdom happened on 22 September 2013, but was not widely reported at the time. It has come to light in a report on human rights in Swaziland recently published by the US State Department.

The State Department report did not reveal that the article in question gave details of the private life of Sindiswa Dlamini. The Sunday Sun report said the woman it nicknamed ‘Naughty Sindi’ previously had affairs with two of King Mswati’s sons, Prince Majaha and Prince Bandzile, who are both in their early twenties.

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

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

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

The media in Swaziland never report about the king without his permission. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

This was not the first time the media in Swaziland have refused to keep its readers informed about the Swazi Royal Family. In August 2010, the world’s media were excited by the case of Swaziland Justice Minister Ndumiso Mamba and King Mswati’s 12th wife, 22-year-old Inkhosikati Nothando LaDube. This was after pictures appeared of Mamba hiding in a bed before his arrest at Royal Villas, a hotel at Ezulwini just outside Mbabane, where he was said to have had regular adulterous meetings with LaDube.

The City Press in South Africa reported at the time that when police pounced, ‘in a desperate effort not to be found out Mamba cut into the base of the bed and slid in – but police ordered him out and Mamba, dressed in a brown suit, was soon taken ­into custody’. He was later forced to resign from the government and the Senate.

At the time the City Press was also restricted from selling in Swaziland. It was reported at the time in African media that Swaziland security forces were instructed to buy all copies of the newspaper that were on sale in the kingdom.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported at the time that a man was arrested in Manzini as he tried to get a photocopy of a report in City Press, but did not tell its readers what the report contained.
The newspaper did report that a plain clothed police officer had apparently overheard him requesting that a story contained in the City Press be photocopied. The man was alleged to be a member of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), the youth wing of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). Both organisations are banned in Swaziland and both have been branded ‘terrorist entities’ by the state.

He was taken to a police station and interrogated by officers from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). His house was also raided so police could get the original City Press newspaper.