Thursday, January 22, 2015


There is no stopping the media in Swaziland as they continue to bang on about how close the kingdom is to achieving King Mswati III’s aspiration to be the ruler of a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.

One cannot entirely blame them since the King rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch and in effect owns the Swazi Observer newspaper group, one of only two newspaper groups in the kingdom.
The King can and will close down media houses if it suits him and there are plenty of reasons for journalists and owners to be afraid of him.

But that should not stop independent observers from discussing the King’s claim that his kingdom is on track to be a ‘First World’ nation. 

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Swaziland issued a report in February 2014 that received no publicity in the kingdom, that said if Swaziland were to achieve ‘First World’ status it would have to be ‘among high human development countries like Norway, Australia, United States, Netherlands and Germany to name a few’.

UNDP went on to give these statistics comparing present-day Swaziland with Norway, the United States and Germany.

Life expectancy: Swaziland (48.9 years); Norway (81.3); United States (78.7); Germany (80.6).
Mean average years of schooling: Swaziland (7.1); Norway (12.6); United States (13.3); Germany (12.2).
Percentage of population with at least secondary school education: Swaziland (48); Norway (95.2); United States (94.5); Germany (96.6).

The UNDP in Swaziland did not comment on the likelihood of Swaziland reaching ‘First World’ status by 2022; it did not have to. Any independent observer can see from these statistics that Swaziland is not even close to reaching the King’s target.

The UNDP is not alone in this. In 2012 a report published by 24/7 Wall St in the United States, and based on data from the World Bank, identified Swaziland as the fifth poorest country in the entire world.

It said 69 percent of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects lived in poverty.

Its report stated, ‘[T]he country’s workforce is largely concentrated in subsistence agriculture, even though the country faces serious concerns about overgrazing and soil depletion. While these factors harm the nation’s economy, health concerns are likely one of the major factors preventing Swaziland’s population from escaping poverty.’

Despite these obvious facts the media in Swaziland will continue to claim that the kingdom is on-track to 2022 and any alternative view will be suppressed. This is because it was King Mswati himself who decreed that the kingdom should achieve ‘First World’ status and the media are terrified of contradicting him.

Here’s an example of how far the media will go in its sycophancy to the King. In October 2013, the Observer on Saturday, part of a newspaper group described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on press freedom in the kingdom, as ‘a pure propaganda machine for the royal family’ reported that King Mswati told an admiring audience in Swaziland that Americans ‘have travelled to the moon and stayed there for about six to eight months’ and he hoped Swazi people would one day do the same. 

-          Richard Rooney

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Danish political support for Mario Masuku

Kenworthy News Media, 20 January 2015

Former Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Danish Parliament, Mogens Lykketoft, has signed a petition that demands the release of imprisoned Swazi political leader Mario Masuku, writes Kenworthy News Media.

“I support the appeal for the immediate release of Mario Masuku and his colleague [student leader Maxwell Dlamini]. I have met with Mario Masuku in Copenhagen as President of the Danish Parliament. He is fighting for democracy and human rights in Swaziland. I urge Denmark and the EU, together with South Africa, to ensure their immediate release so that they can resume their political work”, Mogens Lykketoft said in a statement.

Hundreds of other organisations and individuals, including the South African ruling ANC party, the International Trade Union Confederation and Britain’s largest trade union UNISON, have supported the campaign instigated by Danish solidarity organization Africa Contact and signed the appeal.

The Danish ambassador to South Africa and Swaziland last year raised the question of the trial of Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini with Swaziland’s government and absolute monarch King Mswati III.

Mario Masuku is the president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a political party that fights for democracy in Africa’s last absolute monarchy. He is charged under an anti-terrorism bill that Amnesty International has called “inherently repressive” for having shouted “viva PUDEMO” and criticized the government in a speech on Mayday last year. If convicted he could serve up to 15 years in prison.

Masuku suffers from arthritis and diabetes. Whilst in prison, he has contracted pneumonia and a life-threatening infection in his left foot. He has been denied bail on two separate occasions.
Mogens Lykketoft has met with Mario Masuku on two occasions; in the Danish parliament and in Johannesburg. He has also awarded Masuku a democracy prize in the Danish Parliament in 2010.

Mogens Lykketoft was the leader of the Danish Social Democratic Party between 2002 and 2005 and has served as Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Finance Minister and Taxation Minister.. He is the current President of the Danish parliament, and will be formally appointed as the next President of the United Nations General Assembly on 15. September 2015.

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The Swaziland Government, embarrassed at international news reports that King Mswati III decreed that schools should close so children could weed his fields, is now misleading the public over the matter.

Last week Minister of Education and Training Phineas Magagula announced that the opening of all public and private schools would be delayed by a week. He said in a statement sent to media houses the postponement was due to ‘ongoing national duties’, a vague reference to the Incwala ceremony, considered by traditionalists to be the Swazi national prayer. It was also a reference to the annual weeding of the King’s fields that takes place annually at about this time of year. 

Social media, trade unions, and international news agencies picked up on the story and reported that children were compelled to weed the fields and this amounted to child slave labour.

In South Africa, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said they would organise a protest march.

SADTU general secretary Mugwena Maluleke told South African media that regional unions met under the Southern African Teachers Organisation umbrella to discuss the King’s order. 

‘The body has decided to mobilise SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) governments to change the practice of child labour. As the SADC body, we will write to SAC protocol to have these practices outlawed,’ Mr Maluleke said.

The Swazi Government was embarrassed by the outrage and now the Swaziland Foreign Affairs Minister Mgwagwa Gamedze has said the date of school opening was moved to allow parents to find spaces for their children in the system.  ‘It has nothing to do with the weeding of the King’s fields,’ he told international media.

This directly contradicts the Minister of Education and Training who said in a written statement the postponement was due to ‘ongoing national duties’. It also contradicts the Government’s demand that private schools that had already opened for the new term should close until 27 January 2015.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

A report on people trafficking in Swaziland published in 2014 said the King used forced child labour to work in his fields. ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults - through threats and intimidation - to work for the King,’ the report from the United States State Department said. 

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Churches in Swaziland have agreed to back male circumcision as a way to prevent the spread of HIV even though there in no concrete proof that the procedure works and attempts to get people to have the operation in the past have failed.

In 2010 the Accelerated Saturation Initiative (ASI) was introduced into the kingdom with the target to circumcise 80 percent of Swazi males between ages 15 and 49 within a year.

programme, a partnership between the Swazi Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the US-based Futures Group, was then extended to March 2012 when initial efforts failed to achieve the targeted results and only about 20 percent - or 32,000 - people were circumcised through the programme.  
US$15.5 million was spent on the programme, or US$484 per circumcised male.
Now, the deadline to reach the target has been extended to 2018.
The male medical circumcision programme which has been introduced in a number of countries in Africa, but not in developed countries such as the United States or in Europe, is based on a claim that removing the foreskin helps to prevent the spread of HIV. However, evidence does not support this.
A report called Levels and spread of HIV seroprevalence and associated factors: evidence from national household surveys published by USAID, for example, which studied 22 developing countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, found, ‘There appears no clear pattern of association between male circumcision and HIV prevalence - in 8 of 18 countries with data, HIV prevalence is lower among circumcised men, while in the remaining 10 countries it is higher.
In Swaziland, even before the ASI was started in 2010, the Government of Swaziland knew circumcision had no effect on the rate of HIV in the kingdom. The Swaziland Demographic and Health Survey (SDHS) of 2007 reported the infection rate for circumcised males was 22 percent while for those uncircumcised it was 20 percent, which suggested that circumcision did not prevent HIV spreading. 

The Church Forum, which is formed by the Swaziland Conference of Churches, League of Churches, Council of Swaziland Churches, Swaziland Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist and International Tabernacle Ministries, issued an official statement welcoming the procedure for medical purposes last week (15 January 2015). Churches had been reluctant to join the campaign because there were issues for them about whether God approved of circumcision. 

The Swaziland Government has signed up for circumcision in a big way since 2010, even announcing that newly born babies, who have no say in the matter, were expected to be cut. 

People in Swaziland are being misled into believing that circumcision can help, when the international medical community continues to debate whether there is any evidence that it can. An internationally-based organisation called Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) published a lengthy report in which it urged that ‘Both the public and the medical community must guard against being overwhelmed by the hyperbolic promotion of male circumcision.’

DOC reported that there is no clear evidence as to the effects of circumcision.

‘One study found that male circumcision had no protective effect for women and another study found that male circumcision increased risk for women.

‘[A different study] found more HIV infection in circumcised men.

‘[Yet another study] found no evidence that lack of circumcision is a risk factor for HIV infection.

‘A study from India found little difference between circumcised and non-circumcised men.

‘A study carried out in South Africa found that male circumcision offered only a slight protective effect.

‘A study carried out among American naval personnel found no difference in the incidence of HIV infection between non-circumcised and circumcised men.'

This led DOC to conclude, ‘Instituting a program of male circumcision is of dubious value. It will divert resources from proven methods of epidemic control and it may generate a false sense of security in males who have been circumcised. The desensitization of the penis that frequently results from male circumcision is likely to make men less willing to use condoms. A program of male circumcision very likely may worsen the epidemic.’

The group had its own idea on why places like Swaziland might have higher rates of HIV infection than elsewhere, ‘The epidemic in Africa may have little to do with lack of circumcision and everything to do with the percentage of the female population engaged in female sex work. One study found a definite link between the number of female sex workers in the population and the level of HIV infection.’

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