Thursday, April 30, 2015


Swaziland police have said they will decide who can and who cannot take part in May Day celebrations on Friday.

According to them only ‘recognised’ workers unions will be allowed to take part.

This is seen as a deliberate snub to the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), the labour federation that has organized a rally in Manzini, the major commercial city in the kingdom, for Friday (1 May 2015).

After a long and continuing dispute with the Swaziland state, TUCOSWA is not registered as a recognised federation in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. 

In Swaziland all political parties are banned from taking part in elections and organisations that advocate for democracy have been outlawed as ‘terrorist’ organisations under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
In a statement to media, Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba said only recognised unions would be allowed to celebrate the Workers Day.

He added, ‘Having said this, as a police service, we wish to point out as previously stated, that we will be present at the celebrations for the purpose of making sure that law and order is maintained. However, this is on the premise and understanding that the Labour Day is to be commemorated by recognised workers’ unions in the country,’ Mamba said. 

Previously, Mamba had told media since May Day was an internationally recognised day police would not hinder the celebrations by workers but they would arrest people who uttered ‘defamatory statements about authorities’.

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As workers and pro-democracy activists prepare to mark Workers’ Day on Friday (1 May 2015) many will remember Sipho Jele who was killed by Swaziland state forces five years ago. 

The 35-year-old Jele was arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act on 1 May 2010 for wearing a T-shirt supporting the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), an organisation banned in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

He was taken to Manzini Police Station and then to Sidwashini Remand Correctional Institution. He was found hanging from a beam in a shower block on 3 May.

The inquest verdict delivered in March 2011 said in effect that Jele levitated to the ceiling unaided, tied an old piece of blanket around a beam and then around his own neck and then allowed himself to fall to the ground, thereby killing himself by hanging.

Coroner Nondumiso Simelane reported, ‘Further, although there was nothing found at the scene which the deceased could have used as a platform on which to stand to commit the suicide; upon closer examination of the scene and the photos of the deceased captured at the scene, and the pathologists concluding that “it is possible for the deceased to have mounted himself upwards from the floor and then suspended himself without the use of a platform,” and that “after the ligature was applied to the beam and neck he could have lowered himself and the feet would still be above the floor.” 

Simelane recorded Jele’s death as suicide.

Independent Specialist Forensic Pathologist Dr Ganas Perumal at the inquest said there was no evidence that Jele had been hanged.

According to a report in the Swazi News, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, Perumal said, ‘In this case there is no evidence of being hung. The perplexing thing is how he got suspended as there was no object on which he stood. In most cases the object is kicked away for the body to remain suspended. There was no such object that was found. That is the only feature that doesn’t confirm suicide. It is an enigma how he hung without standing on an object.’

Questioned by attorney Leo Gama on whether it was possible that Jele had tied the rope around his neck while seated on the beam he was found hanging from, and then threw himself down for the rope to tighten around his neck, Dr Perumal entirely ruled out this possibility.

‘In that case there would be stretching of the skin and moreover there would be problem with the spine. Looking at the findings, we can exclude that scenario. There are no features to suggest that,’ he said.

It emerged at the inquest that Swazi police and prison warders lied a number of times about the circumstances up to the time of the death. They had claimed that they interviewed people who were in the same cell as Jele about the circumstances of his death; Perumal told the inquest that the cell mates denied being interviewed.

Perumal said, ‘I asked if any of the inmates had been interviewed to see if they had seen him and if any fight had ensued during the night of his death but none had been interviewed.’

This was not the first time that the police had been found out lying to the inquest. Previously, it was discovered that police had recorded in an official journal that Jele was in good health when he arrived at Manzini police station.

The official record – called the RSP 3 book – said the entry was made by Constable David Tsabedze, but he told the inquest that he never made the entry. 

This led to Attorney Leo Gama concluding that Tsabedze never made such entries and left the space vacant, but when the police heard that there was to be an inquest into the matter, someone filled up those spaces without telling Tsabedze. This was so they could show Jele was in good health when he left the police station.

Another anomaly was that although Jele was brought to the police station at 5.30pm on 1 May, he was only placed in a police cell at 11pm and no one could come forward to state what happened in the meantime.

In a bizarre twist the inquest heard that Jele asked to be sent to Sidwashini because he feared being ‘tubed’ (tortured and suffocated) if he was sent back to police custody. The Swaziland Director of Public Prosecutions Mumcy Dlamini said she was pleased to hear this because it meant Jele had not yet been tortured while at the police station. Dlamini told the inquest as far as she knew the only reason why Jele wanted to go to Sidvwashini was his fear of torture by police.

The inquest was told Jele was taken out of the Manzini Police Station’s cell for interrogation purposes for hours on different occasions, but one officer said it was unclear whether they also took him out of the building.

A jailor, Assistant Superintendent Richard Mthukutheli Fakudze, told the inquest he found Jele hanging from a concrete bar in the bathroom of his prison cell at about 5am on 3 May and he just knew Jele had killed himself. While he gave his testimony, he was interrupted by Prosecutor Phila Dlamini who warned him to only say what he observed and desist from giving an opinion. Fakudze had conclusively said Jele hanged himself yet he found him hanging. Said Dlamini, ‘If you insist that he hanged himself, you are actually saying that you saw him tying the blanket around his neck and hanging himself.’

Jele was charged under S19 (1) (a) of the Suppression of terrorism Act for wearing a T-shirt with PUDEMO written on it.

S19 (1) (a) of the STA states, ‘A person who is a member of a terrorist group commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten (10) years.’

Wearing a PUDEMO T-Shirt does not make you a member of PUDEMO and therefore the police had no reason to arrest Jele. But after police arrested him they then took him to his home and searched it and later alleged they had found materials linking him to the banned political organisation.

Amnesty International suspected that Jele might have been targeted for arrest at the May Day rally. Jele was one of 16 prodemocracy activists awaiting trial after they were charged with treason in 2005.

In a public statement, Amnesty said, ‘Mr Jele had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in police custody in the past. He was detained by police in December 2005 and subsequently charged with treason along with 15 others. Mr Jele alleged that while in custody he was beaten around the head causing long-term damage to his hearing, for which Amnesty International was able to obtain independent medical corroboration. He also alleged that he was subjected to suffocation torture while forcibly held down on a bench by six police officers at Sigodvweni police station. Some of his co-defendants made similar allegations of torture by the police.

‘The presiding High Court judge hearing their bail application in March 2006 was sufficiently concerned to call on the government to establish an independent inquiry into their claims. An inquiry was established under a single commissioner who subsequently reported his findings to the then Prime Minister. To Amnesty International’s knowledge this inquiry report was never made public. Mr Jele and his co-defendants had still not been brought to trial on the treason charge by the time of his death.’

At the time of Jele’s death, PUDEMO said in a statement, ‘The Swaziland royal regime has always been giving the international community the wrong information that political dissenters are not imprisoned, harassed and killed. And that Swaziland is a peaceful country. But here is a political activist getting killed for attending Workers Day and wearing a PUDEMO T-shirt.’ 

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015


It is hard to believe the police in Swaziland are serious in their intent to get the kingdom’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi to leave the house he has been holed up in for 11 days after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Ramodibedi who is in his luxury mansion in Mbabane with his wife and two adult children was allowed to send one of his sons out for food last Friday (24 April 2015) and it was reported that on Wednesday (28 April 2015) his maid delivered food to the family.

Ramodibedi, a native of Lesotho, reportedly faces 23 charges, including abuse of power. 

Two High Court Judges, Mpendulo Simelane and Jacobus Annandale, and the High Court Registrar, Fikile Nhlabatsi, have also been charged in connection with Ramodibedi’s case. They have appeared in court and been bailed.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported on Wednesday, ‘The movement, with ease, of some members of the CJ’s family in and out of his residence has left journalists wondering why the police were not using such opportunities to enter the house and arrest the CJ.’

Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba told the newspaper they were still waiting for negotiations between, Lesotho and Swaziland, to be concluded.
It is not known who is negotiating and about what.

Police officers have been camping outside the CJ’s house since Friday 17 April 2015. They said they would arrest Ramodibedi as soon as he came out of the house. There has been no attempt to enter the house forcibly, despite the comings-and-goings of people from the house.

The lack of action by the police is unusual. They have a deserved reputation for smashing their way into the homes of pro-democracy activists, often without warrants. 

There is speculation within Swaziland and on social media about the reasoning for the delay in effecting the arrest warrant. On Sunday (26 April 2015), the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in the kingdom, speculated that Ramodibedi was waiting until King Mswati returned to Swaziland from a trip to the Bandung Conference for Asian and African countries. 

The newspaper reported, ‘The chief justice is said to have stated that the only person he trusts was His Majesty the King.’ 

The newspaper did not say so but it is assumed that Ramodibedi thinks King Mswati will cancel the arrest warrant.

It is true that King Mswati personally appointed and re-appointed Ramodibedi to the post of Chief Justice and that Ramodibedi has been a loyal and vocal supporter of the King. But, it is not so clear that Ramodibedi still enjoys the King’s favour. The King rules over the judiciary and the Swazi Government which he hand-picks and it is inconceivable that the arrest warrant would have been issued without his permission.

One speculation is that the Chief Justice will be allowed to leave his house at the dead of night and escape into neighbouring South Africa.

Many observers find it hard to imagine that Ramodibedi, a personal appointee of the King, will be allowed to be tried in a court of law. The main charges against him are of abuse of power, but international observers will note that the (for now) alleged abuses were made on behalf of and for the benefit of the King.

If the spotlight is allowed to shine on Ramodibedi, it will shine also on the King.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Police in Swaziland said they would arrest anyone at this week’s May Day celebrations who ‘utter defamatory statements about authorities’.

But, they said they would to allow people to mark the day on 1 May.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch, reported on Tuesday (28 April 2015) , ‘Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Khulani Mamba said since this was an internationally recognised day, they would not hinder the celebrations by workers but would deal with those that would utter statements against authority.’

He added, ‘However, those that will utter defamatory statements about authorities will be arrested.’

This warning was aimed at people who advocate for democracy in Swaziland where no political parties are allowed to contest elections and opposition groups are banned as ‘terrorists’ under the controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008.

At the May Day celebrations in 2014, People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) President Mario Masuku and the party’s youth congress leader Maxwell Dlamini were arrested and charged with uttering seditious statements. They have been in jail for a year awaiting trial.

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