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Wednesday, 24 January 2018


Swaziland continues to repress political dissent and disregard human rights and the rule of law, the latest international report on freedom in the kingdom reveals. 

Human Rights Watch in its review of 2017, just published, adds the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised and repressive laws continue to be used to target critics of the government and King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The report states, ‘In September, King Mswati told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Swaziland is committed to peace and a decent life for all. He said his government grants every citizen an opportunity to voice their views in order to constructively contribute to the social, economic, cultural, and political development of the country. He failed to mention, however, the recently passed amendments to the Public Order Act, which allow critics of the King or the Swazi Government to be prosecuted, and upon conviction be fined E10,0000 (US$770), imprisoned for two years, or both for inciting “hatred or contempt” against cultural and traditional heritage.’ 

The amendments to the Public Order Act grant sweeping powers to the national commissioner of police to arbitrarily halt pro-democracy meetings and protests, and crush any criticism of the government.

Human Rights Watch states, ‘Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continued. The government took no action to revoke the King’s Proclamation of 1973, which prohibits formation and operations of political parties in the country. The police used the Urban Act, which requires protesters to give two weeks’ notice before a public protest, to stop protests and harass protesters.’

King Mswati is above the law, Human Rights Watch states. ‘The constitution provides for equality before the law, but also places the King above the law. A 2011 directive, which protects the King from any civil law suits, issued by then-Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi after Swazi villagers claimed police had seized their cattle to add to the king’s herd, remained in force in 2017.

‘The Sedition and Subversive Activities Act also remained in force in 2017. The act restricts freedom of expression by criminalizing alleged seditious publications and use of alleged seditious words, such as those which “may excite disaffection” against the King. Published criticism of the ruling party is also banned. Many journalists told Human Rights Watch that they practice self-censorship, especially with regards to reports involving the king, to avoid harassment by authorities.’

Earlier this month (January 2018), Freedom House in its own review of human rights in Swaziland during 2017 declared the kingdom to be ‘not free’. It said civil liberties had deteriorated in the past year. Freedom House reported,Swaziland’s civil liberties rating declined from five to six due to increased government infringements on religious freedom and freedom of private discussion.’

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Thursday, 18 January 2018


Civil liberties in Swaziland have deteriorated in the past year, a leading global freedom group has reported.

Freedom House reported,Swaziland’s civil liberties rating declined from five to six due to increased government infringements on religious freedom and freedom of private discussion.’

The organisation said this in the Freedom in the World 2018 report just released. On a scale from one to seven where seven is the least free, Swaziland scored 6.5 on freedom; seven on political rights and six on civil liberties. It scored 16 out of 100 in total and Freedom House reported Swaziland was ‘not free’.

It has yet to release a detailed report on human rights in Swaziland for the past year. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. 

Freedom House is not the only organisation to issue annual reports on freedom in Swaziland. The United States State Department in its most recent report published in 2017 and covering 2016 stated, ‘The principal human rights concerns are that citizens do not have the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot; police use of excessive force, including torture, beatings, and unlawful killings; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; and discrimination against and abuse of women and children.

‘Other human rights problems included arbitrary killings; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community and persons with albinism; mob violence; harassment of labor leaders; child labor; and restrictions on worker rights.’

Human Rights Watch in its report on events in Swaziland in 2016 stated Swaziland, ‘continued to repress political dissent and disregard human rights and rule of law principles in 2016. Political parties remained banned, as they have been since 1973; the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised, and repressive laws continued to be used to target critics of the government and the king despite the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteeing basic rights.’

In May 2017 the global charity Oxfam named Swaziland as the most unequal country in the world. The report called Starting With People, a human economy approach to inclusive growth in Africa detailed the differences in countries between the top most earners and those at the bottom.

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Wednesday, 17 January 2018


Game rangers in Swaziland reportedly shot dead a man who was handcuffed in another case that underlines the zero-tolerance, shoot-to-kill policy against poachers in the kingdom.

The Sunday Observer newspaper reported (14 January 2018) that the latest shooting involved a man identified only as Zwane. He died on the spot after being shot in the abdomen at close range while handcuffed by rangers.

It happened at a private farm known as ka Skeepers in Lavumisa. The newspaper reported two men had been found loitering next to the farm around 1am and in possession of two protected game, namely inyala and a wild bird. The other man was shot in both legs but survived his injuries and is in Mbabane Government Hospital awaiting an operation to remove about 13 small bullet pellets of a 12 bore shotgun from his right leg.

The man, Mxolisi Mbhamali, aged 22, of Lavumisa told the newspaper he and Zwane had been poaching and were outside of the farm when trouble started.

The newspaper reported him saying, ‘We were outside of the farm and inspecting our car which had developed mechanical faults. As we were still busy with the car, we saw two people approaching us and Zwane whistled to alert them to assist us with the vehicle. Little did we know that the people we were alerting were actually farm rangers. There were three of them, two were carrying guns while the other a sjambok. Zwane was carrying a gun and they confiscated it from him before handcuffing us.’

The newspaper reported, ‘Mbhamali said while they were still pleading with the rangers to forgive and let them go, one of them pulled the trigger and shot Zwane on the abdomen at close range.’

Mbhamali said, ‘Zwane fell into the ground and the ranger turned and shot me on both legs several times. I rolled on the ground and disappeared into the thick bushes. I thereafter heard them calling the police on their mobile phones.’

Shootings by game rangers in Swaziland have attracted international attention. In 2017 a United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) questioned Swaziland about a law that gives game rangers immunity from prosecution for killing any person suspected of having poached and Survival International reported Swaziland ‘appears’ to have a shoot-on-sight policy that allows game rangers to kill suspected poachers.

The HRC asked the Swaziland Government to explain the Game Act (No. 51/1953) as amended in 1991, which gives conservation police personnel (game rangers) immunity from prosecution for killing any person suspected of having poached.

In April 2017, Survival International wrote to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, saying Swaziland ‘appears’ to have a shoot-on-sight policy that allows game rangers to kill suspected poachers.

In its letter it said, ‘We say “appears” because usually the policy is not defined by any law, or even written down.  As a consequence, nobody knows when wildlife officers are permitted to use lethal force against them, and it is impossible for dependents to hold to account officers whom they believe to have killed without good reason.’

Stephen Corry, Survival International Director, said the shoot-on-sight policy directly affected people who lived close to game parks and guards often failed to distinguish people hunting for food from commercial poachers.   

There has been concern in Swaziland for many years that game rangers have immunity from prosecution and can legally ‘shoot-to-kill’.

In 2016, the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) reported to a United Nations review on human rights in Swaziland, ‘There are numerous cases where citizens are shot and killed by game rangers for alleged poaching as raised by community members in several communities such as Lubulini, Nkambeni, Nkhube, Malanti, Sigcaweni, and Siphocosini. 

‘In terms of Section 23 (3) [of the Game Act] game rangers are immune from prosecution for killing suspected poachers and empowered to use firearm in the execution of their duties and to search without warrant,’ SCCCO told the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland in a report.

In January 2014, Swaziland’s Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula said rangers were allowed to shoot people who were hunting for food to feed their hungry families.

Commissioner Magagula publicly stated, ‘Animals are now protected by law and hunting is no longer a free-for-all, where anybody can just wake up to hunt game whenever they crave meat.’ 

He told a meeting of traditional leaders in Swaziland, ‘Of course, it becomes very sad whenever one wakes up to reports that rangers have shot someone. These people are protected by law and it allows them to shoot, hence it would be very wise of one to shun away from trouble.’

His comments came after an impoverished unarmed local man, Thembinkosi Ngcamphalala, aged 21, died of gunshot wounds. He had been shot by a ranger outside of the Mkhaya Nature Reserve. His family, who live at Sigcaweni just outside the reserve’s borders, said he had not been poaching. 

Campaigners say poor people are not poaching large game, such as the endangered black rhinos, but go hunting animals, such as warthogs, as food to feed themselves and their families. Hunger and malnutrition are widespread in Swaziland where seven in ten of King Mswati’s subjects live in abject poverty. Many are forced to become hunters and gatherers to avoid starvation.

King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has given game rangers permission to shoot-to-kill people suspected of poaching wildlife on his land and protects them from prosecution for murder in some circumstances.

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Monday, 15 January 2018


A controversial businessman with links to Swaziland’s autocratic King Mswati III was assassinated at a petrol station in the kingdom.

Victor Gamedze was shot twice in the head at the Galp filling station in Ezulwini on Sunday (14 January 2018).

Gamedze was the chairman of Swazi Mobile, a new telecoms company in Swaziland. It was surrounded by allegations of corruption and money laundering. King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was accused of being in collusion with Gamedze and the Zambian President Edgar Lungu in a deal to establish a mobile phone company in Zambia using Swazi Mobile as a cover.

Swaziland is a secretive state where media are censored and it is difficult to uncover the true nature of Swazi Mobile. It is known that the company was awarded a licence to provide mobile phone services that started in July 2017. It beat other companies for the contract although it had no experience in the mobile phone business. Unusually in Swaziland, the company was swiftly launched only five months after the licence was given.

Within three months of the launch Gamedze told media in Swaziland the company had a stock value of E1.2 billion (US$98 million).

In June 2017 a report appeared in the newspaper Swaziland Shopping stating that King Mswati and Gamedze had forced Swaziland’s government to side-line rival parastatal Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) from competing with Swazi Mobile. It said King Mswati and Gamedze had shares in Swazi Mobile.

The African News Agency reported the editor of Swaziland Shopping Zweli Martin Dlamini received a death threat. It reported Dlamini saying, ‘Shortly after publishing the story, I received a threatening call from Gamedze that lasted for 20 minutes where he vowed to “deal with me”. Later Communications Minister Dumsani Ndlangamandla summoned me to a meeting and told me that the King was not happy with the story and had ordered that the newspaper should be closed.’

Swaziland Shopping was closed by the Swazi authorities who claimed that it had not been properly registered even though the newspaper had been published since 2014 with no problem.

Dlamini fled to South Africa fearing for his life.

Meanwhile, media in Zambia have been reporting on meetings between King Mswati and President Lungu to set up a fourth mobile phone company in Zambia to be owned by the pair using proxies.

Gamedze was murdered in full view at a petrol station on Sunday at about 7pm. A witness told the Swazi Observer, ‘He started walking towards his car and then a man, wearing a white cap, followed him towards the car. When Gamedze was about to open his car door, the man withdrew his gun and placed it on the side of Gamedze’s head and shot twice. The man didn’t say a word. He just shot him. Gamedze went down while the man started walking towards a red VW Golf car which had been parked by the waiting room on the left side of the road heading to Mbabane.’

The Times of Swaziland reported two men were involved. ‘One of the gunmen, at close range, aimed the gun to Gamedze’s head and pulled the trigger. As soon as Gamedze hit the ground, the same gunman again aimed the gun at another side of his head and fired the second shot,’ it said.
The Observer said, ‘At the scene of the incident, senior Police officer Mxolisi Dlamini told journalists that the shooting looked like one that was planned well in advance.’

Police later said suspects linked to the shooting had been arrested while trying to cross into South Africa through the Lundzi Border post.

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Swaziland’s economy is in free fall and the infrastructure of the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch is crumbling. Government bills go unpaid and the health service is near collapse. There is no money to pay state pensions to those who reach the eligible age of 60 this year. Public servants have been on strike and look certain to do so again in the coming months. Members of the Swaziland Amy with the support of their commanders have systematically sexually assaulted women. The police routinely attack civilians and operate outside of the law. 

These are some of the stories reported in the latest edition of Swaziland: Striving for Freedom covering the final three months of 2017 and produced by the Swazi Media Commentary website. It is available to download free-of-charge from the Scribd website.

Swaziland came 50th out of 54 African countries for participation and human rights in a survey just published. It has got worse over the past five years. King Mswati meanwhile has been named as the third wealthiest monarch in Africa. He has also been accused of exploiting child labour on his farming land. A new report says more than 11,000 children in Swaziland are forced to stay away from school to tend cattle.

Swazi Media Commentary is published online, updated most weekdays. It is operated entirely by volunteers and receives no financial backing from any organisation. It is devoted to providing information and commentary in support of human rights in Swaziland.

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Sunday, 14 January 2018


Police in Swaziland say a murder suspect committed suicide by taking poison after they shot him in the ankle while chasing him.

It happened in Makhungutja after local residents claimed that police had not done enough to catch the alleged killer Bheki Dlamini.

The Swazi Observer reported on Thursday (11 January 2018) that Dlamini had been on the run since 30 December 2017 following an incident where he allegedly stabbed a woman to death at Malkerns.

The newspaper said that residents of Malkerns protested outside the local police post, demanding that the police take the matter seriously since the accused person was known to be in the area. The police raided the homestead in Makhungutja at 5am on Tuesday where the suspect was believed to be hiding.

The Observer reported the suspect saw the police vehicle approaching and fled.

It added, ‘The police fired warning shots trying to stop the suspect. It is alleged that the suspect didn’t stop.

‘Police are said to have then shot the accused in the ankle. however, it is said even after he was shot the accused ran back to the homestead where he was hiding and hid in one of the houses.

‘Seeing that he was cornered the accused is alleged to have taken weevil tablets and ended his life.
‘It is believed that the accused had been carrying the weevil tablets with him in his backpack.’

The newspaper said that the person who was living with the deceased said he never saw any weevil tablets.

Police Information and Communication Officer Khulani Mamba confirmed to the Observer that a suspect who was wanted for murder committed suicide by taking weevil tablets after he was shot in the ankle by police during a raid at the homestead where he was hiding.

Police in Swaziland have a long history of shooting suspects in unusual circumstances.

In August 2017 Siboniso Brian Mdluli, aged 22, who police wanted in connection with armed robbery was reportedly killed at point blank range in ‘cowboy style.’  His family demanded an inquiry saying Mdluli was assassinated by trigger happy police officers for no apparent reason.

In November 2015 police shot a man at close range after he overturned rubbish bins and then ran away from them. The Times of Swaziland, reported at the time that a 21-year-old man had been suspected of throwing rubbish in the road and pelting vehicles with stones. The newspaper said, ‘he was shot by police at close range after refusing to board their vehicle’.

A plain-clothed policeman shot an unarmed man in the back killing him while on a public bus in February 2014. The man had allegedly stolen some copper wire before boarding the bus, travelling from Siteki, in eastern Swaziland to Manzini. The Times Sunday newspaper reported at the time the driver of the bus Majahonke Zikalala said, ‘the man was attempting to force his way out of the bus, the police officer shot him in the back, near the spine… the man fell on the floor after which he was handcuffed while he bled’. He died of his injures at the scene.

In March 2013, Swaziland police shot a man dead in front of his 11-year-old child as he held his hands up in an attempt to surrender to them. Thokozani Mngometulu, aged 31, was killed as he got out of his car at his homestead in Dlakadla, in the Shiselweni region of Swaziland. Thokozani’s family, who also witnessed the killing, say he was shot in the pelvis at close range by a police officer.

In June 2012, a serial rapist suspect Bhekinkhosi Masina, popularly known as Scarface, was shot by police as they cornered him for arrest. Police say they only shot him in the thigh and he unexpectedly died of his injuries. The Times of Swaziland newspaper later revealed he had been shot six times, including in the head and back.

In July 2012, a mentally ill man, Mduduzi Mngometulu, aged 34,
was shot seven times by police and died of his injuries. He had four holes in his stomach, one in the leg and two bullet wounds on the left side of his chest.

These are not isolated incidents in Swaziland where police across the kingdom have a growing record of killing or maiming suspects before arrest. The cases have largely gone unreported outside of the kingdom itself.

In one example, police executed a suspect, Thabani Mafutha Dlamini, at Nkwalini in Hlatikulu in the presence of his colleagues and home boys
in what local media called ‘cowboy style’. The Swazi Observer newspaper reported the incident in December 2011 saying, ‘Police had previously warned the mother of the dead man to “budget for funeral expenses” as they intended to remove him. He was said to be on a police “wanted list”’. Dlamini was unarmed.

In a separate case in February 2011, a Swazi policeman shot Mbongeni Masuku, described in media as a Form IV pupil, in the head in what was later described as
‘an execution-style killing’. The killing happened outside a bar in Matsapha, an industrial town in Swaziland. Masuku’s uncle Sigayoyo Maphanga said Mbongeni had been dragged out of his car by police. He told the Swazi Observer, a policeman whom he named, ‘shot my nephew at the back of the left ear and he fell on the ground with blood oozing from his mouth and ears. We were all shocked and angered by such brutality from police officers.’ 

In May 2011, Mathende Matfonsi was shot dead by police while he was attending a field of dagga (marijuana) inside the remote forests of Lomahasha near the border with Mozambique. His family accused the police of ‘cold-blooded murder’. Matfonsi was shot dead at Ebhandeni, the same area where Nkosinathi Khathwane had previously been shot dead by soldiers at night.

In March 2010, police
shot a man as he was trying to surrender to them. This time the victim, Mncedisi Mamba, did not die. His mother Thoko Gamedze said Mamba had his hands up and was surrendering to police, but they shot him anyway.

It is not only crime suspects who get shot at. In June 2013, police
fired live bullets and teargas as children protested against alleged corruption at Mhubhe High School in Ngculwini Police were called after school pupils boycotted classes.

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Saturday, 13 January 2018


Media freedom advocates in Swaziland have criticised the kingdom’s top law officer for demanding a photojournalist give evidence for the police in a court case.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) described the move by the Director of Public Prosecutions as an attack on the journalism profession. 

Photojournalist Simon Shabangu of the Swazi Observer is being forced to give evidence on behalf of the police against two school teachers who are charged with a public disorder offence during a protest march in Mbabane in February 2016. Shabangu took photographs of the demonstration and the newspaper published some of them.

Mbabane Magistrates Court has issued subpoena compelling Shabangu to testify.

Vuyisile Hlatjwayo, Director of MISA – Swaziland, said forcing Shabangu to give evidence on pictures he took while in the line of duty would compromise the ethics of the journalism profession.

On Thursday (11 January 2018) the Swazi Observer reported him saying, ‘Not only that, members of the public would lose confidence in journalists if the state would be allowed to call them at any time to give evidence on activities undertaken while in the line of duty. 

‘This also has the potential of setting journalists against the public since people will no longer call the media to their events for the fear that they (journalists) would in turn testify against them in court. This is a very bad precedent we should all frown upon.’ he said. 

The case continues in February 2018.

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Wednesday, 10 January 2018


There are reports of disturbances in jails in Swaziland and inmates are accused of brutality against warders.

It is claimed that new inmates have formed gangs and warders from jails across the kingdom have been moved to two institutions at Sidwashini and Bhalekane to increase security.

One inmate at Bhalekane has asked a court to move him for his own safety.

There have been at least two incidents where inmates rioted because they were served with poor food. This was at Sidwashini and Bhalekane. At Sidwashini, media in Swaziland report, untrained warders were sent in to help restore peace. At Bhalekane one warder had to be taken to hospital after an alleged attack.

His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS), Commissioner General Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase told the Sunday Observer (7 January 2018) the officer was trying to serve breakfast to the inmates when they kicked the tray down and assaulted him on the head with an enamel dish. 

The newspaper reported Ntshangase saying, ‘The officer was severely injured and had to be taken to hospital. All this is part of the unlawful activities that the gang members are currently engaging in. One wonders why this officer was assaulted because he had not even provoked the inmates; he was innocently serving them breakfast and they pounced on him.’

He said members of gangs at Bhalekane vandalised property including beds to make handmade weapons to attack warders.

The Swazi Observer said on Wednesday (10 January 2018) there were ‘widespread reports of brutality’. It said security had been ‘beefed up’ in facilities, ‘where such acts of violence are rife’. 

The newspaper said one inmate through his lawyers was asking the courts to transfer him to another correctional facility. It said, ‘The inmate claims he no longer feels safe at Bhalekane and the matter is pending in court.’

It said warders stationed in institutions around the kingdom such as Nhlangano and Big Bend had now transferred to increase security at Sidwashini and Bhalekane.

Meanwhile, five inmates who are believed to be part of the controversial gang known as the 26s have been charged with common assault after they allegedly assaulted another inmate at Zakhele remand centre. They allegedly beat him with fists and kicked him before stabbing him with a toothbrush.

They appeared at Manzini Magistrate’s Court where they said they had been denied the opportunity to get a lawyer. They were remanded back into custody.

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