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Wednesday, 26 November 2014


A new report shows Swaziland spent about US$112 million on the military in 2013 and US$478 million over the past four years. 

In 2013 military spending amounted to 8.6 percent of all government, spending in Swaziland, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its Military Expenditure Database for 2014.

King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and the government he handpicks, refuse to publicly discuss military spending citing ‘national security’ issues as an excuse.

Swaziland is a tiny landlocked kingdom with a population of 1.3 million people and is not at war and there are no potential enemies at the borders ready to invade. Swaziland’s international obligations in the military arena are few, and Swazi troops are not expected to be deployed abroad anytime soon.

Despite the reluctance of the King and Government to discuss military spending it is possible to piece together a picture of what might be behind the large spending.

In 2011, the Swazi Government set aside more than E1 billion (US$100 million) for spending on the army and police force and the then Finance Minister Majozi Sithole admitted that the army was prepared for an uprising by the population in Swaziland.

This followed a series of prodemocracy uprisings in North Africa, leading to what became known as the ‘Arab Spring’. King Mswati was fearful something similar could happen in his kingdom.  A Facebook group calling itself the April 12 Uprising had already called for an overthrow of the King.

In February 2011, Sithole told an open stakeholder dialogue on the 2011-2012 budget and Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap, ‘Yes, we are spending a lot on the army but we are not anticipating what is happening in North Africa to come here,’ he said.

He added, ‘However, the army is there to avoid such situations.’ 

Sithole was responding to a question about why so much money was being spent on the army and police – the total budget for Swaziland in the year was only E10.7 billion. The budget for the army and police was the equivalent of about half the national budget deficit (E2.243 billion for the 2011/12 fiscal year). 
In 2009, the Swazi Government was revealed to be engaged in arms dealing by the United States. A diplomatic cable written by Maurice Parker, the then US Ambassador to Swaziland, and later published by WikiLeaks revealed that the UK Government had blocked an arms deal between a UK company Unionlet and the Swaziland Government because it feared their ‘possible use for internal repression’. 

The Swazi Government wanted to buy equipment worth US$60 million.

Among items listed for purchase were, ‘3 Bell Model UH-1H helicopters, FN Herstal 7.6251mm Minimi light machine guns, blank and tracer ammunition, armored personnel carriers, command and control vehicles including one fitted with a 12.7x99mm M2 Browning heavy machine gun and others fitted with the FN Herstal light machine guns, military ambulances, armored repair and recovery vehicles, weapon sights, military image intensifier equipment, optical target surveillance equipment, 620 Heckler & Koch G36E assault rifles, 240 Heckler & Koch G36K assault rifles, 65 Heckler & Koch G36E rifles, 75 Heckler & Koch UMP submachine guns 9x19mm, and 35 Heckler & Koch USP semi-automatic pistols’.

The Swaziland Government said it wanted the items to fulfil its United Nations ‘peacekeeping’ obligations in Africa.

The UK Government did not believe it and thought either the weapons would be used against the Swazi civilian population, or they were being bought in order to sell on to another country, possibly Iran. The UK Government blocked the deal.

In his diplomatic cable, Parker said, ‘The array of weapons requested would not be needed for the first phases of peacekeeping, although it is possible someone tried to convince the Swazi government they were required. The GKOS [Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland] may have been attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party such as Zimbabwe or a Middle Eastern country that had cash, diamonds or goods to trade.’

The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, which first broke the story, reported at the time, Swaziland had a poor human rights record which was criticised by the US state department in its 2009 report (the year the deal was to have taken place).

‘Government agents continued to commit or condone serious abuses, and the human rights situation in the country deteriorated. Human rights problems included inability of citizens to change their government; extrajudicial killings by security forces; mob killings; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees,’ the report said.

In the months before the attempted arms sale, Swaziland's government declared the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) the main opposition political party a terrorist organisation, and arrested its leader, Mario Masuku.

Once the cable became public in 2011, John Kunene, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, who signed the original deal in 2008, said the kingdom had never given up trying to buy the weapons.

The Swazi News, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reported (26 February 2011) that Kunene was still trying to broker a deal. 

In March 2011 Lutfo Dlamini, who was then Minister of Defence, denied the Wikileaks report and, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland, told the Swazi Senate there was at no stage where the country spoke of purchasing guns.  

The Swazi Observer reported him saying, ‘We never bought any guns anywhere and never spent E429 million. The information leaked was misleading, it was written by someone who had his own agendas.’

Clearly, Lutfo Dlamini was not telling the truth since Kunene had already confirmed that he was still trying to broker the deal.

In March 2011 Kunene was sacked from his job after a disclosure that the Umbutfu Swaziland Defence Force (the army) had run out of food to feed its soldiers. 

A month after the Wikleaks revelation about possible arms sales to the Middle East, the AFP news agency reported Swaziland was importing two containers of firearms through a Mozambican port. 

AFP quoted Mozambican state daily newspaper Noticias as its source. It reported the arms arrived in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, on a Panamanian vessel on 28 February 2011 from an unspecified country.

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Thursday, 20 November 2014


There are an estimated 6,700 people in Swaziland living in slavery, according to a global survey.

And, the response by the Swazi Government to the problem is ‘inadequate’, according to report publishers, the Walk Free Foundation, a global human rights organisation dedicated to ending modern slavery.

The Global Slavery Index 2014 estimates that in Swaziland, ‘The government response to modern slavery is inadequate, with limited and/or few victim support services, a weak criminal justice framework, weak coordination or collaboration, while little is being done to address vulnerability. There are government practices and policies that facilitate slavery. Services, where available, are largely provided by IOs/NGOs with little government funding or in-kind support.’

The report said, ‘Modern slavery involves one person possessing or controlling another person in such as a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal.’

It added, ‘Modern slavery is a hidden crime. It takes many forms, and is known by many names: slavery, forced labour, or human traffcking. All forms involve one person depriving another person of their freedom: their freedom to leave one job for another, their freedom to leave one workplace for another, their freedom to control their own body.’

This is the second annual Global Slavery Index. In 2013 it reported there were an estimated 1,302 people living in slavery in Swaziland. The reports publishers said the increase in numbers from last year were probably due to an improvement in the way information was collected, rather than an increase in slavery.

A separate report, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons, revealed that King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, uses forced child labour to work in his fields. ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the king. Swazi boys and foreign children are forced to labor in commercial agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country,’ the report from the US State Department said.

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Thursday, 13 November 2014


A trade union leader in Swaziland whose house was raided by 30 armed police officers has been charged with sedition after they allegedly found pamphlets from banned organisations.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), which is also banned in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and political parties are not allowed to contest elections, reported, that Sifiso Mabuza, the Deputy Secretary of Siteki Branch of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), appeared at Siteki Magistrates Court on Wednesday (12 November 2014) and was remanded back into custody until 24 November 2014.

The Swazi Observer newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, reported Mabuza was charged with contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA).

The newspaper said Mabuza was charged with supporting the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), which it described as ‘terrorists groups’. The charge said Mabuza was in possession of 87 pamphlets of SWAYOCO, and 71 pamphlets of PUDEMO.

PUDEMO is one of a number of organizations that are making a legal challenge to the STA to have it declared unconstitutional. The case is expected to be heard in Swaziland High Court in December 2014.

In the past people have been charged under the STA for a number of alleged crimes, including carrying banners displaying the names of banned organisations, wearing berets or T-shirts with slogans written on them, and praising individuals who have stood up for democracy.

The STA was introduced in November 2008 following an attempted bombing of the Lozitha Bridge, near one of the King’s 13 palaces in September that year.  

Shortly after the STA came into force Amnesty International and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBA-HRI) called for its immediate repeal or amendment.

More recently in June 2014, the United States withdrew preferential trade rights from Swaziland because, among other things, it had not amended the STA.

In 2009, Amnesty and IBA-HRI said a number of provisions in this Act were ‘sweeping and imprecise’.

They said in a statement that the Swazi Government warned of heavy penalties for ‘associating’ with certain groups, which had been declared to be terrorist ‘entities’ under the law. They said this was ‘contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty and of intimidation amongst a wide range of civil society organizations’.

The statement read, ‘Amnesty International and the IBA-HRI are gravely concerned that key provisions in this anti-terrorism law are inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights law and are already leading to the violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.’

The statement also said the offences under the STA were ‘defined with such over-breadth and imprecision that they place excessive restrictions on a wide range of human rights – such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly – without adhering to the requirements of demonstrable proportionality and necessity.’

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014


Swaziland is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced labour in agriculture, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons report revealed.

Swazi girls, particularly orphans, are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude primarily in the cities of Mbabane and Manzini; at truck stops, bars, and brothels in Swaziland; and in South Africa and Mozambique, the report from the United States State Department said.

King Mswati III uses forced child labour to work in his fields. ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the king. Swazi boys and foreign children are forced to labor in commercial agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country,’ the report added.

It added, ‘Traffickers utilize Swaziland as a transit country for transporting foreign victims from beyond the region to South Africa for forced labor. Some Swazi women are forced into prostitution in South Africa and Mozambique after voluntarily migrating in search of work.’

It concluded, ‘The Government of Swaziland does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.

The report shows little has changed in Swaziland in human trafficking. In 2009 the US State Department reported that women and children in the kingdom were bought and sold for sex, domestic servitude and forced labour. 

Mbabane and Manzini were again identified as the centres of trafficking of girls, particularly orphans, for sex. Swazi boys were trafficked for forced labour in commercial agriculture and market vending. Some Swazi women were forced into prostitution in South Africa and Mozambique after voluntarily travelling to these countries in search of work. 

In 2009, the The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reported that a form of serfdom existed in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The report said Swazis were forced to work without pay on projects determined by local chiefs (who are appointed by the king). These included agricultural work, soil erosion and construction and maintenance.

Swazis, seven in ten who live in abject poverty and earn less than two US dollars a day, are forced to work under the Swazi Administration Order, No. 6 of 1998, which makes it a duty of Swazis to obey orders and participate in compulsory works; participation is enforceable with severe penalties for those who refuse.

In October 2013 it was reported there were an estimated 1,302 people living in slavery in Swaziland. The report called the Global Slavery Index 2013 and published by the Walk Free Foundation stated, ‘Modern slavery includes slavery, slavery-like practices (such as debt bondage, forced marriage, and sale or exploitation of children), human trafficking and forced labour.’

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Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Swaziland Police are once again harassing progressives in the kingdom. The latest victim is Sifiso Mabuza, Deputy Secretary of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Siteki top branch.

About 30 armed police raided his home claiming they were looking for explosives. They found none.
Mabuza told local media the police questioned him about his union activities and threatened him.

Swaziland has a history of attacking workers’ rights. It has banned the workers’ federation, the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), broken up its meeting and harassed and arrested its leaders.

In September 2013, Swazi state police arrested all members of an international panel of experts who were due to meet to debate the role of trade unions in Swaziland. The meeting due to take place in Manzini was to be chaired by Jay Naidoo, founding General Secretary of COSATU and former Minister of Communications for South Africa.

In May 2013, in its annual report on Swaziland, Amnesty International reported, rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued to be violated in the kingdom. There were also ‘arbitrary arrests and excessive force used to crush political protests,’ the report stated, and ‘torture and other ill-treatment remained a persistent concern’ in Swaziland.
Amnesty noted that in May 2012 the African Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution ‘expressing alarm’ at the Swazi Government’s failure to implement previous decisions and recommendations of the Commission relating to the rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
These violations included the use by police of, ‘rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to break up demonstrations and gatherings viewed as illegal’.
In April 2013, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that recently Swaziland police and state security forces had shown ‘increasingly violent and abusive behaviour’ that was leading to the ‘militarization’ of the kingdom.

OSISA told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia, ‘There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections.’
In April 2013, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), two organiastions campaigning for democracy in the kingdom, in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a ‘private militia’ with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime. This was after about 80 armed officers broke up a public meeting to discuss the lack of democracy in the kingdom.


Swaziland’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe has called for a new law to further restrict the news media in the kingdom.

He said Members of the Swazi Parliament should create legislation as soon as possible to regulate the media.

He also said that unknown entities were funding the private media in Swaziland to encourage them to discredit the kingdom’s courts and Judiciary.

Shongwe was speaking during a debate of his ministry’s second quarter budget performance report by the House of Assembly Portfolio Committee on Monday (10 November 2014).

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, quoted him saying, ‘The media has an agenda to fight the courts and I wonder who is funding it.’ 

The newspaper added that he said there was nothing wrong with the Judiciary, stating that the media was just creating uncertainty, which would lead to the rest of the citizens not trusting the courts yet everyone depended on the justice system. 

Censorship and intimidation of media is rife in Swaziland where Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine and Thulani Maseko, a journalist and human rights lawyer, are serving two years in jail for writing articles critical of the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Nearly all radio and television stations are controlled by the state and news reports are heavily censored in favour of the King and the Royal Family.

In August 2014 Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Dumisani Ndlangamandla said the Swaziland Government would not let up on its control of state radio,  He said state media existed primarily to serve the interests of the state.
The Times reported that Shongwe said the media got away with a lot and published whatever they pleased because they knew that all they had to do was just issue a small retraction in the corner of page two.

‘The police, for example, are punished if they have wrongfully beaten up a person, but the media, just like lawyers in some instances, gets away with a lot,’ it quoted him saying.

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Monday, 3 November 2014


Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Swaziland Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has embarked on a campaign of misinformation about the state of the kingdom’s economy and its human rights record.

In an article published on the websites of both Foreign Policy Journal and the Harvard International Review, the Chief says the time for greater prosperity in Swaziland is nigh. He says the kingdom represents an, ‘increasingly attractive opportunity for foreign direct investment’.

In the article which has also been distributed on the African News Desk and Ein News websites, the Chief says that internationally there is, ‘a misrepresentation of the present position, and the opportunities available, within Swaziland’.

He writes, ‘Any notion that we are internally divided in our ambitions could not be further from the truth and suggests that certain western institutions may be referring to outdated, or even misguided, fact-books. Misinformation will serve only to hinder, as opposed to encourage, free enterprise in our country.’

The Chief, who was not elected to his office in Swaziland, where political parties are banned from taking part in elections, adds, ‘It is therefore important to recognize that present-day Swaziland is undergoing a sensitive and challenging process of economic revival.  And we are doing so while bringing about a new culture of governance and accountability.’

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

The Chief’s comments that greater prosperity is nigh came just before Tex Ray, the largest of the Taiwanese textile operations in Swaziland, announced it was retrenching 1,450 of its 1,700 workforce because it has no orders. Other Taiwanese-based textile firms are expected to follow suit in the next few weeks.

The background to this campaign of misinformation is that the United States announced in June 2014 that from 1 January 2015 Swaziland would no longer be able to export goods into the US tariff-free under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA). 

The decision was taken because after years of broken promises: the Swaziland Government had failed to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.
In a statement, a White House spokesperson said, ‘The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility comes after years of engaging with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights.’ 

The statement said after an ‘extensive review’ the US, ‘concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights. In particular, Swaziland has failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern is Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.

In his article Chief Mgwagwa says, ‘… we do feel that it is time for certain western institutions to carry out a fresh analysis of reality on the ground in our country.’

The true reality on the ground in Swaziland has been and continues to be well documented. Respected organisations as diverse as afriMAP, Amnesty International, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the US State Department, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Labour Start, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Freedom House, have reported human rights violations across all sectors of society, including the banning of prayer meetings, arbitrary arrests and abductions of pro-democracy campaigners and the banning of trade union activities.

In July 2014 the US State Department and organisations across the world criticised the jailing for two years of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko after they wrote articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

There is evidence that the Chief’s charm offensive might not be working. One correspondent to the Foreign Policy Journal website wrote, ‘Can you describe what your government will do to protect the freedom of association for the people of Swaziland? The United States has said it has engaged continuously with your government for years on this very topic, but you have not changed your stance.’

A different correspondent on the Harvard International Review website wrote, ‘The Chief and Minister is completely divorced from reality. Swaziland is not an “increasingly attractive place for foreign investment” In the last year it has lost thousands of jobs and income in textiles and minerals. No honest investor would touch the place without a very good reason. Officials want payments to get a business set up and the courts will not protect you if the Royal family want to interfere.

‘The US-Africa summit showed that Swaziland’s record on human and workers’ rights continued to be a disgrace and that as long as the government remained opposed to supporting them AGOA would not be re-instated. When the trade unionists returned from Washington the Prime Minister recommended that they be “strangled” for telling the truth about conditions in Swaziland and not buying into the government’s propaganda.

‘He talks about a culture of governance and accountability – this government is accountable to the King, not the people. It has openly ignored votes in parliament and is manipulating the courts. Elections are a joke where political parties remain banned.’

The correspondent concludes, ‘Gumedze’s job is to portray his nation in the most favourable light but this article goes beyond political spin into downright denial of reality. The more worrying question is does he believe it himself?’

The Foreign Policy Journal itself cautioned its readers on Gumedze, saying, ‘The views expressed are his own.’

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Sunday, 2 November 2014


The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III of Swaziland, is talking up the chances of the new airport that takes his name receiving a ‘prestigious accolade’ at the World Airport Awards.

The airport, formally known as Sikhuphe and now called King Mswati III (KMIII) International, opened in March 2014 but only received its first commercial flights the following October. 

The only airline to use the airport has been the part-government-controlled Swaziland Airlink. No other airline has said it will use KMIII which was built in a wilderness about 70km from the main towns of Mbabane and Manzini.

Despite the inactivity of the airport, the Swazi Observer reported, ‘Given the world-class architectural design of King Mswati III International Airport, surely the country’s newest pride can now contend for a regional accolade in the annual World Airport Awards.’

It went on to say the awards were, ‘the most prestigious accolades for the airport industry, voted by customers in the largest, annual, global airport customer satisfaction survey.’

Only a handful of customers have used KMIII, but the awards are based on 12.85 million customer nominations and include 410 airports worldwide.

The newspaper said the awards were based on customer satisfaction across ‘39 key performance indicators’ for airport service.

The fact that KMIII has next to no passengers might not matter. In 2011 the airport was shortlisted for the African Airport of the Year Award – and it had not even been built. It was nominated for its ‘infrastructure development, adoption of modern airport technology, adherence to safety and security standards, new routes and human capital development as well as good service delivery’.

The prize organisers said the ‘coveted awards’ were ‘the highest industry honours of excellence conferred on airports’. Allegedly, the award was made after ‘a competitive screening process by a panel of global airport experts’.

Somehow they were able to give the ‘airport’ marks that included ‘innovative ways of marketing to airlines [and] evidence of relationship with airlines’, even though there were no airlines using the airport, because the airport did not exist.

In October 2013 a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the airport was widely perceived as a ‘vanity project’ because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it seeks to serve.
In June 2013 an engineer’s report was published by the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa saying the structure of the airport was defected and large jet airlines would not be able to land,
In an analysis of the airport’s future, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) said there were still many serious questions about the sustainability of the airport including, ‘how will it lure additional airlines to use its services, how will it compete with the airports in Johannesburg and Maputo, and will it ever get close to its full capacity of 360,000 passengers each year - which is more than five times as many as currently used by the existing airport at Matsapha’.
In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said the airport should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland.
About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day.
King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
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