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Thursday, 21 May 2015

FREE POLITICAL PRISONERS: EURO MPs

The European Parliament has voted for the release of all political prisoners in Swaziland.

It also called for the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, to be monitored for its human rights record.

Members of the European Parliament (MEP) meeting in plenary session on Thursday (21 May 2015) called for the immediate release of Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu from jail in Swaziland. Maseko, a human-rights lawyer, and Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine were jailed for two years after writing and publishing articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.

MEPs said ‘their imprisonment relates directly to the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

They also called for the release of  all political prisoners, including Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, Secretary-General of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO).

A statement issued by the European Parliament said, ‘Parliament considers the imprisonment of political activists and the banning of trade unions to be in clear contravention of commitments made by Swaziland under the Cotonou Agreement to respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and also under the sustainable development chapter of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Economic Partnership Agreement, for which Parliament’s support will depend on respect for the commitments made.

‘It calls, therefore, on the Commission to honour its obligation to monitor Swaziland’s adherence to human rights and to labour and environmental conventions under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), and to open an investigation to determine whether there has been a serious and systematic violation of the labour rights protected under the GSP.’

The resolution was passed by 579 votes to six, with 58 abstentions. 

See also

JAILED DEMOCRATS NOW IN ISOLATION
JAILED WRITER TO GO TO HIGH COURT

DOCUMENTARY ON FREEDOM STRUGGLE

I could have died at any moment

Kenworthy News Media, 21 May 2015

 “One police officer came with a plastic bag and put it over my mouth and nose, and pressed very hard so that I couldn’t breathe. I could have died at any moment”, Bheki Dlamini says looking at the camera, close to tears, writes Kenworthy News Media.

The scene is from a new documentary, “Swaziland – Africa’s last absolute monarchy”, made by award-winning Danish investigative journalist Tom Heinemann.

The film describes the fight for democracy and socio-economic justice in the tiny sub-Saharan country through the eyes of Bheki Dlamini, a young activist and leading member of Swaziland’s largest banned political party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

Never misbehaved

Bheki never misbehaved as a child, his father says. He always did his chores at home. He got up at five in the morning and walked the 10 kilometres to school from his home in the rural town of Mpofu in northern Swaziland, and studied hard to fulfil his academic promise.


In fact it was at university, while studying Sociology and Public Administration, that Bheki really started questioning the doctrines and cultural codes of Swazi society.

“University changed my perception and how I looked on society through the different and diverse views from other students and lecturers who have been out in the world”, he says.

Wearing a t-shirt is terrorism

Bheki chose to act on his new-found beliefs by amongst other things helping organize civic education for poor and illiterate people in Swaziland’s rural areas.


But Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, not only demands total loyalty from his citizens, most of who survive on less than a dollar a day from handouts from the UN. He also makes sure that meetings that are deemed “political” are disrupted by police, who harass and beat up activists like Bheki, many of whom are subsequently tried with terrorism for trivial “offences” such as shouting “viva PUDEMO” or wearing a PUDEMO t-shirt.

After having had his home ransacked and been detained on several occasions, Bheki was arrested in 2010, tortured, and charged with terrorism for allegedly having committed arson against an MP and a police officer, crimes that he and his colleagues said he could not have committed.

Into the bigger prison

Bheki was in prison for nearly four years. He was kept in a filthy cell, no larger than five by twelve metres, 24 hours a day with up to 40 other inmates.


When the trial finally began, all charges against Bheki were quickly dropped and he was released. But as Bheki told the large crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse to great him upon his release, “I am moving out of the small prison into the bigger prison”.

A few months later he was forced to flee Swaziland, when the police tried to arrest him after he had given a speech on Mayday.

Make or break

“In life we face challenge”, Bheki’s father says in the film. “But it is how we respond to these challenges that will either make us or break us”.


And Bheki has chosen and stood by his response, even though it means he has had to flee Swaziland to live at a secret location in exile, away from his family. Or that he will almost certainly be arrested, tortured and charged with treason if he returns home.

“No matter what they do to me the fight continues” he says, unflinching and looking straight into the camera. “The state is afraid, so if we can push much harder it is going to succumb to our pressure”.

“Swaziland – Africa’s last absolute monarchy” premièred on May 20 in Copenhagen. The documentary will be screened on Danish national television channel DR2 on the 2nd of August. It has been submitted to several film festivals, including the Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival and Movies That Matter.


Bheki Dlamini is the President of the Swaziland Youth Congress, the youth wing of PUDEMO. He currently lives in exile at a secret location in South Africa. The Swazi police’s torture of him by way of “severe beatings and suffocation torture” was mentioned in Amnesty International’s 2011 Annual Report.

Tom Heinemann has won the Danish Outstanding Investigative Journalist of the year award twice, and has been runner up for Journalist of the year in Denmark three times. In 2007 he won the Prix Italia in the current affairs selection.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

UNIONS CALL TO END SWAZI REPRESSION

An international delegation of union leaders traveling in Swaziland is calling on the government to guarantee the rights of workers to freely form unions and exercise freedom of speech and assembly, and says repressive legislation used by police against union activities still has not been addressed by Parliament, even as the government continues to imprison human rights activists for exercising their right to freedom of speech, writes Tula Connell at Solidarity Center.

Led by Wellington Chibebe, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) deputy general secretary, the fact-finding group is looking into the ongoing government repression directed at Swazi union leaders and human rights proponents, and plans to issue a report to the ITUC and to several members of the European Parliament by the end of May.

Just days before the delegation arrived on May 14 2015, the Swaziland government announced it had registered the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), an action it has refused to take for the past three years.

But delegation members say they are not celebrating the action because the government “did not do more than it was supposed to do,” says Jos Williams, president of the AFL-CIO Metropolitan Washington Labor Council, speaking from Swaziland. “We do not see that as a victory of any kind.” Williams is among a six-member delegation that includes a representative from the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU).

In fact, two days after the government announced TUCOSWA’s official registration, police massed outside a meeting of TUCOSWA affiliates in a show of force, according to TUCOSWA Secretary-General Vincent Ncongwane.

“All that has been told (by the government) to the world is just playing to the public gallery,” Ncongwane says, while the reality of repression in a monarchical government that outlaws political parties continues. Twice this year, police have broken up TUCOSWA union meetings, injuring a union leader in the process. On May Day, brave union members held rallies despite a government ban on public gatherings.
The ITUC is demanding the government repeal anti-terrorism laws that enable it to imprison union leaders and others who call for democracy; provide full recognition of union activities in accordance with international laws; and support freedom of speech, assembly and association.

“The government must meet the demands the ITUC delegation has made if the ITUC is to give a favorable report by the end of the month,” Williams says. “From my standpoint, the actions of the government have not been very encouraging. Yes, they have recognized the union, but regarding the other demands we made, there has been no response.”

Delegation members also sought to visit political prisoners, some of whom have been held for two years. So far, says Williams, they “have gotten the run-around” in efforts “to see our comrades in jail and look at the conditions.” (You can sign a LaborStart petition demanding their release. If you Tweet, use the hashtag #SwaziJustice.)

In June 2014, the U.S. government took the rare step of suspending African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade benefits for Swaziland, citing the Swazi government’s systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, including refusal to legally recognize TUCOSWA. In addition, the 2014 U.S. State Department human rights report cited serious human rights violations in Swaziland, including arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents and severely restricted freedom of assembly, including violence against protestors.

Given the level of harassment and repression, Williams says he “came here seeking to encourage” union leaders, but instead found that “they are standing tall in the face of adversity.

“It is rewarding to me as a trade unionist to have drawn strength from these individuals.”

SWAZI KING SNUBS HIS OWN UNIVERSITY

Swaziland’s King Mswati III has once again shown his contempt for his own kingdom and the university he heads by sending his own children to be educated abroad.

The King, who is presently on tour of Taiwan, the home of the companies that control most of the textile sweatshops in Swaziland, stopped off at the Shih Chien University in Taipei to visit one of his sons, Prince Buhlebenkhosi, who is studying for a BSc in International Business Management.

The King, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch, is Chancellor of the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), which has a large business faculty, but clearly he has no confidence in the standards of education at the institution. What is good enough for his subjects is not good enough for his own children.

UNISWA has been complaining for many years of underfunding and some courses are likely to close.

In April 2015 it was reported that the university was ‘bankrupt’ and could not pay the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) an E60 million (US$6 million) Pay-As-You-Earn income tax debt.

Buhlebenkhosi is not the only one of the King’s children to have studied at university abroad. The king is estimated to have 25 children (so far) but we cannot be certain, because like the number of wives he has, this is information that the Swazi people are not allowed to know.

His eldest daughter, and first child, Princess Sikhanyiso graduated from Sydney University, Australia, in 2012 with a Masters in Digital Communication. She completed a bachelor degree at Biola University, in Los Angeles, California, in the United States. She also took acting classes while in the US.

Prince Bandzile Dlamini studied international relations at Zayed University, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

Meanwhile, ‘the King’s Office Correspondent’, writing in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported on Wednesday (20 May 2015), ‘Prince Buhlebenkhosi’s humble and courteous nature has earned him glowing accolades from his university’s administrators.’

The newspaper added, ‘The university’s President Michael Chen, said he had no doubt that Prince Buhlebenkhosi would be an asset to Swaziland.’

He added, ‘“It would not surprise me to see him sit as one of the top company executives in the near future.”’

See also

PRINCESS ON TV: BLUSHES ALL ROUND

Monday, 18 May 2015

KING’S AIRPORT LACKS DISASTER PLAN



News that the SADC Aviation Safety Organisation (SASO), which is responsible for overseeing all safety precautions in the aviation industry, is moving its operations to Swaziland should raise eyebrows because the kingdom itself has no safety plan in operation should a plane crash at the King Mswati III Airport.

This lack of a plan was first disclosed publicly as long ago as November 2010, more than three years before the airport, dubbed King Mswati’s ‘vanity project’, officially opened.

But nothing has been done to ensure passengers have a chance of surviving a crash on take-off or landing.

Musa Hlophe, coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, writing in his regular column in the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in the kingdom, on 28 November 2010, asked what would happen if an aircraft with (say) 400 passengers on board crashed at the airport?

He wrote, ‘Assuming that we expanded our country’s ambulance fleet to 200 and each one was able to get to Sikhuphe [the original name of the airport]within one hour, how could our hospitals manage with hundreds of extra patients in one day? The closest hospital will be Good Shepherd at Siteki which is not exactly state of the art and the nearest major hospitals are in Manzini and Mbabane. They are already all on their knees, struggling to cope with our current crises of TB, HIV&AIDS. 

‘Do our hospitals have a plan to cope with maybe 400 foreign people all needing bed spaces urgently? Do we have enough doctors and nurses trained in accident and emergency and most importantly do we have the necessary medicines, equipment and blood for this level of disaster? In a country that cannot even supply its own citizens with the proper drugs to prevent a child dying from rabies because of the bite of one dog - I doubt it. I doubt they could cope with fifty people never mind four hundred.

‘Sikhuphe’s business model to attract major foreign passenger carriers is already flawed because of the competition from four other regional airports within half a day’s drive - Kruger National in Mbombela (Nelspruit), Maputo in Mozambique, King Shaka in Durban and, of course, OR Tambo in Johannesburg. But what really stands out for me, as someone who has worked for businesses for a long time, is what little proper risk analysis has gone on here. Can you imagine an airline that wanted to carry rich western investors and tourists that would risk the lives of hundreds of its passengers? Can you imagine them ignoring the lack of medical systems, equipment, personnel or facilities to cope with even a relatively minor crash that required treatment of only a quarter of their passengers and staff?

‘If we adapt our medical systems to meet this need, will we take resources away from our families who are living with and dying from HIV&AIDS? So I ask a question that does not seem to have been considered in public before. How will the disaster plan for Sikhuphe affect the provision of health care for the rest of us? Will the health budget be diverted from the families of our sick and dying to allow for the imagined needs of strangers who will only stay a few hours in our country? Has Minister Xaba and his team even considered it - have they thought it through? What do they say to the foreign investors?’

The answers to Holphe’s rhetorical questions were, and remain, No. There is no plan in operation, nor is there any indication that anyone connected with the organisation of the airport or the Swazi Government is trying to create one.

Despite this obvious lack of a safety plan, Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) Director General Solomon Dube told the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, that SASO was moving its operations from Botswana to Swaziland because, among other reasons, ‘there was continuous surveillance to make sure that safety precautions were always observed in the aviation industry’. 

He also said SASO wanted to ensure ‘that there was severe punishment on any person or organisation that violated the safety standards in the aviation industry’.

On closer inspection it turns out that Swaziland’s civil aviation record was last audited in 2007 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - seven years before the new airport opened. ICAO found that Swaziland was only 16 percent compliant to the ICAO safety standards.

SASO based its decision to move to Swaziland on the results of this audit.

See also
U-TURN ON SUCCESS OF KING’S AIRPORT

DISASTER AT SIKHUPHE AIRPORT

PROOF: KING’S AIRPORT POINTLESS

Sunday, 17 May 2015

IMPOUNDED KING’S JET FINALLY RELEASED



King Mswati III of Swaziland’s private luxury jet, impounded by a court in Canada in a dispute over alleged unpaid debts, has been released after the Swazi Government paid US$3.5 million as a financial guarantee for the King.

The money was finally confirmed as deposited on 13 May 2015 after nearly a month of wrangling. It has not been independently verified but it has been reported that the Swazi Government, which is broke, had trouble raising the necessary money, which is about E35 million in emalangeni, the Swazi local currency.

To put this sum into context, the European Union gives Swaziland about E20 million a year to pay school fees for all children in grade one at Swaziland’s 588primary schools, as part of the kingdom’s free primary education programme.

The plane is believed to have left Canada on Friday (15 May 2015).

The jet had been attached in Ontario, Canada, by a court since January 2015 in a dispute about unpaid bills for upgrades and modifications to the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 (also known as an MD-87).

A company called SG Air has taken Inchatsavane, a Swaziland-based company which is solely-owned by King Mswati III, to court in Canada alleging it owes US$3.5 million for the work done on the jet.

The jet was attached by the court in Ontario. 

Attachment is a legal process by which a court of law, at the request of a person who is owed money, requires property owned by the person who owes the money to be transferred to the person who is owed the money, or sold for the benefit of the person who is owed the money.

The legal case has not finished, but the Ontario Court of Appeal said the jet could be released if Inchatsavane delivered a letter of credit for US$3.5 million which would be held in trust in a bank until the court case was concluded.

This guarantee would ensure that if SG Air won the case money would be available to pay the company the money it was owed.

The money has now been deposited. However, instead of coming from Inchatsavane or the King personally, it is understood the money was paid by Swaziland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. It this proves to be the case it would mean the people of Swaziland, rather than the King, who rules the kingdom as an absolute monarch, would be paying the King’s debt should he lose the court case.

The case of the unpaid debt returns to the Ontario Court of Appeal on 11 June 2015.

See also

SWAZI KING NOT ABOVE THE LAW IN CANADA

SWAZI KING IS ABOVE THE LAW

WHO PAID FOR SWAZI KING’S JET?

REVEALED: COST OF FLYING KING’S JET

SWAZI MPs CONFUSED OVER KING’S JET

REVEALED: DETAILS OF KING’S NEW JET

KING'S COMPANY AT CENTRE OF JET ROW

SWAZI KING ‘REFUSED TO PAY JET DEBT’

SWAZI KING’S JET HELD FOR UNPAID DEBTS

‘SWAZI KING TO BUY US$44m PRIVATE JET’

Saturday, 16 May 2015

CHIEF JUSTICE HEARING WILL BE PUBLIC


The inquiry into the alleged abuse of power by Swaziland’s suspended Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi will be held in public, it has been announced.

But, it is not clear whether Ramodibedi, who has been holed up in his house for more than four weeks after an arrest warrant was issued against him, will attend.

The arrest warrant against Ramodibedi was later withdrawn and he was suspended from office and summoned to appear before a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) hearing.

Acting Chief Justice Bheki Maphalala told the Saturday Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, Swaziland’s absolute monarch, the hearing would last for three days, starting 25 May 2015.

The paper reported that initially Ramodibedi had been served with 23 charges but these had now been consolidated and the number reduced.

The newspaper quoted Maphalala saying, ‘The JSC has decided that this will be a public enquiry into the allegations levelled against the chief justice. This is done in terms of section 158 of the Constitution.

‘Upon conclusion of the enquiry we will submit our report to His Majesty the King for his decision.’

The venue for the hearing has yet to be announced.

Ramodibedi has refused to accept his suspension and he is not expected to cooperate with the JSC.

Maphalala said if Ramodibedi failed to appear the hearing would go on without him. ‘If he decides not to attend, the JSC will proceed to lead listen to the witnesses who would be called in to give evidence of the said allegations.

‘It would be an unfortunate thing if he decides to miss an opportunity to defend those allegations levelled against him. The JSC will be forced to proceed with its report and forward its recommendations to the appointing authority [the King],’ he told the newspaper.

See also

CJ HAS HISTORY OF ABUSE OF POWER

SWAZI JUDICIAL CRISIS: KING’S WORD IS LAW

JURISTS: DEEP FLAWS IN JUSTICE SYSTEM