Tuesday, April 24, 2018


The Government in Swaziland has been monitoring private online communications for some years without legal authority, a new report discloses.

These include internet blogs, email and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and internet chatrooms.

Telephone conversations have also been monitored.

This is reported by the United States in a review of human rights in Swaziland, just published.

The revelations add weight to anecdotal evidence circulating in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are barred from taking part in elections and prodemocracy groups are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The report from the US State Department looked at events in 2017. It stated, ‘There were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.’

It referred to a document called the Private and Cabinet First Quarter Report of 2015, in which, ‘the government press office stated that authorities monitored internet blogs, email, and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and internet chat rooms’.

The US report added, ‘Members of civil society and prodemocracy groups reported the government monitored email, Facebook, and internet chat rooms, and police monitored certain individuals’ telephones. 

‘Individuals who criticized the monarchy risked exclusion from the patronage system of the traditional regiments (chiefdom-based groupings of men dedicated to serving the King) that distributed scholarships, land, and other benefits. Both undercover and uniformed police appeared at labor union, civil society, arts, and business functions.’

The report stated that in Swaziland, ‘The law severely restricts free speech and gives police wide discretion to detain persons for lengthy terms without trial or public hearing. Those convicted of sedition may be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. 

‘The King may suspend the constitutional right to free expression at his discretion, and the government severely restricted freedom of expression, especially regarding political issues or the royal family.’

It added, ‘Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Journalists expressed fear of judicial reprisals for their reporting on some High Court cases and matters involving the monarchy. Daily newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency but generally avoided criticizing the royal family.’
Radio and television stations, it stated, ‘practiced self-censorship and refused to broadcast anything perceived as critical of the government or the monarchy’. 

In March 2018, Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini hinted the government might try to restrict access to social media.

He told Senators there was nothing police could do ‘at the moment’ about posts on sites such as Facebook. The Swazi Observer reported (28 March 2018), ‘The premier told the senators that all countries in the world were concerned on whether social media was good for development or not.’
He was speaking during a debate about how video footage showing the murder of businessman Victor Gamedze who was shot dead in a petrol station appeared on social media.

The Swazi Government has a history of hostility to social media. In 2011, Dlamini said it was important to keep information published on Facebook away from the Swazi people. ‘If such stories from these websites then make it to the newspapers and radios, then the public at large will start to think there is some truth in the story yet it was just malicious gossip,’ the Times of Swaziland reported him saying at the time. 

He was commenting after information about a cabinet minister had appeared on social media.
In the run up to April 2011 a group used Facebook to try to drum up support for an ‘uprising’ for democracy in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The Government threatened the online activists with prosecution.

In May 2011, the Times of Swaziland reported Swaziland had specially ‘trained officers’ to track down people who used  Facebook to criticise the Swazi Government. Nathaniel Mahluza, Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology, said the government was worried by what the newspaper called ‘unsavoury comments’ about the kingdom being published on the internet. 

Academic research published in 2013 suggested that people in Swaziland used the Internet to communicate with one another and share information and ideas about the campaign for democracy, bypassing the Swazi mainstream media which was heavily censored. They debated and shared information about activities designed to bring attention to the human rights abuses in the kingdom.

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News that a father in Swaziland tied his 11-year-old daughter to a house pillar and thrashed her with a pipe until she became unconscious shines a focus on the constant ill treatment of children in the kingdom.

He did it as a punishment because she had arrived late home from school.

UNICEF the global children’s organisation estimates nearly nine in ten children in Swaziland suffer ‘violent discipline’.

In a report of a national survey published in August 2017, UNICEF stated ‘violent discipline in the home, which includes physical punishment and psychological aggression, affects more than 88 per cent of all children in Swaziland.

‘The study findings also reveal that sexual violence and bullying affects 38 percent and 32 percent of children in Swaziland, respectively. The study found that children experiencing one type of violence were more likely to experience other types of violence. 

‘One staggering statistic to emerge from the data revealed that for every girl child known to Social Welfare as having experienced sexual violence, there are an estimated 400 girls who have never received help or assistance for sexual violence.’

UNICEF reported one of the ‘drivers’ of violence against children was Swazi culture. It stated, ‘The widely accepted notion of keeping family matters private to protect the family or community over the individual was repeatedly cited as a driver of violence and was also found to be a factor dissuading individuals from intervening when they suspect a child is abused.’

Article 29(2) of the Swaziland Constitution 2005 states ‘a child shall not be subjected to abuse or torture or other cruel inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment subject to lawful and moderate chastisement for purposes of correction’. The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act 2012 however provides for ‘justifiable’ discipline.  

Corporal punishment was banned in Swazi schools by the Ministry of Education and Training in 2015, but caning continues. There are many reports from across Swaziland that pupils have been brutalised by their teachers.

In a debate in the Swazi Parliament in March 2017 members of parliament called for the cane to be brought back into schools. The MPs said the positive discipline adopted in schools was causing problems for teachers because they no longer knew how to deal with wayward pupils. 

There had been 4,556 cases of ‘severe corporal punishment’ of children in Swaziland’s schools over the previous four years, Star Africa reported in March 2016.

Corporal punishment is everywhere in Swaziland. In 2014, more than 30 girls were thrashed with a cane because they did not dance half naked in front of Swaziland’s King Mswati III. They were beaten so badly some needed treatment from paramedics. The girls, described in local media as ‘maidens’, were expected to take part in a ‘Reed Dance’ at Mbangweni Royal Residence in the Shiselweni region of the kingdom.

In October 2017 it was reported the Swaziland Government was being sued for E2.5 million (US$185,000) after a child was maimed by a teacher who was dishing out corporal punishment.
In 2011, Swaziland was told by the United Nations Human Rights Periodic Review held in Geneva it should stop using corporal punishment in schools, because it violated the rights of children. 

The United Nations Human Rights Periodic Review received a report jointly written by Save The Children and other groups that corporal punishment in Swazi schools was out of control. The report highlighted Mhlatane High School in northern Swaziland where it said pupils were ‘tortured’ in the name of punishment. 

In 2005 The International Save the Children Alliance published research into Swazi children’s experiences of corporal punishment.

In a survey, 20 percent of children reported being hit with a hand and 59 percent of children reported being beaten with an object at school during a two-week period. In schools, children are most often hit with the hand, sticks, canes, sjamboks and blackboard dusters. 

Children reported being subjected to corporal punishment at school due to making a noise or talking in class, coming late to school, not completing work, not doing work correctly, failing tests, wearing incorrect uniform items, dropping litter, losing books or leaving them at home.

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