This past year saw national elections in Swaziland, but rather than heralding an opportunity for free and open debate about what kind of government the people wanted, the Swazi state continued to repress the population, using armed police and security forces to clamp down on political discussion. Throughout the year prayers were banned and meetings disrupted. Democracy leaders were harassed, arrested and charged with sedition for wanting to talk about democracy in Swaziland.
A preview of 2013, published by Swazi Media Commentary in January, looking forward to the expected national election (it eventually took place in September 2013) noted, ‘King Mswati rules as Swaziland sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and the “parliament” that will come into effect after the election is simply his plaything. He chooses the Prime Minister, the cabinet and most of the people who will sit in the Senate or House of Assembly. He has control of the judiciary and despite a “constitution” that came into effect in 2006 that purports to offer his subjects a Bill of Rights he enjoys complete control. No decisions can be taken without his permission.
‘As a consequence, political parties are banned and freedoms of speech, the media and association are severely curtailed. Seven in ten of the king’s one million subjects live in abject poverty earning less than US$2 a day, while he has13 palaces and a private fortune of at least US$200 million.
‘The US State Department reporting on human rights in Swaziland in 2011 said, “The three main human rights abuses were police use of excessive force, including use of torture and beatings; a breakdown of the judiciary system and judicial independence; and discrimination and abuse of women and children.
“Other significant human rights problems included extrajudicial killings by security forces; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community; harassment of labor leaders; restrictions on worker rights; child labor; and mob violence.”
There were no improvements on human rights in Swaziland in 2013: here is a month by month summary of repression in Swaziland.
Opponents of the Swaziland national election could face a charge of treason, Mzwandile Fakudze, deputy chair of the Elections Boundaries Commission (EBC), told the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati. In Swaziland, treason carries the death penalty.
About 60 Swaziland armed state police closed down a peaceful prayer meeting held by prodemocracy activists at the catholic cathedral in Manzini. It had been jointly organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). The prayer coincided with the launch of SUDF’s and SDC’s campaign for a people’s government and the call of for a boycott of the undemocratic nation election in Swaziland later in the year. Police, acting without a court order, said they broke up the meeting because the congregation wanted to sabotage the kingdom’s forthcoming election.
Swaziland’s King Mswati III was named as one of the world’s most predatory censors in a media freedom report published by Reporters Without Borders (RWB). King Mswati was among a group of six heads of state who, ‘are members of an exclusive club of authoritarian African leaders, some eccentric, others stern, who hold their countries in an iron grasp and keep a firm grip on news and information’. Swaziland ws placed at 155 among 179 nations in the world.
Swaziland’s three national security chiefs joined a growing number of the ruling elite to receive bullet-proof cars. Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) Commander Lieutenant Sobantu Dlamini, Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) Commissioner Isaac Magagula and His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) Commissioner Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase were reported to be in line to each receive BMW 2013 X5 cars at a total cost of E4 million (U$400,000.) They join about 20 members of the Swazi Royal family, headed by King Mswati III, who already have top-of-the-range Mercedes S600 Pullman Guard cars that can withstand an armoured missile assault.
Two men who threw stones at the car of Qethuka Dlamini, one of King Mswati III’s official ‘praise singers’, were jailed for 11 years and nine years. One of the men is said to have told Dlamini he detested him for working closely with the king.
The European Union (EU) told King Mswati he must allow political parties to operate in his kingdom. It said it was important that international principles of democracy were upheld in Swaziland, where the king rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The call came at the end of a two-day visit to Swaziland by an EU delegation.
The Industrial Court backed the government and declared the kingdom’s only labour federation illegal. It said that the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) was improperly registered. The row over the legality of TUCOSWA had been continuing since shortly after it was formed in March 2012, following the amalgamation of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL). TUCOSWA became embroiled in controversy after it declared it would not support the national election in Swaziland this year.
A ‘battalion of police officers,’ without a court order, stopped a prayer meeting in Swaziland’s main city Manzini, claiming it was illegal. The police, carrying batons, took control of the Caritas Centre and stopped a commemoration prayer called by TUCOSWA. Riot police later arrived to ensure that no prayers took place.
The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) condemned Swazi police for their ‘increasingly violent and abusive behaviour’ that was leading to the ‘militarization’ of the kingdom. It said in a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia things were so bad in the kingdom that police were unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent is a vital element of a healthy democratic process, and should not be viewed as a crime.
About 80 armed police, acting without a court order, blocked a public debate to mark the 40th anniversary of the Royal Decree made by King Sobhuza II in 1973 that turned Swaziland from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarchy. The SUDF and the SDC, the joint organisers of the meeting, said police told them the meeting, ‘presented a threat to national security’. Local embassies, church leaders, community organisations, the local and international media were among those invited to attend the meeting.
State security forces raided the homes of democracy activists and made arrests after Wonder Mkhonza, the National Organizing Secretary of the banned political party the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), was charged with sedition after being allegedly in possession of 5,000 pamphlets belonging to PUDEMO.
Student leader Maxwell Dlamini was charged with sedition because he allegedly tried to organise a meeting to discuss the forthcoming elections in the kingdom. He was alleged to have been one of the organisers of a rally at the Msunduza Township on 19 April 2013 (the same day as birthday celebrations were taking place for King Mswati III elsewhere in the kingdom).
Police refused to allow women in Swaziland to march in protest against gender-based violence. They told the women they could not march because police and the local chief did not want any noise ahead of the election soon to be held in the kingdom. The march at Siphofaneni was to protest at an incident in the area when a wife was paraded naked for three kilometres by her boyfriend after he accused her of being ‘promiscuous’.
Police across Swaziland prevented leaders of the campaign for democracy in the kingdom from attending May Day celebrations. Mario Masuku, president of the banned PUDEMO, was taken in by police after he refused to obey instructions not to leave his house. Muzi Mhlanga, the secretary general of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) was also illegally placed under house arrest by police. They had neither a court order nor warrant. Earlier in the week the Swazi Industrial Court banned TUCOSWA from organising May Day activities. The court said TUCOSWA was not a legally-recognised labour organisation.
Armed police stopped a youth group from holding an election workshop at a local church.
The workshop organised by the Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation, also known as Luvatsi, was due to be held in Sidvokodvo. The police had no warrant or court order, but were acting on instructions of their station commander, local media reported. The workshop was to cover the election due in Swaziland this year, human rights and democracy.
Police fired live bullets and teargas as children protested against alleged corruption at their school. It happened at Mhubhe High School in Ngculwini when police were called after school pupils boycotted classes. Local media reported police were armed with rifles and pistols. Gun shots were fired at the pupils after police drove them away from the school, but they tried to return.
Three members of the pro-democracy group SWAYOCO charged with sedition for carrying a banner at an election rally in Swaziland reported they had been beaten up while in the Sidvwashini Correctional Facility awaiting trial. They told magistrates they feared for their safety.
Police in Swaziland were caught spying on the kingdom’s members of parliament. One officer disguised in plain clothes was thrown out of a workshop for MPs and one MP reported his phone has been bugged. The revelations came as international organsations criticised the way police and security services are used by the ruling elite in Swaziland to undermine opposition to the regime headed by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Swazi security forces monitored some of the candidates nominated to contest the Swaziland national election because they were members of a political party. The Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) reported that some of its members, who were nominated earlier this month were being scrutinised by state security forces.
Musa Dube, deputy general secretary of the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), was arrested and charged with sedition for possessing and distributing leaflets published by the CPS at Kakhoza in Manzini as part of a campaign to boycott the election being held this month in the kingdom.
People in Swaziland were prevented from freely discussing issues in the run up to the election, a report from polling observer, Election Network which operates under the Swazi-based Coordinating Assembly of Non-governmental Organisations (CANGO), said. ‘Civil society meetings were crushed, including prayer meetings.’ It added, ‘With no enjoyment of the rights to access information and also exchange information, freedom to associate, freedom of movement and freedom of speech it has become difficult for citizens to canvass issues.’
Vincent Ncongwane, secretary general of the banned union federation TUCOSWA, was arrested at his office by at least 10 police officers to stop him taking part in a democracy march. Police took him to his home where he was put under house arrest. The march was part of a week of campaigning in Swaziland and abroad to draw attention to the lack of democracy and human rights in the kingdom.
Swazi police, acting without a court order or warrant, arrested all members of an international panel of experts, including Jay Naidoo, former Minister of Communications for South Africa, who were due to meet to debate the role of trade unions in Swaziland. They were expected to highlight the role and responsibility of trade unions and civil society in fighting against the violation of fundamental rights in Swaziland. Swaziland’s police chief Isaac Magagula said the panel was trying to cause ‘anarchy and instability’ in the kingdom.
In another clampdown on free speech ahead of the election, a sugar cane farmer was charged with sedition for allegedly making unfavourable comments about King Mswati. Allen Nkululeko Mango, aged 48, of Manzini, was alleged to have made comments against the King near the offices of Vuvulane Town Board. The charges said that Mango, ‘wrongfully and unlawfully made comments which brought hatred or contempt against the King of Swaziland, King Mswati III so that he can be hated by his subjects at Vuvulane.’
None of the major office holders in King Mswati’s new parliament in Swaziland was elected by the people. The Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, the President and Deputy President of Senate were all appointed by the King. In addition King Mswati appointed six members of his own family to the Senate and a further six to the House of Assembly.
Commonwealth observers called for Swaziland’s Constitution to be rewritten after they concluded the kingdom’s national election in September was not entirely credible. The call came in the official report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission which said members of parliament ‘continue to have severely limited powers’ and political parties were banned. It called for King Mswati’s powers to be reduced.
Fewer than one in four people in Swaziland said they were completely free to say what they think, new research published by Afrobarometer showed. That put Swaziland 29th out of 34 African countries surveyed.
A newly-appointed chief in Swaziland threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a fine the equivalent of more than six months income for many. Chief Ndlovula of Motshane told residents if they do not each pay a fine of E5,000 (US$500) their homes would be destroyed. In Swaziland seven in ten people earn less than E20 a day. The chief stands to make about E5 million if the fines are paid. He said his subjects illegally built homes on land put aside for grazing.
Children in Swaziland were being used as forced labour to tend the fields of King Mswati, an international report on human trafficking said. Chiefs in rural areas who represent the monarch, ‘may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the king,’ the report from the US State Department revealed. The report also said, ‘Swazi girls, particularly orphans, are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude in the cities of Mbabane and Manzini, as well as in South Africa, Mozambique, and the United States.’
Swaziland police, acting without a warrant or court order, broke up a screening of a documentary The King and the People which was critical of King Mswati III and detained the owner of the studio. The screening at the Christian Media Centre in Manzini had been organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front. About 50 people had gathered to watch the documentary.
Armed police raided the dormitories at the Kwaluseni campus of the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), teargasing students and arresting and beating their leaders. It followed peaceful complaints from students about the end-of-semester examinations that were taking place. Later, armed police stood guard outside examination halls as the UNISWA Administration attempted to hold the exams.
About 30 armed police broke up a church service held to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela. The service at the Lutheran Church in Manzini was organised by SUDF. It wanted to mourn Mandela and also to draw attention to the lack of democracy in Swaziland.
Two thirds of Swazi people want the kingdom to become a democracy, research published this month revealed. And, they want to choose their own leaders, ‘through honest and open elections’. They also strongly disapprove of allowing King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch, to decide on everything in Swaziland. The research was conducted by Afrobarometer.
Three months after the national election in Swaziland took place the full final results have not been published.