opinionBy Richard Rooney
The Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, distorted a story about UK Prime Minister David Cameron and freedom and democracy in the kingdom, to deflect criticism away from King Mswati III.
The newspaper carried a report this week (21 October 2012) saying that Cameron had responded to a petition from the Swazi Vigil, a prodemocracy group in the UK.
According to the Times Sunday, the petition read in part, 'Exiled Swazis and supporters urge you to put pressure on (the Swazi government) to allow political freedom, freedom of the press, rule of law, respect for women and affordable AIDS drugs in Swaziland.'
The newspaper inserted the words 'the Swazi government' into the petition to make it seem that it was Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and his cabinet that was being criticised.
In fact, the petition sent to Cameron in May 2012 actually read, 'Petition to the British Government: Exiled Swazis and supporters urge you to put pressure on absolute monarch King Mswati III to allow political freedom, freedom of the press, rule of law, respect for women and affordable AIDs drugs in Swaziland.'
The Swazi Vigil made it very clear that it was criticising 'absolute monarch King Mswati III'.
The Times Sunday and other media in Swaziland, where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, constantly mislead their readers and audiences about how King Mswati is viewed outside his kingdom. In May 2012 there was widespread criticism against King Mswati's invitation to join a lunch in London to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.
There were street demonstrations in London against the king and prodemocracy campaigners drew attention to the lack of freedoms in Swaziland and the lavish lifestyle the king enjoys, while seven in ten of his subjects languish in absolute poverty, earning less than US$2 a day.
Inkhosikati LaMbikiza one of the king's 13 wives who accompanied him to the lunch wore shoes costing £995 (US$1,559), the equivalent of more than three years' income for 70 percent of Swazi people. The total cost of the King's trip was estimated to be at least US$794,500.
The Times, the companion paper to the Times Sunday, reported at the time that Inkhosikati LaMbikiza had 'rave reviews' from the Daily Mail newspaper in London for her dress sense, but omitted to say the same newspaper also reported, 'Guests from controversial regimes include Swaziland's King Mswati III, who has been accused of living an obscenely lavish lifestyle while many of his people starve.'
There was similar criticism a year earlier in April 2011 when King Mswati went to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The Times newspaper in South Africa reported at the time, 'The controversial absolute monarch, whose country is ranked among the poorest in the world, spent much of this week playing hide-and-seek with prodemocracy demonstrators tailing him across London.' The king was forced to change his hotel to avoid pickets.
The Swazi media failed to report any of this, but did say that King Mswati had been welcomed by business people in the UK.
Cameron told the Swazi Vigil he would pass on their petition to the relevant UK Government department.