13 February 2013

Swaziland: 'Times' Censors Critical Report on King

The Times of Swaziland newspaper has misled its readers by censoring a report on the kingdom by international business consultants that criticised King Mswati III for the political crisis that has stagnated the economy and said protesters were calling for the king to give up his power as an absolute monarch.

The report said that if banned political parties were allowed to contest this year's national election and they won a majority of seats, 'it is possible that the king would respond by revoking the constitution and trying to rule by decree'.

The Times reported today (13 February 2013) that international consultants KPMG Services Proprietary Limited had issued a 'gloomy' report on the kingdom's prospects from 2012 to 2016.

According to the newspaper, KPMG predicted pro-democracy protests would take place in Swaziland over the coming year.

This is what the Times reported KPMG saying, 'Although the protests have been sparked by the fiscal crisis, they reflect a range of deeper-rooted issues: the mismanagement of public money and government's stubborn resistance to calls for democratic reform.'

But this is what KPMG actually said, 'Although the protests have been sparked by the fiscal crisis, they reflect a range of deeper-rooted issues: the extravagance of the royals and the political elite, the mismanagement of public money and the government's stubborn resistance to calls for democratic reform.'

Top of the list for the reasons behind protests in Swaziland were, according to KPMG, 'the extravagance of the royals'.

But, this was not the only distortion the Times made. It went on to say, 'The report states that in line with the democratic reform, the protesters had demands mainly being a switch from the Tinkhundla voting system under which political parties were not allowed to contest elections to a multiparty system.

"The resignation of Cabinet and the unconditional return of all political exiles," are the other demands which the report cites, and it states that such demands have been allegedly resisted by government.'

But in fact, the KPMG report actually said there were six demands. The Times did not give its readers the full list, which was, 'the downgrading of the powers of the king, Mswati III (these include the appointment of the Prime Minister, the cabinet and key advisory committees); a change in the political order from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy; less spending by the royals and the elite; the resignation of the cabinet; and the unconditional return of all political exiles. So far, the king has stubbornly resisted these demands.'

The Times went on to say, 'The report states that pro-democracy groups were divided on whether to continue boycotting elections under the Tinkhundla system of governance, which is a strategy that has had very little impact.'

But what KPMG actually reported was, 'Pro-democracy groups are divided on whether to continue boycotting elections under the tinkhundla system - a strategy that has had little impact. If these groups were to win a majority at the next parliamentary election, it is possible that the king would respond by revoking the constitution and trying to rule by decree.'

KPMG also said there were modernists who might do well at the election if parties were allowed to take part. 'If the modernists seemed likely to win a majority the risk of vote-rigging would be significant, as the royalists remain deeply averse to relinquishing power,' it said.

This is not the first time the Times of Swaziland group of newspapers has deliberately mislead its readers about international criticism of King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

On 21 October 2012 the Times Sunday published a report about a petition sent by a group in the United Kingdom called the Swaziland Vigil to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

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 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 Swaziland Vigil made it very clear that it was criticising 'absolute monarch King Mswati III'. The Times Sunday deliberately distorted the petition to deflect criticism away from King Mswati.

The Times of Swaziland is scared of King Mswati and knows that if it criticises the monarch he will close it down. In April 2007 the Times Sunday published a minor criticism of King Mswati, sourced from an international news agency.

The king went ballistic and told the Times publisher Paul Loffler he would close the paper down unless people responsible for the publication at the paper were sacked and the newspaper published an abject apology to the king. These things were done.

The Times Sunday and other media in Swaziland 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 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.

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