Swaziland: Criticism of Swazi King Censored

The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland has been caught out censoring one of its regular writers because he made mild criticisms of King Sobhuza II, the father of the kingdom's present autocratic king.

Musa Hlophe, who is the coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, a prodemocracy group, was commenting on the 40th anniversary of King Sobhuza's proclamation in 1973 that ushered in a state of emergency into the kingdom that has never been completely rescinded. The anniversary is on 12 April.

But, the fact that his original article was censored by the newspaper has been revealed on social media sites across Africa.

Hlophe, who writes each week for the newspaper, wrote that this proclamation has led directly to the present situation in Swaziland. Today. King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch and the governments appointed by the king silence discussion and debate.

Here is part of what Hlophe originally wrote before the censors took a hand. Some of the text was altered by the newspaper's editors to minimize criticism of the king. Other parts of the text were cut out altogether.

'In 1973, His Majesty, declared a state of emergency that has never been openly repealed. He set up an army that is only capable of threatening or harming its own people.

'Worst of all, he set in motion a series of events that has led to Swaziland being among the sickest, the poorest, the most corrupt and the unhappiest nations in the world. Swaziland is no longer a place of African heritage and pride, it is now a place that most other Africans either pity or scorn.

'Of course that was not his plan.

'I believe that he thought that he had the best interests of the nation at heart.

'As the Father of the Nation, he felt could not allow us to descend into the open conflict and civil war that he saw breaking out across the continent at that time.

'He thought that he knew best for all of us.

'I am afraid that, like everyone else who spends more time being revered, rather than challenged, he was wrong.

'In trying to prevent the completely imagined threat of a deadly internal war, he also stopped the possibility of the discussions that could have brought the nation to peaceful, wealthy, happiness.

'His declaration was not a way to bring our nation together under one common vision but an attempt to say that people who to publicly disagreed with him, could, should, and would, be silenced.

'His basic aim was to stop people coming together to discuss and debate ideas. He wanted to maintain the Swazi custom of us talking as lowly individuals to the powerful. That way he could stop us forming organised oppositions.

'But, in our Swazi culture we say "a chief is a chief because of his people." This means that a chief should listen. In April 1973 King Sobhuza slit the throat of that idea. It took a while to die, but die it surely did.

'Look at the conflicts that are now arising in the very heart of our culture - our chieftaincies. I read recently that there are over one hundred chieftaincy disputes now in Swaziland. That is nearly one in three!

'We used to have a settled way of appointing chiefs, based on family discussions, community dialogues and mutual respect between communities and the higher authorities. Now that we have moved the powers of appointment from the communities to those authorities, we have exactly the type of conflicts that King Sobhuza II was trying to prevent. We can now see that his proclamation in 1973 actually caused them.'

Holphe also wrote, 'Even though the traditional authorities and the government have tried to stop ordinary Swazis speaking, they cannot stop us feeling or thinking.

'I, and the people that I work with, have spent hundreds of hours working with normal people on the ground, mainly in rural areas of Swaziland. What we hear is that people are not only unhappy but they are now angry. People also know where the real causes of their problems lie, in the waste, the greed and the arrogance of the powerful.'

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