16 October 2013

Swaziland: Dissident Stands As House Speaker

Mfomfo Nkhambule, the dissident who was threatened with torture by state authorities if he continued to write newspaper articles criticising King Mswati III, is running to be elected Speaker of the Swaziland House of Assembly.

Nkhambule attracted international attention in 2008 and 2009 for outspoken articles he wrote each week in the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom's only independent daily newspaper.

Nkhambule specialised in criticising Swazi Royalty and the traditionalists who support King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

Nkhambule , who had formerly been Health and Social Welfare Minister in the king's government, was hauled in by Swaziland's state police and threatened with torture if he continued to criticise the king. He was later dropped from his traditional regiment, threatened with banishment from his homeland, and his family was threatened because he refused to be silenced.

In January 2009, he told the Times he was taken in by state police. 'They questioned me over the articles I have been writing. I was also warned that the articles were now taking a subversive slant and cautioned me that I was now skating on thin ice.'

The Times reported, 'He said they impressed upon him that the articles were no longer just a column but were starting to hit on the authorities and could incite people to revolt against the head of state and this was beginning to pose a security threat.'

'Nkhambule said the officers informed him that as much as the country had a new constitution, there were still laws that could be used against him, which were enacted before independence and they had very serious consequences.'

In April 2009, the Times dropped his column without notice.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland chapter reported at the time that the Times' Managing Editor Martin Dlamini denied he was under any pressure from state authorities. Dlamini said Nkhambule's column had simply been affected by the routine changes the newspaper was making with regards to content.

Nkhambule told MISA that he personally took his article to the Times for publication but was told of the ban without reasons being given.

'I then received information from other quarters that authorities have ordered the Times to stop publishing my articles. Whatever threat they received might have been very serious as they simply told me that my articles will no longer be published with no reasons being given,' he said.

The ban on Nkhambule came in the same week that the Times was forced to make an abject apology to King Mswati after publishing an essentially correct report that he had purchased up to 20 armoured cars for the use of himself and his wives.

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