Swaziland: Spotlight Shines On Lack of Freedom

Photo: Swazi Media Commentary
Teachers and other workers protested in Swaziland , appealing for an international asset freeze against King Mswati III (file photo).

Swaziland's disregard for freedom has received international attention with the United States threatening to withdraw a favourable trading agreement and the jailing on remand of a magazine editor and a writer after they wrote articles critical of the kingdom's judiciary.

The US has given Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, until 15 May to make a series of changes that would allow freedom of association and enhance workers' rights.

These include full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

Failure to comply with these changes would see Swaziland lose the ability to export textile goods to the US without having to pay tariffs under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). About 20,000 jobs of textile workers in Swaziland are said to be at stake.

Just as Swaziland was exposed by the US, the judiciary, appointed by King Mswati, attacked a small independent monthly magazine, the Nation by arresting its editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko for writing and publishing articles critical of the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

They have been charged with contempt of court. The charges caused an international outcry which got louder when Makhubu was taken into court in leg-irons. Both men continue to be held in prison on remand awaiting trial

These are just two of the stories covered by Swazi Media Commentary during the first three months of 2014 and now published as a collection: Swaziland: Striving for Freedom, Volume 13. It is available free-of-charge on scribd dot com

The publication documents many of the struggles for human rights that are taking place in the kingdom. In February, police broke up a press conference held by the Secretary-General of the African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe. Journalists were reportedly 'frog-marched' out of the venue.

The briefing was to report on a delegation led by Mantashe the day before that met with political parties in the kingdom. Political parties are banned in Swaziland.

Swazi Police continued to shoot-to-kill with impunity. Among the instances this year was the case of a plain-clothed policeman who shot an unarmed man in the back killing him while on a public bus. Police later claimed the man had stolen some copper wire.

Elsewhere, police armed with batons assaulted children who complained about conditions at their school.

In March Sikhuphe Airport was finally opened, and renamed King Mswati III Airport, confirming the belief of critics that the venture was a vanity project for the King.

Despite costing at least E3 billion (US$300 million) to build no airlines have said they will fly into the airport and it remains unused. There are doubts whether the airport has the necessary international licence to allow it to operate.

Children continue to have their rights abused in Swaziland. In March it was reported that warders at a juvenile jail in Swaziland stripped naked, handcuffed and beat children in their care. They inserted fingers into girls' private parts and forced one boy to drink his own urine.

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Swazi Media Commentary is published online - updated most days - bringing information, comment and analysis in support of democracy in the kingdom.

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InFocus

Swaziland Loses Agoa Status

Teachers and other workers protested in Swaziland , appealing for an international asset freeze against King Mswati III (file photo).

U.S. President Barack Obama has withdrawn Swaziland's eligibility after concerns about its implementation of criteria related to worker rights. Read more »