The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland has once again censored itself and in so doing has completely misrepresented is regular columnist Musa Hlophe.
Hlophe, who is the coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, a prodemocracy group, writes for the newspaper every week. On 8 June 2014 the Times deleted references about Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi from the article.
Hlophe wrote a critical assessment of the CJ, who is from Lesotho and is under increasing pressure from democrats to stand down as the judiciary in the kingdom is in crisis.
However, the only part of the assessment the newspaper published was this: 'You know, I have always admired and respected the person of Chief Justice Ramodibedi. I have always considered him a good lawyer and a person who just happens to serve a wrong master in the name of the Government of Swaziland, but always trusted him because of his Christian background: he is a devout Catholic, and Catholics preach social justice from their pulpits!'
Here is the full text from the article that the Times Sunday felt its readers were not entitled to see.
'Secondly, I wish to express my grave concerns about what one newspaper attributed to His Lordship, the Chief Justice of the Kingdom of ESwatini. If the paper has correctly quoted him, it is alleged that he made this startling allegation that there is a conspiracy to overthrow the king of Swaziland, His Majesty King Mswati 111! Headlined:" Secret Mission to dethrone King:" the articles talks of plotters to have even polluted the judiciary, and that he is ready to deal with these. I have waited for reactions from both the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister of Police and the Minister of Justice, who is the political head the judiciary, but, sadly, there has been no comment or correction of this mischievous statement.
'Why do we, as Swazis, have to be told by a foreigner about the security threats to our King? Does the Chief Justice, who seems to have more problems in his own country, challenges he should be concerned with, wish to tell us, the loyal citizens of this kingdom, that he is so informed about the security of our Monarchy, than our security agencies? What is his motive in saying these allegations soon after he was said to be facing impeachment in his own country, for alleged serious misconduct on his part? If at all there are citizens who are having these plots, why hasn't he shared these fears or perceptions, quietly with the police? And how can we defend him against those allegations that he has a warrant to arrest, at least, three if not four judges, including Justice Qinisile Mabuza, who recently surprised this nation, by refunding Government, the monies she considered not deserved for the kind of work she was being paid for? IF at all, there judges who are part of a plot to dethrone the king, why has this not been handled by the Judicial Service Commission? Why is the Chief justice seemingly having problems with competent local judges? Should we smell intimidation here? This is worrying to me. I am sorry.
'You know, I have always admired and respected the person of Chief Justice Ramodibedi. I have always considered him a good lawyer and a person who just happens to serve a wrong master in the name of the Government of Swaziland, but always trusted him because of his Christian background: he is a devout Catholic, and Catholics preach social justice from their pulpits! I thought that given this background, that he would approach issues of justice in the way our God commands: doing justice to the poor and weak and not to favour the rich and powerful. Thus says The Lord our God.
'If the Honourable Chief Justice wants Swazi citizenship, which I believe he deserves, he must first respect the common Swazi such as I and those Swazis he is privileged to be their master. The moment he is seen to be demonizing anyone of them, then he will have lost our respect. He just needs to know that the Swazi system has been known to misuse the services of foreigners to suppress the Swazis, and once done, and then throw these foreigners in a manner rather too shameful to imagine! Be warned.
Thirdly and lastly, one applauds the judgment in the appeal case won case won by Bheki Makhuu and The Nation Magazine from the Supreme Court.'
The original article was published in the printed newspaper and on the Times of Swaziland website. It has now been removed from the website.
This is not the first time the Times Sunday has censored Musa Hlophe. In March 2014 it refused to publish his article about the trial of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, who are on trial for contempt of court after writing and publishing articles critical of the CJ Michael Ramodibedi and the judiciary in Swaziland. He wrote at the time that 'On trial now is no longer Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu, for whatever they might have been accused of, but on trial now is the country and its institutions of power.'
In April 2013, Hlophe was also censored when he made a mild criticism of King Sobhuza II, father of the present King. Hlophe wrote, '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.'
Media in Swaziland have long history of self-censorship, especially when reporting on King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. The Swazi Observer newspaper group is in effect owned by the King and all but two of the broadcast media in Swaziland are state controlled.