7 January 2018

Swaziland: 'Editor Flees After Death Threat'

Photo: Dickelbers/Wikimedia Commons
(file photo).

Swazi editor Zweli Martin Dlamini has fled to neighbouring South Africa after he received death threats. He had written a story about absolute monarch King Mswati III's shady dealings in the telecommunications industry, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Last June, editor of independent business newspaper Swaziland Shopping Zweli Martin Dlamini wrote and published a story about new telecommunications company Swazi Mobile, owned by King Mswati III and run by local businessman Victor Gamedze.

The punchline of the story was that the pair had forced Swaziland's government to side-line rival government parastatal company SPTC from competing with Swazi Mobile - a new company that they and other high ranking officials, including the Prime Minister, owns shares in.

In 2012, SPTC had been ordered to switch of its fixed phones (landlines) and data components to make way for South African phone company MTC, which Mswati and the Prime Minister also had shares in.

Death threats

"Shortly after publishing the story, I received a threatening call from Gamedze that lasted for twenty minutes where he vowed to 'deal with me'. Later Communications Minister Dumsani Ndlangamandla summoned me to a meeting and told me that the King was not happy with the story and had ordered that the newspaper should be closed," Dlamini says.

After Swaziland Shopping was closed, Dlamini says he learnt that the police had a warrant for his arrest and that he would be poisoned in prison. A close ally of Victor Gamedze also told Dlamini that the businessman wanted him dead because he had revealed secrets about Swazi Mobile.

Dlamini says he subsequently fled to South Africa because he feared for his life.

And Swaziland's police forces certainly do have a record of torturing - and occasionally murdering - those who challenge the King's rule, as documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.

No media freedom

The Swazi government have claimed that Swaziland Shopping was closed because it was not properly registered under the colonial-era Books and Newspapers Act of 1963, even though the newspaper has been published since 2014. The police also refuted that Dlamini was on the police "wanted list."

Swaziland is however renowned for its government fabricating stories and its lack of media freedom, especially in regard to stories about King Mswati and his family and friends.

Swaziland is ranked 152th in Reporters Without Borders' 2017 World Press Freedom Index. There is "no media freedom," the NGO says. According to a 2014 report by African Media Barometer, journalists in Swaziland "face routine intimidation by the state."

In 2007, King Mswati ordered the Times Sunday to print an apology and sack those responsible for a critical story about him, or he would close down the paper. In 2009, the editor of the Swazi Observer, owned by the king, nearly lost his job for writing about the King's luxury cars. And in 2014 the Times on Sunday editor was summoned by the King and told that stories relating to his property did not belong in the newspaper.

Victor Gamedze has also been known to threaten journalists who publish critical stories about his business dealings. In 2016, he allegedly assaulted a journalist from the Swazi Observer and ordered another fired because they wrote unfavourable stories about him and his football team.

International community must act

"In Swaziland, the media is being held hostage and been turned into spies for the state," Zweli Martin Dlamini says. "For the calls for democracy to intensify, the media must be liberated so that the international community can know what is happening in Swaziland."

Secretary General of the Media Workers Union of Swaziland, Sicelo Vilane, insists that the charges against Dlamini are fabricated and should be dropped, and that the international community must act against the lack of freedom of speech in Swaziland.

"No-one is allowed to report freely and Swaziland is one of the major violators of media workers' rights, freedom of speech and -expression. Why are they not questioning the action of Mswati's government?," Vilane says.

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