16 May 2018

Swaziland: Court Fines Woman, 78, for 'Disrespect'

A 78-year-old woman in Swaziland was sentenced to nine months in prison with an option of a fine for 'disrespecting' local leaders.

She had refused to attend a meeting called by the traditional authorities at KaLanga.

The Swazi Observer newspaper reported on Wednesday (16 May 2018) that Tobhini Dlamini appeared before the Swazi National Court where she faced a charge of contravening the Swazi Law and Custom.

'She was alleged to have wrongfully and intentionally disrespected the traditional authority of KaLanga Umphakatsi by refusing to attend a meeting after she was summoned,' the newspaper reported.

She had been accused of selling Swazi Nation Land to people wanting to build homesteads. In Swaziland, Swazi Nation Land is under the control of King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

Court President Chief Ndlondlo Tsabedze sentenced her to nine months jail with the option of a E900 (US$70) fine.

Chiefs in Swaziland are appointed by King Mswati and wield tremendous power over their subjects. They can, for example, determine whether people are allowed to live in the area, or whether children can attend universities and colleges. In some cases they decide who lives and who dies as they are in charge of distributing international food aid to starving communities. About a third of the population of Swaziland receive food aid each year.

Chiefs can and do take revenge on their subjects who disobey them. There is a catalogue of cases in Swaziland. For example, Chief Dambuza Lukhele of Ngobelweni in the Shiselweni region banned his subjects from ploughing their fields because some of them defied his order to build a hut for one of his wives.

Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers.

In November 2013, the newly-appointed Chief Ndlovula of Motshane threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a E5,000 (about US$500 at the time) fine, the equivalent of more than six months income for many in Swaziland.

In March 2017 the Swazi Observer reported the EBC told residents during a voter education exercise at Engwenyameni Umphakatsi, 'it was not acceptable have elected politicians to behave as if they were above community leaders'.

It added, 'Chiefs remain superior to any other person in communities as they are the administrative arm of His Majesty King Mswati III.'

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