8 November 2018

Swaziland: Former Newspaper Editor Questioned By Swaziland Police for Talking to Banned Political Parties

Musa Ndlangamandla, a former editor-in-chief of the Swazi Observer and a writer for South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper, has been questioned by police in Swaziland/Eswatini over articles he wrote in 2011.

Ndlangamandla, who was sacked from the Swazi Observer in 2012 and fled to South Africa but later returned, reported on Wednesday (7 November 2018) he had been summoned by Tingculungculu, which is the kingdom's organised crime unit.

He wrote on his Facebook page, 'They told me they are building a case against me for interacting (they actually called it advertising) PUDEMO, Umbane and other entities they described as proscribed.'

Political parties are banned in Swaziland and the kingdom is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

Ndlangamandla wrote, 'They referred to an incident in 2011 where they raided my office at the Swazi Observer where I was Chief Editor.' Ndlangamandla said, 'They asked me if I had talked to political leaders of the country's opposition groups.'

He added, 'I told them that in my 20 and some years as a journalist I have, and continue to speak to all Swazi people regardless of their political affiliation.'

Ndlangamandla said he was told police were preparing a statement for the Director of Public Prosecutions. He was told to report back to police on Thursday 8 November 2018.

During 12 years as editor of the Observer, which is in effect owned by King Mswati,Ndlangamandla was a staunch supporter of the King. He was the King's speechwriter and also travelled the world with him as his official praise singer.

The Swazi Observer was described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa, a media freedom watchdog, as a 'pure propaganda machine for the royal family'.

During his time at the Observer Ndlangamandla wrote that the 'collective stand' of the newspaper was 'that the integrity of Swaziland as a democratic State and His Majesty King Mswati III as the legitimate leader of the Swazi nation, must never be compromised in any way.'

During Ndlangamandla's time in control many stories about King Mswati were censored.

These included the calculation from Forbes that King Mswati has a personal wealth of about US$200 million; that in 2011 the King received a huge increase in his budget while all public spending elsewhere in the kingdom was slashed to the bone; and a sex scandal involving the King's 12th wife and a cabinet minister. All these reports appeared in media outside of Swaziland.

The Observer also failed to report criticisms the King was receiving in the international arena for his attack on freedoms in Swaziland and his lavish personal spending; while as many as 60 percent of his subjects had to rely on international food aid to avoid starvation during the past five years.

After he was sacked Ndlangamandla accused the then Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, a man the King personally appointed, as the key mover in his dismissal.

He wrote on Facebook at the time (19 January 2012) that Dlamini turned against him after the Observer reported allegations that he had bought nation land for himself at a fraction of its true price. 'We pushed the land theft scandal by Barnabas and cabinet colleagues whilst I was still a speechwriter for the King and whilst I was still travelling with the King and not after.

'That's when Barnabas hatched the lie that I was mastermind behind April 12 uprising.' This was a failed attempt in 2012 to bring democratic change to Swaziland.

Ndlangamandla said at the time he also gave space in the newspaper to a number of pro-democracy advocates. He wrote 'I knew that this would get me in trouble with the King, the PM and other powerfuls. But we had to do it because that was the right thing to do.'

Ndlangamandla concluded, 'I will never work for this regime again even if I may be asked to. I'd rather eat grass.'

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