22 March 2019

Swaziland High Court Rules Army Assaulted Civilian, Must Pay Him Damages

The High Court in Swaziland / eSwatini has ruled that the army tortured a civilian and has order it to pay him damages.

High Court Principal Judge Qinisile Mabuza also criticised the kingdom's police for not investigating alleged assaults on civilians by members of the army, known officially as the Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force (UEDF).

The case followed an incident at Vuvulane in the Lubombo region in October 2003 when soldiers attacked Themba Maziya and kicked him with heavy boots, punched him with fists and immersed him in a canal full of water and assaulted him with an electric cable. Soldiers had accused him of stealing an Army vehicle.

The High Court was told Maziya was assaulted all over the body and the head. As a result he suffered temporary loss of memory, he had scars all over the body and severe trauma.

The UEDF denied assault.

In her judgement Judge Mabuza said soldiers put Maziya into a van and drove him to a river where they tied his hands and legs and put him into the river head first. 'They assaulted him on the head with the cable and stabbed him on the head with sigeja. They assaulted him on his back with the cable, kicked him and threw stones at him. He says that a nerve/vein on his left temple burst due to the assault and from that day be became mentally disturbed.'

The assault continued for two hours until police rescued him and took him to Good Shepherd Hospital at Siteki where he was admitted for treatment and kept in for a day. He was subsequently admitted at the psychiatric hospital in Manzini where he stayed for three weeks.

Giving her judgement Judge Mabuza said she was concerned that the police failed to investigate alleged assaults on civilians as it gave the perception that they protected members of the UEDF. She said the matter ought to have been investigated by police and the perpetrators charged with a criminal offence.

Maziya was awarded E70,000 damages.

This was not the only time UEDF forces have been accused of assault. As recently as October 2018 soldiers were accused of torturing farmers who crossed the border with South Africa at Dwalile to retrieve their straying cattle.

Residents told the Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland at the time they were abused each time they crossed a collapsed fence dividing the two countries to collect their livestock, which often strayed into South Africa.

The newspaper reported the farmers said members of the UEDF 'would dip them in a nearby swamp' in their clothes.

It added, 'They are also made to do frog jumps, rolled on the ground and some are assaulted and kicked by the soldiers. Most of the abuse lasts for over an hour and had left some of the farmers sick.'

In a separate case in June 2018 three soldiers were charged with assault for burying a man alive after they accused him of stealing a phone from them at Mbekelweni.

In December 2017 soldiers were accused of routinely sexually assaulting women as they crossed border posts with South Africa. The Observer on Saturday reported at the time, 'The army troops have been accused by women of abusing their powers by touching them inappropriately as they lay their hands on their buttocks just to allow to cross either to South Africa or into Swaziland.

'Some women when being searched for illegal goods alleged that they are touched almost everywhere by the male army officers and these informal crossings.'

The newspaper said the inappropriate behaviour took place 'almost every day' around the Ngwenya informal crossing.

In July 2017 soldiers reportedly forced a bus-load of passengers to strip naked after it crossed the Mhlumeni Border Gate into Mozambique. Local media reported it happened all the time.

The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom's only independent daily newspaper, reported they were ordered to strip 'stark naked' as part of a 'routine body search'. The newspaper said the passengers had been on vacation in Mozambique.

In June 2017 it was reported women at the informal crossing situated next to the Mananga Border Gate with South Africa were made to remove their underwear so soldiers could inspect their private parts with a mirror. The Swazi Army said it happened all the time.

Soldiers were said to be searching for 'illegal objects' using a mirror similar to that used to inspect the underside of cars.

Once the practice became public knowledge, the Army said it would continue to strip people and if people did not like it they should stop crossing the border.

In September 2015, the Swazi Parliament heard that soldiers beat up old ladies so badly they had to be taken to their homes in wheelbarrows. Member of Parliament Titus Thwala said that the women were among the local residents who were regularly beaten by soldiers at informal crossing points between Swaziland and South Africa.

The assaults are not confined to border areas. In 2011, a man was reportedly beaten with guns and tortured for three hours by soldiers at Maphiveni who accused him of showing them disrespect. He was ordered to do press ups, frog jumps and told to run across a very busy road and was beaten with guns every time he tried to resist.

In July 2011, three armed soldiers left a man for dead after he tried to help a woman they were beating up. And in a separate incident, a woman was beaten by two soldiers after she tried to stop them talking to her sister.

He said that he did more than 50 press ups and he was beaten with guns every time he asked to rest.

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