News / Africa

Swaziland Media Muzzled in Africa’s Last Absolute Monarchy

King Mswati III of Swaziland and wife Inkhosikati La Mbikiza arrive for a dinner hosted by President Barack Obama for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, at the White House in Washington, Aug. 5, 2014.
King Mswati III of Swaziland and wife Inkhosikati La Mbikiza arrive for a dinner hosted by President Barack Obama for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, at the White House in Washington, Aug. 5, 2014.
Anita Powell

Media freedom is under attack in the African kingdom of Swaziland, claim journalists who say they face constant harassment. The journalists from Africa’s last absolute monarchy say the king has throttled the media to advance his own interests and protect his wealth in a nation with some of the world’s highest rates of poverty, unemployment and AIDS.

From the outside, the tiny, landlocked nation of Swaziland looks like it has a disproportionate share of problems.
According to a scathing report from U.S.-based think tank Freedom House, 43 percent of Swazis live in chronic poverty, a quarter of adults have HIV, and life expectancy is a mere 48 years.
But journalists and activists from Africa’s last absolute monarchy say they are all but forbidden from publishing any stories that paint their country in a negative light.

Censorship, prison

The nation’s leadership underscored that point last month, when a prominent journalist and a human rights lawyer were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for an article that criticized the judicial system.
Journalist Nqobile Hlatswhayo heads the Media Workers Union of Swaziland, and he said journalists face strong pressure to censor their own work.
“Journalists are expected to toe the line and only report positive messages about the country and about cultural activities, what is government doing for the people, and all that," said Hlatswhayo. "But they are expected to bury bad stories that can, like they say, paint the country badly outside.”
Swazi Observer managing editor Mbongeni Mbingo, said he nearly lost his job over a 2009 article that he did not even write. His piece, he said, was a mere accounting of the king’s fleet of luxury cars. But when media in neighboring South Africa got hold of the details, he said they spun it into a tale of an insensitive monarch who spends profligately on luxuries while his people starve.
“It did get me into a lot of water. Hot, hot water. I could have lost my job over it, and I am grateful I did not, and it is one era of my career that I look at and say, ‘I survived that bullet,’” he said.

Respect vs. freedoms
Like many people living in Swaziland, Mbingo walks a tightrope between reverence for his king and his demand for basic freedoms.
“I think our perspective when we published those stories was partly to say, the king drives in such a car befitting his status. So it is something that we, you know, we hold the king in very high esteem in our country, and we also want to see that he gets what befits his status as a king," said  Mbingo. "So if he gets a new car, the Swazi public must know that, okay, the king has these type of wheels because because, maybe one could say, he deserves to have that type of car.”
Biut activist Mandla Hlatshwayo said that while he respects the institution of the monarchy, he has no love for the current king. He said unshackling the media is the first step toward turning things around in Swaziland.
“It will improve everyone’s life. It will even improve the outlook of those in power, because they cannot wish away the voice of the ordinary people," he said. "It will also inform the world in terms of its engagement with Swaziland not to actually avoid the real issues. So if the media was free, I think many people in Swaziland who are in power will have nowhere to hide. But right now they are able to ensure that nobody has information.”
Nqobile Hlatshwayo, who also writes for the Observer, said that despite the constraints upon her, however, there is no place she would rather be.
“I want to be there when my country changes for the better. I want to be there when dissenting voices will not be suppressed. And I want to make sure that activism is allowed in Swaziland. And if I do not get that bullet - who will?” she asked.
Until that day, she said, she waits and hopes.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Stevarara from: Piggs Peak
September 02, 2014 1:08 AM
According to my knowledge,journalist views and opinions are unlimited because they have to say exactly wht the affected victims say,so if their say is somehow restricted,that means there won't be change in whatever that's going wrong in our society,that is when you going to see some individuals like us bo Stevarara leaving the country to go and search for green pustures.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs