Freedom found wanting in Swazi media as economy continues downward slide

MISA-Swaziland Alert
September 18 2013

Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think-tank, has released a new report on Swaziland, a small southern African country wedged between South Africa and Mozambique. The 42-page analysis, ‘Swaziland: Southern Africa’s Forgotten Crisis,’ says:

“The right to freedom of expression in the constitution does not include the right of access to information. An attempt by the government in 2006 to impose legislation that would have severely curtailed the freedom of the media failed, but the media continue to be put under political pressure. The High Court’s conviction in April 2013 of Bheki Makhubu, a highly respected local journalist, on charges of contempt of court sparked a wave of criticism in Swaziland and in the wider region. His conviction stems from two articles he wrote in 2009 and 2010 that were critical of the Supreme Court and the chief justice.”

The report also considered the state of the economy:

“Swaziland’s development trajectory is worrying. The government has made little progress in boosting the economy’s resilience to fiscal shocks, and the country remains dependent on sugar exports, Southern African Customs Union tariffs and remittances from migrants. Inequality and poverty are growing and the economy is increasingly being eclipsed by those of its powerful neighbours. The current system of governance has led to the mismanagement of public funds, conspicuous royal consumption, and a stubborn resistance to reform, culminating in a fiscal crisis in 2011.”

Click here to read the full Chatham House report

Another international advocacy group, US-based human rights group Freedom House, has also released a new report on Swaziland. The paper, ‘Swaziland: A Failed Feudal State,’ had this to say on the media:

“Most Swazis do not have access to international media, and domestic media are controlled by the king who personally owns one of the country’s 2 newspapers. The editor of the other newspaper is in the king’s employ. With the exception of a television station devoted to religious programs, radio and television are government departments under the king’s control.”

It should be noted, however, that the above paragraph has an error. Instead of, “With the exception of a television station devoted to religious programs…,” it should read, “With the exception of a radio station…” There is one private radio station in Swaziland, Voice of the Church, which airs mostly religious content.

Click here for more information on Swaziland’s media 

The Freedom House report also touches on the country’s economic concerns:

“Unemployment, officially at 40 per cent, and under-employment are chronic problems. Around 75 per cent of Swazis attempt to gain a living from subsistence agriculture, many in areas where human settlement is too dense for successful subsistence farming. Swaziland has the world’s highest rate of HIV infection, and there are 200,000 orphans and vulnerable children, many of whom have no adult care givers. Yet for 2013–14, the government budgeted USD 28 million for health care for 1.2 million people – only a little more than USD 23 per person … Levels of impoverishment and joblessness will continue to increase as ever larger numbers of the burgeoning youth cohort attempt to find employment and encounter economic stagnation.”

Click here to read the full Freedom House report

For comments or queries, please contact:
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo
MISA-Swaziland National Director



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