With a constitution in place, the Kingdom of eSwatini has found it difficult to
prosecute pro-democracy activists. To silence them, they are arrested on
flimsy charges and kept in jail for as long as possible. The blatant abuse of
power has seen pro-democracy campaigners languishing in jail without trial,
writes NIMROD MABUZA
Goodwill Sibiya, a political activist from Mhlosheni, outside the regional town of
Nhlangano, south of eSwatini, was a man on a near impossible mission; challenging
the authority of the monarch.
In May last year, Sibiya filed papers at the High Court challenging King Mswati III
and the royal household over the ownership of Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a royal
To sidestep constitutional immunity accorded the king against legal proceedings,
Sibiya cited the Prime Minister and government in the matter.
Sibiya had no lawyer to help him prepare his papers and he did all by himself. After
he was done with his affidavit, Sibiya proceeded to the commissioner of oaths and
this was at the Nhlangano police station. The papers were stamped and sworn to.
He later boarded a bus to Mbabane to depose the papers with the Registrar of the
High Court. When done, he returned home. Sibiya was not aware that police had
been detailed to track him down. They tracked him down as he walked the narrow
path to his homestead.
Sibiya, through his court application, had kicked the hornet’s nests. In his application,
Sibiya implored the court to, among others, order the arrest of King Mswati III mainly
for the alleged theft of Tibiyo Taka Ngwane.
Tibiyo is a royal investment company and, among many others, hold 53% at the
Royal eSwatini Sugar Corporation of eSwatini and 40% shares at Ubombo Sugar in
Big Bend. These two companies grow sugar cane and mill sugar.
To expand sugarcane growing for personal benefit, the royal household is accused
of depriving farmers of land at Vuvulane and handed it over to the Royal eSwatini
Sugar Corporation for the growth of sugarcane.
Tibiyo was set up by King Mswati’s father, Sobhuza II in 1968 through funds
contributed by the people of this country. Its objective, according to its website, is to
support the social growth and economic development for the benefit of the people of
Tibiyo contributes to cultural activities that benefits the royal household and gives
scholarships to pupils in primary and high school. It also funds education for students
studying in local and external tertiary institutions. But that’s a drop in the ocean
compared to what Tibiyo is doing for the royal household. Its head office is situated
at the doorstep of Lozitha palace.
Sibiya sought to correct that and have ownership of Tibiyo restored to its rightful
owners. The issue of royalties on minerals was also lined up for determination by the
The court, if the matter had been allowed to proceed, would have been called to
make a ruling on the manner prime ministers of this country are appointed by the
king. But it was not to be. He paid a heavy price for the challenge. Sibiya was
arrested and slapped with two flimsy criminal charges in the absence of anything
legal to prosecute him.
One was for contravening terrorism law by declaring that he was a member of the
People’s United Democratic Movement, a member of the Communist Party of
Swaziland and a founding member of the Economic Freedom Guerillas – the latter
barely known in the country. Government contends all these political parties were
banned as terrorist groups.
In the second charge, Sibiya contravened the sedition and subversive law. It alleged
he attested to an affidavit containing falsehood with the intention to bring hatred,
contempt or disaffection against the king.
The second charge had previously been quashed by a full bench of the High Court
which declared sedition laws unconstitutional. So were portions of the terrorism law.
Sibiya had become a victim of State excesses and spent a year in jail without trial.
The prosecution later sought to have him declared insane as it brought an
application for an order to have his mental capacity checked. The application
In June this year, the prosecution unsurprisingly withdrew the charges against him.
Sibiya is one of many political activists who spent considerable time in jail for
charges that cannot stick in court. This is another strategy used by the state to
harass and abuse those perceived as political opponents.
Another strategy used by the State is to have these activists arrested to be released
on bail and their cases never made it to court.
Writing for the Southern Africa Litigation Centre on Sibiya’s arrest, litigation director,
Anneke Meerkotter pointed out: “The arrest throws a shadow over the government’s
own claims of being a democratic state.
The case of Mphandlana Shongwe and others who were arrested in 2006 and
charged under the sedition law is one classic example of the State’s excesses in
dealing with political activists. Almost 15 years later the case is pending in court and
they still comply with their bail conditions which include reporting to the police once a
In 2008, then PUDEMO president, Mario Masuku was arrested and charged with
sedition following a speech he made at the funeral of political activist, Musa Dlamini.
He spent about a year in jail and was set free by the court 10 minutes after the trial
started as there was no case to answer. The prosecution was clutching at straws.
In 2014, Masuku was again arrested together with another activist, Maxwell Dlamini
for sedition and together they spent over a year in jail. They made speeches at a
May Day celebrations.
In the same year, Sipho Jele was arrested at the May Day rally for wearing a t-shirt
with a PUDEMO emblem. He died shortly in prison.
Ncamiso Ngcamphalala of the EFF Swaziland, an unknown group, is languishing in
jail allegedly because he hates King Mswati III. He is also a victim of the abuse the
State unleashes to political activists.
Human Rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko and editor, Bheki Makhubu were arrested in
2014 for criticising the judiciary in particular then Chief Justice, Michael
Ramodibedi.They spent a year in jail for contempt of court. The prosecution admitted
the charges should never have been there when the matter came before the
To suppress dissenting political views, Maseko argues that the State still uses the
1973 King’s Proclamation to the Nation, the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act as well as
the 2008, the Suppression of Terrorism Act
They recommended that they should be suppressed by the implementation of the oppressive
laws of the country, including the 1973 King’s Proclamation to the Nation, the Sedition and
Subversive Activities Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008.
“These laws continue to be used in such a manner not only to suppress but to abuse,
intimidate the voices of democracy. There are many victims of such abuse within the rank of
those legitimately campaigning for democracy…” wrote Maseko in his column for The Nation
Masuku is currently in a legal battle with the state over the six-year-old charges which still
remain in place despite a ruling of a full bench of the High Court that declared the terrorism
and sedition charges against him as unconstitutional.
He says in court papers despite the High Court ruling he still abides by the bail conditions.
He was granted bail after spending more than a year in jail. He wants the courts to order the
stay of prosecution on charges that were quashed and declared unconstitutional. The matter
is pending in court.
Hosea Member of Parliament, Bacede Mabuza who has been very critical of the
Prevention of Crime Act (POCA), 2018, empowering the State to seize property
found to be with the proceeds from crime, was arrested last week clearly on
hogwash charges. He is now out on bail.
Mabuza felt the law was being abused and dagga farmers were at the receiving end.
This not the first time a Member of Parliament has been punished for critical views
against the tinkhundla system of governance.
Former Lobamba MP, Marwick Khumalo who was a strong critic of government was
arrested for fraud for fraud and he spent two weeks on jail. Almost seven years later,
Khumalo is yet to have his day in court.