Speech by Thobile Gwebu, Swaziland Vigil Co-ordinator
I am the co-ordinator of the Swaziland Vigil which has been protesting outside the Swaziland High Commission in London since January 2010. We are Swazis who have had to leave our country because of the oppression there and we want to draw attention to gross violations of human rights by the current regime.
We have protested at King Mswati’s visits to London for the royal wedding and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee because of the vast expense at the cost of our lives at home.
King Mswati III is Africa’s last absolute monarch – and has, at the last count, about 13 wives. He does not represent Swazis. King Mswati was educated at Sherbourne public school in Dorset. We do not know of any other Swazis who have gone to this school and few Swazis have a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at more than $100 million.
This may be a piffling amount when compared to the greed of many African leaders, but Swazis are reduced to eating cowdung so that they can fill their bellies as required for the AIDS medicines provided by NGOs.
The same people who are eating cow dung, tend the king’s fields and build his traditional houses and are paid nothing by the rich king after such hard work, and he calls it culture. This is modern day slavery looking at me in the eye without a blink. The king has recently taken delivery of a DC-9 twin-engine aircraft claiming it was a gift from ‘anonymous sponsors’. Teachers are on the streets protesting because they haven’t been paid for months. Meanwhile he is enjoying a luxury life instead of giving a future to the young generation by investing in their education. There are no basic drugs in hospitals – patients are dying prematurely.
I ask all the leaders of the world: would you act differently? Would you keep silent and do nothing if you were in our place? Would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country? Women are oppressed to the core by King Mswati. Human rights for swazi women is something that they have heard and seen somewhere not something that they have experienced in their lives. They have no rights at all.
One might ask why I am addressing the British parliament on the Swaziland issue? Well it is about human rights. I believe they are universal and I believe wherever there are human rights abuses the world should stand as one and condemn it with one voice.
Women in Swaziland are subjected to the most horrendous levels of gender-based violence. If they are raped by their husbands they have no legal protection. There are no laws against domestic violence. On the rare occasions where a rape case ends up in court, the law even allows a rapist to claim that the victim appeared to be 16 or appeared to be a prostitute as grounds for defence or even that he married her traditionally. In 2009 research found that almost one third of women and girls aged 13 to 24 had experienced sexual violence before their 18th birthday. Another survey found that 60 per cent of men believed it was acceptable to beat their wives and that 18 per cent of women (between 13 and 44) had contemplated suicide, primarily as a result of domestic violence.
To see the discrimination facing girls you only have to open the papers. Recently in the Times of Swaziland I read comments by a minister saying that the blame for male teachers sexually abusing young girls in their care is down to the length of their skirts. A change in uniform policy would resolve this problem.
Young girls in rural areas are forced by their chiefs to attend the infamous reed dance where they dance for the King in nothing but a grass skirt so he can pick a new bride. This event which attracts thousands of tourists is not only notorious for abuse of these girls, its practices have been twisted to allow soldiers in the name of tradition to demand that girls in short skirts attending royal events remove their underwear. Many are then raped and abused.
Under traditional law a Swazi woman is always a minor, a girl, the property of her father or her husband and his family. Under the custom of Tolena she can be kidnapped, raped and married by a man and his family and her family simply informed of the wedding and paid a dowry.
Women when married are expected to live with their in laws and raise a family. What is shocking is how common abuse is. A matter that cannot be spoken about, a matter that shows a man cares – he is paying you attention. Also common is the number of women who are expected to look after their children, their in-laws, cook, clean and farm whilst their husband goes off to raise another family elsewhere. If the men return HIV positive, their wives have no right to negotiate over condom use. I spoke to a woman whose husband had returned from South Africa after ten years, living with AIDS. She had no choice but to nurse him until he died, pay for his funeral and then be chucked out of her home by her in-laws as a woman under traditional law cannot own property. Sadly this tragic story is not uncommon.
When a woman is widowed she is forced into a period of mourning for up to two and a half years during which she must wear black and is not allowed in public places. So you can lose your land, your home and be forced into a position where you cannot speak, or work but will still be expected to take on the burden of care for your extended family. In one meeting I went to eight out of ten women were looking after orphans. Hardly surprising when there are 80,000 orphans left parentless by a missing generation, lost to AIDS.
So what is the government doing? Nothing.
For the last six years the Swazi government have been kidding women’s organisations and the international community that they would reform their sexist and repressive laws. They have happily accepted funding and support from the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations to write new legislation but have no intention of implementing it.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. Be brave!
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
This week our activist Tintswalo Ngobeni had this to say “King Mswati is a demon; his interest is to indulge himself in young women. Swaziland’s poor economy makes these young girls think it’s better to marry the King and be a queen because of the lavish lifestyle to which itentitles them. When they look into the future in Swaziland, they don’t see many windows of opportunity. Mswati indulges his wives with a luxurious lifestyle but they are being mentally abused by very limited freedom. I almost became one his victims but I managed to escape from it all by coming to the United Kingdom. His luxurious lifestyle didn’t entice me into becoming one his many wives because I was unhappy with the way he is running the country. His priority has got nothing to do with uplifting the country but instead to uplift himself and the Royal Family.” The Swaziland Vigil would like to point out that Tintswalo Ngobeni’s story is not only sad in that the young girl was a victim of Mswati’s advances, but that she was forced to leave her country. Tintwaslo Ngobeni went on to say that she will protest outside the Swazi Embassy here in the UK to save other young girls from the evil beast Mswati.
Jabulile Simelani had this to say “Today (14th July 2012) we were outside the Swazi Embassy protesting about lack of democracy in Swaziland and we were soaked by the rain which shows our seriousness. The support we are getting from the public is massive and I'm really grateful that now Swaziland is in the limelight. I urge Swazis residing in the UK to come and join us in this war. Back home as I'm writing teachers are on strike, so I'm urging teachers not to stop! Forward ever!!! natsi asikathuli mgalana as long as he comes into this country SITOMUHLAZA until we see change back home MSWATI MUST GO!
- Parent Category: News
The Swaziland Vigil with the help of the Zimbabwe Vigil had a busy week protesting against King Mswati’s visit to the UK for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. We were disappointed that the Queen should invite Africa’s last absolute monarch to what we would regard otherwise as a joyful celebration.
The protests against Mswati culminated after the regular Zimbabwe Vigil today when we processed from the Zimbabwe Embassy to the Savoy Hotel about 200 yards down the Strand to greet Mswati’s guests as they arrived for a dinner he was hosting. About 30 of us gathered with our drums and posters (‘King Mswati buys £30m plane while his people eat cow dung’, ‘Mswati and his 30 strong entourage stay in £400 a night Savoy Hotel while his people starve’, ‘End human rights abuses in Swaziland’, ‘Mswati must go NOW!’ and ‘Democracy now for Swaziland’). As Mswati’s guests went in we heckled them with cries of ‘Shame on you, Shame on you’. Protesters also shouted ‘women abuser’ and ‘save the young girls of Swaziland’. We were not surprised by the news from South Africa that one of the king’s 13 wives has spent the past month in the Presidential Suite of the Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg costing $2,000 a night (see: http://africajournalismtheworld.com/tag/swazi-queen-runs-up-huge-hotel-bill/).
It was a long day for the Swaziland Vigil which had gathered for their regular demonstration outside the Swaziland High Commission at 10 am today before presenting a petition to 10 Downing Street at 1 pm protesting about the human rights abuses in Swaziland. For the letter to the British Prime Minister that accompanied the petition (see: http://www.zimvigil.co.uk/vigil-news/campaign-news/401-swazi-letter-to-the-british-prime-minister).
On Friday night activists from both the Swaziland and the Zimbabwe vigils joined the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell in a protest outside Buckingham Palace (see; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18099937 - Diamond Jubilee: World royals gather in UK for Queen).
King Mswati must have been left with little doubt about what the Swazis and Zimbabweans in the UK thought of him after we greeted him when he arrived at the Savoy Hotel on Wednesday (see report below). The efforts that we and others have made resulted in totally negative media coverage for him in newspapers, television and radio. As the Times reported ‘Swaziland’s King Mswati III is said to enjoy a lavish lifestyle while his subjects starve’.
The success of the demonstrations was largely down to the hard work of three members of the Swaziland Vigil: Flora Dlamini, Margaret Dlamini (who came to the protest on Wednesday straight after dialysis) and Jabulile Simelane and Zimbabwe Vigil management team member Fungayi Mabhunu.
Prptest against King Mswati of Swaziland – 16th May 2012
Protestors demonstrated outside a leading London hotel against the visit of King Mswati III of Swaziland – Africa’s last absolute ruler – who is in the UK to attend a diamond jubilee banquet for the world’s monarchs hosted by the Queen at Windsor Castle on Friday 18th May.
The protest was organised by the Swaziland Vigil which stages regular demonstrations outside the Swaziland High Commission in London in protest at the king’s autocratic rule. They were supported by the Zimbabwe Vigil which protests against Mugabe and by Action for Southern Africa (the successor organisation to the Anti-Apartheid Movement) along with members of British trade unions.
Amid drumming, singing and chants of ‘Mswati must go’ the demonstrators outside the Savoy hotel in the Strand carried banners reading: ‘King Mswati buys £30m plane while his people eat cow dung’, ‘Mswati and his 30 strong entourage stay in £400 a night Savoy Hotel while his people starve’, ‘End human rights abuses in Swaziland’, and ‘Democracy now for Swaziland’.
A spokesperson for the Swaziland Vigil Flora Dlamini said the Swazi people were demanding democracy and an end to the feudal regime under which no political parties were allowed and freedom of expression was curtailed.
‘We have one of the richest kings in the world and yet we live in poverty. People are starving but he is here with more than 30 people in one of the most expensive hotels in London.
King Mswati (44) who has married 13 women was said, by two young women who came out of the Savoy, to be flirting with them asking about the best night clubs and shopping in the area.
A BBC photographer passed by and took photos. He has posted this on twitter: ‘What the King of Swaziland might see if he looks out of his window at the Savoy Hotel in London’ (#royal http://pic.twitter.com/bNEcIcm6). He has also posted a sound bite on the following link: http://audioboo.fm/boos/804353-demo-against-swaziland-s-king-mswati-iii-outside-savoy.
Thanks to Fungayi Mabhunu, Flora Dlamini, Margaret Dlamini, Mary Muteyerwa, Georgina Makaza, Bernard Hukwa, Ellen Gonyora, Kelvin Kamupira, Ndana Sanyanga, Edward Mutamiswa, Tim Rusike and Rose Benton who attended the protest.
Swazis in London protest at visit by playboy king Mswati III
Exiled Swazis living in the UK are to protest outside the Savoy Hotel in London on Wednesday 16th May when their king Mswati III is due to arrive to attend a diamond jubilee banquet for the world’s monarchs hosted by the Queen at Windsor Castle on Friday 18th May.
The protest is organised by the Swaziland Vigil which stages regular demonstrations outside the Swaziland High Commission in London in protest at the king’s autocratic rule. He is Africa’s last absolute monarch and has, at the last count, 13 wives – although there are reports that some of them have fled. Forty-four year old Mswati III, educated at Sherborne public school in Dorset, is said by Forbes magazine to have a fortune of more than $100 million while his people live in poverty.
The co-ordinator of the Swazi Vigil Thobile Gwebu said people in Swaziland had been reduced to eating cow dung so that they could fill their bellies as required for the AIDs medicines provided by NGOs. She said the king had recently taken delivery of a DC-9 twin-engine aircraft claiming it was a gift from ‘anonymous sponsors’.
Ms Gwebu said she understood the king was travelling with the entourage of 30, staying at the Savoy where room prices start at £400 a night.
She said Swazis in the UK didn’t want to spoil the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and had written to her explaining that, as Queen of the Commonwealth, perhaps she could have a word with Mswati so that they could return home to a country where human rights were respected. For text of the letter see: http://www.zimvigil.co.uk/vigil-news/campaign-news/397-swaziland-vigil-letter-to-the-queen.
The Swaziland Vigil is also planning to picket the Swaziland High Commission on Saturday 19th May when king Mswati is due to hold a dinner.
Date: Wednesday 16th May from 12 noon – 3 pm
Venue: Savoy Hotel, Strand, London WC2R 0EU
19th May 2012
Dear Mr Cameron
On the occasion of the visit to the UK by King Mswati III, we respectfully submit the following petition: “Petition to the British Government: Exiled Swazis and supporters urge you to put pressure on absolute monarch King Mswati III to allow political freedom, freedom of the press, rule of law, respect for women and affordable AIDs drugs in Swaziland.”
The petition has been signed by people passing the Swaziland Vigil which holds regular demonstrations outside the Swaziland High Commission in London in protest at the human rights abuses in Swaziland.
For your information we have sent the following letter to the Queen, who invited Mswati to a lunch at Windsor Castle on 18th May to mark her Diamond Jubilee.
"Letter to the Queen - 9th May 2012
An Appeal to the Mother of Monarchs
We wish to record our disquiet at the visit to the UK by our King Mswati III on the occasion of your Jubilee. We are a group of Swazis driven into exile because of the arbitrary behaviour of King Mswati, the last absolute ruler in Africa. He lives like a medieval monarch while his people suffer. He now has his own £30 million aircraft while some women with HIV are reduced to eating cow dung because they have to have something in their stomachs for the medicine they must take. King Mswati has banned all political activities so we are left without a voice at home. We stage a regular protest outside the Swaziland High Commission just down the road from Buckingham Palace.
We realise that your hands are tied by protocol and wish to assure you that the protests we plan against King Mswati during his visit to London do not indicate any disrespect to you. But we would humbly ask you, as the Mother of the Commonwealth, to have a word with King Mswati so that we can return home in freedom to a democratic country observing international human rights. We are sad his education in England seems to have made him think his people are slaves."
- Parent Category: News