Two Swazi activists, threatened with “throttling” by the country’s prime minister, are biding their time in South Africa before deciding whether to go home.
Vincent Ncongwane, secretary-general of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (Tucoswa), and Sipho Gumedze, a member of Lawyers for Human Rights, said in Joburg on Tuesday that although Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini had subsequently withdrawn the threat, they remained wary of what would happen to them on their return.
Gumedze expressed concern that they might be arrested and that he might be evicted from his rural house as it was the prerogative of the local chief to decide if he could remain there.
The two men were in Washington last week as guests of the US government to participate in a civil society forum as part of President Barack Obama’s US-Africa leaders’ summit.
They also joined a street demonstration, holding placards calling for freedom of expression in Swaziland as a protest against the recent harsh sentences handed down to Swazi newspaper editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko for publishing articles critical of the country’s chief justice.
According to the Times of Swaziland, Dlamini told parliament last week: “Once they come back and you find out they are from your constituencies, you must strangle them.”
Dlamini later retracted the remark, claiming he had been misunderstood, after an international outcry, including sharp criticism from the US government.
Gumedze said Dlamini had issued the threat against them because he believed they had gone to Washington to embarrass King Mswati III, who was in Washington at the same time to participate in Obama’s summit.
In fact, Gumedze said they had said nothing in Washington different from what they had said before in Swaziland.
He and Ncongwane suggested that the Swazi government was particularly annoyed because the US had just removed Swaziland from benefits which had given the country duty-free access for its exports to the US market.
Gumedze said he took Dlamini’s threat seriously, although his fears seemed to be of arrest or eviction.
He was certain that they would not get fair trials by Swaziland’s “corrupt” judiciary. - Independent Foreign Service