We don’t care about King Mswati’s bad publicity-Phesheya Dube



BY : ZWELI MARTIN DLAMINI

JOHANNESBURG : Phesheya Dube, the Director of Media in Swaziland said as government they are not bothered with the bad publicity by the international media directed to King Mswati with regards to the violation of press freedom. The King, as the Head of State normally receives huge criticism every time a decision to close a newspaper or any forms of suppression directed to the media by his government. But Phesheya Dube, the Media Director in the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) who facilitated the closure of the now defunct Swaziland Shopping newspaper said government was not bothered at all with the international criticism directed to King Mswati. He said instead, his office would be flooded with complains on why the newspaper was not closed everytime the Swaziland Shopping published scathing articles about the late powerful businessman Victor Gamedze not the King.

“But that doesn’t mean we have been instructed by Victor to close the newspaper, ngoba utobese ucabanga kutsi sitfunyiwe(as you might think we have been instructed) What we are actually doing is that we want you to comply with the law. Kona kufanele ngabe sivele siyakuvala nje, manje ngoba nawe uliSwati uyazama. Phela ukhona mbamba lomtsetfo lovuma kutsi sivele sikuvale(meaning: We might decide to just shut your newspaper down as the law allows us to do so) But now we are saying follow the process and get a license because the one you got from Commerce is not for newspapers, we will write and inform them about that.” he said.

This was during a meeting with this journalist held at his offices in Mbabane where Dube disclosed that he was inspired by out-going Prime Minister Dr Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini whom he said was always firm when taking decisions. Some of the correspondence and engagements between this journalist and Phesheya Dube, ICT Minister and Victor Gamedze leading up to the closure of the newspaper were recorded. These include death threats directed to this reporter that were ignored by the Swazi police and the Editors Forum as the businessman was controlling almost all pillars of the State. Information gathered suggests that when Dube invite this reporter for a meeting, the decision to close the newspaper was already taken, what was left was to explore a good strategy that would minimize international criticism.

“We closed The Guardian before "kwabatse kubanga umsindvo lokweMamelikha, hhawu idecision yabe solo imile nje" (even the Americans tried to put pressure on us when we closed the Guardian but the decision was not reversed). You see, I’m inspired by the Prime Minister, that man once he takes a decision, he doesn’t reverse it regardless of any pressure” he said. When this journalist asked if government was not concerned with the bad publicity that is then directed to the King by the international media thereafter. “Asingenelani neNkhosi (We are actually not bothered by the bad publicity directed to the King) Actually we are in the process of developing a regulatory framework for the media where all journalists and those who want to own newspapers will be approved by the Swaziland Editors Forum (SEF) and the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) just like it happens with lawyers and the Law Society. We want the media to be independent but at the same time, we will be formulating policies that will guide the regulation” he said.

The Editors Forum, to which Dube was referring to is dominated by King Mswati’s loyalists whose salaries are paid by the State. Martin Dlamini, the Deputy Chairman of the Editors Forum cited in a report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) after it was discovered that he was on King’s parole and working as a speech writer or the Monarch. Mbongeni Mbingo, the Chairman is working for the King’s owned Swazi Observer newspaper and was also instrumental in closing the Swaziland Shopping. On 13 December 2017, Dube subsequently served this journalist with a letter closing the newspaper and soon thereafter went to the Minister’s office to inform him about the decision. When this reporter arrived at the Minister’s office, Dube was already inside but this journalist who was at the reception managed to capture their discussion.

Nimyekeleleni lomuntfu ningamvali sikhatsi lesidze kangaka, nyalo nje nangibutwa mine ngitophendvula ngitsini, ngoba phela ngisetawubutwa(meaning: Why did you delay closing the newspaper if it doesn’t have a license as now they would be those questions that I would be required to answer” the Minister asked. Dube responded by blaming the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Trade that issued a licence to the Swaziland Shopping newspaper. “The problem was with the Commerce, (inkinga beyingale kaCommerce Minister)” Dube responded. When Dube came out of the meeting, he was surprised to find this journalist in the reception, he demonstrated a deceiving smile. “Oh you still here”. Shortly, the Minister, who had requested a meeting with this reporter, came out of his office.

“Dlamini, we were suppose to meet at 9 but now I’m rushing to another meeting, lets communicate over the phone (asitsintsane ngetincingo Dlamini). Information later emerged that the Minister was also captured through a business contract at Inyatsi owned by Victor Gamedze’s business partner Michello Shakantu. This excludes other token of appreciation he allegedly received from the businessman to build his house situated at Lomkiri in the outskirts of Mbabane. When probed later Phesheya Dube, then referred questions to Principal Secretary Bhekithemba Gama, the PM son in law.

“Please talk to the PS, he is aware of everything” he said in a whatsap message. Insiders disclosed that Victor Gamedze, the late powerful and political connected businessman was pushing for policies that would enable journalists to be approved by his allies in particular Mbongeni Mbingo, as means to victimize and remove scribes criticizing him through the media. Before, the death of the businessman, Mbingo was quickly accumulating questionable power hiring and removing journalists as per the instructions of Gamedze. Documents reveal that Mbingo was once instructed by Victor Gamedze, the then Chairman of the Premier League of Swaziland to dismiss former Swazi Observer Sports editor Sabelo Ndzinisa who had written a critical story about Mbabane Swallows.

The Editor’s Forum Chairman, while employed as Times of Swaziland Managing Editor facilitated the dismissal of the then Sports editor Dumisani Ntiwane who was seeking to publish a critical story about Manzini Wanderers despite a warning that the story should be dropped allegedly by King Mswati’s wife Inkhosikati Sibonelo Mngometulu known as LaMbikiza. Again around the year 2014, Mbingo was cited and criticized in a report by the Media Institute of Sothern Africa (MISA), after allowing the powerful businessman Victor Gamedze to assault a journalist Baphelele Kunene inside the Swazi Observer newsroom. The controversial editor confirmed the harassment almost after four years since the incident happened saying he apologized to Kunene for the humiliation he subjected him to. “I am a professional and always take blame when I’m wrong. I even apologized to Baphelele for that incident” read a message from the editor. The editor later avoided a conversation with this journalist when asked about the plot influenced by Victor Gamedze to control the media. However in line with the principles of journalism efforts are always made to send him questions so he can exercise his right to respond or not.