MBABANE: Classified emails exposes how a network of State controlled journalists collaborate with Cabinet, local newspapers and the Police Intelligence Unit to target leaders of the pro-democracy movement.
These are preliminary findings of a high level investigation by this Swaziland News that exposed how the State political machinery through the Intelligence Unit allegedly penetrated and influenced the media to push the agenda of King Mswati’s regime.
As a result, influential members of People’s United Democratic Movement(PUDEMO), the newly formed Swaziland Liberation Movement(SWALIMO) and other human rights defenders are among the list of political activists who are being monitored by King Mswati’s Police Intelligence Unit.
According to the highly classified intelligence documents, the political activists who are being monitored by the police include the entire PUDEMO Executive, Penuel Malinga(PUDEMO), Busie Mayisela(SWALIMO), Gift Dlamini(SWALIMO), Nonhlanhla Simelane, Xolani Maseko(SNUS), Dumisa Vincent Sikebhe Dlamini(NNLC) and Siphetfo Dlamini(SWALIMO).
The documents further reveal that Nhlanhla Waga Dlamini of Ekutsimuleni(LUVE), an alleged PUDEMO member is being spied on together with Brian Sihlongonyane who is listed as the Chairperson of the EFF Swaziland for the Ngwempisi Branch.
It has been disclosed further through the documents that Velaphi Mamba(OSISA) and his wife who is listed as a teacher at St Marks Primary is being spied on together with Muzi Masuku(OSISA).
Others include Sizwe Dlamini and Sipho Dlamini who are both listed as Shewula and Tshaneni bombing suspects.
MTN Mobile Money numbers of the Swaziland Solidarity Fund and EFF Swaziland also form part of the intelligence spying according to the documents.
Reached for comments, Wandile Dludlu, the Secretary General of the People’s United Democratic Movement(PUDEMO) said the information and the list of political activists who were being targeted confirmed the ongoing online attacks directed to the pro-democracy movement.
“As you are mentioning the list of political activists who are being targeted, this confirms the online attacks on the pro-democracy movement particularly PUDEMO. Mswati’s strategy is to target and divide the pro-democracy movement while pretending in the eyes of the world to be open for dialogue. His greatest fear is to dialogue with a united pro-democracy movement, Tinkhundla is ever changing to remain the same. But we want to state categorically, that no amount of attacks will stop the calls for democratic reforms”, said the PUDEMO Secretary General.
Superintendent Phindile Vilakati, the eSwatini Police Spokesperson had not responded at the time of compiling this report.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News further uncovered emails with highly classified documents linking State journalists who are allegedly doing or proposed to do an online Public Relations(PR)project for Mswati’s government targeting leaders of the pro-democracy movement.
According to the emails and information in our possession, a powerful media network of former and practising Swazi Observer and Times journalists are allegedly working closely with the intelligence unit to gather information and scandalize pro-democracy leaders while creating a positive image for the Mswati’s regime as part of a PR management for the government.
The emails reveal that Sifiso Sibandze, the former Times Sunday editor and Sifiso Dhlamini, the former Swazi Observer editor who once worked as Marketing and Communications Manager for the Eswatini Electricity Company(EEC) are allegedly among the powerful network of journalists who are working closely with the police intelligence unit and or government to gather information while doing a PR project for the regime.
Reached for comments, Sifiso Dhlamini, the former Swazi Observer editor confirmed being part of a communication company together with Sifiso Sibandze and others but denied knowledge of the project linking government.
“It’s true ngiyasebenta naSifiso Sibandze in a communications company, sekwentekeni? Ngitjele Dlamini uwakitsi wena, ngeke ungilahle(meaning: I work with Sifiso Sibandze, what has happened? Just tell me Dlamini, we are related you can’t destroy me”, he said.
The former Swazi Observer editor then asked this journalist to share details of the documents implicating him to the media syndicate and after being told, he denied knowledge of the government project.
“I am not aware that our company is doing a PR project for government “, he said.
Worth-noting, the emails that links Dhlamini suggests that the company with links the network of State controlled journalists mentioned government, Sugar Association and FINCORP among others as their reference in a project they were proposing from another entity.
But on the government political project, the documents further reflect that the PR company which Dhlamini confirmed to be part of, proposed to create an anonymous online content targeting detractors of Mswati’s regime and their political organizations.
content for online publication targeting detractors and their political organisations (Details to be shared during in person meetings due to sensitivity)”, read part of the documents detailing government's PR strategy to deal with political activists and to manage the reputation of the regime.
Currently and subsequent to the alleged engagements between government an the State controlled journalists, three online platforms that publish unfounded allegations against political activists while creating a positive image about eSwatini government have emerged, these include ‘Hidden Side, the 'Sober Eye’ and Eswatini Fact Check, some of the political leaders who were targeted by the online platforms form part of the list of political activists monitored by Mswati’s Intelligence Unit.
But in the midst of this investigation and after various journalists and those implicated were contacted to verify certain information, the Times ‘rushed’ to publish an article under the headline “Government not aware of Facts Only platform”.
Coincidentally, ‘Facts Only’ emerged after the PR company linking the powerful network of State controlled journalists shared a detailed working plan with government, it’s content allegedly corresponds with what is contained in the documents and or working plan.
“Research, compile and
publicise GOVT success stories on improved services offering and completed projects”, read part of the documents and or propaganda machinery strategy to be implemented by the State controlled journalists.
But evidence obtained, subsequent to a separate investigation targeting bank transactions and the flow of monies between the government, public enterprises and the network of State journalists suggests that even before the alleged engagement of the journalists to do an undercover PR project for the regime, Sifiso Sibandze, the then Times Sunday editor was already benefiting huge amounts of money from the government through various public enterprises.
Evidence in our possession suggests that among the payments made to Sibandze was an amount of R25,000.00 that was paid by the Eswatini Water and Agricultural Enterprises(ESWADE) directly to his personal bank account.
At the time of the payment, Sibandze was no longer working for the Times but remained active and influential within the public administration.
Reached for comments, Sifiso Sibandze confirmed receiving the said payment from ESWADE but clarified that it was for a 2022 ‘first world’ report he compiled for the State enterprise.
“I did receive that payment, but it was clean money, everything went through the procurement process. We were compiling a report for ESWADE under the Ministry of Agriculture detailing what the government parastatal did as part of the first world projects”, said the former Times Sunday editor.
Samson Sithole, the ESWADE Chief Executive Officer(CEO) after being questioned by this Swaziland News about the transaction, confirmed that indeed Sibandze was once engaged by the public enterprise.
“Dlamini, I have just gotten hold of our Head of Communications (Nokwazi Hlophe). She confirms that indeed, we did engage Sifiso Sibandze to assist in putting together a report which was to be submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture. And was eventually submitted”, said the ESWADE CEO.
It has been disclosed that part of the money accumulated by the journalists through the undercover ‘dirty’ government projects is then withdrawn in cash and handed over to practising journalists of the State controlled newspapers.
Insiders revealed that the journalists then pushed the propaganda through articles, promoting the government while attempting to divide the pro-democracy movement.
This publication recently exposed Times Sunday journalist Welcome Dlamini and former news editor Maqhawe Nxumalo as being allegedly part of the media syndicate targeting political leaders through the faceless online content, both journalists later denied being part of the media syndicate.
But on or around December 2021 and in the midst of this investigation, Sifiso Sibandze, perhaps after learning about this investigation, made a surprise call to this investigative journalist trying to twist focus as the investigation intensified by implicating another journalist.
“I am told that you are investigating the people behind the Hidden Side and I can assist you with information. Uyambona(name withheld) asomphenye loyo, ukuyo le-Hidden Side. We do have a PR company but we are doing clean business”, said the former Times Sunday editor.
At this juncture, the name of the journalist mentioned by Sibandze does not appear in the documents and in the absence of supporting and implicating evidence, his name cannot be revealed for now.
Thabile Mdluli, Deputy Government Spokesperson had not responded at the time of of compiling this report.
Eswatini is in the midst of a political crisis after King Mswati unleashed soldiers and the police to shoot and kill dozens of civilians merely for demanding democratic reforms. The King subsequently agreed to participate in a dialogue facilitated by the Southern African Development Community(SADC) Troika on Politics, Defense and Security but the security intelligence and State journalists were subsequently unleashed on leaders of the pro-democracy movement.
The Eswatini Police Headquarters.