When King Mswati re-appointed Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini as Prime Minister of Swaziland now eSwatini in 2008, he returned with a well planned strategy to capture and seize control of the media that had previously caused him a political headache during his 1996-2003 term.
The political plan was first executed around August 2009 when Martin Dlamini, the Times of eSwatini Managing Editor was appointed as Head of Smart Partnership under the Prime Minister’s office, at the time I was already working as Lifestyle and Entertainment Reporter, a pullout of the Swazi Observer.
It later emerged that when Martin Dlamini was appointed into this position, he was already enjoying strong links with royalty blocking critical articles about the King and government from reaching the public domain.
The media environment become unconducive for any objective journalist to strive and freely present facts as they are, whether acceptable to authorities or not. This resulted in the exodus of many journalists from the times of Eswatini, some joined corporate companies and NGOs while some were strategically recruited in the security forces to work as Intelligence spies. The aim was to weaken the media and to strengthen the flawed Tinkhundla system.
After the appointment of Martin Dlamini as Head of Smart Partnership, Mbongeni Mbingo took over as the Times of Swaziland Managing Editor which triggered tension between him and the late Thulani Tfwala who felt denied a promotion to be the Managing Editor since he claimed to be more qualified than Mbingo. During that time Mbingo was enjoying strong links with Sibonelo Mngometulu known as Inkhosikati LaMbikiza, the second wife of King Mswati.
The powerful royal clique linked to Barnabas arbitrated the war between the two editors by recruiting the late Thulani Tfwala as Editor of Swazi Observer reporting to the Chief Editor who, by then, was Musa Ndlangamandla. This move worked for the better of the government owned newspaper as it became vibrant, winning awards during the JMC Media Awards in 2011.
It was Ackel Zwane’s well-investigated story linking the late Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini into a fraudulent land scandal that saw the Swazi Observer dominating the awards, Thulani Tfwala walked away with the editor of the Year Award.
But Barnabas who was already controlling the Times was not ready to go down without a fight, in his desire to seize full control of the media. He instructed the police to raid the then Chief Editor Musa Ndlangamandla’s offices seeking to arrest him on terrorism charges, he was accused of giving a voice to members of political parties declared as terrorist organizations by the PM. Musa Ndlangamandla’s sin was failure to contain the two independent minded journalists on exposing the authorities’ corruption.
The editor was compelled to flee to exile and soon thereafter, Weekend Editor Alec Lushaba and editor Thulani Tfwala were suspended by the then Managing Director Alpheus Nxumalo who was a close ally of Barnabas. Nxumalo told the State-owned radio station in 2012 that the suspension of the editors was part of restoring the newspaper to its original mandate which he did not publicly disclose.
In the midst of that political tension, Mbongeni Mbingo was hand-picked from the Times and appointed as Swazi Observer Managing Editor, he was to work with his ‘suspended’ long-time media revival Thulani Tfwala.
It was for this reason that even though the appointment was masterminded by former Prime Minister now Tibiyo TakaNgwane Managing Director Absalom Themba Dlamini who instructed Nxumalo to employ Mbingo, the late PM Barnabas did not frustrate it as he was also enjoying ties with Mbingo and was confident that the Managing Editor will look after the uncompromising Thulani Tfwala and Alec Lushaba on his behalf.
Indeed, when Lushaba and Tfwala’s suspension was lifted by Board Chairman Sthofeni Ginindza during a press conference in Mbabane, they subsequently joined other journalists in becoming vigorous royal propagandists but this time, they were focusing mostly in protecting and promoting the interests of Barnabas.
At some point, the editors went all out to ridicule the then Speaker Themba Msibi , Senate President Gelane Zwane and the late Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi who were embroiled in a political war with the late Prime Minister.
In series of articles published in the Swazi Observer, Alec Lushaba would remind politicians to respect the PM saying he was powerful and the only one whose appointment came through Sibaya. Other journalists sang praises to the late Prime Minister through their writings portraying him as a person who always win political battles.
Mbingo was captured with a tempting employment offer that pays around R52,000.00 per month and in his capacity as Editors Forum Chairman, he was allegedly given an extra mandate to make sure other journalists toe the line and refrain from criticizing the King and government.
After Mbingo’s appointment by the Swazi Observer, Martin Dlamini bounced back as Times Managing Editor, he came back with a strong mandate to protect royal interests. His previous Smart Partnership office was reporting directly to the King and at some point, he reportedly clashed with Barnabas after the PM noted that the editor was becoming more closer to the King.
The Times editor subsequently became the most powerful individual in the country after the King privately hired him as Deputy Specialist Political Affairs in the King’s Office whose duties include speech writing, travelling, compiling and publishing positive articles about King Mswati. To be precise, he was engaged to work as a propagandist for the King and has been doing this job both as editor and speech writer. Martin Dlamini became the first and only journalist in the world from an independent newspaper to receive an award from a Head of State after King Mswati recognized him for his role in the media.
The Times Managing Editor has benefited millions of public funds through travelling allowances and together with Mbongeni Mbingo, they are now counted among the richest journalists in eSwatini.
It should be noted that for the past years, they had managed to mislead the world regarding the political affairs of the country and lack of media freedom, however, their propaganda machinery is slowly threatened by emerging independent online publications which they are trying so hard to manage in collaboration with the police.