(MISA/IFEX) - Several journalists have been harassed amid mounting tensions in the
country stemming from the forced evictions of people in the Macetjeni and KaMkhweli areas because of a chieftancy dispute. According to reports, the two chiefs in the area have been demoted by the Swaziland National Council (SNC) and another chief imposed in their place, leading to a still-to-be concluded High Court challenge by community members against the SNC move. Further reports allege that the supporters of the two former chiefs were being evicted from their homes and moved to remote areas, without food or shelter, and away from their places of work.
On 13 and 14 October, several journalists wanting to cover the evictions were harassed and detained. Ginger Ginindza from the Swaziland Television Authority (STA) was detained for four hours. This was apparently on the orders of Assistant Police Commissioner Mathendele Vulakati. In the process his camera and footage were confiscated. The police reportedly claimed that he was prying into issues that were neither his business nor that of the public. Ginindza's camera was later returned to him but without the footage.
A news crew from the "Times of Swaziland" newspaper, led by journalist Nimrod Mabuza, was also harassed and thwarted from effectively covering the story. The "Times" team was reportedly told by Vulakati, who was leading a team of soldiers and policemen at the scene, that he was going to deal with journalists and should they publish anything they would be dealt with accordingly. The news crew was prevented from going to the nearby town of Bigbend where other evictions were taking place. The police apparently used their cars to block the journalists from moving. At one point, a group of soldiers menacingly confronted the journalists in their car and threatened to shoot them. They were then instructed to follow the police to a nearby camp, where the police accused the journalists of wanting to beat up the assistant commissioner. One police officer, only known as Mamba, reportedly wrestled a camera from photographer Mduduzi Mngomezulu, which was later returned to him after a lengthy argument.
In separate incidents on 15 October, the Manzini Regional Police Commander, G. Magagula, tried to grab a camera from "Times" reporter Ackel Zwane. The incident happened at the Salesian High School sports grounds, where executive members of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) were meeting with the joint armed forces. It was only after some SFTU executive members came to the defence of the journalist that he was allowed to continue with his work. On the same occasion, an unnamed South African photographer was confronted by Vulakati, who allegedly told him to stop taking pictures in Swaziland.
On Sunday 15 October, the police banned a mass meeting of the SFTU at the Salesian School sports ground because the Macetjeni issue was on the agenda, reports the "Times of Swaziland".
The newspaper reported that at about 10:00 a.m. (local time) several senior police officers called aside the leadership of the SFTU and told them that whatever they were to discuss, it should have nothing to do with the ejected chiefs at Macetjeni and KaMkhweli, otherwise they would declare the meeting closed.
After trying to persuade the police otherwise, but to no avail, SFTU President Richard Nxumalo and Secretary General Jan Sithole informed the some 800 workers gathered of the police ban, which was final and non-negotiable. The SFTU then requested the workers to heed the police ban and abandon the meeting since, according to Sithole, it was felt the police were all out to beat up the workers. The workers were then escorted by the police from the venue to the Manzini city centre, where the workers dispersed peacefully.