July 9, 2008

Government prohibits march against increased ritual killings

Freedom of expression came under threat when the government of Swaziland prohibited a protest march organised by civic organisations who wanted to protest against rising ritual killings in the tiny kingdom. The government says it fears the march would embarrass both the country internationally and the king who is currently abroad on a world tour. This has resulted in a stand-off between the government and the organizers of the march who have vowed to continue with it despite the government prohibition.

The march was initially scheduled for 5 July 2008 in Manzini, the country's second major city. Its organizers have said that despite the government prohibition they were planning to go ahead with the march on a date yet to be announced.

Swaziland has seen a rising incidence of ritual murders over the last couple of months. Media commentators have been quick to link this to the forthcoming parliamentary elections to be held later in 2008. Some Swazis still believe in traditional medicine to "strengthen themselves" in order to gain power. Women and children have been found in the past, during election time, murdered with their bodies mutilated for reported ritual purposes or to "strengthen" power-hungry individuals. More recently, more and more women and children have been reported missing and some later were found murdered, with body parts missing.

Women's organizations, the church and other civic organizations recently decided that "enough was enough" and resolved to stage the protest march. However, the government moved swiftly to ban it, citing that it was trying to avoid international embarrassment to the country and king.

Swaziland is not a democracy and uses the traditional "tinkhundla" system of government which encourages individual campaigning for seats in parliament. This is apparently fuelling the ritual murders as individuals see an opportunity to gain power through ritual killings. To protect freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the Swazi constitution, MISA-Swaziland has condemned the government ban and has called for the march to be allowed to take place. (Media Institute of Southern Africa, Windhoek)

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