A complaint to the International Criminal Court has turned the spotlight on King Mswati III's alleged human rights violations.
And in particular his alleged order for the demolition of privately owned houses following a land dispute.
The demolitions – in the Manzini district in 2010 – left more than 200 people homeless, according to the anonymous victim who laid the complaint. In a letter dated November 27 2010, she asked the Swaziland Solidarity Network to report the king to the court for investigation and prosecution.
The network duly forwarded the letter to the court, which said it could not take the matter forward unless further evidence was provided.
In her complaint, the victim said residents had not been compensated. “Nobody can explain to us what happened because even the chief [of the area] is in the dark about it.”
The demolitions were extensively covered in the Swazi media, which steered clear of implicating the king but reported that his emissary, Phophonyane Maziya, had given instructions for the houses to be flattened by government graders.
Originally, 400 houses were targeted for demolition after Mswati clashed with his brother and the chief of the area, Prince Matatazela, claiming the land on which they were built belonged to him.
Eighteen homes were knocked down, but further destruction was stopped when residents brought an urgent application to the Swaziland High Court, with Matatazela’s backing. The victim complained that although the court had ruled in their favour, affected residents had not been compensated.
“The king never called him [Matatazela] to address the issues at hand and even his people have never been addressed,” she said in her statement.
Senator Dlamini, chairperson of the KaShali community development committee, which represents the residents, said the value of the destroyed houses ranged from R200 000 to close to R400 000.
Another victim, who asked not to be named, pointed out that Mswati cannot be sued because he has legal immunity in Swaziland.
“The chief justice [Michael Ramodibedi] does not want the court to accept any case that touches on the king,” the victim said. “Even those whose houses were spared live in fear because the king is known for going against court orders.”
He said it was sad that while people are still repaying loans on the demolished houses, they are now forced to pay rent for their new accommodation.
Last July, the Mail & Guardian reported that Mswati had refused to pay for a businessman’s guesthouse he had seized. When Victor Ndlovu went to court, Ramodibedi refused to accept the application. The judge handed down an order stating that the court would not hear cases against the king.
In 2000 more than 200 people were evicted from Macetjeni and KaMkhweli in the Manzini region for failing to transfer their allegiance to Mswati’s brother, the late Prince Maguga, in defiance of a court order.
Many of them remain displaced, and others are living in exile in South Africa. They have received no compensation.
Government spokesperson Percy Simelane dismissed the claims as “bizarre and nonsensical”, adding that they were part of “flimsy attempts by the Swaziland Solidarity Network to put Mswati’s name in bad light in the international community”. Simelane suggested that the claims – and others contained in the victim’s complaint – were “ludicrous propaganda gabbage [sic]”. However, he did not specifically respond to questions about the destruction of residents’ homes without compensation.
On November 5 2010 residents of KaShali, an area under traditional tenure on the outskirts of Manzini, watched in disbelief as government graders ploughed into their houses with police standing by.
Giving orders for the demolition was Mswati’s emissary, Maziya, who claimed the residents had unlawfully settled on the king’s land.
In their subsequent court application, the residents argued that they had acquired the land through Matatazela, in line with Swazi customary procedure.
The court found that the land belonged to the king but that the residents were innocent of any wrongdoing.
Matatazela could not be reached for comment.
In a letter to the Swaziland Solidarity Network, the International Criminal Court said it could not act on the victim’s complaint because the allegations fell outside its jurisdiction. It did not rule out the possibility of proceeding with the case should new facts or evidence emerge.
“The decision may also be reviewed if there is an acceptance of jurisdiction by the relevant states or a referral from the [UN] Security Council,” wrote the court’s MP Dillon, head of the information and evidence unit in the prosecutor’s office. He said that the ICC “is designed to complement, not replace national jurisdictions. Thus, if you wish to pursue this matter further, you may consider raising it with appropriate national or international authorities.”
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.