Swaziland and the shame of rape

Sometime in 2005 senior Prince and former Tibiyo Taka Ngwane board member Mbuyisa Dlamini visited his sister near the hamlet of Ngwenya in the western part of Swaziland. It was a customary visit between brothers and sisters.

 This time, however, it was to change their relationship forever. By the time Prince Mbuyisa had left Ngwenya, one of Princess Mncane’s granddaughters had a torn hymen, bruised vagina and was weeping uncontrollably.

Princess Mncane was to later learn that her trusted brother had been sexually abusing her then nine year old granddaughter each time he visited. The family was devastated. At the time, Prince Mbuyisa (56), son to the late King Sobhuza II, was a respected senior Prince within the royal household.

After much consideration, a decision was taken to report the Prince to the police. Testifying at the trial, one of the lead police investigators told the court that when the rape docket landed on their desk most police officers feared taking up the case.

He told Joe Gumedze, the presiding Magistrate, that a decision was taken to defer the case to senior police officers so that royalty could be informed before arrests. On that witness stand stood a confident and unshaken police officer giving us more than just details of a nine year old’s sexual trauma but the procedure on arresting a Prince.  The king, we learned, is the final arbiter on whether royals are to be arrested no matter how heinous their crime.

As details of Prince Mbuyisa’s rape surfaced at trial, the stench of sexual violations within the royal family became too unbearable a smell. Young girls started to find their voice and told their own horrid experiences either at the hands of the Prince or other royals.

A government gazette published in 2013 honouring the rapist Prince Mbuyisa

Even more startling were reports that the Prince had been sexually abusing his own children for years. Police, however, could not find good enough evidence to nail him on those allegations. They relied on the solid evidence of the nine year old. It was hoped it would end once and for all the Prince’s sexual escapades. After a lengthy trial, the case came to a close in or around January 2006. The Magistrate, for his part, did not disappoint when giving his verdict.

What you did, has brought shame on your own head and also on the heads of your children. I will not even dare to mention the royal family,” Magistrate Gumedze said when passing judgement.

You caused pain and suffering when you penetrated her and tore her vagina without any qualms about her rights and dignity, the worst aspect being that she was in no position to defend herself,” continued the Magistrate.

Despite its funfair, the seven year custodial sentence imposed felt like a slap in the wrist given the age of the minor and the circumstances of the rape. It was, however, a welcome relief to those within the royal family who were emotionally invested and polarised by the case. The Prince subsequently filed a review application at the High Court challenging the procedural fairness of the trial. Prince Mbuyisa argued that all of the witnesses gave their evidence in Siswati and there was no proper translation for him.

Notwithstanding that there was an official court interpreter at all material times he never interpreted for the court the answers given by the witnesses as they were led in examination in chief or when my then attorney Thulani Dlamini cross examined them. The court recorded in English whatever they said notwithstanding that they gave their evidence in SiSwati and there was no interpretation of what they testified to. I am advised and I verily believe the Magistrate Court is a court of recording whose proceedings are to be conducted in English and where the evidence ought to be recorded in English,” read his affidavit at the High Court.

A few months later, the Swazi News was to carry a screaming headline announcing his freedom accompanied by a carefully choreographed picture of him walking out of the Matsapha Correctional facility. As it turned out, his review had succeeded at High Court.

What the media spectacle missed, however, was that the Prince had merely won on a legal technicality. The onus now laid with the prosecutor to retry the case. We can only speculate why this was never done. It could be that the rape survivor’s family could not afford to put a minor back to the trauma of a rape trial.

Trial fatigue aside, what this case showed was a systematic failure of the justice system on a case that should have demonstrated that none is above the law. To Princess Mncane her relationship with his brother was to fracture beyond reconciliation. Prince Mbuyisa’s wife subsequently left him.

The response of the royal family, the king in particular, was to come seven years later. In 2013 His Majesty King Mswati III issued a government gazette titled ‘Conferment of Honours Notice, 2013’ meant to confer national honours to outstanding Swazis in different fields.

Under the Royal Family Order Grand Commander stood a familiar name; Prince Mbuyisa. That was it; the king held Prince Mbuyisa in such high esteem that he felt he deserved national honours. To the young girl, now in her teenage years, the king and the justice system had failed her.

If Prince Mbuyisa’s case showed cracks in the justice system then the rape allegations against Prince Phiwokwakhe Dlamini’s son, Sicelo, demonstrated naked cover up in its shameful form. After reporting a rape incident in which Prince Sicelo had drugged a university student and forcefully had sex with her, the police ducked and dived why they were not effecting an arrest.

 

A Times SUNDAY article about Prince Sicelo’s attempt to coerce his victim to drop rape charges.

Petitions were posted, marches held and the media tried to pile pressure on the police but nothing came of it.  If anything, weekend newspapers reported that the girl had been promised a scholarship abroad if she dropped the case. Two years later, the Prince still roams the streets a free man. The young girl, meanwhile, has gotten tired of waiting for justice.

In a lengthy interview with the Times of SUNDAY, she revealed her exasperation. She even asked for her underwear (which contained crucial evidence) back from the police. Sporadic outrage flared up on social media but could not be sustained for meaningful impact. The biggest question was why was Prince Mbuyisa arrested while Prince Sicelo is treated differently?  The answers can be found in the testimony of the investigating officer in the Prince Mbuyisa case.

In that case we understood that Prince Mbuyisa’s had wronged a fellow royal family member and the dynamics meant the king could not openly pick sides hence the eventual prosecution of the Prince. With Prince Sicelo, however, a commoner was violated hence the fiasco. 

If Swazis ever had doubts what the king thought of the rape culture then Prince Sicelo’s appointment to the Border Restoration Committee sealed all speculation. Again here rape survivors had been stonewalled while perpetrators rewarded.

The alleged rapist Sicelo Dlamini. He has been protected by the police and royalty. He is accused of drugging and raping countless women.

If that is bad enough then the case of Sandra Simelane (not real name to protect the identity of the survivor), a University student at Kwaluseni campus, shows the extent of the problem in Swaziland. The intersection of failures of policy, law and justice showed its deplorable face in this case. In her case, Simelane was raped by her Zimbabwean born lecturer, Francis makamba, at the Kwaluseni campus of the university.

The case was reported to the police and the lecturer was arrested. What Sandra did not know was that even though she had done everything by the book pressure to drop the case was to come from the most unlikely of sources—the prosecutor.

He (the prosecutor) said there was no evidence that would convict the lecturer and begged me to drop the case because he feared if it went to trial we would be sued if he won,” Sandra told Ulibambe Lingashoni. To have the person entrusted with justice trying to talk her out justice was a low she had not anticipated. Defiant, she wrote to the principal Magistrate to ask for a change of prosecutor and specifically requested a female one going forward. Her wish was granted and the case now awaits trial.

What remains a mystery is why the prosecutor would beg a victim to drop a case? Did his superiors investigate this gross dereliction of duty? Justice again had shown to have eyes.  Had it not been for Sandra’s stubborn refusal to cower into silence she would have been yet another victim of a failed justice system.

But how did it come to be that the University would become a cesspit of such sexual predatory?  Answers lie in what Sandra was to find out later. As it turned out, right up until she reported the rape, the University had no sexual harassment policy.

This lack of policy had led to countless lecturers having inappropriate relationships with students. The University has at best looked away or pretended improper relationships between students and lecturers did not exist. One by one students went to social media to tell their own experiences at the University of eSwatini. Protests were held where female students “held lecturers hostage” in a final act of frustration at the many cases they knew of lecturers abusing them sexually.

To this day we do not know if the University held an investigation to determine how far-reaching the problem was at the institution.  For Sandra, her case is compounded by fears that Makamba still stays within the school premises and from time to time they bump on to each other at the University corridors. She fears as the case progresses and evidence mounts against her aggressor  he could do her harm just to silence her. Why the University still keeps the lecturer within the same premises as her accuser boggles the mind. 

Rape is clearly a national epidemic in Swaziland. In 2015 the Times of Swaziland reported that the country was in the top four of countries with the highest number of rape cases.  This was because “registered cases were at 77.5 among 100,000 people making it high as compared to other countries”. Africa Check was unable to find out where the Times got the statistic from but reported that the United Nation’s latest statistics for Swaziland were from 2004, when 849 rapes were reported.

This equated to a rate of 77.6 rapes per 100,000 people in the country. In 2007 the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) conducted in Swaziland found that one in three girls experience sexual violence in childhood. The report revealed that about three quarters of perpetrators of sexual violence were men or boys from the neighbourhood, boyfriends, husbands, or male relatives.

Last year May Swazi Media Commentary reported that a total of 430 rape cases were reported over a seven months period after the enactment of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (SODV). They were among 2,900 cases brought under the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act (SODV) that came into force in 2018 alone. If this is not a pandemic then nothing is.

Rape long reached crisis levels in this country. If we learn anything from all these systematic failures it is that unless rape is taken seriously at the highest level all else will be fish and chips. After all, even people like Prince Lindani, Majaha and many of the king’s children have been accused of sexual violence and no one dares investigate or even arrest them.

Because these royals know they won’t be arrested they have began to sexually violate their sisters, cousins, friends and just about anyone. Quoting a 1983 statistic, former University of Swaziland Law lecturer Alice Armstrong once wrote that that 50 percent of all cases at the High Court were rape related.  

Fast forward 37 years later where women are more educated on their rights and more laws enacted to protect them, we can only imagine the rape situation at the High Court now.

NB: Samkelisiwe Dlamini is a social worker in one of the NGO’s in the country. She did her Masters thesis on rape in Swaziland. She writes her on her personal capacity.

Samkelisiwe Dlamini

4 thoughts on “Swaziland and the shame of rape

  1. Dear Samkelisiwe,

    Good article but you gotta know your words.

    AN EPIDEMIC is a disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population, or region. A PANDEMIC is an epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents. In discussing rape exclusive to eSwatini you cannot use pandemic, it must be epidemic. Don’t believe me, read below.

    Get it right, you clearly learned a new word and thought “I can use it anywhere.” No you can’t.

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