Compiled by Richard Ammon
Off to a bad start: “Very little information is available on same-sex couples in Swaziland and no gay organizations are involved in the government anti-HIV campaign. The Gays and Lesbians Association of Swaziland (GALESWA), formed in the 1990s, has only one known member. The constitution does not safeguard the rights of homosexuals, and sodomy laws dating from the early 20th century are still on the books. King Mswati has reportedly called same-sex relationships “satanic”, and Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini has called homosexuality “an abnormality and a sickness.” (Read full story at Behind the Mask)
Swaziland (renamed in 2018 eSwatini by King Mswati) is an absolute monarchy, and the morally corrupt King Mswati III (with 13 wives and numerous opulent palaces in his impoverished country) has ultimate authority over the cabinet, legislature, and judiciary. According to the 2007 census, the population was 1.02 million. There is a prime minister and a partially elected parliament, but political power remained largely with the king and his traditional advisors, the most influential of whom remained the queen mother. International observers concluded that parliamentary elections held in 2008 did not meet international standards. The 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act, used to silence dissent and ban certain political organizations, remained in effect. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
Human rights problems included inability of citizens to change their government; extrajudicial killings by security forces; mob killings; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees; police impunity; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech and press and harassment of journalists; restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; discrimination and violence against women; child abuse; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community; discrimination against mixed-race and white citizens; harassment of labor leaders; restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.
Regarding LGBT Citizens
Societal discrimination against the LGBT community was prevalent, and LGBT persons generally concealed their sexual preferences. Colonial-era legislation against sodomy remains on the books; however, it has not been used to arrest homosexual persons.
Gays and lesbians who were open about their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system, which could result in eviction from one’s home.
Chiefs, pastors, and members of government criticized homosexual conduct as neither Swazi nor Christian. Some gay and lesbian Swazis told the UNAIDS executive director they were often turned away at HIV testing clinics because of their sexual orientation.
Societal discrimination exists against gays and lesbians; however, there were no reported legal cases during the year. It is difficult to know the extent of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation because victims are not likely to come forward, and most gays and lesbians are not open about their sexual orientation.
HIV in High Numbers
There was social stigma associated with being HIV positive, which discouraged persons from being tested. Nevertheless, there were often long lines of persons, especially of young persons, waiting to be tested during prevention campaigns. The armed forces encouraged testing and did not discriminate against those testing positive.
Examples of discrimination during the year included the case of a cook at Lavumisa Primary School who, on January 26, was fired after superiors found she was HIV-positive. On February 11, an eight-year-old girl was dismissed from class by her teacher, who alleged she was HIV-positive.
Enclosed here are four stories from inside Swaziland that offer a grim picture of gay life.
In 2006, an impassioned Peace Corps volunteer wrote:
“Swaziland only has about 1 million people and 42.6 percent of them are infected. Supposedly only 20 percent know their status. That’s almost half the population and that number climbing 4 percent in the last two years works out to about 426,000 people who are infected and may die.
“There are thousands of orphans who have lost parents who’ve died from AIDS related illnesses. Even in a country where ARVs (antiretroviral) drugs are free, it is still difficult for people to get to them, take them like they should, and continue to take them.
“There are too many helping hands, too many players, too many fighters, too many NGO’s, too many messages, too many mixed messages, too many everything. There’s no cohesion, no communication. There is constantly a breakdown of all these things wherever you go. No one knows how to work together, and I’m guilty of that too. It really is a land of confusion here.
“What causes the spread of HIV? Does poverty cause it? Does HIV cause poverty? Where did HIV come from? What I have learned is that what kills people is not the HIV or the AIDS or the AIDS related illnesses, but the stigma attached to it and the silence about it. That’s what’s killing everyone here.
“That’s what’s killing everyone here. It ends up being too late too help anyone because they were too afraid to get tested, or no one tells anyone because they are ashamed and won’t get any support from their family or friends. Or families while hiding their sick love ones bring them to traditional healers or pastors to cure them of their disease without even knowing their status.”
Swaziland Government Reaches Out to Gays for Valentines’ Day
From: Behind the Mask
February 17, 2012
If caught, any Swazi engaged in a same-sex relationship will be arrested and jailed. But public health officials used Valentine’s Day to urge gays to trust promises of confidentiality and test for HIV. “February is known as the month of love, when couples express their love for each other through gifts, especially on Valentine’s Day. The purpose of our new campaign, called ‘The Love Test’, is to encourage couples to undergo HIV testing,” said Simon Zwane, Deputy Director of Health.
He acknowledged that in Swazi society gay sex is taboo but said the health ministry was actively extending its reach to include gay couples in HIV counselling and testing. “Couples need to be consistently aware of their HIV status. This will result in them making joint decisions on risk reduction in their relationships,” said Zwane. Swaziland’s HIV prevalence has remained the world’s highest for years, with about a quarter of all adults living with HIV.
A conversation With Three Gay Men
AmFar Report from Swaziland
May 4, 2011
By Kent Klindera
A conversation with three 20-something gay men—an immigration official, a nurse, and a school teacher. Into the wee hours, over a little whiskey, we talked of their disdain for closet doors (one had recently been confronted by his parents and he did not lie); of their challenges in finding true love; male circumcision; and of their dreams of marrying a man and starting a family (one talked of mixing his partner’s sperm with his to use with a surrogate mother).
They also were pretty scared of HIV/AIDS and talked about how they “almost” always used condoms, but admitted not all their gay male friends feel at risk—this in a country where more than 25 percent of the population has HIV, the highest prevalence rate in the world.
No research has been done here on HIV among MSM. Sadly, the government denies the existence of MSM and has not invested any funding in MSM-specific HIV programming.
(Read full story)
Lesbian Murder Causes Media Hysteria and Accusations
From Swaziland Commentary
January 9, 2010
The murder of lesbian woman and Swaziland gay rights activist Pitseng Vilakati is beginning to attract international attention. The latest reaction questions the role of the Swazi media in vilifying Vilakati and Thui Rudd, the woman she was planning to marry.
Rudd has been arrested for the murder of Vilakati, but people are beginning to question whether Rudd is really guilty or whether she has been set up by the Swazi media which hysterically attacked the couple after they publicly declared their love and their intention to marry. (Read full story)