AFRICA/ESWATINI - Bishop of Manzini: “Media are used as weapons. Who fuels the violence?”

Wednesday, 23 November 2022 violence   media  

Mbabane (Agenzia Fides) - "Fear seems to be another element that has become part of our daily lives", writes to Agenzia Fides Msgr. José Luis Ponce de León, IMC Bishop of Manzini, in the kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), in offering testimony on a crisis largely ignored by the rest of the world.
Following what was already reported to Agenzia Fides (see Fides, 26/10/2022), Msgr. Ponce de Léon, recalls that the crisis that began in June 2021 is centered on the lack of dialogue between the government, the opposition and civil society. "There seems to be a common agreement that a national dialogue is needed", writes the Bishop of Manzini. "I believe that every voice who has spoken since June 2021 (the government, political organizations, churches,
NGOs…) repeated the same appeal". But so far these appeals have fallen on deaf ears. A void that is increasingly being filled by violence. Not only of the army which has now joined the police, but also of the Swaziland Solidarity Forces (SSF), an armed opposition group which claims to "want to free the country from King Mswati".
"The arson attacks and killings are attributed to the SSF", says Msgr. Ponce de León. Their members "threaten to kill or set alight the properties of those who do not do as they are told. Not sure if anyone knows who they are and who is financing them. These questions – important as they are – are hardly asked".
Therefore the population is caught between two fires: the police and the members of the SSF. In this context of fear and uncertainty, the role of the media is fundamental. "This is another area where we have seen changes. I used to say in the past that little could be found about eSwatini on social media", says the Bishop. "There was a kind of self censorship in many: 'It is better not to talk'. Information is hardly “independent” and “impartial” as media houses proclaim". "We all need to ask ourselves about what is being said what is not. One can point out that state media limits what is reported on the violence that takes place but the same thing could be said on those who choose not to report anything positive being done by the government because it might not suit them. It seems to be important to portrait the other as the enemy that needs to be dealt with". "Both sides say things on social media that have not been proven and which – the other side – denies being true: “mercenaries have come into the country” and “there are foreigners among the soldiers in our army” are two familiar examples".
"Violence and the media seem to go hand in hand", underlines the Bishop. "Information can be used as a weapon to instill anger, fear and violence. Even here one needs to ask: who is paying for it?. Sometimes on Twitter it is possible to find the same posts from different “people” who most probably do not exist. It is all set up with one goal: to support one side or the other and to influence the way people read the situation", says Msgr. Ponce de León who concludes with a reflection on the global media: "These days it is interesting to see the lack of information on eSwatini from beyond our borders. Media, who used to report so much in the past about our unrest, now keeps quiet. There seems to be no interest on what is happening here". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 23/11/2022)