The Fellows of the Aspen Global Leadership Network have mobilized to help one of their own. Bheki Makbuhu, Africa Leadership Initiative/South Africa Fellow and Editor of one Swaziland’s last independent publications, The Nation, has a reputation for integrity and hard-hitting journalism. Last week, the Swaziland High Court convicted Bheki on two counts of contempt of court in connection with two articles he published in his newspaper—in 2009 and 2010—questioning that very court’s independence. The ruling, seen as punitive and unusually harsh, sentenced Bheki to pay a fine equivalent to nearly US$45,000 or to spend two years imprisoned.
Upon hearing the news, Makbuhu’s fellow Fellows mobilized their resources and networks in short order, writing op-eds and using social media to spotlight Makbuhu’s situation and the injustices taking place in Swaziland. Editor-in-Chief of the Mail & Guardian Nic Dawes, also an Africa Leadership Initiative/South Africa Fellow, explained, “Swaziland is a country that remains undemocratic…where political parties are essentially outlawed, where there are serious problems of corruption. Bheki fronts up to those issues in his journalism all the time.”
Fellows reached into their own pockets to help Makbuhu with his bail, legal fees and the fine levied upon him, should he need it. Their efforts have caught the attention of Amnesty International, Freedom House, and the South African Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who are also stepping in to help fight Makbuhu’s cause. “We have seen how this network swings into action around an emergency,” said Dawes. “To see it actually happen within minutes is pretty remarkable.”
Click below to hear Dawes speak about Makbuhu’s circumstances and the state of the High Court of Swaziland.
The future of the ruling against Makbuhu remains uncertain. He has lodged an appeal against the ruling and is awaiting a further response. Yet, whatever challenges the road ahead may bring, he will have the support of his Fellows behind him. The Fellows continue to embody the values of the network—in this case and many others. They are providing critical support to one another when called upon, but also standing up against corruption, ethnic violence, lack of transparency, and other threats to democracy.
Click here to learn more and follow Makbuhu’s case.