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Swaziland 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

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Swaziland 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

Overall Crime and Safety Situation in Swaziland

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has designated Swaziland as a Critical Threat Crime Post.  Criminals consider Mbabane, the capital city, and Manzini, Swaziland's urban industrial center, prime grounds for operation due to the number of people, businesses, and affluent areas.  Additionally, crime affects urban and rural areas due to limited police assets.  Criminals will resort to force if necessary, including deadly force, in order to accomplish their goal.  Gangs are not deterred by confrontations with their intended victims.  Car-jackings are not common, but they occasionally occur.  Crime increases dramatically during the holiday season. 

Congested urban areas are particularly dangerous at night; although, daytime larceny is not uncommon.  The presence of other pedestrians on the street should not be taken as an indication of a secure or safe environment.  Many victims report being robbed in broad daylight in the presence of witnesses.  Mob justice exists in Swaziland; suspects can find themselves pursued and beaten by by-standers.  Pedestrians are cautioned not to wear jewelry or carry expensive items in plain view.  It is not advisable to display large amounts of cash, flashy jewelry, expensive clothing items, or cellular telephones. Walking around at night, either alone or in a group, is strongly discouraged.  Items stolen most frequently during a robbery tend to be material possession that can be easily liquidated (i.e., cell phones, clothes, jewelry).

Most residents in Swaziland take residential security seriously and attempt to protect their homes accordingly.  Perimeter walls, security guards, dogs, security lighting, window grills, and alarm systems with security response teams are essential for ensuring the safety of residents.  Burglaries and home invasions occur frequently.  Gangs, armed with knives or firearms, target homes they suspect possess cash or valuables.  Criminals have been known to enter residences while the occupants are home.  During the 2011 December holiday season, Mbabane and the surrounding areas and cities experienced an increase in residential break-ins.

The city of Manzini, Swaziland's largest, located approximately 30 kilometers southeast of Mbabane, is notorious for criminal activity.  The bus rank in Manzini, which most inter-city transportation must pass through before traveling throughout the country, is routinely cited as being dangerous. 

Road Safety

Traffic accidents are one of the greatest dangers in Swaziland.  Use extreme caution when on the road as drivers are prone to excessive speeding and reckless behavior.  Other road hazards include: poor lighting, failure to obey traffic signals, presence of pedestrians on roadways, livestock as well as other animals on roadways, slower moving vehicles on the road, large trucks delivering heavy cargo, drunk drivers, drivers texting and/or talking on cell phones, poorly maintained roads, extreme weather (heavy fog, rain, hail), and erratic stopping by other vehicles.

Traffic moves on the left side of the road in Swaziland, which requires drivers accustomed to using the other side of the road to exercise particular caution.  Due to the numerous hazards, special care should be used in driving at night, especially in rural areas.  Major highways in Swaziland are generally well maintained, paved, and adequately marked.  Most major thoroughfares in cities are paved, though in various states of repair.

Avoid driving at night in rural areas.  Rural and suburban areas alike are ill lit and pose additional safety hazards (e.g., pedestrians and/or animals crossing the roads, and large trucks park on the side of the road without using emergency flashers or warning signs).

Keep automobile doors locked, seat belts fastened, and windows rolled up at all times.  Do not roll down your window in the event someone approaches your vehicle.  Ignore persons outside your vehicle, and drive away if you feel uncomfortable.  While stopped in urban traffic, continue to scan rearview mirrors to identify potential trouble.  Always use your seatbelt.

Do not stop your vehicle if you encounter rocks or logs in the middle of the road.  This is a technique used in Swaziland and South Africa for robbers to force vehicles to stop.  Either drive around the barriers or turn around.  Do not stop to assess the situation.

Keep belongings out of plain view at all times.  While idling at a light or stop sign, leave adequate space between your vehicle and the one in front of you so that you can quickly depart should the need arise.  Park only in well-lit areas, preferably in parking lots with a security guard.

Swazi traffic police do not use unmarked vehicles and are always in uniform.  If travelers are uncertain of the legitimacy of a police vehicle, signal to them that you are aware of their presence, turn on your hazard lights, travel at a safe speed, and pull off into a well-lit public area or proceed to the nearest police station.

Political Violence

Historical perspective

In past years, there have been attacks against the Swazi Government’s buildings and governmental residences utilizing Molotov cocktails, or petrol bombs as they are referred to locally.  These attacks occurred in the early morning hours with limited damage to personnel or facilities.  In 2008, there were multiple incidents involving improvised explosives devices (IEDs).  Most of the targets have been bridges, though none sustained any structural damage.  One incident involved a small IED placed in a trash bin outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment in Mbabane.   In 2009, there were no reported incidents involving IEDs or petrol bombs.  In May-June 2010, there were several incidents of petrol bombings throughout the country at the residences of police and members of parliament.  During this timeframe, there was also an incident involving an IED at the residence of a SWAYOCO (a local banned political organization) member.  In 2011, local media reported that a Swazi government official’s house was petrol bombed, but the veracity of the report was never confirmed.  Americans have not been specifically targeted in any of the past incidents.

There is no evidence that indigenous groups exist that would use political violence against Americans to further their cause.

Regional terrorism and organized crime

In 2011, there were no acts of regional terrorism in Swaziland and no known terrorist     organizations.  Through the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008, several local political organizations have been deemed terrorist organizations by the Swazi government.  There are some local crime gangs but no organized crime.

International terrorism or transnational terrorism       

In 2011, there were no acts of international terrorism or transnational terrorism.  Swazi    borders are considered porous and could be used as a possible corridor for terrorists, or other activities, to easily pass through the country from/to either South Africa or Mozambique. 

Civil unrest

Civil unrest is usually not an issue in Swaziland, although public protests, demonstrations, and strikes are fairly common in response to ongoing labor and politically-related difficulties, as well as the continued ban on political parties and meetings of a political nature.

When a demonstration is pending, the Royal Swaziland Police Service (RSPS) is usually called out to monitor the protestors.  Americans are cautioned to stay away from

demonstrations in Swaziland, as the Swazi Police have used force and teargas, which occurred several times in 2011, to disrupt such events.  During the course of such events, police do not distinguish between "innocent bystanders" and protesters, and the possibility of becoming a collateral casualty should be a concern for Americans.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanoes and floods

During the summer season, torrential downpours can cause severe damage to villages and bridges.  Thunderstorms produce winds strong enough to rip the roof off buildings.   

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

There were no reported airline accidents in Swaziland in 2011.  The local ground transportation, known as kombis, are minibuses that transport passengers around the city and from town to town.  Every year, there are a number of serious and fatal accidents involving kombis.  2011 was no exception.  Many of the minibuses lack proper safety equipment such as seat belts and headlights.  Kombi drivers are often reckless, make frequent unauthorized stops to pick up passengers, and speed from one stop to the next.

Kidnappings

There have been no reports of kidnappings in Swaziland.

Drugs and Narcoterrorism

Drugs, especially dagga (marijuana), are present in Swaziland.  Dagga is grown throughout Swaziland.  Occasionally, passengers are arrested attempting to smuggle heroin and cocaine into the country through the Matsapha International Airport.  Care should be taken to avoid being involved in any form of narcotics activity. 

Police Response

Police response to incidents is slow, if at all, unless the police were in the general area where the incident occurred.  Swazi police consider a 30 minute response time adequate, even in urban areas.  Police are generally willing to assist but often lack the transportation and resources to properly investigate crimes.  Regardless, victims of any crime are strongly encouraged to report the incident to local authorities.  Without proper documentation of the incident, the chances of recovering stolen items or arresting the suspects are minimal.  Furthermore, lack of a police report may hamper U.S. Embassy Mbabane’s ability to work with the Swazi police on your behalf, depending on the level of the crime.

Where to turn for assistance if you become a victim of a crime and local police telephone numbers

Hhohho District          +268-2404-3022

Lubombo District      +268-2343-4422

Manzini District          +268-2505-2861

Shiselweni District    +268-2207-8226/7

Emergency: 999 (this is the Swazi equivalent to dialing 911 in the United States)

Emergency Domestic Violence: 975

How to handle incidents of police detention or harassment

U.S. citizens are advised to call the American Citizens Services at the U.S. Embassy at +268-2404-6441.

Medical Emergencies

Contact information for local hospitals and clinics

Emergency                999

Mbabane:

Mbabane Clinic         +268-2404-2423/5

                                    +268-2404-7016

Government Hospital +268-2404-2111

Manzini:

Manzini Clinic                        +268-2505-7430/9

RFM Hospital                        +268-2505-2211

Air ambulance services

Trauma Link               +268-7606-0911/0912/0913/0914

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Most crimes that occur in Swaziland are crimes of opportunity.  The criminals are generally interested in cellular phones and cash.   Visitors should always be aware of their surroundings and maintain visual/physical contact with their belongings.  Avoid walking alone, particularly after dark.  Travel in groups.  Never hail a taxi that has passengers already in the car.  If you take a taxi, ensure it is a reputable taxi.  Dining establishments have been robbed late at night when there are few diners in the restaurant.  When in a vehicle, always use your seatbelt, lock the doors, and keep the windows up.  Whether you are residing in a hotel or at a residence, always ensure that the doors and windows to your room/residence are locked, particularly at night.

The most reoccurring crimes involve robbing victims on the streets, particularly in residential areas, regardless of the time of day.  Residential break-ins are very common throughout Swaziland, even when the tenants are in the home.  Most residential break-ins occur at houses without security guards and/or centrally monitored home alarms.  Criminals often perpetrate such robberies using edged weapons, e.g., a knife or machete, and occasionally firearms.   

Areas of town to be avoided and best security practices

Mbabane:  Avoid the parks.  In particular, Coronation Park should be avoided at night and only visited as a group (more than two people) during daylight hours.  This is often the rally point for marches and demonstrations.  At night, criminals have been known to loiter in the park.  As a general rule, visitors should avoid night clubs and walking around any town after dark to minimize the risk of being victimized.

Further Information

Embassy contact numbers 

Regional Security Office +268-2404-6441 ext 2239

U.S. Embassy Operator (during business hours)  +268-2404-6441

Duty officer after hours (emergencies only) +268-7602-8414                

OSAC Country Council

U.S. Embassy Mbabane maintains a list of U.S. Wardens, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), businesses, faith-based organizations, and local schools with U.S. students and meets at least annually.  However, there is no formal country council at this time.

Organizations meeting the OSAC requirements for membership may contact the Regional Security Officer for additional information:

RSO Marc Trahan     +268-2404-6441 ext. 2239 or TrahanM@state.gov