MBABANE: Lance Epstein, the private investigator who was once hired by friends of the late Oscar Pistorius girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp as reported by News 24, denies claims that the Eswatini Government instructed him to catch wanted Swaziland News editor Zweli Martin Dlamini.
“I have read your article. I support your efforts in exposing corruption. It is regrettable that my interaction with your editor has caused you and your editor some distress, as I had no sinister intentions. I have no further interest in the matter and I hold no instructions nor have I ever held any instructions from the Eswatini authorities or persons related to them,” said Epstein.
The editor said on or around 13 August 2020, the investigator first contacted Swaziland News Administration Partner Ziphozonke Ngubeni asking about the whereabouts of the editor, they claimed that they wanted to share some sensitive corruption documents about Inyatsi Construction, a company owned by Michello Shakantu, the husband of Justice Minister Pholile Dlamini-Shakantu, they are both members of the Jesus Calls Worship Centre(JCWC) with Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini.
“I learned that they had done research about my connections with top South African investigative journalist Mzilikazi Wa-Africa who now writes for the Sunday Independent. The investigator asked for a meeting so he can hand over the documents and he even suggested that we can invite Mzilikazi Wa-Africa to be present for my safety and when I asked why it was difficult for him to email the documents, he said they were too sensitive” said the editor.
The editor said the investigator then suggested a Zoom meeting, saying he wanted to unpack some of the documents and give him a picture of what the story was about, he then insisted on the physical meeting.
“When he paraded the documents over the video meeting, I noticed that there was a spy camera behind him focusing on his screen to capture my reactions, but I didn’t show that I was noticing something. When it was my turn to talk, I analysed his facial expression to understand his intention and I gathered that he was just crossing his fingers to drive me into saying something that enables him to submit an interim report to his clients,” said the editor.
In a press statement released by Prime Minister Mandvulo Ambrose Dlamini on 11thAugust 2020, through Government Spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini, Cabinet confirmed that it will pursue means to deal with the editor and this was after the publication of a highly investigative story which exposed how King Mswati, Cabinet and senior royal family members manipulated the law to destroy dagga farmers and seize control of the multi-billion cannabis industry.
Queen Mosarwe, the Secretary-General of the Human Rights Journalists for Southern Africa (HRJSA) said as an organization they condemn the persecution of independent journalists in the region particularly in eSwatini and Zimbabwe.
“We have always advocated for a free media, we don’t want a media that is censored” said the HRJSA Secretary-General.
In May 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that the editor was wanted by the police for publishing critical articles about King Mswati, however, the government later came down hard on the report through a press statement saying the journalist was facing criminal charges.
Private Investigator Lance Epstein