Allister Miller and the Times of Swaziland
Thapelo Mokoatsi and Phindile Xaba
At the age of 23, in 1888, the founding father of the Times of Swaziland Allister Mitchel Miller (1864 – 1951) affectionately known, to the Swazi people, as Mabhala (writer) or Mabhal’izincwadi (writer of books or letters) arrived in Swaziland.
Nine years later he established the Times of Swaziland with the backing of the colonial government. By then he was a fully knighted British Resident Commissioner and a newspaperman. Prior to the formation of the Times of Swaziland he sub-edited Goldfield Times in Barberton.
Two months after his arrival, King Mbandzeni appointed him Resident Justice, in charge of the Mbekelweni district. A year later, he was appointed a Permanent Secretary and Agent of the king. This position earned him a place in the Swaziland Government Committee. He was a go-between of the King and European business interests and was responsible for registration of documents and the transfer of grants. As a trusted friend of the Swazi people, he became their advisor, replacing Sir Theopilus Shepstone.
Shepstone was reinstated when King Mbandzeni died. Miller’s Swaziland Committee membership was cancelled, signalled an end to his political role.
Some of the paper’s highlights
The Times, a fortnightly paper was printed in Johannesburg because Swaziland did not have enough printing facilities to publish the paper. Beyond that, as a colonial newspaper it was meant to be printed at the United Kingdom Office based in South Africa.
“The content of the news published in The Times was geared towards the dissemination and legitimation of British colonial policies in Swaziland and to keep the colonialists informed about the activities going on in Britain and the rest of the world”, said Sandile Simelane in his MA thesis titled: Politics and the Press: A Case Study of the Times of Swaziland and Swazi Observer.
The content of The Times was accompanied by Izwi LamaSwazi (Voice of the Swazi), a supplement printed in Zulu. The supplement covered “the promulgation and justification of newly enacted government legislations, orders, and government appointments and dismissals”, said Simelane.
For twelve years, from its inception until 1909, it was the settler’s platform to criticise the colonial government for dragging their feet on prioritising their interests. In 1909, the paper suffered a serious financial crisis and was not published for 22 years. It made a comeback in 1931 and for the
next three decades it continued to highlight issues relevant to a settler audience.
In his capacity as a white community leader, one Carl Todd, campaigned for the conservative constitutional stance of King Sobhuza as well as the Swazi National Council, using Swaziland Times as a platform. Another impact the paper had was to persuade other settlers to support King Sobhuza as the monarch of the Swazi kingdom towards independence.
The year 1973 saw another change in the paper’s timeline. Its editorial transformed when King Sobhuza annulled the Independent Constitution of 1968 to declare a state of emergency. Consequently, the paper became a new critic of the monarchy.
Targeted areas of circulation in the tiny kingdom was in Manzini, formerly known as Bremersdorp, and Mbabane. It does not come as a surprise that the paper’s financial muscles were strengthened by the British Government. This included printing, publication and circulation costs. However, after seventy-one years of enjoying financial support of the British Government, the paper had to stand on its own just like the newly independent Kingdom of Swaziland would in 1968. The Argus group of Companies, a South African media conglomerate soon bought the paper and set up a printing press under the Swaziland Printing and Publishing Company.
Argus selling the paper to the Swazi government
On the 6th of September 1968, the Argus withdrew its financial support for the paper and would soon decide to sell it to the Swazi government together with the printing company. However, the government turned it down to make way for Umbiki (The Reporter), a government newspaper.
The following year the government changed its mind and bought the paper only to sell it to a private company shortly after.
Miller was a prominent person who played an important role in the racial relations of the country which continued up to the mid-twentieth century when he passed away.