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Swaziland: Crackdown on eve of protests, PUDEMO leader arrested

Protest march in Manzini, September 7, 2010.

[See also "Swaziland: Small country, big struggle -- global day of action for democracy".]

By Lucky Lukhele and Norm Dixon

September 8, 2010 -- The deputy president of Swaziland's People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) Sikhumbuzo Phakathi was arrested on September 6 at the Phongola border post as the Swazi police and army were deporting a delegation of South African activists from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). PUDEMO president Mario Masuku was detained before the start a protest march on September 7 to mark the global day for democracy in Swaziland. He was "escorted home" by police to prevent his participation.

Recently Sikhumbuzo Phakathi's rural home at Hluti was invaded and raided by the Swazi army and police, supposedly "in search of weapons", which in all probability an attempt to build a case for his long-planned arrest. It is known that the treatment of detained activists in Swaziland is a harsh experience none would dare wish to go through.

The Royal Swaziland police force detained a group of about 40 political activists and journalists at a hotel in Manzini earlier that day, as the country's rulers were celebrating Independence Day. The activists, about half of whom are South Africans, were in the middle of a meeting when the police invaded.

The activists had gathered at the hotel to finalise preparations for the "Global Day of Action for Swaziland", on September 7. After the disruption of the meeting the detained activists were taken to the Manzini regional headquarters where the visiting activists were separated from the locals and deported to South Africa. The locals were later released without being charged.

Coincidentally, this occurred as the country's trade unions embarked on a mass strike action to force the government of Swaziland to address its demands. Police were therefore working around the clock trying to disrupt any organised activity of a political nature. The Swaziland Solidarity Network condemned this unlawful behaviour by the Swazi authorities.

Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters marched in Manzini for several hours on September 7, outnumbered by heavily armed security forces. Police detained Mario Masuku before the march. A banner carried by the marchers pledged unions to "the pursuit of democratic and civil rights". Unions have been at the forefront of the democracy campaign in a country where political parties are banned. Mduzi Gina, head of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, said police raided federation headquarters before the march. Gina said they took away international visitors who had been camping there and confiscated signs and pamphlets that had been prepared for the protest.

The crisis in Swaziland is deepening, and so is the resolve of the fighting masses. No amount of arrests and brutal suppression of political and trade union activities will break the profound resistance building up in the country. This was the observation of the SDC South Africa team that was deported after interrogation by Swazi police and intelligence yesterday.

We demand the release of Comrade Sikhumbuzo as we also demand the right of all workers and the people of Swaziland to march and demand a government of their own choice. We further call for the intensification of activities all over the world aimed at mobilising global support for the struggle for democracy in that country.

The SDC reaffirmed that it would hold a protest action at the Johannesburg offices of the Swazi Consulate, Braamfontein, on September 8.

[Lucky Lukhele is spokesperson for the Swaziland Solidarity Network.]

Comments

COSATU on the crisis in Swaziland and arrests of our members

COSATU Deputy General Secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali

COSATU takes this opportunity to salute all its leaders and members who participated in the Global day of action for democracy in Swaziland organised by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC).

In doing so, they were representing the best of our internationalist ideals and practices. We were the prime beneficiaries of international solidarity at the height of our struggle against apartheid and have a moral and political duty to give back to others what we received from generous peoples all over the world.

We have demonstrated our internationalist outlook and gave meaning to our motto, "an injury to one is an injury to all" in the field of struggle within and beyond our borders. We were also subjected to the same treatment by the ruling regime in Zimbabwe and nothing is strange about what we received from the tinkhundla regime in Swaziland. The two regimes who have proven to be partners in oppression must be targeted by the workers and poor people of this region for decisive action. There can be no areas within our region where workers are not allowed to visit each other, share experiences and even provide support to each other at times of need. If governments are able to do so, why not workers.

We have and continue to participate in international working class struggles all over the world, such as East Timor when Xanana Gusmao was still in detention, in Nigeria when Sani Abacha regime ordered the murder of Ken Saro Wiwa in 1995, in Palestine, Phillipines, Western Sahara and wherever workers and people are oppressed. We shall continue to do so, because we owe our being to so many workers and people who share our views for a new, democratic and just world order.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the brutal treatment of our members and leaders who went to Swaziland on the invitation of the Swaziland trade union movement, the SFTU and its allied sister unions; SFL and SNAT. These unions were working together in ensuring the success of the Global day of action and pushing the agenda for workers rights, democracy and justice in Swaziland.

COSATU was part of the historic launch of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) in February, which adopted the bold plan of action that included the Global day of action and on the invitation of Swazi workers were lived true to our commitment to support them where it matters the most, inside Swaziland where there is the rule of the gun and royal might.

We shall not narrate the terrible experiences told to us by our comrades and how ruthless, barbaric and inhumane Swazi police could be as they are here to do that for themselves. We never believed it before when our comrades from Swaziland narrated to us these tales, until our recent experience. It is such a shame that in our region, we still have police who use apartheid tactics to deal with peaceful workers action and SADC is silent about it.

We also note and call for immediate action against MTN for its collusion with the oppressive regime against our members, leaders and activists, as well as for its being part of the Swazi security strategy which subject workers and political activists to consistent surveillance and monitoring. We must target South African telecommunications company MTN for serious action and a comprehensive strategy to deal with it must be unveiled now.

We have been called upon by Swazi workers to effect smart sanctions against the Swazi regime and shall be considering and working on it soonest possible. All means at our disposal must be unleashed to support democracy in our region, not least in Swaziland. We cannot have a holy cow in our region that must be left to subject its people to the whims of a brutal royal experience in the name of culture.

We have also been called upon by the unions in Swaziland to participate in the follow-up action in November to intensify the struggle. We shall be in discussion with them about that and shall always respond to the call for democracy and workers rights, without fear of being intimidated by anyone.
We are disappointed that the ANC and South African government has failed to speak out against the brutalisation of its own people. It has chosen convenient silence. We call upon President Zuma to stop the silence and call for democracy and end to the abuse of Africa culture for narrow abusive interests of a tiny minority. We are disappointed by SADC, it has become irrelevant to the plight and suffering of our people in the region and call for its fundamental review.

Finally, we shall be raising the issue at the coming NGC of the ANC and calling on delegates to demand action from the South African government and not allow narrow business and other interests to cloud our commitment to supporting democracy on our continent.

Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
Braamfontein, 2017
Johannesburg

P.O.Box 1019
Johannesburg, 2000
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940
Mobile: +27 79 499 6419

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