Eyewitness Swaziland: The birth of ‘Liberation Friday!’; 'The struggle for a democratic Swaziland continues'

By the Swaziland Democracy Campaign

September 10, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Friday,  September 9, marked the last day in the second Global Week of Action on Swaziland, culminating in a large protest march in Mbabane that resulted in pitched battles between a heavily armed and aggressive security detachment, and mostly poor workers, students and the unemployed, who gathered legally and peacefully as they have done all week.

On September 5 and 6 (Monday and Tuesday) only minor skirmishes took place, and the security services were restrained and largely non-provocative. This is as it should be. The marches were legal, and the organisers made it clear that they wanted to exercise the few rights that they have.

There have been more than 20 protests across the world, and seven inside South Africa. These took place outside of the various offices of the Reserve Bank of South Africa in order to draw attention to the ill-advised bailout of R2.4 billion that is being offered to the Swazi regime through the Reserve Bank, "facilitated" by the South African African National Congress (ANC) government. The protests were also about the need for solidarity with the democratic forces inside Swaziland.

Throughout the week in Swaziland itself there has been rolling mass action throughout the country. On Monday and Tuesday large demonstrations took place first in Mbabane, and then in Manzini. Given the reaction of the security forces this time last year, which resulted in mass arrests, beatings, detention and forced deportations of invited foreign visitors, there were serious concerns about how the security services would respond this time around.

In fact on Monday and Tuesday security forces were remarkably restrained. There were a number of reasons for this. First, was the actual size of the mobilisations themselves. More than 4000 came to each of the demonstrations, which in Swazi terms is very significant indeed. Second, there was much global media interest both inside and outside Swaziland, and bad publicity is definitely not what the regime needs at this time. Third, there are a number of cases pending against the Swazi regime at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and through the UN Human Rights Commission, where the regime was cited earlier this year for non-compliance of basic human and civil rights. Fourth, the "bailout" by South Africa had still to be paid, and any repressive action that might imperil it was clearly held back.

Rural communities want democracy too

On Wednesday and Thursday, attention shifted to the rural areas, and protest meetings and marches, much larger than expected, took place, proving once and for all that people from all walks of life want to see a democratic Swaziland, despite the mythologising about the "loyalty to the King" of people living in rural areas that is peddled by the royal elite and its apologists.

After Monday and Tuesday's actions, it was clear that the regime was getting nervous. The state-sponsored media started peddling hysterical stories about an "invasion' by Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) delegates, who had taken up the invitation of their Swazi counterparts to be part of the protest, to observe the proceedings and bring messages of solidarity. It was also clear that by Wednesday, the regime had decided that it was worth moving against the democratic forces, regardless of what the impact might be on the regime's reputation and international standing.

On Wednesday, those travelling to the rural areas for meetings were met with aggressive road blocks and endless searches. Nothing of course was found. And then in Siteki, a small regional centre, the security services tried to prevent the COSATU deputy president from giving a solidarity address to the large gathering there, and opened fire with live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas.

"It was completely unnecessary", said one of the organisers. "It was clear that they were trying to cause conflict and were being very provocative and threatening, and when we ignored them and carried on our peaceful protest, they simply attacked the gathering. They demanded that our international guests be excluded from the platform, and we of course refused. It was our right to have speak whoever we wanted. It was shocking and a reminder that this elite is scared but not yet prepared to change."

The attacks culminated in the arrest and forceful deportation of COSATU deputy president Comrade Zingiswa Losi and deputy head of COSATU’s international department Comrade Zanele Matebula, who are registering a complaint with the ILO and other authorities. (See Losi's account below.)

Three protesters were badly injured and one was admitted to hospital with serious head wounds. Others were beaten and pushed to the ground, but the protesters refused to give way until their meeting had been completed. This set the tone for the next phase of mass action.

Unjust laws and a compliant, discredited judiciary

It is worth reminding readers that all of the actions of the democracy activists were legal, even under the stringent anti-democratic laws of Swaziland. The regime had returned to the courts no less than three times in the past week to try and win injunctions to derail the popular protests. The regime had been hampered by a boycott of the judicial system by almost the entire legal fraternity over the last two weeks, many of whom have thrown their lot with the democracy movement. The regime however, woefully underestimated the capacity of leading trade unionists to out argue it, and though clearly reluctant, the remains of a discredited judiciary had no choice but to agree that the government did not have sufficient legal grounds to curtail the limited rights of the trade union movement.

It was within the context of these unprovoked attacks in the regions, and the failure of the regime to utilise its own draconian legislation, that attention turned to Mbabane and the last protest of the Global Week of Action.

Mbabane under military occupation

A SDC leader in Swaziland noted:

Mbabane looked like a city under military siege. On every corner of every street stood fully armed and equipped security personnel. They were clearly very jumpy, and the tension was palpable. Having lost in the courts, the security apparatus was going to try and win on the streets. And they had all of their hardware on display including water cannon, armoured vehicles, tear gas dispensers, truncheons and perspex shields. At least we could see what the regime was spending our taxes on.

Despite the violence that had taken place in Siteki, the numbers attending on September 9 far exceeded expectations and more than 5700 at the last count were noted and accounted for. In Swazi terms this is among the largest mobilisations for many years, and it virtually paralysed the streets of Mbabane.

The marchers started on time, and they were warmly greeted by passersby and shop keepers, many of whom gave fruit and refreshment to the marchers. There was an almost carnival atmosphere in the air, but not for long. At the rallying point where a range of speakers had been scheduled to speak, the authorities said that no "political" speakers could take the platform. This was clearly aimed at Comrade Mario Masuku, the president of the popular liberation movement PUDEMO. Comrade Mario has experienced many years of hardship, including years of penal servitude at the hands of the regime, and had given thoughtful and decisive speeches to the rallies on Monday and Tuesday, to great popular acclaim.

It was at this point that the organisers, backed by the marchers, rejected the advice of the authorities and insisted that it was within their rights to have whoever they wished to speak, and the program was to proceed. At this point the security forces were given the green light by their masters to attack all and sundry in an attempt to break up the protest march. Tear-gas canisters were thrown into the crowd and armed security officers bludgeoned their way into the outer ranks of the march, hitting out indiscriminately, and punching and kicking at will. For a moment it looked as though they might succeed, but what they had not banked on was the capacity of the protesters to regroup, link arms and defend themselves by forming strong lines that could move swiftly to defend those who had been injured and then to secure fresh positions.

When the security forces failed to break through further, the protesters took the advantage, and despite heavy blows to arms, legs, heads and shoulders, forced the uniformed attackers back to their original locations. This was a remarkable feat given that the protesters were unarmed, mostly in T-shirts and casual clothing, and of course were made up of the young and old, men and women, professionals and manual workers.

The birth of Liberation Friday!

What happened next will be remembered for a long time. Despite continued assaults by the security forces, their attempts at snatching and arresting leaders, throwing missiles including gas canisters into the crowd, the marchers stood their ground, and pushed the security forces into still further defensive positions!

As one of the organisers said over the phone:

The police and army were completely shocked, and I would say chronically demoralised by our response. They expected us to run away and disperse, but when we regrouped, and then started pushing them back to their positions, they just didn’t know what to do next. They were scared, embarrassed, and even humiliated. Their officers were screaming orders like men gone mad, but it made little difference. They could not contain the mass movement, and we took back the streets of Mbabane! From now on this day of future Global Weeks of Action should be called Liberation Friday!’

Eventually, after six arrests and dozens injured but not bowed, the planned march was completed, and then on its own terms, it dispersed peacefully making sure that comrades went home in groups to avoid being picked off and detained.

Film footage of the police attacks exists and will be made available to the media as soon as possible, and will also make up evidence to the ILO, the UN, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), along with the testimonies of those who were attacked and who witnessed police brutality.

Which side are you on?

For the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, Liberation Friday marks another milestone in the democracy struggle. The people of Swaziland have shown that it is possible to mobilise, organise and remain disciplined, supportive and creative in the face of the most brutal attacks and provocations. They have shown that the years of establishing the Swaziland United Democratic Front, of which the SDC is its campaigning wing, have not been in vain, and that disciplined mass action can challenge even the most ruthless of dictators.

For the illegitimate regime, its nightmare scenario is coming true. They can no longer call upon tradition and manipulate the culture of the proud Swazi people to justify their greed and opulent lifestyles. They are exposed for what they are. A brutal despotic regime that is imploding in on itself, and that cannot be trusted, even within its own ranks. Furthermore, it can no longer maintain its rule by force.

For the governments of the region and the continent as a whole, this episode has blown a huge credibility gap into any notion of diplomatic persuasion with the Swazi regime. Action must now be taken against the regime to force it into a democratisation process that is not imposed from outside, but established by the democratic forces in Swaziland itself. That is why the demands shared by PUDEMO and all democratic forces, for the unbanning of political parties, the freeing of political prisoners and for a transparent and inclusive democratic transition now, are so compelling.

For the South African government, the planned "bailout" must now surely be completely reconsidered. The people of Swaziland don’t want it to go to those who have pillaged the national resources of the country for their own private gain. Why must the South African government finance those who abuse people's rights so readily and who have shown themselves incapable of anything that resembles good governance. The bailout must be renegotiated, and not with the kleptocracy of Mswati, but with the democratic forces on the ground.

The democracy movement on the ground is under no illusions about what is now required, as a leading trade unionist noted:

This is the beginning of the end of the Mswati regime of that there is no doubt, but we doubt he will retire gracefully to one of his many palaces or farms as a rational person would do so. Like so many dictators, he still believes his own infallibility, and he will probably outstay his welcome, until he sees no alternative but to take his fortune elsewhere. And we have some major challenges to address ourselves, not least being how we can continue to build the momentum of the democracy movement, and especially the role of the workers' movement within it. We have to both keep up the mobilising but also take some time to decide what type of society we want to see emerge from the ruins Mswati and his cohorts have left behind, but we are confident. We can do it. We have started and we are not going to stop now.

The Swaziland Democracy Campaign will be making a detailed analysis of the outcomes of the Global Week of Action and start to put in place the program of action agreed with our comrades of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, including a global solidarity conference, the escalation of the sanctions campaign including the sports and cultural boycott, the naming and shaming of all those who profit from the maintenance of the Swazi dictatorship, the freeing of political prisoners and of course further mobilisations to demand democratic reforms. We urge all those who want to contribute to join the campaign and help make a difference. Be part of a winning side!

The Swaziland Democracy Campaign extends its solidarity greetings and thanks to all those who have made this Global Week of Action such a success, and especially those forces across the world who have taken the time to picket and march and protest for democracy in Swaziland . We would especially like to thank all of those brave and committed comrades in Swaziland itself, who against seemingly insurmountable odds, have taken the first vital steps towards national self determination.

Long live the democratic aspirations of the Swazi people, long live!

For more information please contact:

Stephen Faulkner (steve.faulkner [at] samwu.org.za) or Philani Ndebele (philani [at] asc.org.za.

The struggle for a democratic Swaziland continues

By Zingiswa Losi, COSATU second deputy president

September 10, 2011 -- We have just returned from Swaziland, where I was part of a Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) delegation that was invited to join in a number of legal protest actions that made up the Global Week of Action on Swaziland, organised by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC).

The SDC works as the campaigning arm of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, which is an inclusive and representative body comprising trade unions, faith-based organisations, students and civil society organisations.

Along with other COSATU comrades, we were honoured to have been invited by our trade union friends in Swaziland. International worker solidarity is a fundamental guiding principle of COSATU and to be able to join hands with our comrades, to give them moral and organisational support, was a very humbling and endearing experience.

This second Global Week of Action will require careful evaluation over the next few days, and we will be exchanging views with our Swazi counterparts about how to maintain the momentum and ensure that Swaziland does not fall off the agenda. What we can say is that this week has seen an unprecedented degree of mobilisation both in Swaziland and in many other parts of the world.

Working through the international trade union networks associated with the International Confederation of Trade Unions in Africa (ITUC-Africa) there have been more than 20 mobilisations taking place in different African countries this week, and no less than 12 chapters of the SDC have been formed as a result. There were also protests taking place in five European capitals, and in Canada and the US. This is a wonderful show of international worker solidarity.

In Swaziland itself, literally tens of thousands of workers, students, members of the legal fraternity, women’s groups, church congregations and unemployed people have taken to the streets in numbers that have not been seen for decades. We do not want to fall into the trap of exaggerating the numbers who were mobilised because that does a disservice to those who participated, but to be able to gather more than 4000 people in both Manzini and Mbabane is an astonishing achievement, and especially so when one considers the brutal state repression that was used on protesters and COSATU comrades last year, and is part of everyday life for Swazi democracy activists.

What was also remarkable about this Global Week of Action was the breadth and depth of the mobilisations. In rural areas, where loyalty towards the royal regime is presumed to be at its highest, the democracy movement was able to make really significant inroads. Thousands of very poor people, many of whom had been bullied and silenced by the regime through a combination of impoverishment and the corrupting influence of the Tinkhundla system, greeted the democracy movement with open arms, and have laid bare the regime's claims that they have substantial support in the rural communities.

In the urban areas, the dynamic combination of workers, students, faith-based and civil society organisations was able to mobilise to such an extent that they actually paralysed the repressive forces of the state. Despite the state mobilising roadblocks, and putting water cannon, armed personal carriers, tear-gas appliances and of course thousands of uniformed officers on the streets, they were unable to quell the enthusiasm of the protest marchers, or indeed stop them from marching through all of the streets unhindered. The reaction from ordinary people is also noteworthy. Literally hundreds spontaneously joined the marches, and many gave food and drinks to the protesters. During the first two days not a single arrest took place of a protester!

The fact that the banned liberation movement PUDEMO, which we are very happy to have shared this platform with, was able to make public statements, and its youth wing Swayoco extensively and openly organised, is indicative of the growth of the democracy movement, and this was all met with great enthusiasm by people on the ground. The speech given by PUDEMO president Mario Masuku in Manzini was one of the highlights of our visit, and we are proud to have been a part of this protest.

On Monday and Tuesday 9september 5 and 6), the repressive apparatus of the royal regime was clearly frustrated at not being able to unleash its firepower on the masses who had gathered. They were clearly constrained by a number of factors.

However, as soon as the mobilisations moved to the rural areas, the cold and malicious character of the regime once again surfaced. In Siteki, where more than 1000 mainly poor people gathered on Wednesday to express their support for the democracy campaign, the police instructed the organisers that the visitors from COSATU would not be able to speak, and that they posed a threat to national security. The organisers said that they were there to greet the crowd and to give solidarity greetings, but the police then said that if COSATU speakers took the platform they would be arrested.

When this was made known to the protesters they insisted on the right to hear the COSATU comrades, and also on the right to associate and organise a peaceful protest. When I took the platform the security services went berserk. They physically attacked individuals, they used live ammunition and rubber bullets and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the gathering and arrest the COSATU comrades, including myself.

If my President Comrade Jacob Zuma had been present I am sure it would have reminded him of the days when peaceful United Democratic Front rallies and meetings were attacked by apartheid forces. If an example was ever needed to expose the repressive character of this regime, this was it! The security officers were indiscriminate in using their batons, and in punching and kicking whoever was in their path. It was clear that the frustrations of not being able to attack protesters in Manzini and Mbabane were now being settled.

The attacks were justified in the state-controlled media, who had said that COSATU was "invading" Swaziland! What nonsense! COSATU was responding to the invitation of our Swazi trade union comrades, in the most honourable tradition of international workers' solidarity. There was no hidden agenda, no plots to topple the monarchy, or to do anything other than to say to our friends in the democracy movement, that you are not alone. An injury to one, is an injury to all, regardless of where the borders of our countries have been drawn.

Eventually I and Comrade Zanele were bundled into a police vehicle and taken to Oshoek border and deported. We shall be making a written statement to be submitted to the ILO and the UN Human Rights Committee and our own government about what we witnessed and about how we were treated. There was absolutely no reason for the security forces to behave in this manner, and they must be exposed. The world needs to know what Swazi democrats have to face every day of their perilous lives.

This brings us to the "bailout" [by South Africa], and we want to make it absolutely clear that we did not meet a single person in Swaziland who said that the bailout was welcome. On the contrary, everyone we met, both inside and outside of the democracy movement, said that the bailout will actually make matters worse.

For a start, it reinforces the austerity measures that are favoured by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which are calling for a 50% retrenchment of public sector workers, and not I might add the security cluster.

Second, it provides a breathing space for the regime, which has corruptly mismanaged the resources of Swaziland for decades to accrue vast amounts of personal wealth, including the $200 million personally owned by the king.

Third, it does not address the need for democratisation in any serious manner, but rather talks vaguely about the need for "confidence building', and we ask, whose confidence? The repressive regime, or the democratic movement?

Finally, this loan will not be repaid, despite claims that it will come from future Southern African Customs Union revenues. The Swazi economy is in a deep systemic crisis. Tinkering with the current account will do nothing to relieve the plight of the poor, or stop the king and his sycophants from stealing for their ridiculous and opulent lifestyles.

That is why we are calling upon the ANC government to think again about the bailout, and to disassociate itself from this murderous regime. The bailout needs to be linked unambiguously to measures that lead to a democratisation of Swaziland and must include the immediate unbanning of political parties, the freeing of all political prisoners and for the right of exiles to return. There must be an end to the repressive activities of the state, as we witnessed, and their must be a total review of decades old legislation that allows any act of defiance to be labelled as a terrorist act.

That is why there are five protests in Provinces today from 12-2pm outside all the branches of the Reserve Bank of South Africa, to draw attention to the bankruptcy of the bailout, and the regime it will support. That is why the SDC chapter in Cape Town mounted a successful picket outside parliament on September 6.

We therefore call upon the ANC government to think again about the support they intend to give to Swaziland, and instead talk to our real allies in the struggle for a democratic Swaziland, those very forces who were attacked and vilified this week by the regime. Our government must engage not with the tyrants, but with the liberators. Anything less will not do.

For our part, as COSATU and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, we are committed to building further the campaign in support of our comrades and friends in Swaziland. We have a range of activities planned for the next period including a global solidarity conference of all of our chapters and supporters. We are intending to escalate the campaign for comprehensive sanctions, including a sports and cultural boycott, and measures to expose all of those, whether in Swaziland or South Africa or elsewhere who are investing in the Swazi economy and becoming wealthy at the expense of human rights. We are planning further mobilisations, including supporting campaigns to free those languishing in Mswati’s dreadful prisons, and of course, we will seek to engage our own government, and those of SADC and the AU to encourage them to see Swaziland for what it is, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, that is a blight on our beautiful continent, and that must be democratised.

The days of the royal elite regime are numbered; the people of Swaziland must and shall govern themselves

Long live the Swazi democracy movement.

We all look forward to returning to Swaziland to be with our friends and comrades in a peaceful democratic Swaziland.

Long live the democratic forces of Swaziland!



COSATU on the role of union investment companies in Swaziland

Phindile Kunene, COSATU Shopsteward Editor, 15 September 2011

COSATU has noted the debate around the role of COSATU affiliates’
investment companies in Swaziland, particularly those belonging to the

We also note the reports that suggest that some of our union
investment companies are conducting business with companies in which
the Swazi monarchy has a direct interest.

COSATU wishes to place on record that COSATU does not currently have a
boycott and divestment campaign on Swaziland and thus the concerned
union investment arms have not transgressed any COSATU resolutions.

However, in light of the deteriorating economic situation in
Swaziland, the ongoing oppression of the Swazi people and repression
of popular dissent, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU)
and the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) have made a call for
a boycott and divestment campaign on Swaziland. COSATU has committed
to participate in the on-coming Comprehensive boycott Summit organised
by the SUDF and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) for October
involving Swazi civil society organisations and their South African
counterparts to deal with all these matters comprehensively.

COSATU will further consider the call for boycotts and divestments in
the next Central Executive Committee scheduled for November.

COSATU wishes to reaffirm its full confidence in all its affiliates
and their unequivocal support for the cause of the Swazi people and
their struggle for democracy.