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.]