Swaziland: South Africa's high commissioner rejects democratic transformation

The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) is banned and its leaders were arrested and prevented from celebrating Workers' Day (May 1) this year.

For more on Swaziland's democracy movement, click HERE.

Joint statement

May 14, 2013 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- When the new South African High Commissioner to Swaziland, His Excellency Happy Mahlangu, presented his credentials to King Mswati, the Swazi Observer on May 3 reported him as saying:

I further wish to make use of this opportunity to express South Africa's best wishes to Your Majesty and the people of Swaziland for success during the forthcoming elections. I also want to assure you of South Africa's support regarding the Swaziland elections.

To make matters worse, here is what "His Excellency" had to say in the May 13 Swazi Times:

It would be folly to force things on the people of Swaziland. It is the people of Swaziland who should decide whether they want multiparty democracy. I think South Africans believe that the best way of representation is multiparties yet that is not the case. They have to understand the different types of democracies of the world, in particular in the African continent.

These comments prompt a number of questions that the High Commissioner, and those who have stationed him in Swaziland, must answer:

1. Who gave the High Commissioner the authority to describe what is being planned by the Tinkhundla regime as "elections"?

In Swaziland political parties are banned. Only "approved" candidates can put themselves forward for so-called "elections", and are subject to strict clearance by the regime. Free and unhindered voter registration and secret balloting are severely compromised because of the "supervisory" role allocated to Tinkhundla agents in the community, namely the chiefs who have sworn loyalty to the King and are rewarded for doing so. Calling the self-interested Tinkhundla process an election is frankly absurd, and an insult to those who campaign for democracy.

2. Who gave High Commissioner Mahlangu the authority to say that South Africans are incorrect to believe that "multiparty democracy" is the best form of representation?

How can the High Commissioner make this assertion when his own government is deeply committed to multiparty democracy? Has he consulted the South African people? Would Comrades Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu have accepted anything other than free and fair elections in South Africa?

3. Who gave the High Commissioner permission to make the incomprehensible statement that ''It would be folly to force things on the people of Swaziland"?

Thousands of learned and experienced democracy advocates, activists from trade unions, faith-based organisations, community groups, student organisations and an impressive range of human and civil rights organisations have been subjected to blatant acts of repression because they have dared to state that democracy be established in Swaziland. Who exactly is forcing a particular system of government onto the people of Swaziland if not the bankrupt and globally discredited Tinkhundla regime of King Mswati?

The reality that is Swaziland today

The Swaziland that the South African High Commissioner is referring to must be different from the one we know and where the majority of Swazis live.

At present, peaceful democracy activists are languishing in miserable prison conditions without charge or credible evidence against them, while awaiting the possible imposition of harsh sentences for sedition. Many Swazis continue to suffer in exile, while those in Swaziland are prevented from holding meetings, marches or any gatherings and are instead beaten and humiliated for expressing their views about their country. The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) is banned and its leaders were arrested and prevented from celebrating Workers' Day (May 1) this year. The only "crime" these democracy activists are guilty of is to speak out that democratic norms be accepted in Swaziland.

Not only are the Swazi people subjected to appalling levels of poverty, but they are also robbed of resources, both land and finances, that should be placed at their service. The regime is considered to be one of the most corrupt in the world. Why does the High Commissioner contradict this reality, and lend the credibility of his office to support a repressive regime?

Repression in Swaziland is well documented and makes up a major part of the submissions that were made to the UN's International Labour Conference and other international gatherings. These respected institutions have in turn consistently criticised the Swazi regime for trampling on the fundamental human and civil rights of the people of Swaziland. Does the High Commissioner not read?

Lessons for the High Commissioner

Let us respectfully remind the High Commissioner that a democracy requires a number of civil liberties to be in place and to be respected, and not least among them being the right to form political parties, to participate freely in elections, to be able as citizens to speak openly about the actions of those who claim to represent their interests in government, without fear of arrest, detention or violence emanating from the state.

Can we ask the High Commissioner to request a list of all those currently being held in prison for political reasons and if there is any evidence for their continuing incarceration? Can he also visit the family of respected teacher Sipho Jele, who was arrested and died while in detention for wearing a t-shirt of the banned People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO)?

Can we ask the High Commissioner to explain why he is lending support to a regime which in the last 12 months alone has banned legitimate trade union organisations, has purposefully and violently broken up prayer meetings of the poor and dispossessed, has attempted to criminalise and undermine those courageous individuals who have spoken out in favour of genuine democratic elections and against the sham Tinkhundla excuse for democracy that the King is attempting to force on the Swazi people?

Can High Commissioner Mahlangu change, or be changed?

High Commissioner Mahlangu is out of step with his own government, who correctly denied a bailout to the regime pending moves towards democracy. He is out of step with his own party, the African National Congress, which even last week said that achieving democracy in Swaziland must be a priority when it stated that "The democratisation of Swaziland must preoccupy the work of the African National Congress and all progressive forces as we call for the release of political prisoners, return of exiles and free political activities in that country."

He is out of step with the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community guidelines and protocols on elections democracy and constitutionalism, and a global array of respected human rights organisations that have painstakingly catalogued the abuses of the current Swazi regime.

The questions that are posed above require answers from the High Commissioner. He is supposed to be a representative of a democratic country. He is duty bound to embody the values of the South African government, and especially what is written in the South African constitution. As a longstanding member of the ANC does he not still support the demands of the Freedom Charter, and recent policy pronouncements of the ANC? Does he understand that universal human rights know no national boundaries, and should be available to all regardless of cultural or religious beliefs?

It appears to all of those who wish to see a genuine democratic Swaziland that the High Commissioner has allowed himself to be seduced by the king, and has compromised his independence, and perhaps fatally so. His credibility is in ruins.

We have no problem with the honourable High Commissioner sharing his own experiences in Swaziland but he must not undermine the role that the repressive Swazi regime played in entrenching apartheid through its cordial relations with apartheid South Africa. He must refer to the Truth and Reconcialition Commission report on the murders by joint aparthied South African Defence Force and Swazi operatives against liberation movement soldiers, including, Paul Dikeledi, Cassius Make and several others. Further, many Swazi activists made huge sacrifices and some died fighting alongside ANC cadres during those difficult days, against both apartheid agents and the Swazi regime.

We believe that the South African government must recall the High Commissioner and provide him with a comprehensive briefing and then assess his suitability for the post. His most recent statements do not inspire the confidence of the peaceful democratic movement.

Failing this, perhaps His Excellency Mahlangu would like to meet those of us who are working tirelessly in the pro-democracy movement, under immensely repressive conditions, to ensure a better life for all Swazis. We would be happy to share with the High Commissioner the world and life of true democrats operating under a repressive system ruled by King Mswati III.

Endorsed by the following organisations

Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), general secretary, Thamisanqa Hlatshwayo: +268 76057938

Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) SD Chapter, interim spokesperson, Nthando Khumalo: + 268 76411070

Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), coordinator, Wandile Dludlu: +268 76111676

Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), general secretary, Vincent Ncongwane: +268 76037005

Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), spokesperson, Zakhele Mabuza: +268 76073453

Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi: +27 82 088 1242

Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), South Africa chapter, co-convener, Stephen Faulkner: + 27 82 817 5455

COSATU appalled at Mswati`s evident determination to destroy TUCOSWA

May 3, 2013 -- The Congress of South African Trade Unions is deeply appalled by the continued onslaught and harassment against the leadership and members of the Swaziland trade union federation, TUCOSWA, and the intensified state of terror and repression of fundamental rights to organise and free expression in Swaziland.

As workers of the world celebrated the important day in the calendar of the international trade union movement, workers day, the workers of Swaziland faced a barrage of attacks and persecution by the Swazi state-security forces. They were barred from freely holding their own activities due to the house arrests of their leadership, raids of their offices and persecution of their members on their way to the TUCOSWA organised events in Manzini.

This follows an order from the country’s authorities, using both the state-controlled judiciary and blatant orders from the royal house, in the words of the security forces themselves. This happens against the background of a very successful, though hectic month of April activities focussing on Swaziland, which did not only expose that Swaziland is indeed a police state, but also that the resolve and unity of the progressive forces and leaders of the mass democratic movement have reached new heights.

The eventful activities of April organised and led by the SUDF, SDC and the rest of the progressive forces shook the regime and resulted in leaders of the progressive movement joining each other in police cells for one trumped-up charge or the other, the unleashing of brutal force against political and trade union activists, as well as the targeting of democratic organisations and their perpetual harassment in a bid to instil fear throughout the country.

We wish to congratulate the workers of Swaziland for successfully holding their May Day. We deliberately say “successful” because, despite extreme state brutality, they still showed up in numbers in total display of defiance and renewed determination. This is in the context of a state ban on TUCOSWA, meaning it is a crime to wear TUCOSWA t-shirts, to be in any way associated with it, let alone be its leader and make speeches or even mention the word, TUCOSWA.

Indeed, it was successful because it proved to the world and the country’s ruling authorities that there shall be no peace in Swaziland so long as TUCOSWA is banned or workers rights are criminalised, so is the case with the general right to freely organise, associate and express themselves as a people and country. This marks a new leaf for a country that has always traded under the false illusion of peace and stability. We applaud their courage and bravery, marked by their unwavering commitment to the struggle against repression, an increasingly militarised state and for all basic human and social rights.

COSATU calls for concerted efforts and vigour from all national and International trade union centres and movements to really begin to give more decisive attention to Swaziland and unite in action for change. The evident attitude of the tinkhundla regime towards the trade union movement and in particular the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) demands that we copy what was done to liberate South Africa, not only by those in South Africa but by the rest of the democracy-loving world. The international community must have a common strategy to save and defend TUCOSWA, because TUCOSWA is the workers of Swaziland and the workers of Swaziland are TUCOSWA. Desperate attempts to create false platforms and sustain attacks against TUCOSWA by opportunists sponsored by the tinkhundla regime, have failed and must forever fail.

As the struggle intensify, we take this opportunity to applaud all friends of the global campaign for democracy in Swaziland and their tireless efforts to popularise and deepen the struggle by coordinating united and sustained solidarity action. We call on all who are not yet active to follow suite and join in solidarity. We join TUCOSWA in calling on all the global patriots who supported the anti-apartheid movement for a democratic South Africa to now demonstrate to the world that the mission is not yet accomplished if the people of Swaziland, workers in particular remain in tinkhundla prisons, by joining and leading the world-wide campaign for democracy in Swaziland.

Finally, we call for the unconditional release of all political and trade union prisoners; amongst them; Bheki Dlamini, SWAYOCO President, Wonder Mkhonza, PUDEMO National Organiser and SPRAWU Secretary General, Zonke Dlamini, PUDEMO activist, Amos Mbhedzi, South African cadre of the ANC and SACP, as well as all those arrested during the recent SWAYOCO Rally at Msunduza in Mbabane.

Zingiswa Losi,
COSATU second deputy president

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 05/26/2013 - 15:51


Swaziland: CPS blasts handing of activists' names to Mswati's cops

JOHANNESBURG, 23 May: The Communist Party of Swaziland has condemned the action by officials at the South African High Commission in Mbabane, Swaziland, for handing the names of eight CPS activists visiting the offices earlier this week to the Swazi security police.

The CPS activists had arranged with the HC to deliver a memorandum urging the mission to condemn the recent spate of arrests of pro-democracy activists in Swaziland.

But the names of the activists submitted to the HC in advance had been passed to the Swazi police, who were waiting when the delegation arrived at the mission. 

"The police were plain-clothed, and they tried to intervene when our members approached the mission," says CPS general secretary Kenneth Kunene. "The delegation told the police that they did not have an appointment with them, but with the High Commissioner."

Kunene says that the police wanted to identify the delegation members against a list of names they had been given by someone at the HC.

"This was no ordinary security protocol," says Kunene. "It was an effort to intimidate our members and block their visit to the South African mission. They pounced on the delegation caused a massive commotion when our comrades refused to identify themselves to the officers."

Kunene says that the matter was only resolved when the South African High Commissioner personally intervened and ushered the delegation into his office.

"We applaud the speedy intervention of the SA head of mission."

Kunene added that there was clearly collusion between someone at the HC and the Swazi police concerning our delegation. 

"We hope that in the current situation in Swaziland diplomatic missions who receive visits from the pro-democracy movement do not collude in this way with the Swazi police. Our country is ruled by a brutal dictatorship, and missions from democratic countries should try to protect pro-democracy activists."