Swaziland: Thousands defy monarchy in second global week of protest

On September 6, 2011, the king's portrait is burned during a pro-democracy demonstration in Swaziland's biggest town, Manzini.

By Mike Marqusee

September 7, 2011 -- Red Pepper, via MikeMarqusee.com -- The second Global Week of Action in Swaziland, organised by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, which concludes September 9, has already scored remarkable successes amid terrible sacrifices. The week marks a new highpoint in the ongoing confrontation between an absolute monarchy that for decades has plundered the country and an increasingly emboldened democracy movement.

Events kicked off on September 5 with a mass demonstration through the heart of the capital city, Mbabane. One of the COSATU delegates who joined the protest reported: “The streets of Mbabane have been occupied by a range of different people, including workers, students, the legal profession, community and church activists, and all marching in unison and toyi-toying for freedom. They are united in one purpose, to challenge the continuing rule of Africa’s last absolute monarchy. There is an almost carnival atmosphere in the air!”

The next day the protest moved to the country’s largest city and economic hub, Manzini, where thousands surged through the streets. In a town of 75,000, this was equivalent to hundreds of thousands in a major European city. What’s more, these demonstrators were defying intimidation and a very real threat to their physical security, amidst conditions where the daily struggle for survival can be daunting.

Up until now, the police had stood back, a marked contrast with their behaviour at the last protests in April, which were dispersed with batons, tear gas and water cannon. The police were aware that they were being monitored by a variety of international observers and that the recently agreed, desperation-born South African bailout was still vulnerable.

However, as the action spread on September 7 to other regions of the country, notably the small towns of Siteki in the east and Nhlangano in the south, the Swazi regime deployed the riot squads, firing rubber bullets and teargas. The regime is railing against an alleged “invasion by non Swazis” – referring in particular to the 40-plus COSATU activists who crossed the border to join the protests. A number of COSATU representatives have been picked up by the armed forces and deported. It’s also reported – as I write – that senior Swazi trade union leaders and leaders of the main (banned) opposition party, the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), have been beaten up. In Manzini, police battled with young people.

However the week ends, the regime will have been the loser. The gains of the democracy movement in the streets may be fragile but they will have an intangible ripple effect.

In the run-up to the week of action, Swaziland was wrestling with economic crisis. Years of maladministration, waste, corruption and gross inequality came to a head as a result of the global recession. A huge deficit opened, the government was unable to pay its bills and has only been saved from open bankruptcy by the loan of $370 million from South Africa. Public sector wages are being slashed or withheld, and the meagre provision for poverty relief has dried up. As a result of cuts in allowances, the country’s 6000 university students are boycotting classes.

The South African government seemingly had little reason to do King Mswati any favours. The Swazi monarchy collaborated with the apartheid regime and harassed African National Congress (ANC) activists on its soil. Nonetheless, the ANC government’s concern for the established economic order overcame any historical resentment. COSATU, among others who wanted democratisation as a condition of a bailout, strongly disapproved. During the week of action, protests against the blank cheque bailout were held outside the South African parliament and branches of the South African Reserve Bank in cities across the country.

Mswati is known to have a personal fortune of more than $200 million – while 70% of his subjects live on less than a dollar a day. More than 40% of the workforce are unemployed. The country suffers the world’s highest HIV infection rates and lowest life expectancy at birth (32 years).

However, Swaziland is also Africa’s third-biggest sugar producer and as such has become Coca-Cola’s southern African base. Mswati is a major partner in the business and is an honoured guest on his annual pilgrimages to Coke’s global HQ in Atlanta, Georgia. Mswati’s despotism is built on the sponsorship of multinational corporations. Whether it’s telecommunications, media, mining, agriculture or soft drinks, the royal family gets a piece of the action.

Mswati presides over the world’s longest running state of emergency, going back to 1973 when political parties were banned. Since then, the royal elite has ruled through the “tinkundla” system – a top-down machine of patronage and corruption which they dignify as an authentic expression of Swazi “culture”. The king enjoys untrammelled executive and legislative power. Along with the vote, freedom of speech, assembly and association are suppressed, while the royal family treats the nation’s resources as private assets, accumulating vast fortunes without any kind of public scrutiny.

Long-simmering but disparate dissent acquired a new focus and channel with the launch of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign in February 2010. The Swazi trade unions provided the backbone and direction of the growing movement, working cooperatively and creatively with religious and community groups and civil society activists. Their Swazi unions’ joint work in this campaign has in turn led to the merger and unification of the country’s various labour federations, which can only add weight to the democracy movement.

SDC activists also highlight the vital contribution made by COSATU, across the border in South Africa. Unusually in the realm of trade union internationalism, they’ve matched words with deeds, putting material and political resources, and bodies on the ground, at the service of the SDC. The last few days have seen the regime challenged by a palpably united front of public sector workers, church members, lawyers, students and the unemployed. For the first time, there was significant mobilisation in rural regions, a hard-earned breakthrough for the democracy movement, and one that has elicited a violent reaction from the regime.

Despite harassment, detention and torture, SDC activists, bolstered by international trade union support, have mounted ever more ambitious actions, climaxing in this week’s events. They know the struggle ahead will be demanding, but they remain confident that the movement has taken a huge stride forward.

For supporters abroad, the priority is to isolate the Mswati regime, using all available forums and pressure points. One of the goals of the week of action is to raise global awareness – and across Africa it has succeeded in doing that. The lack of coverage in the mainstream media here in Britain by no means reflects the significance of developments in Swaziland, a small country with a big revolution-in-the-making.

For more information on the latest developments, see http://www.swazidemocracy.org/home.htm and http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/.

PUDEMO update on the the global week of action

September 6, 2011 -- The world should be encouraged to receive the news that Swazis under their umbrella {SUDF} body kicked off the Global week of action in the most encouraging tone. This was evident in that well over 2000 people defiantly marched in the streets of Mbabane, the capital city.

This is yet another attempt to raise their call for the:

1. unbanning of political parties

2. release of all political prisoners

3. return of well over 500 exiles

4. removal of the parasitic, inherently corrupt yet oppressive Tikhundla Royal regime

5. call for genuine dialogue towards democratic transition, not the Smart partnership nor puppet talks.

The spirit displayed throughout the march left everyone with one message; the progressive forces in Swaziland are getting more united and resolute on their demand for multi-party [democracy]. The burning of Lihhiya (kanga) with Mswati's face was a clear signal of the people's anger towards the monarchy being an impediment to their freedom.

PUDEMO therefore wishes to advise the king as well as all hangers on that ”Democracy is an idea whose time has come and can never be stopped” as once stated by PUDEMO President Mario Masuku. The world must also support the democratic forces of Swaziland under the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) in all means available to bring down the last absolute monarchy in the world. We furthermore welcome the continued solidarity by progressive partners in the world in the call to isolate this backward feudal demagogue and help Swazis to open a new page in their lives. We also wish to commend the campaigns wing of the SUDF, the SDC for coordinating this work in 20 different countries.

This remains the primary work of PUDEMO and the Swaziland Youth Congress, we continue to pledge our unreserved commitment to this revolutionary task. These activities live us inspired and determined to fight side by side with the oppressed people of our country.

Today the action continues in Manzini the economic hub of Swaziland and we promise to triple the numbers to an even stronger force than yesterday. Let all democracy loving people of the world stand with us in this hour of utmost need!

Skhumbuzo Phakathi, PUDEMO secretary general


Statement of the Communist Party of Swaziland on the eve of the September 5-11 freedom protests

September 2, 2011 -- The Communist Party of Swaziland greets the workers, poor and oppressed of our country on the eve of the week of protests beginning September 5, against the Mswati regime and for democracy and freedom.

The protests are now taking place in a new phase of struggle by our people. The tinkhundla government and the absolute monarchy (the monarchic autocracy) are in demise and are unlikely to survive for long. The fiscal crisis the regime faces will hardly be alleviated by the conditional, piecemeal loan guarantee the regime has received from South Africa.

The crisis of the regime is systemic -– it is inbuilt into its very existence, and no amount of assistance or aid will help it survive. The crisis of the regime is at the same time one of credibility and legitimacy -– both of which it lacks in abundance.

The crisis of the regime is also directly related to the poverty, disease and deprivation that Mswati, the royal family, the government elite and all those who act for the regime impose on the majority of our people. Through the oppression of the people, the regime has dug its own grave.

The people of Swaziland are more resolute in their determination to rid our country of this ruling class in all its forms, traditional or otherwise. The protests of the past year have increased the resolve of our labour movement and pro-democracy fighters to risk more and endure more to ensure the Mswati regime is eradicated.

The regime, meanwhile, continues on its course of self-delusion and corrupt trickery. It is clear that it has no intention of implementing the "democracy conditions" attached to the three-stage bailout from South Africa. These conditions, if fully realised, would topple the regime, because, when anyone examines them thoughtfully, it is clear that they stand at complete odds with regime’s existence. Apparently, Mswati thinks he can circumvent the conditions by simply doing nothing. In his blinkered, upside-down universe he even thinks he should receive a commission for brokering the loan!

The loan conditions concerning democracy are not intrinsically powerful -– they do not, for example, require the unbanning of parties and organisations or the safe return of exiles. But they do potentially cover a lot of ground. Importantly, they provide ammunition for us to further beat the regime into a corner. Recognition of this is crucial to our exploiting the tactical openings of the present situation, otherwise we will fall to a shrill, knee-jerk dogmatic response.

We call on all progressive forces in Swaziland, and their supporters abroad, to lobby, petition and put all forms of pressure on the Joint Bilateral Commission for Cooperation (JBCC), which under the loan conditions now exists to oversee the package of measures on democracy that the Mswati regime has been forced to accept.

We are under no illusion that these measures will not result in the regime changing its spots and transforming itself into a paradigm of liberal altruism. But they constitute another front whereby pressure can be put on the regime to implode.

That is our objective: to put an end to the regime in all its manifestations once and for all.

To ensure that the people are able to follow through on this we call in particular for the unity of all left forces to develop the progressive platforms that are needed to bring about lasting political, economic and social change in our country.

We believe that this unity is needed to accelerate the dismantling of the regime and the institution of a transitional platform for an interim government to allow for free and fair elections and to create the necessary emergency strategies to tackle the crises affecting our people.

We feel that a particular call for left unity is necessary in the face of attempts by narrow, middle-class interest groups that present themselves as the whole of civil society. These pretend to speak for the Swazi majority and they consider the Mswati regime as an equal partner in a "dialogue" ("talks about talks") for democracy and freedom.

It has been shown time and again in our struggle that only the left progressive forces in our country have the strategic and tactical vision needed to envisage a future of true and direct democracy for Swaziland, one in which the elites and the class divisions imposed on society are demolished. No amount of talks about talks with the regime will result in the social and political progress our country so desperately needs.

The CPS also greatly appreciates all international solidarity with the struggle of the Swazi people, and underlines the necessity of viewing our struggle as part of a far wider global effort for peace, freedom and progress.

The stakes are high. The people of Swaziland have suffered enough. The CPS stands shoulder to shoulder with our people and will work flat out to make the September protests a success. We will also include in the protests the demands of the Break the Chains campaign for the release of all political prisoners and detainees, the unbanning of political parties and the safe return of exiles.

COSATU condemns arrest and deportation of deputy president

September 8, 2011 -- COSATU condemns in the strongest possible terms the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests in Swaziland. The dictatorial Swazi regime unleashed violence on peaceful protests marking the Global Week of Action on Swaziland, organised by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) in the different regions of the country.

COSATU appalled by the barbaric behaviour of the Swazi security forces who continue to display utter contempt for the rights of the Swazi people to freely assemble and express their grievances about the state of affairs in their country. What is more worrying is that these protests are perfectly legal as they have been sanctioned by the courts in Swaziland.

The leadership of the trade unions, PUDEMO and civil society has been subjected to unmatched violence from the Swazi armed forces. The regime has also meted out violence against youth and students who are calling for the democratisation of Swaziland.

In the regional town of Siteki, a large assembly of youth, students, workers and the unemployed in Swaziland was violently disrupted by the armed forced when they sought to prevent COSATU's second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi, from addressing the crowds.

In its desperate attempt to stave off mass resistance, the Swazi regime resorted to ruthlessly attacking activists, including those from international solidarity groups.  

The Swazi regime has also captured and deported Zingiswa Losi and COSATU peputy international secretary, Zanele Matebula.

We condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms and call on the Swazi people to remain stern in their determination to chart a democratic path for their country.

COSATU fully supports and pledges its support to the people of Swaziland and their struggle for democracy and freedom.

PUDEMO condemns shooting of students

September 8, 2011 -- The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) condemns the shooting of peacefully demonstrating students in the Swazi capital, Mbabane. A number of them have been taken into hospital for sustaining serious injuries. The students are protesting the closure of the university and the denial of scholarships for deserving students. This is barbaric actions by the police and the government. Our children have a right to education.

The government is denying our children the right to education while their children are studying comfortably in universities around the world. A lot of money is lost through corruption and theft.
The activities continue today and PUDEMO calls for more radical action.

Swazi youth want regime change in Swaziland

Statement of the Swaziland Youth Congress

September 8, 2011 -- The Swaziland Youth Congress, the youth league of PUDEMO, is noting with great concern the current economic crisis that has gripped our tiny state. SWAYOCO has always maintained that under the tinkhundla regime Swaziland was bound to reach such a stage of economic depletion because of the autocratic nature of the system that opens space for corruption that results in the loss of E80 million Mlangeni per month. We still maintain, as SWAYOCO, that the only viable solution is to democratise by unbanning political parties to contest for power in government. We still maintain that as long as the state through the king closes space for political dialogue and sticks to the ongoing social dialogue the situation will move from bad to worse.

We must say that we have been appalled by the successful staging of the umhlanga reed dance ceremony in our country. As original Swazis we support culture because that's our identity but we as SWAYOCO we have noted the manipulation and exploitation of culture for selfish personal gain by individuals thus we have withdrawn our support for such events. It was so disgusting that the country can go on with such an event under the present economic crisis.

Umhlanga as a ceremony that is not a ritual could have been stooped to show seriousness towards achieving the goals of the fiscal adjustment road map. The state has proven that culture comes first than education.The tertiary institutions in the country are currently in a financial dilemma. The University of Swaziland is currently closed because it's short of funds to run its day to day business.

We as SWAYOCO we are surprised that the king summons young maidens when their future is at stake since life without education this days is very hard. Primary and high schools within the country closed early because the government had not paid money to the various schools where it's supposed to. This therefore leaves us with the question of what interest is it to the nation to celebrate umhlanga under the present conditions. It's crystal clear that this was meant to satisfy individuals who ironically do not have the interest of the country at hear but is interested in looting the little we are left with.

We would also like to voice our dismay at some companies and individuals who pledged money to finance part of the event. Its hypocrisy to finance the event when there was no one who came out to our schools and tertiary institutions when they needed money the most. This is just continued corruption where this individuals and companies are doing so to get favours from the monarchy in return. History will judge such individuals. The recent opening of the university is insignificant because the major problem that stopped it from opening has not been solved. The students themselves are also having a lot of grievances with what the government is proposing to them.

The opening of the university of Swaziland has left the students with the agony of accepting terrible conditions without discussion.The same issue of salary cuts that affected workers has come back to haunt students. This therefore must serve as the uniting factor between the two forces as we go towards the global week of action. We are urging all progressive formations to defy any counter order that will come from the state related to this week of action. We urge the country to unite under one demand that is of regime change and nothing else.

Submitted by Stormy (not verified) on Fri, 09/09/2011 - 22:09


It must be horrific, the suffering and hardship that has led to this. I support people who are standing up for their rights and freedom, no matter where they are in the world. May the transition be swift and as peaceful as possible.

Submitted by Moeti Mohwasa,… (not verified) on Sun, 09/11/2011 - 03:06


Mswati III must go!

The Botswana National Front (BNF) joins the rest of the progressive forces who are currently in solidarity with the people of Swaziland during the Global Week of Action against Swaziland (5th-11th September) led by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. We are proud to associate ourselves with this struggle for Justice and democracy as we believe the time for a new dispensation has arrived.

To those who have thrown away fear and are fighting for the liberation of Swaziland we say, we salute you for your bravery. The revolutionary upsurge of the Swazi people is welcome. A time comes when silence is betrayal and that time has come in the case of Swaziland. We are also still to hear what the position of the ruling neo-liberal Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is. True to its neo-colonialist nature, the BDP has ironically been too quiet on Swaziland but very noisy on Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Libya! The oppression of the people of Swaziland by Mswati III can no longer be tolerated. Mswati III who is the last absolute monarch must go!

The beginning of an end to the despotic rule of King Mswati III is now a reality and we are humbled by what we are seeing on the ground regarding the struggle for change in Swaziland. As we mentioned in our "April 12 Revolution" message, a revolution has never in the history of mankind lasted for just one day.

No amount of force can stand on the way for Democracy and Freedom.
Emergency measures enacted in 1973 continue to be used to repress opposition and these have been strengthened by the enactment of the so-called Anti-terrorism and Suppression of Seditious Activities laws. These instruments are being employed to suppress all forms opposition to the state and the king. Opponents of the dictatorship are frequently intimidated and arrested as it happened in October 2008 when the king authorised the use of extra-judicial means including murder to silence his opponents. A number of prominent and ordinary Swazis who have dared to speak out against injustices have been jailed, exiled or killed.

To the progressive forces in Swaziland led by our ally, PUDEMO, we say, borrow a leaf from the people of Tunisia and Egypt. They did not need the input of NATO with its heavy firepower to unseat their governments; they did not allow themselves to be used as pawns or mortgage their country in their fight for Democracy. They are now chatting their country's destiny without apportionment of their countries' natural resources. While the Oppressor uses guns, you have your power to remove him. Use that power!

The International community can not continue to keep quiet while Swaziland is crumbling. SADC and AU should intervene and push Mswati III to relinquish state power and allow for free and fair elections. All that the people of Swaziland are asking for is simple, the right to Democracy and justice. They would like to determine who leads them. They want to be like other citizens of this region. Though their efforts are met with force, they are peaceful and are not a group of bandits armed with powerful weapons of war.

The Swaziland situation is a threat to stability, justice and peace in the region. In fact the biggest threat is the King himself and we are wondering why the Botswana government which has a penchant for breaking ranks with the rest of the region and the continent in silent. The attitude of the Botswana government of waiting first to pick a cure from the West is disturbing. This attitude lacks principle and is a threat to peace and stability in the region.

Mswati III must give way for free political activity and genuine democracy in Swaziland. All those who have been forced to go on exile should be allowed to come back so that the people themselves, but not one man, could find the solution to their problems.

Swaziland is not in a state of economic, social and political decay because it lacks resources. It is because Mswati III, as a despot has not been able to get the nation's priorities right. He is accountable to himself and the national resources are misspent. Mswati III who has been in power since 1986 is the last absolute monarch in Africa and oversees a country that had a per ca pita income GDP of $4,964 in 2008 and uses 60% of the annual national revenue to fund the exorbitant lifestyle of the top elite, while the bottom 20% of the poor receives less than 4%.

Republic Now! Power to the People!

Moeti Mohwasa,
BNF Information and Publicity Secretary

Submitted by Karinna (not verified) on Thu, 09/15/2011 - 02:58


FREEDOM is best expressed with the right exercise of democracy and it really helps people in many countries. People Power has been the ultimate tool for best outcome and it was proven by many countries.