Thursday, June 18, 2009


The following is extracted from Union View No 13, May 2009, published by the International Trade Union Confederation.

Swaziland’s royal-appointed political leadership is cautious. Rather than employing the heavy hand of violent oppression which has earned the [Robert] Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe international condemnation and isolation, the ruling clique prefers more subtle measures to silence the voices of political opposition.

Activists are hauled in and held in detention for days then released without charge, meetings are banned or broken up by the police with beatings rather than shootings, government critics complain they are denied promotions, their children refused scholarships, passports are withheld and families are threatened with eviction from their ancestral land.

The coercion is rarely of a level to attract international headlines, but the persistent harassment risks sapping the spirit of the beleaguered pro-democracy movement.

Swaziland had boasted it had no political prisoners. That changed when Mario Masuku, leader of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), was jailed in November under the Suppression of Terrorism Act introduced by the government last year following an explosion at a road bridge near the king’s palace that killed two alleged bombers.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland. Although elections were held in September [2008], candidates could only run as individuals. Ten members of the 65-seat National Assembly, Anglicans, Lutherans and other denominations, had planned a rally in Manzini on March 14 [2009] to demand free schooling, but police banned it at the last minute.

Many Swazis are deeply frustrated that their country’s plight gets so little international attention.

They feel the royal authorities have succeeded in presenting the country as a ‘quaint’ anomaly where ancient practices – symbolised by the Umhlanga festival [Reed Dance] where tens of thousands of bare-breasted maidens dance before the king – co-exist peacefully with an indigenous version of democracy.

But unless pressure is brought to bear to bring about a real change, many fear the situation will could get much worse.

In October [2008] the king appointed hard-line royalist Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini as prime minister. Reformists who remembered Dlamini’s strong-arm tactics during a previous stint in power were dismayed.

In the face of the government clampdown, progressive forces come together to resist. Trade unions, political parties and churches formed the Swaziland United Democratic Front, modelled on the United Democratic Front (UDF), which spearheaded the fight against apartheid in South Africa. An even wider selection of civil society makes up the Coalition of Concerned Civil Organizations set up after the government evicted two chiefs and hundreds of their subjects in order to give their land to one of the king’s brothers. The eviction was carried out despite a ruling against it from the Supreme Court.

Although the pro-democracy movement enjoys broad-based support, many Swazis believe they need more outside help to force the royal establishment to accept reform. The Congress of South African Trade Union’s (COSATU) has taken a lead by occasional blockades of the border crossings on which the Swazi economy depends, but Swazis complain their little country is ignored by the wider international community.

To see the full article and the publication it is from click here.

No comments: