Monday, April 4, 2011


The following article is taken from the Morning Star, a national daily newspaper in the UK. It describes the background to the ‘uprising’ called in Swaziland for 12 April. It also sums up the present situation in Swaziland which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.


Inside Mswati's personal kingdom

South African trade unionists will march through the province of Mpumalanga to the Oshoek border post with Swaziland on April 12 [2011] to demonstrate solidarity with their neighbours.

On that day, Swazis will answer the call for a peaceful uprising for democracy and an end to the autocratic regime of King Mswati III.

The Swazi people will have lived under emergency rule for exactly 38 years on the day of their uprising. It was on April 12 1973 that late king Sobhuza dismissed parliament, declared political parties illegal and banned "commoners" from participation in political activity.

He instituted the Tinkhundla system whereby the king holds absolute power but devolves decision making to a number of traditional chiefs at local level.

A new constitution, ratified by Mwati in 2005, puts the king above it and ensures his personal control of all land, tax revenue and the economy as a whole.

The English public school-educated monarch milks the country's wealth to provide luxury BMWs for himself and his 13 wives, while his subjects live in dire poverty.

Over 300,000 of the 1 million population depend on food aid, with 70 per cent living below the poverty line.

Swaziland also has the highest incidence of HIV/Aids in the world, with 40-50 per cent HIV positive and average life expectancy just 32 years.

Mass poverty and denial of democratic rights have sparked opposition led by the banned People's United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), which has had its leaders, including president Mario Masuku, regularly arrested.

Contract worker Sipho Jele, a member of the Swaziland Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union who was one of a number of Pudemo members charged - and subsequently acquitted - with high treason in 2006 for involvement in a non-existent bombing campaign was arrested during last year's May Day protests.

He was charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act for wearing a Pudemo T-shirt under his jacket, and taken to jail.

His body was found hanging from the rafters of the toilet block three days later.

Coroner Nondumiso Simelane, a former police officer, released a verdict of suicide on March 9, ignoring evidence from the Jele family pathologist to support a homicide verdict.

Neither the coroner nor the prison authorities attempted to explain how Jele reached the beam, from which he was hanged, without any ladder or platform there.

Despite this history of brutal dictatorship, the Southern African Development Community and the Commonwealth retain Swaziland as a member in good standing.

Swazis, who are found on both sides of the border of South Africa, have a history of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles and have built effective trade unions and political self-organisation.

They showed on March 18, despite widespread ongoing repression, their capacity for resistance to the parasitic and brutal monarchy.

Tens of thousands of workers, students, community bodies and religious groups flooded the streets of the capital Mbabane and the main industrial centre Manzini to say that they had had enough.

Beforehand, the Swazi army set up roadblocks and heavily armed troops were deployed prominently to try to scare people into ignoring the call to action.

Swaziland Democracy Campaign convener Mary Pais Da Silva warned that ordinary Swazis have seen the light and that "the voice of the people has spoken.

"Our message to the state is that no amount of brutality shall deter us from our goal. Multiparty democracy is the only answer and Swaziland is en route there."

Cosatu hailed the bravery of the Swazi people, saying: "Today, workers, students and people of Swaziland declared their right to a life of dignity and equality. "They demanded that they be heard. They called for solidarity and global action now. We salute them."

From Britain, Unite expressed "its strong solidarity with the people of Swaziland on this momentous day."

The union declared full support for the campaign for real democracy, adding: "The call for international solidarity that we have heard from our sister and brother trade unionists and the entire Swaziland Democracy Campaign is one that we unreservedly respond to."

Cosatu convened a meeting in Pretoria last week with the intention of building international consensus on the need to promote change in Swaziland.

The union federation's president Sidumo Dlamini pointed out that Swaziland is heavily dependent on South Africa, which provides 90 per cent of its imports and 60 per cent of its exports.

Its currency is pegged to the South African rand.

The Tinkhundla regime depends heavily on the Southern African Customs Union and worker remittances from South Africa to fund the royal family's lavish and ostentatious consumption.

Dlamini questioned why the South African government was not being more decisive over Swaziland, declaring: "If our government can pull the plug, Swaziland can come to a standstill."

A similar question could be posed to the British government, which sees fit to lecture the world on democratic norms but sees nothing to criticise in its own former colony.

As the South Africa-based Swaziland Solidarity Network spokesman Lucky Lukhele said this week, "Swazis are not asking for something that the rest of southern Africa does not already have - a democratic government founded on the principles of equality and the right to self-governance."

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