8 June 2011
Maxwell Dlamini supporters launch campaign to free him
Swazi student leader arrested on the eve of a pro-Democracy protest and charged with possession of explosives
A campaign has been launched to free Maxwell Dlamini, the president of Swaziland's NUS (SNUS). Dlamini was arrested, along with political activist Musa Mgudeni, on the eve of the pro-Democracy protests on April 12 and charged with possession of illegal ammunition, although he denies this charge.
His supporters say that the Swazi government is trying to smear Dlamini because he is a popular and well-known figure in Swaziland having led many battles with the government on behalf of the students since he took office.
Dlamini was voted in as president of the NUS in October 2010 and has since led campaigns against increased tuition fees, against proposed cuts to scholarship programmes, and in favour of compelling the Swazi government to honour its constitutional commitment to introduce free primary school education.
Swazi parents currently pay fees for education at every level. A situation that forces some to educate only some of their children and only in the months that they can afford to pay for schooling.
The UK's incoming NUS vice president for society and citizenship, Danielle Grufferty, described Dlamini as "the figurehead" of Swazi student politics. "Maxwell is well-known as a radical within the democracy and union movements in Swaziland," she said. She also said the police knew him as the organiser of recent student protests.
Grufferty, who has lived in Swaziland for a year, was in the country at the time of Dlamini's first bail hearing. She said that the prosecution tried to establish Dlamini as a threat to society. "At the hearing, the prosecution kept asking the police if they thought he was a threat to society, and the police kept saying they believed he was but they couldn't produce any evidence. They asked questions about previous misconduct and there were none. They asked about previous convictions and there weren't any of those either. In the three days that I attended court they didn't produce any evidence to support the allegation that he was in possession of explosives. The people in the gallery began to laugh at the police because of their answers, which annoyed the judge and she warned the gallery: 'There are enough cells down there for you all'."
The prosecution argued that they needed more time and the hearing ended without the judge ruling on whether or not Dlamini could be bailed.
Grufferty filmed this interview outside the court where Dlamini's supporters were singing Swazi liberation songs, and pledging to return to the court each Friday until Dlamini's case is heard.
• Swazi school teachers took to the streets last week demanding that King Mswati III's assets to be frozen following a warning from finance minister Majozi Sithole that the government could not ensure salaries would be paid beyond June.