Police and army were deployed across the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, to stop any gatherings in support of democratic reform.
Trade union leaders were detained by police and roads blocked to stop protesters gathering. Barnabas Dlamini, the Swaziland Prime Minister, had ordered a ban on all protests. Police said the protests were against national security.
The crackdown was so effective that by midday yesterday (12 April 2012) workers’ leaders called off the protest, which had been planned to last up to four days.
Jabu Shiba, deputy treasurer of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), one of the groups organising the protest, told the AFP news agency, ‘We could not continue with our protests today as there was a high level of security, intimidation and arresting of our members.’
At least 15 protest leaders were reported to have been arrested to stop them taking part in a planned march in Mbabane, the Swazi capital city. They were later released.Vincent Dlamini, National Organising Secretary of Tucoswa, told journalists, ‘We were supposed to meet in the capital, in Coronation Park. When we arrived there this morning, we discovered it was already full of hundreds of armed troops and policemen. They arrested anyone who tried to enter the park, and put them in police vans that took them away. Several of our leaders had already been arrested last night; more were arrested on the scene. Meanwhile, protesters who were driving in from other cities encountered roadblocks; they were told they were not allowed to go to the capital and were forced to turn back. So around midday we realized we had no chance, and decided to call off the protest.’
Journalists reported a strong police presence on the streets as well as heavily armed soldiers. They were described as ‘brutal’ and interrogated, threatened, intimidated and insulted detainees.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported that some of the TUCOSWA membership were stopped by police close to Coronation Park, where a demonstration was due to start.
The newspaper reported, ‘They were forced back into their cars and shown the way back to Manzini. The park was littered with police and correctional officers. A few soldiers were also spotted in some corners of the city.
‘The detained leaders were isolated for more than an hour before they were released and told to leave the city.
‘They were taken into a police van, which drove them to the police station and were left in the vehicle for about an hour and half.
‘After being released they were given a choice of being driven back to Manzini, but they refused as they had their own cars.
‘They were eventually escorted to their cars.
‘Police PRO Superintendent Wendy Hleta said it was a peaceful day and nothing out of the ordinary happened.’
POLICE HOLD TRADE UNION LEADERS
SECURITY FORCES ‘WILL CLAMP DOWN’