Friday, December 9, 2016


Kenworthy News Media, 7 December 7 2016

After a coup and 22 years of authoritarian rule, The Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh conceded power in elections on December 1. Swaziland, another of Africa’s small authoritarian nations, can learn from The Gambia that there is strength in unity, says Swazi activist Bheki Dlamini, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Swaziland and The Gambia are two of Africa’s smallest nations, both less than 20.000 km2 and with populations below 2 million. Both got their independence from Great Britain in the sixties, and both are more or less engulfed by, and to a large degree dependent on, a much larger and more powerful neighbour.

Both countries have also endured decades of authoritarian rule, dressed up as democracy, after an initial spate of democracy post-independence, and both are ranked near the bottom of the world’s nations, regarding human development, democracy, political rights, civil liberties and press freedom.

Strength in unity
Since the reopening of multi-party rule, the opposition in Gambia had remained weak and fragmented, and its victory against Jammeh in the presidential elections would not have come about, had they not decided to form a coalition recently, insists young activist Bheki Dlamini.

Bheki Dlamini knows the price of fighting for democracy in a dictatorship. He was tortured, charged with terrorism and imprisoned for nearly four years in one of absolute monarch King Mswati III’s prisons. He had to flee Swaziland in fear of his life not long after the court dismissed the charges against him and released him.

And from the vantage point of exile in cold Scandinavia, Bheki believes that the democratic movement in Swaziland needs to unite as in The Gambia, if they are to gain true democracy.
– I am overwhelmed by the humbleness and political maturity shown by the Gambian opposition leaders to swallow their pride and put their country first in forming the coalition. The democratic movement in Swaziland is fragmented and too weak to challenge our undemocratic regime, says Dlamini.

Big challenges
Even though there are similarities between The Gambia and Swaziland, there are also differences, especially as Swaziland is still fighting for laying the foundation for multi-party democracy, Bheki Dlamini says.

– Uniting the democratic movement has been the most challenging endeavor of the movement. The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) is trying to unite the forces but is facing big challenges. 
Why, for instance, are some organisations that claim to be in pursuit of democracy not part of the SUDF? We need unity, but are our leaders willing to swallow their pride like the Gambians and build a united coalition, he asks rhetorically.

Dlamini believes that instead of focusing on ideology and personal differences in forming such a coalition, the respective leaders and organization should focus on what unites them.

– And what unites us is that we want to bring down King Mswati’s undemocratic rule. No one organisation in Swaziland can deliver democracy alone. Our narrow self- and organisational interests are not taking us anywhere. Our division and weaknesses are prolonging the suffering of the Swazi people; the unemployed, the sick, the elderly, the rural poor. We need everyone who agrees on the need for democracy to come together. We are stronger united than divided.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Kenworthy News Media, 6 December 2016

New Afrobarometer-report shows that Africans still cautiously embrace democracy. In the small absolute monarchy of Swaziland, support for democracy is low but rising. In many other countries it is falling, writes Kenworthy News Media.

‘Do Africans still want democracy,’ independent research network Afrobarometer asks Africans in a new report? The answer seems to be a cautious and qualified ‘yes’. In Swaziland, a small absolute monarchy where parties are banned and the king appoints the government and controls everything from the economy to the judiciary, numbers are very low but rising.

According to young democracy-activist, Bheki Dlamini, the main reason for the low numbers is the absolute monarch and his regime, who control all land and have distorted the word ‘democracy,’ and the fact that the country lacks democratic precedence.

Less than half want democracy
In the Afrobarometer-report, 45 percent of Swazis polled in the report see democracy as preferable to having a non-democratic government, which is the lowest of all the 36 countries in the survey apart from Sudan, where 44 percent see democracy as preferable.

In neighbouring South Africa, the percentage is 64 percent, and in Burundi, Senegal and Botswana, who top the list, the percentages are 86, 85 and 83 percent respectively.

Other figures show that 65 percent of Swazis polled reject one-party rule (compared to 50 percent in Mozambique, 72 percent in South Africa and 93 percent in Sierra Leone); 86 percent reject military rule (33 percent in Egypt, 67 percent in South Africa and 93 percent in Mauritius); and 24 percent prefer democracy to authoritarian regimes (9 percent in Mozambique, 35 percent in South Africa and 74 percent in Mauritius).

Democracy gaining ground
On the upside, Swaziland is one of the countries of the 36 African countries polled that has seen the biggest positive change in favour of democracy in the last 5 years.

24 percent of Swazis polled today said they both preferred democracy and rejected one-party and military rule, as well and a Presidential dictatorship, compared to 16 percent in 2011.

In many other countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Nigeria, support for democracy has waned or remained more or less unchanged in the last five years, albeit from a higher level of support than in Swaziland.

A question of land
These are the numbers, polled in face-to-face interviews with a representative number of Swazis, but how are they to be understood?

President of the Swaziland Youth Congress, Bheki Dlamini, who has himself spent nearly four years in prison due to his peaceful advocacy of democratic change in Swaziland and now lives in exile, believes that many especially rural-based Swazis do not embrace democracy because they are both physically and mentally dependent on the king’s regime.

– In Swaziland, more than 70 percent of the population lives in the rural areas, on Swazi Nation Land under strict control by the chiefs, who are an extension of the king’s power. Without security of tenure, loyalty to the chief and the king is important to the survival of a rural Swazi. The only form of security is to not be seen to challenge the status quo, he says.

A question of semantics and parties
Bheki Dlamini also sees the understanding of what ‘democracy’ means as another important reason why especially rural Swazis do not see themselves as democrats.

– In Swaziland, the word ‘democracy’ has been deliberately distorted by the regime, who say that democracy is tantamount to toppling the monarchy, whereas we could have a functioning constitutional democracy, Dlamini says

– 24 percent in Swaziland is a good figure considering the political context people live in. From independence in 1968, political parties have only existed for five years until they were banned in 1973. Swaziland is an authoritarian regime. To compare Swaziland to the rest of Africa is therefore unfair as most other countries allow political parties. They are consolidating their democracies; we haven’t even properly started the democratization process.

 ‘We want democracy now’
Bheki Dlamini says he is cautiously optimistic about the realization of a democratic Swaziland and that he strongly believes that the potential of Swazis will be unleashed, once they are free to think and express what they think and to form organisations to pursue those ideas.

– The regime cannot camouflage its oppressive nature under the veil of tradition and culture forever. We want democracy and we want it now, he says.

Friday, December 2, 2016


The recent passing of the 26th anniversary of Black Wednesday when troops invaded a campus of the University of Swaziland reminds us that little has changed in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Police, troops and security forces continue to take the attitude of ‘attack first, ask questions later’ when dealing with student grievances.

As recently as October 2016, police fired gunshots at protesting students at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology at Sidwashini. At least four students had ‘serious injuries’, according to the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper.

Students had been protesting about the poor quality of teaching at the university and inferior facilities.

The Times reported, ‘According to eyewitnesses, about 200 students screamed and ran helter-skelter after police from the Operational Support Service Unit (OSSU) fired at least six shots in attempt to disperse the protesting students who were barred from coming within 100 metres of the university gate by the High Court.’

In February 2016 at the University of Swaziland Kwaluseni campus Swazi security forces attacked students by driving an armoured troop carrier at speed into a crowd, injuring one so badly her back was broken. 

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom reported, ‘a Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) Operational Services Unit (OSSU) casspir drove at high speed into a group of about 2,000 students, who, when they realised that the vehicle was not stopping, ran in all directions.’

Students at the university had been protesting and boycotting classes to protest about delays in registration. 

Police and security forces in Swaziland routinely violently attack students when they engage in protest.

In November 2013, police raided dormitories and dragged students from their rooms. Later they beat up the students at local police stations. Students had wanted the start of examinations postponed. Armed police stood guard outside examination halls as the UNISWA Administration attempted to hold the exams.

A report published today in UNISWA Today, a student on-line newspaper site, said, ‘Three hours from now students were supposed to sit for their first examination paper. As this report is written, the S-block has become a jail since students can’t leave the residence. Anyone who is leaving his dormitory is being captured. Police have even started raiding the dormitories, the intention is unknown.’

In a separate report UNISWA Today said a university warden at the UNISWA Luyengo Campus allowed officers of the Swaziland state security force OSSU to raid all dormitory rooms and to sjambock ‘all students who are found having squatted in other’s rooms’.

Student Representative Council (SRC) Vice President Anthony Mthembu, writing on UNISWA Today said, ‘The operation started at 23.30hrs and ended at about 3am. He also ordered that all SRC members be arrested as they are “ring leaders”. To ensure that he gave them our room numbers and a master key.

‘They arrived at my room at around 01.30 and tried opening my door but couldn’t since I had inserted my key inside and fully twisted it. They threatened to camp outside my room and asked me where Max [Maxwell Dlamini, SRC President] is.

‘I resisted to which they threw teargas in my room, that I resisted too, but they tried to break in and my roommate opened. The squabble lasted for about 45 minutes. Upon opening they clapped me and alleged that there are petrol bombs in my room.

‘They searched all my suitcases, CPU and monitor cartons, cabinets, washing basket and anything you can think of. They even came to an extent of mistaking a wireless mouse for a “bomb”’
Students were then taken to police stations for questioning.

In a separate case in August 2012, two students were shot in the head at close range with rubber bullets, during a dispute about the number of scholarships awarded by the government. Reports from the Centre for Human Rights and Development, Swaziland, said several other students were injured by police batons and kicks.

In February 2012, police fired teargas at students from Swaziland College of Technology (SCOT) who boycotted classes after the Swazi Government did not pay them their allowances.

In November 2011, armed police attacked students at the recently-opened private Limkokwing University. The Swazi Observer said Limkokwing students reported that police ‘attacked them unprovoked as they were not armed’.

The newspaper added, ‘During a visit to the institution about 10 armed officers were found standing guard by the gate’. The Observer said police fired as they tried to disperse the students. 

In January 2010, Swaziland Police reportedly fired bullets at protesting university students, injuring two of them. They denied it and said they ‘only’ fired teargas. Students from UNISWA had attempted to march through the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane, to call for an increase in their allowances.

See also