Friday, May 11, 2012


The row between the major opposition party in Swaziland and the most vocal of the prodemocracy movement’s organisations is largely irrelevant to the campaign for democracy in the kingdom.  
PUDEMO (the People’s United Democratic Movement) suspended the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) yesterday (9 May 2012) and is throwing it out of its offices. This follows long-running arguments about the direction of the struggle for democracy in Swaziland.
The SSN runs a Google forum in which many people in the past few months posted criticisms of PUDEMO’s leadership. This so angered PUDEMO that it indefinitely suspended SSN, an organisation it founded in 1997. SSN is refusing to accept this ruling and an almighty fight can be expected. Look out for blood on the carpets at the SSN office in Johannesburg.
The main criticisms of SSN from PUDEMO are the manner in which it has used its Google Forum (and there is also an associated Facebook site) to undermine the struggle for democracy.
But both PUDEMO and SSN fail to realise is that no one apart from themselves reads these sites.
The SSN Google group has 800 members and its Facebook page has 2,800, and it’s a fair bet that many people in the Google Group are also in the Facebook group, so the total number of people SSN has online is probably no more than 2,100. But hardly any of them are in Swaziland, where only about 90,000 people are on the Internet and of these 63,720 are on Facebook – and there is no reason to suspect that most of these Facebookers ever read the SSN page. 
Who knows how many of these ‘members’ actually read what is posted on the sites, but it is clear that only a tiny number of people (perhaps no more than a dozen) actually regularly post on the sites. The most prolific of these posters are not in Swaziland, but in South Africa and Canada. 
So, hardly anyone in Swaziland reads the SSN and in reality the campaigners are talking to one another.
Many of the posts are nothing to do with Swaziland, but consist of academic tracts about revolution and Communists. Last year when Col Muammar Gaddafi was kicked out of Libya, many of the SSN posters argued vehemently in favour of Gaddafi and against the ‘counter revolutionaries’ trying to overthrow him. 
Any serious observer of the scene in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and all political parties are banned, knows the Internet means nothing to most Swazi people.
About 70 percent of Swazis live in rural areas and rely on local chiefs (who are the King’s representative) for their livelihoods.  They have little understanding of the concept of democratic reform. Through the chiefs and control of the media, the monarchy has managed successfully to keep people depoliticised and largely unorganised. Intimidation from the state police and ‘defence forces’ is also used to keep the mass of the Swazi population passive.
The real struggle for democracy needs to take place in the rural areas, not online. The SSN Internet sites do nothing to change the situation of ordinary Swazi people and the row between PUDEMO and SSN about what is published online is irrelevant. 
It is like two bald men fighting over a comb.
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