Maxwell Dlamini: repression is growing every day in Swaziland

“The Swazi people have no political rights whatsoever – if you criticise the government you are considered a terrorist. Every day the repression is growing”. Maxwell Dlamini is describing the situation in his country, Swaziland – a country where those who peacefully advocate democracy are harassed, detained and tortured, where two thirds of the population survives on less than a dollar a day whilst the royal family lives in luxury, and where over 40% have AIDS.

Maxwell Dlamini is the newly elected president of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), and is giving a presentation in Copenhagen on the current situation in Swaziland and SNUS’s role in the fight for democratisation. He is in Denmark for two weeks this November, invited by Africa Contact, to advocate the position of SNUS, an organisation for tertiary students in Swaziland that can count 8000 of a total of 9000 tertiary students in Swaziland as either collective or individual members.  SNUS deals with both student-related issues, such as the meagre students’ grants and the attainment of free primary school education, and the more overall issue of advocating a democratic Swaziland. SNUS also tries to counterbalance government propaganda, says Maxwell Dlamini. “Many people in Swaziland are uneducated as education in Swaziland is not a priority. In fact the king does not want the youth of Swaziland to go to school at all. And even those who are educated are indoctrinated by the government. We try to make students go to school and be educated, as well as be aware of this indoctrination”.

Maxwell Dlamini says that students in Swaziland have always been in the forefront of the political struggle for democracy in Swaziland. This was proven by the peaceful students’ marches in February that counted well over 5000 students participants and provoked a brutal response from the government that included the tear-gassing, physical assault, and arrests of the marchers. The regime is evidently trying to hinder organisations that in any way advocate change, such as SNUS, from functioning, and agents of the regime infiltrate all SNUS meetings, as they do the other members of the democratic movement. “And if you say something wrong the police turn up the next day and detain you”, says Maxwell.

SNUS are members of the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), an umbrella organisation of all progressive forces advocating democracy in the country because of a belief in peaceful democratisation. “We are members of the community before we are students”, as Maxwell says, quoting SNUS’s motto. “We support the SUDF’s position that change can only come through a peaceful, participatory process. If we can all put our efforts together to fight this regime, maybe we can achieve democracy in five or ten year’s time, but the repression is growing every day in Swaziland”.

And the regime is resisting all calls for change with increasing brutality and even internationally sanctioned and supervised measures, such as the 2005 constitution, are rigged in favour of the regime. “The new constitution was imposed by the royal family after pressure from the international community”, says Maxwell. “The constitution has a very good bill of rights, but these rights are taken away on the next page”.

And according to Maxwell Dlamini, everyone wants change in Swaziland, except perhaps the minority of Royals and sycophants that benefit financially from the current regime, and the situation is becoming increasingly urgent.  “Swaziland is now in financial crises and by the end of the month, I don’t believe the regime will be able to pay civil servants’ salaries”. He says that SNUS is not relying on the financial crisis bringing change by itself, however. “We have a programme of action within the SUDF that we will implement to force the government to democratise, including protesting and involving the international community”.

And this programme is seemingly working as the Swazi regime is being increasingly criticised by the IMF, the USA, the EU, and in particularly neighbouring South Africa, meaning that Swaziland has had to find friends elsewhere to try and secure loans to save its ever more volatile economy, especially in the Middle East. “The king rarely goes to Europe now, I guess because of the increasing criticism. But we need the international community to isolate the regime”, Maxwell says, “and the SUDF is the vehicle to make this happen”.

But what is perhaps even more worrying than the shenanigans and brutality of the regime is the indiscriminate nature of its persecution of all oppositional voices in Swaziland by the regime, however moderate. The regime should listen to, and not persecute, intelligent and moderate leaders such as Maxwell Dlamini who, amongst other things, peacefully advocates a constitutional monarchy. “All we want is a democratic government. We do not want to get rid of the king – we just want to elect our own government and be able to criticise whatever it does. We need the king as a cultural symbol, although I think he will leave the country if Swaziland becomes a democracy. He has got to much pride”, Maxwell says.

It is a well known lesson for all governments and regimes that if you persecute and harass the moderate forces, you end up strengthening those radicals who advocate violence. But the regime is clinging to power seemingly oblivious of the fact that change is more or less inevitable.

Links:

Swazilandsk studenterpolitiker: Historien vil dømme os, HippoCampus, December 2010 (side 10)

Borgerne har ingen rettigheder overhovedet, Rød + Grøn, December 2010 (page 6)

- Jeg kan ikke være bange, Arbejderen, 11 November 2010

Demokratiforkæmper fra Swaziland frygter blodbad, Modkraft, 5 November 2010

7 Responses to Maxwell Dlamini: repression is growing every day in Swaziland

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