The Secretary General – an account from the democracy movement in Swaziland

It is certainly not a dream come true, having to meet the king. Definitely not a privilege, though everyone else would think so. The last time he did so, he was more or less on his knees and in the middle of putting his case to King Mswati, when he king suddenly interrupted him as asked, ”excuse me, but who are you?”It would have been even worse to have been asked to become an MP in Swaziland’s parliament, however. Refusing such an “honour” is not an option!

When you visit Vincent Ncongwane, General Secretary for Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL), you have to first pass through a back yard, a mechanic and a hair dressers shop. In the corner of the yard is a narrow doorway, behind which is a small staircase that leads to SFL’s offices on the second floor. On the other side of the road is a restaurant where he sometimes eats next to the civil agents that protect one of King Mswati’s many queens. She is a regular customer at the hair dresser’s shop

Vincent is adamant that Monday in his office. He is putting the final touches on a press statement about May 1, and the name PUDEMO is mentioned as many times or more as that of his own federation, SFL.

If they want to arrest me, let them do so, he says. PUDEMO has never been convicted of anything in any court of law. The Prime Minister might have declared the party to be illegal according to the new terror laws, but he can say whatever he wants.

“We have got to stop this nonsense! It just doesn’t make any sense”.

Vincent seems satisfied, but this satisfaction never-the-less conceals the main problem of the progressive organisations in Swaziland. They are divided. On May 1, the General Secretary’s own trade union chose to have their May-Day celebrations in Matsapa, by themselves. Not ideal.

But 1 May was still an explosive event – the police intervene, confiscate speeches and prevent people from entering Manzini Stadium where the members of Swaziland’s biggest trade union, SFTU, are assembling. They also arrested PUDEMO activist Sipho Jele and put the entire Democracy Campaign under house arrest. But when the leaders were prevented from speaking, their deputies held the speeches for them.

A singer, who was probably not even a member of PUDEMO, accidentally shouted “viva PUDEMO!” from the stage, and had to run backstage and escape with the help of comrades.

May-Day was a success, but not without tragedy. Sipho Jele was found hanging from a rafter in his cell the following day. Police are calling it suicide, but nobody in Swaziland believes that.

From the Democracy Movement in Swaziland.

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