Swazi demonstration apparently ends without violence

Between 5000 and 10 000 peacefully marched against redundancies, a pay freeze and cut-backs in Swaziland’s public sector today, as well as for democratisation of the country in one of the largest demonstrations ever seen in Swaziland – an absolute monarchy where two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day. Protesters held placards demanding a democratic and incorrupt government, one of the placards reading “why cut salaries, cut corrupt government.”

And this was despite the physical intimidation of having thousands of heavily armed police and security forces lining the streets, as well as politicians urging people not to march, such as Swazi Minister of Education and Training, Wilson Ntshangas, who urged people to abandon the march because he claimed it was illegal. This was contradicted by Police Chief Richard Mngomezulu, however, who told French News Agency AFP that the march was legal.

According to the Times of Swaziland, one of the reasons that there was no violent response to today’s demonstration was the international focus on the demonstration. “Should things turn ugly today the international community will surely intensify its threat of sanctions, and perhaps a possible call for regime change.” Apparently, the police forces and security forces heeded such advice.

Even President of the banned political movement PUDEMO, Mario Masuku, who participated in the march and who is routinely arrested when participating in such events, escaped unscathed. Other marchers are just as routinely beaten up.

This is a lesson for both the democratic movement in Swaziland and the international community. Large numbers and international attention and pressure are important components in allowing democratic movements the political space to successfully call for democratisation and rule of law. It might be too little too late in Libya, but there is still time in countries like Swaziland.

Links:

Demands of the protesters in full, Swazi Media Commentary, 19 March 2011

Swazi protesters call for government reform, Mail & Guardian, 19 March 2011

Swaziland protesters want new govt, Pakistan Today, 19 March 2011

Rolls-driving royal with 14 wives gets a  raise, Swaziland erupts, China National News, 19 March 2011

Swaziland: Protest at pay freeze while king celebrates, BBC News, 18 March 2011

Protesters in Swaziland call for gov’t reform, CBS News, 18 March 2011

Masseprotest mod Swazilands konge, U-landsnyt, 18 March 2011

Swazi police out in force ahead of protest, The West Australian, 18 March 2011

Thousands of Swazis rally in Mbabane, RFI, 18 March 2011

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