Swaziland: Police attack democracy advocates and press
April 12, 2011 5 Comments
Swaziland’s police and security forces have detained, and probably manhandled, several members of the Swazi democratic movement and several members of the international press even before today’s announced uprising in Swaziland, inspired by similar events in North Africa, has begun.
Amongst those detained were Maxwell Dlamini, President of the Swaziland National Union of Students, and Themba Mazuba, National Organizing Secretary of the Swaziland United Democratic Front. Both were arrested on April 10 together with several other members of the democratic movement at a roadblock in Sidvwashini near Swaziland’s capital Mbabane, coming back from neighboring South Africa, where they had attended a meeting on preparations of today’s demonstrations.
Both are being held incommunicado, even though lawyers representing them have sought relentlessly for them since their abduction. Their mobile phones have been switched of, even though they had agreed to be in constant communication with members of the democratic movement, usually an indication of police misconduct or mistreatment.
April 12, the date chosen for today’s demonstrations by both the “April 12 Swazi Uprising” Facebook campaign inspired by similar Tunisian and Egyptian movements and the broader democratic movement in Swaziland, has immense symbolic value in Swaziland. April 12 1973 was the day that the present King’s father, Sobhuza II, introduced a state of emergency that dissolved parliament and banned all political parties.
Additionally, the more recently introduced 2006 Constitution, which effectively declares all political parties terrorist organisations, and the Suppression of Terrorism Act, which defines terrorism in very sweeping terms, allows the police to detain and charge practically anybody.
And just to ensure that everybody was suitably intimidated, Swaziland’s Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini, had warned potential demonstrators beforehand that the regime would deploy all its security forces to “crush protests” and police Commissioner Isaac Magagula, whose police force have raided the homes or arrested and manhandled members of the democratic movement in the days leading up to April 12, had stated that “everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise.”
The behaviour of Swaziland’s security forces and police, today and on many previous occasions where they have violently disrupted peaceful demonstrations, is therefore not surprising. There has been a massive presence of police and security forces throughout the country in the days running up to April 12, patrolling the streets, setting up road blocks and making security checks to ensure that everyone got the message.
The dissatisfaction with the undemocratic regime and the absolute monarch, King Mswati III, who has ruled by decree with increasing disregard for his subjects, has reached a climax in recent months. The mass demonstrations in March, together with today’s demonstration, are unprecedented for Swaziland in their scale and show that ordinary Swazis feel they have nothing to lose anymore.
This is due to the recent economic chaos in Swaziland, that has seen pensions go unpaid, health sector cutbacks, salaries slashed, and public employees fired – all while the King, who lives in a luxury that the two thirds of his subjects who live for under a dollar a day can only dream of, has given himself a rise.
But it is also due to a more long-term dissatisfaction with an all-powerful and undemocratic regime and elite that not only owns most of the land and assets in Swaziland, but also decides where ordinary Swazis may or may not live.