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Facebook campaign ‘April 12 Swazi Uprising’ has received disproportionate international media coverage for an event that hasn’t happened, writes Peter Kenworthy. But how does it tie in with democratic movements on the ground?

‘If the world media misconstrued the “uprising” to be representative of popular sentiment inside Swaziland, then its flopping would deal the wider struggle for democracy a serious body blow.’ Sikelela Dlamini, Swaziland United Democratic Front’s project coordinator, is speaking of the so-called ‘April 12 Swazi Uprising’, a Facebook campaign that has received a disproportional amount of international media coverage – not only for Swaziland in general , but also for an event that has yet to happen.

There has been much talk, both within and outside Swaziland, of the April 12 Swazi uprising, a campaign instigated by anonymous Swazis on Facebook and Wordpress – not least because it has been inspired by the successful use of Facebook and other online social media in Tunisia and Egypt. The campaign promises that ‘a hundred thousand men’ (and presumably women too) will ‘march into the country’s city centres to declare a 2011 democratic Swaziland free of all royal dominance.’

The main coordinative hub of the Swazi democratic movement, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), is also planning demonstrations on April 12, however, the day in 1973 when the still-effective state of emergency in Swaziland was declared, that banned all political parties and centralised all power within a corrupt monarchy, that has brought nothing but financial mess and mass poverty to the potentially prosperous Swazi nation.

Sikelela Dlamini insists that we must not confuse the two campaigns or expect a ‘Facebook uprising’ to bring about a change of system in Swaziland without the muscle of the major above-ground organisations that make up the Swazi democratic movement. ‘This “uprising” talk is not an SUDF invention. We are extremely concerned that the “faceless” people behind it may not even be inside Swaziland, and could therefore not themselves even be directly involved in the hyped “uprising”; turning the entire hype into a hoax “campaign”.’

‘The SUDF together with its civil society partners will launch a series of rolling mass protests inside Swaziland in commemoration of, and in protest of, that fateful day in 1973 when the Swazi monarchy unilaterally outlawed the Independence Constitution and free political activity along with it, coincidentally commencing on the 12th and stretching to the 15th. Our aim is to force the undemocratic system of governance out through peaceful popular protest in order to begin the process of ushering in multiparty democracy,’ he continues.

The Swazi regime and monarchy is feeling the pressure from a combination of increasing numbers of Swazi’s calling for a regime change, and other countries, especially South Africa, calling for restraint towards such mass demonstrations of disaffection, Sikelela Dlamini tells me. ‘The March 18th protest marches were characterised by unprecedented calm, restraint, and, if you like, even professionalism on the part of the state security apparatus’s response to even sporadic incidents of provocation. My political antennae tell me that the meeting that King Mswati III had with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma made him awake to the cold reality of growing regional and international isolation, should the marchers be met with open confrontation. I even suspect Mswati could be ready to “negotiate” a settlement if only the progressive forces made the first move. I could be very wrong, I do realise, though.’

Sikelela Dlamini and the SUDF therefore welcome any additions to their protests, hoping once and for all to lay to rest the divisiveness that has plagued the democratic movement in Swaziland, and create a massive united front of demands for democratisation. ‘If the so-called uprising takes off and it is pushed by equally disgruntled Swazis who employ peaceful means complementing ours, we will welcome the added muscle to force Tinkhundla [the Swazi “traditional” system whereby the king controls government and all land allocations] out. Swazis are increasingly ready to deliver a decisive blow to Tinkhundla in the forthcoming protest marches. So, yes, this could be BIG! We are looking to put at least 20,000 disgruntled Swazis out on the streets of Manzini, Mbabane, and Nhlangano. All indications are we can achieve these numbers if we stay focused, united in diversity, and pooling limited resources together; realising that our common enemy for now remains the undemocratic Tinkhundla system of governance,’ Sikelela concludes.


* Peter Kenworthy is Africa Contact’s Swaziland representative.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.