The dissident Swazi student leader was released on bail after spending 14 months in remand prison for singing a pro-democracy song. He shares his experiences inside prison and his political convictions.
Maxwell Dlamini finally walked out of prison in July, released on bail after having spent fourteen months in squalid conditions in the prisons of Swaziland’s absolute monarch King Mswati III. His crime was to have sung a pro-democracy song.
“Jail being the lonely place that it is, there are moments when you feel down and morally low”, says Maxwell. “But at all times I was motivated by the fact that our cause is just, and I refused to abdicate my responsibility or allow the state to break me”.
NO CHRISTMAS PRESENTS IN JAIL
Maxwell Dlamini was born in 1989 in a small village in the south of Swaziland called Mantambe. His father works in a hospital and his mother is a farmer. He was top of his high school class, and was admitted to university as a commerce student in 2007.
He is a passionate supporter of the Mbabane Highlanders football team and his friends say he is himself a gifted football player. He says that the birth of his daughter on Christmas Eve last year was the most beautiful moment in his life.
Unfortunately, he was not there to witness it. Because even though Maxwell might seem like an ordinary guy with ordinary dreams for himself, his girlfriend and their baby girl, the society he happened to grow up in is by no means ordinary.
Because having ordinary dreams in the absolute monarchy that is Swaziland, where over two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day while the royal family live opulence, means that you are seen as a threat to the regime of King Mswati III.
The Swazi regime has constantly harassed Maxwell, tortured, and kept him in prison simply for being an active and high-ranking member of the banned political party PUDEMO and for demanding democratic change and socio-economic justice in his country of birth.
Maxwell was first arrested in 2010 for his role in a student protest. In 2011, on the eve of the largest pro-democracy rally in recent history in Swaziland that he helped plan, he was arrested, tortured, and charged with possession of explosives.
“I was tied to a bench with my face looking upwards and they suffocated me with the black plastic bag with a huge police officer on my stomach. They did that over and over again till I collapsed. They told me that they would kill me for causing trouble in the country”, Maxwell told me after his release.
He was released on bail after spending a year in prison, and over three years later, he was finally acquitted of the charges. He was detained again on May Day 2014 together with PUDEMO President Mario Masuku. They were charged with having sung a pro-democracy song and having shouted “viva PUDEMO” and released on bail over a year later without the trial having started.
“I was made to sleep on the floor with very few blankets. I was kept in solitary confinement with only a bucket to relieve myself. There was no clean running water and we were made to bath in cold water. Our friends and relatives were made to wait for long hours before they could see us just for five minutes”, Maxwell says of his latest prison ordeal.
NOT A DESKTOP WARRIOR
Maxwell was only a few courses away from finishing his undergraduate degree that had been disrupted by prison sentences, withdrawal of his scholarship on political grounds and harsh bail conditions when he was arrested last year.
Nevertheless, he insists that while he is disappointed that he has not been able to finish his degree, he will not put any personal career opportunities above the struggle for a free and democratic Swaziland.
“I am as keenly interested in finishing and obtaining my degree as I am in putting to its logical conclusion this struggle we are waging”, Maxwell says, while admitting that he might have to finish his degree abroad because the regime wishes to ostracise him.
“I hope that I can inspire others to rise out of their fear and challenge this backward and archaic system of royal supremacy, not through desktop and boardroom activism, but through open defiance”.
DIALOGUE WITH A DICTATOR
Nevertheless, Maxwell insists that he and PUDEMO are willing to negotiate a settlement for the future of Swaziland with an absolute monarch and his government who have harassed, jailed, and tortured him and many of his fellow activists.
He also insists, however, that the world must demand that the king must hold honest and constructive negotiations with Swaziland’s democratic movement that will bring about a democratic Swaziland.
“I am convinced that the future of Swaziland lies in a negotiated settlement that will lead to the unbanning of PUDEMO. In the meantime I call on the world not to loosen the noose around the regime’s neck until it wilts and subsequently collapses”.
• Swaziland is an absolute monarchy where the king appoints the Prime Minister and the government and controls everything from the judiciary to land allocations and the national budget. Political parties are banned and political leaders such as Maxwell Dlamini are harassed, tortured, treated as terrorists and sometimes killed for advocating a peaceful transition to democracy.
• The Suppression of Terrorism Act, which Maxwell Dlamini and many other Swazi activists have been charged under, has been referred to as “inherently repressive” by Amnesty international.
• Two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day, many on handouts from the UN. Swaziland has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world.
* Peter Kenworthy is a journalist with Afrika Kontakt, a Dutch organization.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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