Africa Contact's Peter Kenworthy tracked the 'April 12 Swazi Uprising', providing a series of updates as events unfolded. While the government has branded the protests a 'failure', Kenworthy notes that now 'all ordinary Swazis … have seen the true face of the regime, if they hadn’t seen it already'.
10:40 AM (GMT+1): SWAZI REGIME’S 'VICTORY' IS A PYRRHIC ONE
Swaziland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Lutfo Dlamini, called the brutally crushed peaceful protest or uprising against Swaziland’s absolute monarchy, that lets a small elite live in luxury while two thirds of the population live below the poverty line, a “failure” yesterday.
I beg to differ. In fact, the so-called “victory” of the regime against the demonstrators, whose call for democracy and rule of law in the absolute monarchy that is Swaziland, may turn out to be a pyrrhic one, making Swazis less likely to accept reformist measures once the inevitable change that most people want comes.
Because while the demonstrators didn’t manage to amass the numbers they had hoped for, this was mainly due to the intimidation, blocking tactics and violence of the police and security forces that did everything they could to stop people from assembling in Manzini.
And while the regime might thus claim a victory in terms of numbers – there were an unprecedented amount of police and armed forces patrolling the width and breadth of Swaziland – their “success” was something of a public relations disaster, both within and outside Swaziland.
Now all ordinary Swazis, who don’t normally associate with the democratic movement that the regime brands “terrorists” for simply calling peacefully for democratisation, have seen the true face of the regime, if they hadn’t seen it already.
Ordinary people were stopped at road-blocks, denied access to Manzini, beaten up for no apparent reason, or driven to far-flung areas of Swaziland and left to walk home, simply for going about their daily business.
And with the unparalleled amount of press coverage of the brutal clamp-down on both demonstrators and the press, newspaper readers all over the world have also been alerted to the true nature of a Swaziland normally seen as a peaceful tourist retreat.
“Workers have exposed the undemocratic nature of Swaziland government, and clearly sent a message to our people and the entire world that the time for multiparty democracy in Swaziland is now,” said Secretary General of the Labour Coordinating Council, one of the organisers of the protest, Mduduzi Gina today.
Who would disagree? The Swazi regime might have won the battle in the streets, preliminarily at least, as the unions have called of what would have been a third day of protest today, fearing for the lives of their members. But the regime is losing the war of the hearts and minds of the Swazi people and the international community.
9:12 AM (GMT+1): SWAZI POLICE HUNT DOWN AND CONTINUE TO BRUTALIZE DEMOCRACY ADVOCATES
“I escaped arrest by a hairline,” Swaziland United Democratic Front Project Coordinator, Sikelela Dlamini said this morning. He was feared arrested yesterday, as Swazi police and security forces arrested, detained, beat and assaulted everyone that looked like joining yesterday’s Egypt-inspired march for democracy. Several of the leaders of the democratic movement are still held incommunicado by police, and there have been many reports of police brutality against both demonstrators and detainees.
“Cops raided SUDF office where Mary Da Silva [of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign] and I were relaying info on the march to the world. I had luckily briefly locked myself in the still empty room for a telephone interview with a South African journalist when cops pounced at 1245hrs. Docs and my digital camera (and an empty USB flash drive) were confiscated, however,” Dlamini told me.
His colleague, Mary Da Silva, who was in the same office, was less lucky. “Mary was severely assaulted. She needed medical attention after her release late in the day. Cops are still out looking for both me and Mary, perhaps following whatever they thought of camera photos. We can't leave our respective houses and yet we want to be able to get feedback from the streets in order to continue reporting until we get arrested, if it gets to that.”
The march is to continue today, says Sikelele, and until the demands of the demonstrators for revoking the state of emergency, unbanning political parties, discontinuing the ‘Tinkundla’ system that allows the King to control government and land allocation and cancelling the cut-backs, redundancies and pay-freezes have been met, although with the mayhem and mass arrests yesterday, there is understandably some confusion within the ranks of the democratic movement. “The march ought to have continued this morning, but I still await info.”
1:57 PM (GMT +1): LEADERLESS SWAZI UPRISING CONTINUES
The Swazi uprising is continuing, despite the fact that the entire leadership of the organising movements and organisations have been detained, according to a statement by the Swaziland Solidarity Network.
”After the entire leadership of the Labour Coordinating Council was arrested, the labour unions simply continued with their protest as planned. When they entered the centre of Manzini city, ordinary people from all walks of life joined them to voice out their support for the uprising. ”
Swazi security forces are trying to shut down the uprising with water cannons, tear gas and random beatings and arrests, but have so far only managed to shut down Manzini’s shops and businesses. “Freedom Square [in Manzini, Swaziland] is under siege by the state security forces. In fact there is no business in the city today,” said Thamsanca Tsabedze from the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice.
Police are also still busy arresting members of the organisations who planned the demonstrations. Sikelela Dlamini, Project Coordinator of the umbrella organisation the Swaziland United Democratic Front, and many others with him were arrested in this latest spate of arrests.
12:58 PM (GMT+1): SWAZI POLICE VIOLENTLY DISPERSE DEMONSTRATORS; DUMP THEM 100 KM FROM TOWN
Swazi police are trying to crush the Egypt and Tunisia-like uprising in Swaziland by teargasing and firing rubber bullets at demonstrators, according to Swazi journalist Manqoba Nxumalo, who is reporting from Swaziland. And the increasingly chaotic situation “has prompted the state to send in the Red Barrettes, a special branch of the Swazi Army,” according to a statement from the Swaziland Solidarity Network.
Other sources report that security forces are rounding up those that they arrest, and drive them to far-flung areas, where they are left to walk home.
“More than 80 democracy activists were detained and abducted by a team of heavily armed security personnel to a remote place, about 70 miles away from Manzini,” according to Thamsanca Tsabedze from the Foundation from Socio-Economic Justice. “They were questioned and all their names taken by police. They are presently meeting and trying to find a way home.”
“As many as two hundred people have been taken from the streets of Manzini and Mbabane and taken to forests far from the city. The protesters are expected to find their own way back to their homes. This is really terrible behaviour as it targets any individual forty and below. Every young Swazi is suspected of being a part of the uprising,” said a Swaziland Solidarity Network statement.
11:33 AM (GMT+1): SWAZI REGIME TRIES TO CRUSH PEACEFUL UPRISING: 'ALL PROGRESSIVE FORCES HAVE BEEN ARRESTED’
The police in Swaziland continue to arrest, detain and generally try and scare people from joining the announced mass demonstrations in Swaziland today, in the latest African mass uprising against a dictatorship.
”All leaders of progressive forces have been arrested this morning and the President of PUDEMO [Swaziland’s biggest illegal opposition party, Mario Masuku] is under house arrest. Police have detained over 100 people around Manzini and they are loaded into police trucks,” according to Foundation of Socio-Economic Justice (FSEJ) Project Coordinator Dumezweni Dlaimini.
There have also been several reports of police mistreatment of the many detainees. "Detainees are being mistreated and tortured,” reported a source from the Swaziland Solidarity Network, which makes pressure for their release increasingly urgent.
“There is still no word on the whereabouts of Maxwell Dlamini and the other democracy activists,” Thamsanca Tsabedze of FSEJ said half an hour ago, “including our administrator at the FSEJ offices Miss Sebenzile Nxumalo who was arrested this morning and detained at the regional police headquarters as she was coming to the office for her usual daily duties."
“The city is relatively quiet with not much activity, save for a few paramilitary security forces that are parading the streets in full riot gear, rounding up and detaining almost everyone that walks the streets,” according to Thamsanca Tsabedze.
The police have blocked of the inaptly named ‘Freedom Square’ in Manzini, where the protests were to have taken of, and indiscriminately arresting anyone standing in groups.
10:56 AM (GMT+1): PRO-DEMOCRACY DEMONSTRATIONS TO CONTINUE IN SWAZILAND
Despite the heavy-handed approach of the Swazi police and security forces, in detaining, beating up, teargassing, and shooting at peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Swaziland today, and the unconfirmed rumours of the killing of several demonstrators circulating on Twitter and Facebook, the organizers say they will not be intimidated.
“I will not be intimidated by these bullish antics of the government. Bashing me only strengthens my resolve in the role that I play in the democratic movement in Swaziland,” said Mary Pais Da Silva, Swaziland Democracy Campaign spokesperson.
She had been punched and slapped in the face by police officers, who barged into the room where she was in the middle of a live interview with a South African radio station and taken for questioning, where she was insulted and threatened.
Union leaders, most of whom had been detained for hours during the morning and afternoon, also declared their intent to carry on the protests, according to Free African Media reporter Manqoba Nxumalo.
The fate of other detainees, particularly the four members of the democratic movement detained Sunday evening and held incommunicado ever since, is as of yet unknown, according to several sources. “All union leaders have been released. We are not sure about other comrades yet,” Swaziland Solidarity Network spokesperson Lucky Lukhele stated Tuesday evening.
What is certain, however, is that the extensive news coverage of the brutal initial crushing of the Swazi uprising ensures that Swaziland’s democratic movement will have the sympathy of the world in days to come, regardless of the inaction of world leaders in intervening on their behalf so far.
A statement from PUDEMO, Swaziland’s main banned opposition party, issued late Tuesday evening summed this up. “PUDEMO salutes the workers and the people of Swaziland for standing up to the hostile regime and press through with their demands. We also salute our international allies for their undying show of solidarity to the struggling masses of Swaziland.”
9:37 AM (GMT+1): SWAZI POLICE MAKE INDISCRIMINATE ARRESTS
According to a press release from the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, paramilitary police are detaining people right, left and centre in and around Swaziland’s largest town, Manzini, where today’s mass demonstrations for democracy, inspired by events in North Africa, are to take place.
”The paramilitary police in full riot gear are chanting and marching along the streets of Manzini. Passing through Manzini’s Freedom Square, where the march is supposed to start from this morning. All buses coming from Big Bend have all been detained at the Police Station there and irrespective of who the passengers are. Four buses and six mini-buses from Simunye and Mhlume have also been detained.
Buses from Mananga, ferrying teachers to the march have been detained.
As we write, over fifty marchers/protests have been arrested and detained and it is not known where they have been taken to. The security forces are literally grabbing everyone they can lay their hands on from the streets and detaining them. The latest we are getting is that at Moneni, as you enter Manzini from the Eastern part of Swaziland, comrades are being forcefully ejected from all vehicles, deprived of their cell phones and loaded into police vehicles to unknown destinations,” the press statement said.
8:33 AM (GMT+1): SWAZILAND: POLICE ATTACK PEACEFUL DEMOCRACY ADVOCATES AND PRESS ON EVE OF UPRISING
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.
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