9 September 2011
The Struggle for a Democratic Swaziland Now!
We have just returned from Swaziland, where I was part of a COSATU delegation that was invited to join in a number of legal protest actions that have made up the Global Week of Action on Swaziland and organised by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. The SDC works as the campaigning arm of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, which is an inclusive and representative body comprising trade unions, faith based organisations, students and civil society organisations.
Along with other COSATU comrades, we were honoured to have been invited by our trade union friends in Swaziland. International worker solidarity is a fundamental guiding principle of COSATU and to be able to join hands with our comrades, to give them moral and organisational support, was a very humbling and endearing experience.
This second Global Week of Action will require careful evaluation over the next few days, and we will be exchanging views with our Swazi counterparts about how to maintain the momentum and ensure that Swaziland does not fall off the agenda. What we can say, is that this week has seen an unprecedented degree of mobilisation both in Swaziland and in many other parts of the world.
Working through the international trade union networks associated with the International Confederation of Trade Unions in Africa (ITUC-Africa) there have been more than twenty mobilisations taking place in different African countries this week, and no less than 12 chapters of the SDC have been formed as a result. There are also protests taking place in five European capitals, and in Canada and the US. This is a wonderful show of international worker solidarity.
In Swaziland itself, literally tens of thousands of workers, students, members of the legal fraternity, women’s groups, church congregations and unemployed people have taken to the streets in numbers that have not been seen for decades. We do not want to fall into the trap of exaggerating the numbers who were mobilised because that does a disservice to those who participated, but to be able to gather more than four thousand people in both Manzini and Mbabane is an astonishing achievement, and especially so when one considers the brutal state repression that was used on protesters and COSATU comrades last year, and is part of everyday life for Swazi democracy activists.
What was also remarkable about this Global Week of Action was the breadth and depth of the mobilisations. In rural areas, where loyalty towards the Royal Regime is presumed to be at its highest, the democracy movement was able to make really significant in roads. Thousands of very poor people, many of whom had been bullied and silenced by the regime through a combination of impoverishment, and the corrupting influence of the Tinkhundla system, greeted the democracy movement with open arms, and have laid bare the Regimes claims that they have substantial support in the rural communities.
In the urban areas, the dynamic combination of workers, students, faith based and civil society organisations was able to mobilise to such an extent that they actually paralysed the repressive forces of the state. Despite the state mobilising road blocks, and putting water cannon, armed personal carriers, tear gas appliances and of course thousands of uniformed officers on the streets, they were unable to quell the enthusiasm of the protest marchers, or indeed stop them from marching through all of the streets unhindered. The reaction from ordinary people is also noteworthy. Literally hundreds spontaneously joined the marches, and many gave food and drinks to the protesters. During the first two days not a single arrest took place of a protester!
The fact that the banned liberation movement PUDEMO, who we are very happy to share this platform with, was able to make public statements, and its Youth Wing Swayoco extensively and openly organise, is indicative of the growth of the democracy movement, and this was all met with great enthusiasm by people on the ground. The speech given by PUDEMO President Mario Masuku in Manzini was one of the highlights of our visit, and we are proud to have been a part of this protest.
On Monday and Tuesday, the repressive apparatus of the Royal Regime was clearly frustrated at not being able to unleash its firepower on the masses who had gathered. They were clearly constrained by a number of factors.
Firstly the size of the mobilisations themselves, and the confidence of those on the streets.
Secondly, because the eyes of the world have been turned towards Swaziland after being cited by the ILO, the UN and a huge range international Human Rights Organisations for the brutality it used against protesters last year.
Thirdly, it is clear that the regime did not want to draw attention to its repressive character so as not to imperil the R2.4bn bailout that has been facilitated by the South African Government.
However, as soon as the mobilisations moved to the rural areas, the cold and malicious character of the regime once again surfaced. In Siteki, where more than a thousand mainly poor people gathered on Wednesday to express their support for the democracy campaign, the police instructed the organisers that the visitors from COSATU would not be able to speak, and that they posed a threat to national security. The organisers said that they were there to greet the crowd and to give solidarity greetings, but the police then said that if COSATU speakers took the platform they would be arrested.
When this was made known to the protesters they insisted on the right to hear the COSATU comrades, and also on the right to associate and organise a peaceful protest. When I took the platform the security services went berserk. They physically attacked individuals, they used live ammunition and rubber bullets and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the gathering and arrest the COSATU comrades, including myself.
If my President Comrade Jacob Zuma had been present I am sure it would have reminded him of the days when peaceful UDF rallies and meetings were attacked by apartheid forces. If an example was ever needed to expose the repressive character of this regime, this was it! The security officers were indiscriminate in using their batons, and in punching and kicking whoever was in their path. It was clear that the frustrations of not being able to attack protesters in Manzini and Mbabane were now being settled.
The attacks were justified in the state controlled media, who had said that COSATU was ‘invading’ Swaziland! What nonsense! COSATU was responding to the invitation of our Swazi trade union comrades, in the most honourable tradition of international worker solidarity. There was no hidden agenda, no plots to topple the monarchy, or to do anything other than to say to our friends in the democracy movement, that you are not alone. An injury to one, is an injury to all, regardless of where the borders of our countries have been drawn.
Eventually I and Comrade Zanele were bundled into a police vehicle and taken to Oshoek Border and deported. We shall be making a written statement to be submitted to the ILO and the UN Human Rights Committee and our own Government about what we witnessed and about how we were treated. There was absolutely no reason for the security forces to behave in this manner, and they must be exposed. The world needs to know what Swazi democrats have to face every day of their perilous lives.
This brings us to the bailout issue, and we want to make it absolutely clear that we did not meet a single person in Swaziland who said that the bailout was welcome. On the contrary, everyone we met, both inside and outside of the democracy movement, said that the bailout will actually make matters worse.
For a start, it reinforces the austerity measures that are favoured by the IMF and World Bank who are calling for a 50% retrenchment of public sector workers, and not I might add the security cluster. Secondly, it provides a breathing space for the regime, who have corruptly mismanaged the resources of Swaziland for decades to accrue vast amounts of personal wealth, including the $200m personally owned by the King. Thirdly it does not address the need for democratisation in any serious manner, but rather talks vaguely about the need for ‘confidence building’, and we ask, whose confidence? The repressive regime, or the democratic movement? Finally, this loan will not be repaid, despite claims that it will come from future SACU revenues. The Swazi economy is in a deep systemic crisis. Tinkering with the current account will do nothing to relieve the plight of the poor, or stop the King and his sycophants from stealing for their ridiculous and opulent lifestyles.
That is why we are calling upon the ANC Government to think again about the bailout, and to disassociate themselves from this murderous regime. The bailout needs to be linked unambiguously to measures that lead to a democratisation of Swaziland and must include the immediate unbanning of political parties, the freeing of all political prisoners, and for the right of exiles to return. There must be an end to the repressive activities of the state, as we witnessed, and their must be a total review of decades old legislation that allows any act of defiance to be labelled as a terrorist act.
That is why there are five protests in Provinces today from 12.00 - 2.00pm outside all the branches of the Reserve Bank, to draw attention to the bankruptcy of the Bailout, and the regime it will support. That is why the SDC Chapter in Cape Town mounted their successful picket outside Parliament on Tuesday this week.
We therefore call upon the ANC Government to think again about the support they intend to give to Swaziland, and instead talk to our real allies in the struggle for a democratic Swaziland, those very forces who were attacked and vilified this week by the regime. Our Government must engage not with the tyrants, but with the liberators. Anything less will not do.
For our part, as COSATU and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, we are committed to building further the campaign in support of our comrades and friends in Swaziland. We have a range of activities planned for the next period including a global solidarity conference of all of our chapters and supporters. We are intending to escalate the campaign for comprehensive sanctions, including a sports and cultural boycott, and measures to expose all of those, whether in Swaziland or South Africa or elsewhere who are investing in the Swazi economy and becoming wealthy at the expense of human rights. We are planning for further mobilisations, including supporting campaigns to free those languishing in Mswati’s dreadful prisons, and of course, we will seek to engage our own government, and those of SADC and the AU to encourage them to see Swaziland for what it is, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, that is a blight on our beautiful continent, and that must be democratised.
The days of the Royal Elite Regime are numbered; the people of Swaziland must and shall govern themselves. Long live the Swazi Democracy Movement. We all look forward to returning to Swaziland to be with our friends and comrades in a peaceful democratic Swaziland.
Long live the Democratic Forces of Swaziland!
Zingiswa Losi, COSATU 2ND Deputy President – 082 088 1242
Zanele Mathebula, COSATU, Deputy International Secretary – 082 300 8979
Steve Faulkner, SDC Convenor – 082 817 5455