The African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa is the latest organisation to condemn Swaziland’s use of security forces to brutally quash democracy protests.
Swaziland is set for national elections later this year and democracy activists have been trying to draw attention to King Mswati III’s autocratic rule in the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
But, attempts to hold a prayer at a cathedral,a public meeting at a restaurant and a public rally in a township were all put down by police and security forces. Police claimed they were all threats to state security.
Leaders of the protests have been charged with sedition.
Chief among the democrats’ concerns is that political parties are barred from taking part in the election. Generally, in Swaziland, any political party that opposes the king’s autocratic rule are branded ‘terrorists’, banned outright and supporters are hounded by state security forces.
The ANC, in a statement, said it was, ‘[D]eeply concerned about the current political environment in neighbouring Swaziland where a group of unarmed civilians involved in a peaceful demonstration has been violently broken up by security forces.’
It likened the current situation in Swaziland to that under the apartheid regime in South Africa.
It said, ‘Having emerged from a brutal past of apartheid that has led to scores of our people being assassinated, assaulted, detained and imprisoned, South Africa is today a world-renowned democratic constitutional model. Were it not for the National Party-led minority regime having been forced by the masses of our people to engage in a dialogue with the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements prior to 1994, this would not have been possible.
‘We therefore, call on the government of Swaziland to work towards the normalisation of the political environment by unbanning opposition political parties, releasing political activists and engaging in a meaningful dialogue with opposition political and trade union leaders to find a collective solution to the socio-economic situation faced by that country.
‘As seen in South Africa prior democracy, the use of security forces to quell any form of political dissent and failure to address legitimate concerns of citizens, can only lead to the worsening of relations between government and civilians, something that does not augur well for economic stability.
‘In the interest of maintaining the much-needed stability within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), we strongly believe that the situation in Swaziland requires an urgent attention.’
The use of state security forces to quash legitimate protest in Swaziland has put the international spotlight on the kingdom in recent weeks.
The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), in a joint statement said police in Swaziland were now a ‘private militia’ with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime.
In April, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia that Swaziland was becoming a ‘military state’. OSISA reported that the Swazi army, police and correctional services were being deployed to ‘clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections’.
Separately, the US Embassy in Swaziland voiced its ‘deep concern’ about the way the police engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights.
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