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By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
“I would say there is a strong feeling that we need to revisit our strategy.” Swaziland National Union of Students activist Ace Lushaba is speaking of the clamp down on recent protests against king Mswati III’s undemocratic, brutal, cleptocratic regime.
There have historically been two main strategies used by the democratic movement in Swaziland. The first has been the use of protest action, mass mobilisation and pushing for a complete removal of the tinkundla system that bans political parties and leaves the executive powers of Swaziland in the hands of the king, and by extension, the chiefs. The second strategy seeks to change the system less radically and more gradually by way of talks and by trying and negotiate a settlement with king Mswati’s government
The first strategy has been used by banned political party PUDEMO, the Swaziland United Democratic Front and the unions. “The liberation of the people means the destruction of the tinkhundla regime and its replacement by the institutions of a democratic system … Mass action remains our principal theatre of struggle and our key weapon of transformation,” as a PUDEMO strategy document puts it.
The second strategy has been used by the Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations and the newly formed party SWADEPA, led by former union leader, Jan Sithole. “To find a lasting solution to the challenges facing the country, we need an all-inclusive national and result-oriented political dialogue for all and sundry to brainstorm about the future of this country, and to collectively agree on a way forward,” Sithole told the Times of Swaziland in February.
But as Lushaba and other people within the democratic movement have concluded, none of these strategies are really possible under the present political climate.
“On April 12 [where the democratic movement annually protests the anniversary of the state of emergency and the banning of all political parties in 1973], there were so many police monitoring everyone and detaining all those who were trying to defy the government orders. We also had the feeling that we need to find ways to utilize amongst us those groups that are not affected by section 40 of the industrial act [that allows only the unions the right to protest legally]. These are students, the informal sector and other political organizations and stop the over-dependency on labour,” says Ace Lushaba.
“We are yet to hold a post mortem meeting to discuss, amongst other things, the effectiveness of our strategy but there one feeling comrades shared was that we need to revisit our strategies, find new ways of engaging the regime.”
Any new strategy will have to take into account the escalation of police and military presence and intimidation at any protest, however small and peaceful, the roadblocks that stop people participating, the compulsory arrests of the entire leadership of the democratic movement at these events, and the fear that this instils in many Swazis.
“A new strategy must understand the effects of this escalation,” says Morten Nielsen from Africa Contact, a Danish organisation that has worked in partnership with the democratic movement for over ten years.
“The democratic movement must look at the way their struggle is led today. Too many of the practical tasks in organising these protests depend on a handful of people. If they are removed, or if they are cut of from communicating with others the protest will not be successful. The ownership and leadership of the struggle for democracy in Swaziland must be shared amongst a larger section of the movement. In addition, the protests should not only be held in the major towns, but also in the smaller towns and rural areas where the majority of Swazis live.”