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By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
A prodemocracy rally in Matsapha was “violently dispersed by the state security forces,” police clamped down on activists in Siteki and Manzini and at least one activist has been detained, accord-ing to banned political party PUDEMO, in what has become almost routine at any pro-democracy rally or event in the tiny absolute monarchy.
Even so, there are high hopes amongst Swaziland’s democratic movement that the Global Week of Action that kicked of today could be an important step towards democracy in Swaziland, not least because it comes in the wake of a month-long strike by public employees that is said to have em-boldened many Swazis.
The theme of the first day of the week-long Global Week of Action was hunger and poverty, a very pressing matter indeed for the over two thirds of the Swazi population who survive on less than a dollar a day, many on food aid.
“Hunger and starvation has reduced Swazis into beggars and recipients,” said Chairman of Lawyers for Human Rights in Swaziland, Mandla Mkhwanazi. “Many of our people have died of malnour-ishment, poverty and hunger which has been orchestrated by the royal tinkhundla system,” said Swaziland National Union of Students President, Maxwell Dlamini.
“Today we ask how on earth we can have a situation where we have food aid, as if we were at war, when we have enough to feed the nation. We have the capacity to feed and run this country, the problem is this government,” said Swaziland United Democratic Front Coordinator, Wandile Dlud-lu.
The Global Week of Action has become the biggest campaign for democracy in Swaziland, and this years’ event will include marches, seminars, workshops and a people’s summit on Thursday. Throughout the first day of the event, a broad section of the democratic movement in Swaziland and foreign delegates spoke of the need for democracy in Swaziland and the connection between the lack hereof and increasing mass poverty.
“We support the Global Week of Action fully, it is part of us. We support every day, we support all the demands put forward,” said PUDEMO President Mario Masuku. “The call for democracy is just and necessary. We know the arrogance of the government of Swaziland,” said Joel Akhator Odigie from the International Trade Union Confederation. “The bible mandates us to share with the needy and poor. This is not for only Christians but everyone,” read a statement from Concerned Church Leaders in Swaziland.
And even though similar events in recent years have not managed to deliver the democratic and socioeconomic reforms that the democratic movement had hoped for, there seems to be a newfound optimism within the movement and the population at large.
As Swaziland National Teachers Association President, Sibongile Mazibuko, told Voice of America today, the recent month-long strike by public employees for higher pay has produced a paradigm shift where Swazis are becoming increasingly vocal in their demands for multi-party democracy.
“There was a paradigm shift from the previous people’s parliament, which took place five years ago. That parliament was such that if you said you needed multiparty democracy, you were booed to sit down. But, this time, people were listening carefully. I think the scale of teachers going around the whole country making people aware of how corrupt our government is has changed the people’s mind to think that why can’t we try multi-party democracy,” Mazibuko said.