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By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
After a comparatively restrained conduct during the pro-democracy demonstrations in Swaziland earlier in the week, Swazi police have started detaining, beating, and even shooting at demonstrators. “Teargas and batons were allowed to do the talking by the forces as the enraged security forces unleashed their ugly side,” as local newspaper The Swazi Observer put it.
The demonstrators are demanding democracy and social reform in Swaziland, a small absolute monarchy where political parties are banned and two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day. Swaziland is nominally a middle-income country.
According to a press statement from banned pro-democracy party, the People’s United Democratic Movement, the police started the “shooting of peacefully demonstrating students in the Swazi capital Mbabane” earlier today (8. September). “A number of them have been taken into hospital for sustaining serious injuries,” the statement further claimed.
The alleged shooting (which the police deny took place) comes after an incident yesterday, where police had pounced on members of the South African trade union federation, Cosatu, who were in Swaziland to support the calls for democracy of Swaziland’s unions.
“Police pounced on a demonstration in the small eastern town of Siteki this morning. The police were attempting to arrest Cosatu deputy president, Zingiswa Loti,” says Sikelela Dlamini from the Swaziland United Democratic Front. “Seeing this, Swazi trade unionists, attempted to shield their visitors. This caused the police to beat the ‘human shield’ to a pulp before arresting Zingiswa alongside Cosatu deputy international secretary, Zanele Matebula. Both were subsequently forcefully driven to the South African border by the police.”
According to Sikelela Dlamini, many prominent members of the Swazi democratic movement were beaten up during the incident, including Swaziland Federation of Labour Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane, IRALE's Gugu Malindzisa, Swaziland Federation of Labour’s Phumelele Zulu and Swaziland National Association of Teachers Spasha Dlamini. “Spasha was doing badly, bleeding in a police cell, when I last checked,” he says.
The violent behaviour of the police might have been in response to demonstrators allegedly burning the image of King Mswati III, Swaziland’s absolute monarch, according to Dumezweni Dlamini from the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice. “I think the police were annoyed by the marchers burning of the kanga [traditional clothes] with King Mswati's image, and might have thought it a stunt imported from South Africa. Before this incident the police did not do anything to the demonstrators but after that they deported all of the COSATU members,” he said.
Whatever the reason for the violent account of the police, Sikelela Dlamini believes it will continue. ”I strongly suspect the police brutality today reflects direct rebuke and threats from the authorities if they fail to bring protesters to ‘order,’” he says. “My anticipation is more brutality from now on.”