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By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
“The walls of Mbabane were vibrating with the shouts of Viva Pudemo [banned political party], viva Swayoco [youth wing of Pudemo],” says Secretary General of Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, Mduduzi Gina.
Between one and two thousand people took to the streets today, and between five hundred and a thousand yesterday, to demand democratisation and social reform in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, Swaziland.
According to a statement by Pudemo’s Secretary General, Skhumbuzo Phakathi, the demands included “the unbanning of political parties, the release of all political prisoners, and genuine dialogue towards democratic transition.”
Swaziland is a small Southern African country where all political parties are banned, where two-thirds survive on less than a dollar a day, and where government corruption and financial mismanagement has left the country virtually bankrupt.
Usually, any demonstrations against the monarchy or the mere mention of Pudemo or Swayoco on the streets of Swaziland would prompt a heavy-handed response from Swaziland’s police force. During last year’s May Day celebrations, Pudemo member Sipho Jele was arrested and later found dead in his cell under suspicious circumstances for the crime of wearing a Pudemo t-shirt.
But police have not clamped down on this week’s protests. “There is heavy police presence but they are not disturbing the marchers,” says Dumezweni Dlamini from the Swazi NGO, Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice. “One would really conclude that the state is trying by all means to make sure that they do not attract international attention by being violent towards peaceful demonstrators.”
In April, during the most recent spate of large-scale demonstrations in favour of multi-party democracy in the country, Swaziland had made headlines worldwide for its police force’s more or less random and heavy-handed beating up of peaceful protestors.
This paired with recently instigated international investigations into Swaziland’s frequent human rights abuses and the fact that the regime needs to be careful not give South Africa a reason to cancel a recent loan to Swaziland, means that the regime is seemingly acting with much more restraint than usual.
Protests against the Swazi government are set to continue in the coming days in Swaziland, in several South African cities, and in Denmark, Great Britain and Germany, where solidarity organisations and students’ movements have planned protests outside Swazi embassies and consulates.