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By Peter Kenworthy, Communication and Project Assistant
The popular democracy movement is erupting in Swaziland. Students have boycotted classes in all tertiary colleges in Swaziland for several weeks, demanding free primary school education in accordance with the constitution of Swaziland; recognition of their student organization, the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), as the official voice of students in Swaziland; an increase in their pitiful allowances; and a new scholarship policy.
Alongside these boycotts, several demonstrations or marches involving thousands of people have been held. Student representatives have also met with Swaziland’s Labour Minister Patrick Mamba, who was unwilling to attend to their grievances, and after having received further patronizing responses to their demands from the government, a students’ march was planned through Manzini on the 10th of February. The march was abruptly and violently cut short by police, however, four members of SNUS being abducted and tortured by the police, and a member of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) detained, tortured and charged under the Terrorism Act, an act that Amnesty International insists is “inherently repressive” and “threatens human rights”. All five were released and all charges dropped due to the large international attention their arrests and treatment had caused. The British Trades Union Congress (TUC), COSATU and the Zimbabwean National Students Union (ZINASU) were among those condemning the actions of the police and the state in strongly worded letters to respective Swazi High Commissions and embassies or in otherwise publicised condemnations.
Africa Contact issued a statement strongly condemning the abduction and treatment of the students, and further pressurized the Swaziland police by calling the Swazi Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula to strongly condemn the arrests and torture of the students. Africa Contact works with and funds SNUS on an ongoing basis by way of a capacity building programme, and the success of the present campaign can be seen as the fruits of this work. Africa Contact were singled out along with other progressive organisations by SNUS as having made them struggle with “more determination”, knowing that “the world community” was on their side, which further proves the value of the support and solidarity of progressive organisations to the cause of Swazi democracy.
Even though their protests have formally been about education, SNUS insists that they see the main and overarching problem as being the lack of democracy in Swaziland, and that only pressure from civil society movements such as their own to make the country ungovernable, and the Tinkhundla traditional system of government unworkable, will bring about democracy in Swaziland. Further demonstrations have therefore been planned for next week. SNUS have also welcomed the soon to be launched Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) as coming at just the right time. The SDC consists of organisations from Swaziland and South Africa that are involved in the struggle for democracy in Swaziland. The campaign will support democratic initiatives of trade unions, NGOs, student organisations and other organisations that advocate and further the cause of democratization in Swaziland. The campaign will also call upon the South African government and those of other SADC countries to acknowledge that they are in effect protecting the undemocratic and repressive Swaziland regime. Many organisations from around the world have already committed themselves to the campaign, which will be formally launched on the 21st of February in Braamfontein, South Africa.