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Friday, 9 December 2016

SWAZILAND CAN LEARN FROM THE GAMBIA

Kenworthy News Media, 7 December 7 2016
After a coup and 22 years of authoritarian rule, The Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh conceded power in elections on December 1. Swaziland, another of Africa’s small authoritarian nations, can learn from The Gambia that there is strength in unity, says Swazi activist Bheki Dlamini, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Swaziland and The Gambia are two of Africa’s smallest nations, both less than 20.000 km2 and with populations below 2 million. Both got their independence from Great Britain in the sixties, and both are more or less engulfed by, and to a large degree dependent on, a much larger and more powerful neighbour.

Both countries have also endured decades of authoritarian rule, dressed up as democracy, after an initial spate of democracy post-independence, and both are ranked near the bottom of the world’s nations, regarding human development, democracy, political rights, civil liberties and press freedom.

Strength in unity
Since the reopening of multi-party rule, the opposition in Gambia had remained weak and fragmented, and its victory against Jammeh in the presidential elections would not have come about, had they not decided to form a coalition recently, insists young activist Bheki Dlamini.


Bheki Dlamini knows the price of fighting for democracy in a dictatorship. He was tortured, charged with terrorism and imprisoned for nearly four years in one of absolute monarch King Mswati III’s prisons. He had to flee Swaziland in fear of his life not long after the court dismissed the charges against him and released him.

And from the vantage point of exile in cold Scandinavia, Bheki believes that the democratic movement in Swaziland needs to unite as in The Gambia, if they are to gain true democracy.

– I am overwhelmed by the humbleness and political maturity shown by the Gambian opposition leaders to swallow their pride and put their country first in forming the coalition. The democratic movement in Swaziland is fragmented and too weak to challenge our undemocratic regime, says Dlamini.

Big challenges
Even though there are similarities between The Gambia and Swaziland, there are also differences, especially as Swaziland is still fighting for laying the foundation for multi-party democracy, Bheki Dlamini says.


– Uniting the democratic movement has been the most challenging endeavor of the movement. The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) is trying to unite the forces but is facing big challenges. 
Why, for instance, are some organisations that claim to be in pursuit of democracy not part of the SUDF? We need unity, but are our leaders willing to swallow their pride like the Gambians and build a united coalition, he asks rhetorically.

Dlamini believes that instead of focusing on ideology and personal differences in forming such a coalition, the respective leaders and organization should focus on what unites them.

– And what unites us is that we want to bring down King Mswati’s undemocratic rule. No one organisation in Swaziland can deliver democracy alone. Our narrow self- and organisational interests are not taking us anywhere. Our division and weaknesses are prolonging the suffering of the Swazi people; the unemployed, the sick, the elderly, the rural poor. We need everyone who agrees on the need for democracy to come together. We are stronger united than divided.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

DO SWAZIS WANT DEMOCRACY?

Kenworthy News Media, 6 December 2016
New Afrobarometer-report shows that Africans still cautiously embrace democracy. In the small absolute monarchy of Swaziland, support for democracy is low but rising. In many other countries it is falling, writes Kenworthy News Media.

‘Do Africans still want democracy,’ independent research network Afrobarometer asks Africans in a new report? The answer seems to be a cautious and qualified ‘yes’. In Swaziland, a small absolute monarchy where parties are banned and the king appoints the government and controls everything from the economy to the judiciary, numbers are very low but rising.

According to young democracy-activist, Bheki Dlamini, the main reason for the low numbers is the absolute monarch and his regime, who control all land and have distorted the word ‘democracy,’ and the fact that the country lacks democratic precedence.

Less than half want democracy
In the Afrobarometer-report, 45 percent of Swazis polled in the report see democracy as preferable to having a non-democratic government, which is the lowest of all the 36 countries in the survey apart from Sudan, where 44 percent see democracy as preferable.

In neighbouring South Africa, the percentage is 64 percent, and in Burundi, Senegal and Botswana, who top the list, the percentages are 86, 85 and 83 percent respectively.

Other figures show that 65 percent of Swazis polled reject one-party rule (compared to 50 percent in Mozambique, 72 percent in South Africa and 93 percent in Sierra Leone); 86 percent reject military rule (33 percent in Egypt, 67 percent in South Africa and 93 percent in Mauritius); and 24 percent prefer democracy to authoritarian regimes (9 percent in Mozambique, 35 percent in South Africa and 74 percent in Mauritius).

Democracy gaining ground
On the upside, Swaziland is one of the countries of the 36 African countries polled that has seen the biggest positive change in favour of democracy in the last 5 years.


24 percent of Swazis polled today said they both preferred democracy and rejected one-party and military rule, as well and a Presidential dictatorship, compared to 16 percent in 2011.

In many other countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Nigeria, support for democracy has waned or remained more or less unchanged in the last five years, albeit from a higher level of support than in Swaziland.

A question of land
These are the numbers, polled in face-to-face interviews with a representative number of Swazis, but how are they to be understood?

President of the Swaziland Youth Congress, Bheki Dlamini, who has himself spent nearly four years in prison due to his peaceful advocacy of democratic change in Swaziland and now lives in exile, believes that many especially rural-based Swazis do not embrace democracy because they are both physically and mentally dependent on the king’s regime.

– In Swaziland, more than 70 percent of the population lives in the rural areas, on Swazi Nation Land under strict control by the chiefs, who are an extension of the king’s power. Without security of tenure, loyalty to the chief and the king is important to the survival of a rural Swazi. The only form of security is to not be seen to challenge the status quo, he says.

A question of semantics and parties
Bheki Dlamini also sees the understanding of what ‘democracy’ means as another important reason why especially rural Swazis do not see themselves as democrats.


– In Swaziland, the word ‘democracy’ has been deliberately distorted by the regime, who say that democracy is tantamount to toppling the monarchy, whereas we could have a functioning constitutional democracy, Dlamini says.

– 24 percent in Swaziland is a good figure considering the political context people live in. From independence in 1968, political parties have only existed for five years until they were banned in 1973. Swaziland is an authoritarian regime. To compare Swaziland to the rest of Africa is therefore unfair as most other countries allow political parties. They are consolidating their democracies; we haven’t even properly started the democratization process.

 ‘We want democracy now’
Bheki Dlamini says he is cautiously optimistic about the realization of a democratic Swaziland and that he strongly believes that the potential of Swazis will be unleashed, once they are free to think and express what they think and to form organisations to pursue those ideas.


– The regime cannot camouflage its oppressive nature under the veil of tradition and culture forever. We want democracy and we want it now, he says.

Friday, 2 December 2016

SWAZI STATE VIOLENCE AGAINST STUDENTS

The recent passing of the 26th anniversary of Black Wednesday when troops invaded a campus of the University of Swaziland reminds us that little has changed in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Police, troops and security forces continue to take the attitude of ‘attack first, ask questions later’ when dealing with student grievances.

As recently as October 2016, police fired gunshots at protesting students at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology at Sidwashini. At least four students had ‘serious injuries’, according to the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper.

Students had been protesting about the poor quality of teaching at the university and inferior facilities.

The Times reported, ‘According to eyewitnesses, about 200 students screamed and ran helter-skelter after police from the Operational Support Service Unit (OSSU) fired at least six shots in attempt to disperse the protesting students who were barred from coming within 100 metres of the university gate by the High Court.’

In February 2016 at the University of Swaziland Kwaluseni campus Swazi security forces attacked students by driving an armoured troop carrier at speed into a crowd, injuring one so badly her back was broken. 

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom reported, ‘a Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) Operational Services Unit (OSSU) casspir drove at high speed into a group of about 2,000 students, who, when they realised that the vehicle was not stopping, ran in all directions.’

Students at the university had been protesting and boycotting classes to protest about delays in registration. 

Police and security forces in Swaziland routinely violently attack students when they engage in protest.

In November 2013, police raided dormitories and dragged students from their rooms. Later they beat up the students at local police stations. Students had wanted the start of examinations postponed. Armed police stood guard outside examination halls as the UNISWA Administration attempted to hold the exams.

A report published today in UNISWA Today, a student on-line newspaper site, said, ‘Three hours from now students were supposed to sit for their first examination paper. As this report is written, the S-block has become a jail since students can’t leave the residence. Anyone who is leaving his dormitory is being captured. Police have even started raiding the dormitories, the intention is unknown.’

In a separate report UNISWA Today said a university warden at the UNISWA Luyengo Campus allowed officers of the Swaziland state security force OSSU to raid all dormitory rooms and to sjambock ‘all students who are found having squatted in other’s rooms’.

Student Representative Council (SRC) Vice President Anthony Mthembu, writing on UNISWA Today said, ‘The operation started at 23.30hrs and ended at about 3am. He also ordered that all SRC members be arrested as they are “ring leaders”. To ensure that he gave them our room numbers and a master key.

‘They arrived at my room at around 01.30 and tried opening my door but couldn’t since I had inserted my key inside and fully twisted it. They threatened to camp outside my room and asked me where Max [Maxwell Dlamini, SRC President] is.


‘I resisted to which they threw teargas in my room, that I resisted too, but they tried to break in and my roommate opened. The squabble lasted for about 45 minutes. Upon opening they clapped me and alleged that there are petrol bombs in my room.

‘They searched all my suitcases, CPU and monitor cartons, cabinets, washing basket and anything you can think of. They even came to an extent of mistaking a wireless mouse for a “bomb.”’


Students were then taken to police stations for questioning.

In a separate case in August 2012, two students were shot in the head at close range with rubber bullets, during a dispute about the number of scholarships awarded by the government. Reports from the Centre for Human Rights and Development, Swaziland, said several other students were injured by police batons and kicks.

In February 2012, police fired teargas at students from Swaziland College of Technology (SCOT) who boycotted classes after the Swazi Government did not pay them their allowances.

In November 2011, armed police attacked students at the recently-opened private Limkokwing University. The Swazi Observer said Limkokwing students reported that police ‘attacked them unprovoked as they were not armed’.

The newspaper added, ‘During a visit to the institution about 10 armed officers were found standing guard by the gate’. The Observer said police fired as they tried to disperse the students. 

In January 2010, Swaziland Police reportedly fired bullets at protesting university students, injuring two of them. They denied it and said they ‘only’ fired teargas. Students from UNISWA had attempted to march through the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane, to call for an increase in their allowances.

See also

STUDENTS UNDER SIEGE BY ARMED POLICE
POLICE FLEE ROOMS AS POLICE ATTACK
BOYCOTTING STUDENTS CLOSE UNIVERSITY
POLICE SHOOT TWO STUDENTS IN HEAD
ARMED POLICE STOP STUDENTS PROTEST
SWAZILAND STUDENT UNREST SPREADS
STUDENTS UNDER FIRE FROM POLICE
SWAZI STUDENTS BEATEN TO PULP
SWAZILAND POLICE ‘SHOOT STUDENTS’

Thursday, 1 December 2016

PROBE INTO TEACHING AT ‘KING’S VARSITY’

A Swaziland parliamentary committee has ordered an investigation into the standard of qualifications held by academic staff at the university King Mswati III wants to host his proposed University of Transformation.

Students had petitioned the Swazi Government saying many lecturers only held Bachelor degrees and had just themselves qualified from the university.

Limkokwing has been at the centre of continuing protests from students about standards of teaching and equipment since the university opened in 2011. According to its website, Limkokwing in Swaziland only offers ‘associate degrees’ which are at a level below Bachelor degrees and in many institutions are known as diplomas.

The Swazi Observer reported on Monday (28 November 2016) that a parliamentary select committee said the Ministry of Education’s Higher Education Council, ‘should within 14 days, revisit the issue of qualifications of the academic staff of the university and make necessary recommendations, particularly if indeed it would be confirmed the university engaged its former students to work as lecturers instead of teaching assistants or tutors’. 

In August 2016, King Mswati, the absolute monarch in Swaziland and chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), announced he intended to start a University of Transformation for the entire SADC region within twelve months and that it should be housed at Limkokwing, a private university in the Swazi capital Mbabane, with its base in Malaysia.

See also

KING’S NEW UNWORKABLE UNIVERSITY
NEW SWAZI UNIVERSITY SUBSTANDARD
KING FELL FOR BOGUS UNIVERSITY
 
LIMKOKWING UNIVERSITY IS ILLEGAL
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2011/05/limkokwing-university-is-illegal.html

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

SWAZILAND’S ‘BLACK WEDNESDAY’

Students at the University of Swaziland did not this year mark the anniversary of the campus invasion by armed soldiers known as ‘Black Wednesday.’

According to the Swazi Observer, a commemoration was called off at the last minute because present-day students were protesting that colleagues had been barred from taking examinations because school fees had not been paid.

It would be a pity if these events stopped people remembering the events of 14 November 1990.

It happened during what the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency called a ‘rebellion’ that ‘became a seminal event that signalled a new generation's political consciousness’. It was, IPS said, ‘a dawning political awareness born from a confluence of historical forces then sweeping the world and the Southern African region’.

The IPS report said ‘armed soldiers pushed police aside and forced students out of the library where they had barricaded themselves’.

The day began as a ‘disorganised demonstration’ against campus issues such as poor food ‘but soon turned into demands for democratic reforms in Swaziland's government’.

The IPS report quoted Manzini lawyer Lindiwe Khumalo-Matse, a university student at the time, saying, ‘The reason why soldiers were called in was because government saw our protest as a political uprising.’

Khumalo-Matse is further quoted by IPS, ‘This was because of the involvement of Sabelo Dlamini, who was a member of the People's United Democratic movement (PUDEMO). Sabelo was prominent in the Students Representative Council,’ he said.

In 1990, one of the Swazi Government’s most draconian measures, a 60-Day Detention Law, was still in force, permitting authorities to lock up anyone they saw as a threat to public order. All political protestors were designated as such threats.

The violence that ensued after soldiers swept through campus has been a sensitive subject with government ever since. A commission of enquiry had its report secreted away for years, with a bowdlerized version finally released to the public in 1997.

Two students who were seriously injured sued government for damages, and their cases were settled out of court.


IPS reported that not only was the traditional leadership’s fear of democracy revealed on ‘Black Wednesday’, but also a proletariat attitude of resentment, displayed by the soldiers, was shown against the educated student ‘elite’. The military's code name for the university invasion was ‘Operation Tinfundiswa (educated ones).’

‘It was a time of wild rumours,’ recalled Khumalo-Matse. ‘We heard that government feared we would burn down the library, which belied common sense because we were inside and would have incinerated ourselves.’

The army officials in charge gave students a five-minute warning, and then unleashed what one onlooker later told an investigating committee was a ‘military riot against civilians’.

Students were beaten as they emerged from the library to escape teargas canisters hurled through windows, and had to run a gauntlet of soldiers. Other soldiers chased students until they cornered them along fences. As they beat students with batons, the soldiers informed them they were being ‘punished’.

People in Swaziland were shocked by the brutality. Particularly offensive was one newspaper photo depicting a young woman carried out of the library between soldiers ‘like a slaughtered pig’, according to a letter writer to the Times of Swaziland.

Following the events, Michael Prosser, a professor from the United States who was working at the University of Swaziland at the time, posted a personal eye-witness account online. This is what he wrote.

BLOODY WEDNESDAY IN SWAZILAND

November 14, 1990, ‘Bloody Wednesday’ in Swaziland still lingers as a most important moment in my life. It was the only day that I thought I surely might die. I was a Fulbright Professor at the University of Swaziland in south east Africa that year.

University students began boycotting classes on November 12 in protest of a lack of faculty lecturers, poor food conditions, and the suspension of a popular young sociology lecturer for promoting democracy in Swaziland.

Early on November 12, all 1 600 university students held a protest meeting and boycotted all classes. At noon, they dumped their plastic wrapped lunches at the administration office door. The Swazi radio, and tv stations, Swaziland’s newspapers gave extensive coverage to the dumping of the lunches. Many Swazis were subsistence farmers who often went to bed hungry; thus this student decision reflected very badly on them. All students received a University notice demanding the end of their class boycott on November 13. They decided to continue it. The University Council demanded their return to classes on November 14, or be considered in defiance of the twenty-three-year-old King Mswati III.

Another student meeting on November 14 continued the boycott. About 500 students peacefully barricaded themselves in the two-storey university library. Several hundred students left campus or stayed in their student hostel area. At about 5pm, armed Swazi soldiers entered the high fenced campus.

A university official drove through the campus announcing the immediate campus closure. Five young women rushed to me and asked for emergency protection in my home. I took them there immediately.

A fifteen-hour rain and thunderstorm had just begun. The young women were quite terrified.

The young soldiers broke into the library and the student hostels, dragging students out, beating both men and women with their night sticks on their arms and legs, and forcing them to run a gauntlet toward the front gate while the soldiers gave them sharp blows.

The soldiers taunted the students: ‘We’ll beat the English out of you.’ They were especially vicious toward the women. The soldiers had been stationed that day at the high school next door to the campus and drank lots of beer before they attacked the campus, making them even more violent than otherwise so likely.

A neighbor warned us that at 10pm, soldiers would search our houses and arrest any students found there or on campus. Two Canadian families and I, in a caravan of three autos, took 11 frightened Swazi students in the three cars to the front gate to take them to safety.

With a gun pointed the first driver’s cheek, he got permission from the guard to leave the campus with the students. In the swirling rain, lightening, and thunderstorm, we took the students to safe shelters. When we returned to campus late in the evening, two soldiers were posted all night in the back and in the front of our houses.

With some students, I drove to the nearby hospital where more than 120 students had received emergency treatment. We visited more than a dozen badly injured students. We learned that soldiers possibly had injured as many as 300-400 and had killed perhaps as many as two-four students.

The Swazi radio and tv stations gave no information about what had happened after the students had dumped their food. However, the two Swazi newspapers did give the event considerable coverage over several weeks. They also printed many letters to the editor decrying the incident and called for a national judicial enquiry. Reuters News Agency and the South African press gave it some coverage.

Amnesty International cited it in their 1991 Annual Review. The University remained closed for two months, reopening on January 14. A national judicial enquiry, more heavily critical of the student boycott than the hostile military response, began on March 14, 1991 and ended on May 14. The enquiry panel never released any details to the public.

The print media called the incident ‘Black Wednesday’ but my students and I attempted to have the newspapers rename it Bloody Wednesday since so much innocent student blood had been shed.

I always recall that day as my worst and best day in Swaziland when much evil occurred but many good people at the campus, the hospital, and nearby clinics generously helped the students. Do these former African students, now in their thirties, still remember that day? I assume so. I certainly always do.

Monday, 28 November 2016

SWAZI DPP CALLS ASIANS ‘TERRORISTS’

Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Nkosinathi Maseko has said, ‘most nationals of Asian origin were associated with terrorist activities’.

The Observer on Saturday (26 November 2016) reported he told this to a parliamentary select committee set up to investigate what the newspaper called an ‘influx of illegal immigrants’ into the kingdom.

The newspaper reported Maseko had said, ‘it was public information that most nationals of Asian origin were associated with terrorist activities; and their continued entry illegally put the country and its citizens at high risk of being a nucleus for terrorist activities.’

Maseko and the Observer gave no evidence to support this. 

The newspaper reported, ‘Maseko said it was possible that even the huge sums of money being invested in the country by those who paraded as businessmen were proceeds of illicit activities.’

The Observer added Maseko told the committee, ‘The country is under siege, and it is very scary.’

It added, ‘His greatest fear is that these people are multiplying in great numbers.’

See also

ALL ASIANS BANNED FROM SWAZILAND
ASIANS EVICTED FROM HOME
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2016/07/asians-evicted-from-home.html

Friday, 25 November 2016

SWAZI POLICE CHIEF SNUBS ‘UNION’

Swaziland’s National Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula has reacted angrily to a request from the Police Staff Association that its executive committee be recognised.

The Association’s executive was elected on 13 July 2016, but so far has not been acknowledged by the Swazi police chief.

Magagula took exception that Staff Association President Isaac Kaire Lukhele had spoken to the Swazi Observer newspaper about the matter.

The Observer reported on Wednesday (24 November 2016), ‘The National Commissioner has since decided to remind Kaire and his executive to be careful in the manner they make public statements.’

The newspaper quoted Magagula saying, ‘The language being used makes us suspect this is not the association we expected to be formed but seemingly they are using unionist language. Their tone is unacceptable and they should be careful on that. Again, it is a Police Staff Association and not just a police association and it needs to be corrected.’

The newspaper reported, ‘Magagula also said there was no way his office or the national executive would be put under pressure so as to recognise the Police Staff Association.’

There have been attempts in the past to form a trade union for police officers. The Swaziland Police Union was declared illegal by the Swazi Supreme Court in 2009.

At the time, Secretary General of the Union, Khanyakwezwe Mhlanga had written to the then Commissioner of Police Edgar Hillary and asked for recognition as a bargaining body of the police. Hillary refused and insisted that the Police Staff Association was the only authentic bargaining group for the police.

See also

JUDGE BACKS SWAZI POLICE UNION
SWAZI POLICE REFUSE TO ARREST COLLEAGUES
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK ON VIDEO