Not much has changed for students in Swaziland since the day 20 years ago this Sunday (14 November 2010) that armed troops and police invaded the University of Swaziland to brutally suppress a peaceful student demonstration.
In the present day, the main progressive student organisation in Swaziland, the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), states that there is political repression in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and student leaders are being targeted.
‘We still have an undemocratic government and a military state, [and] the oppression, exploitation and repression of the students and the population at large has reached new greater heights.’
In a statement SNUS said, ‘A number of students leaders have been forced out of the country's institution of higher learning, eg Wandile Dludlu (former president of the Swaziland national union of students and chairperson of Uniswa, Kwaluseni Campus,2005-2006), Bhekie Khumalo (former president of Swaziland College of Technology 2008-2009 and the Swaziland National Union of Students (2009-2010), while others has been forced out of the country, the latest victim being the former president of Uniswa (2009- 2010) and human right activist Pius Vilakati who was forced to leave his studies at the university with one paper left for him to finish his studies.
‘He was being sought by the military police for making a speech on behalf of the students in a funeral of a worker and human right activist [Sipho Jele] who died in police custody for wearing a T-shirt of one of banned political groups.’
SNUS said, ‘All this victimisation, harassment and physical assault of our leaders will not dampen our spirits in a quest for a better country but it will fuel our struggle for democracy and sound education system.’
On 14 November 1990, the Swazi government dispatched armed police and military units to the Uniswa campus to disperse peaceful boycotting students. It was a crackdown of unprecedented violence in the history of the university. In the ensuing melee several students were crippled for life, hundreds injured and one woman successfully sued the government for the loss of an eye.
The students were boycotting classes over a number of issues, including the poor quality of food provided in residence to extremely low allowances and lack of faculty lectures. Among their demands was that a student and lecturer who were members of the banned political organisation, PUDEMO, and who had been charged and acquitted of high treason, should be reinstated at the university.