Reports from the scene of the rally in Msunduza Township in the Swazi capital, Mbabane, said members of the special police task force OSSU were determined to clean up the area and they fired teargas canisters at SWAYOCO members and ordinary members of the public. One newspaper report said Msunduza ‘was reminiscent of a battlefield in a war torn country’.
According to the Times Sunday today (1 March 2009), ‘Some of the people who were caught up in the fracas were vegetable vendors, old women who were watching the proceedings and young children who were wandering around the shopping area.’
The police were so out of control that they mistakenly fired teargas at customers in a bar.
According to a separate report in the Times Sunday, the customers were ‘literally smoked out of their favourite hangout’. Other people affected by police teargas were tenants of houses near the bar, as well as vendors who had to run with their wares as police fired the teargas.
The newspaper reported, ‘Moments after the incident, a police vehicle was seen driving towards the bar. It is suspected that they had gone there to arrest some of the members of the banned organisations, while others suspected that the officers had gone there “to remove evidence”’.
Times Sunday editor Mbongeni Mbingo, writing in his own newspaper, said before the rally started there were scores of police officers roaming the township and the city of Mbabane. ‘This was a move by the force to prevent the rally from taking place, and given the number of officers who were unleashed, you could understand government meant business—this rally was not going to take place, or if it did, the police would be there and would deal with the situation—however, they could.’
In the days before the rally, the Swazi state had made it clear it would not allow the rally, in support of Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), who is in jail awaiting trial on charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, to go ahead. Both PUDEMO and SWAYOCO have been branded terrorist organisations by Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini. Members or supporters of banned organisations can face up to 20 years in jail.
The police provocation ensured a tense atmosphere before the rally started. SWAYOCO supporters took the initiative and attacked police with missiles and logs as police were trying to block the road.
Police retaliated and drove an OSSU Casper at full speed towards SWAYOCO demonstrators. Then, according to reports, ‘all hell broke loose’ and police set off tear gas indiscriminately.
The OSSU Casper was followed by another police vehicle and together they brought the rally to an end.
According to the Times Sunday, about 50 members of SWAYOCO attended the rally, but the number increased when ordinary members of the public and sympathisers joined the marchers. Other organisations that were represented were the Swaziland Union of Students, the People’s United Democratic Movement and the Swaziland Association of Students.
Police said four members of SWAYOCO were arrested and charged following the rally. This brings to six the number of people who have been arrested in connection with yesterday’s event. On Friday morning, police arrested the organisation’s President Wandile Dludlu and another party official.