A prominent student leader in Swaziland was tortured by Swazi police and told if he was ever seen again at a political demonstration he would be shot in cold blood.
Pius Vilakati, of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), talked for the first time publicly about his ordeal. Police put a ‘Shoprite’ plastic shopping bag over his head and held it tight until he was close to suffocating.
Vilakati, who was president of the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) Student Representative Council, spoke at a commemoration for the 20th anniversary of Black Wednesday, a time when armed troops and police invaded the UNISWA campus and attacked defenceless students who were peacefully protesting.
Vilakati and other student leaders were abducted by police in February 2010 after holding a mass demonstration and taken to Manzini police headquarters where cops ‘hurled unspeakable insults at us for planning a demonstration against the government’.
Vilakati said the police were ordered by their superiors to ‘be as vicious as possible’.
Vilakati said, ‘A shiver went down my spine when I heard such words. I was later transported to Bhunya police station where things got worse. The police took a simple plastic (yes, plastic) bag. I still remember vividly that it was a SHOPRITE branded plastic. They covered my face with it many times, only giving me a few (but not more than two) seconds to breathe between intervals.
‘It was one of the most horrible days of my life. I don’t know whether this is the famous “tubing” style. As they were suffocating me they were telling me to desist from trying to make the country ungovernable. They would continuously tell me that Swaziland is the king’s country and not a people’s country as I used to say.’
Later Vilakati was transported back to Manzini where he met the ‘top brass’.
He said, ‘Amongst such dangerous men was a man who introduced himself to me as the assistant regional commander. After a very long talk about me and the students trying to “topple the government” he told me straight in the eye that if I could ever be spotted in any demonstration or political gathering they would not hesitate to shoot and kill me.’
Vilakati was not cowed by the threat and in May 2010 he spoke at the funeral of Sipho Jele, an activist in the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), who had died in police custody after being arrested for wearing a PUDEMO T-shirt.
Vilakati said, ‘I had to hide myself in the van which was carrying the coffin after the memorial service. Later in the night I simply had to escape from Swaziland. I had received messages that the police did not just want to arrest me but simply to kill me.
‘The PUDEMO leadership told me that they could not risk the death of another comrade in the hands of the police. I simply obliged on such a revolutionary call and escaped Swaziland.
‘I am currently well looked after by Swaziland's revolutionary party, PUDEMO, and I now have even more fire and the zeal to fight for democracy in Swaziland, in our lifetime.'
He told his audience, ‘I know that the UNISWA administration uses my name as an example to discourage you from defending your rights. I know that they claim I lost my education because of my inclinations. Well, they must be ashamed of themselves because I am continuing with my studies here [South Africa] and in a short while I will be in possession of my LLB [law] Degree. In fact it will be even better than the one I would have acquired at UNISWA. So, if the administration tells you that I have lost on my education please let them be aware of such information.’
The full text of Vilakati's speech, which includes an explanation of why he is a PUDEMO member and his call for students and progressives to show solidarity in the fight for democracy in Swaziland, was posted to members of the SNUS Facebook site yesterday (10 November 2010).
To read the full speech, click here.