The following is a statement from the Swaziland Democracy Campaign to mark its first anniversary.
Swaziland Democracy Campaign One Year On: The Corrupt Kingdom Looks Shakier Than Ever! Time to Escalate Democratic Mass Action!
The Birth of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign
At exactly this time last year, more than 200 people gathered in a municipal building in Joburg to launch the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). What was remarkable about the gathering was that almost half of those present where from Swaziland itself. This was a reflection of the changes taking place in Swaziland, and the new confidence that is growing amongst the Swazi people to stand up and demand an end to the wasteful despotic rule of King Mswati III.
Formed to provide a broad based activist coalition that is non-sectarian in character, and respectful of those struggling for democracy in Swaziland, the SDC is based on two chapters in Swaziland, and in South Africa.
Drawing on the lessons of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and on struggles for democracy elsewhere, the SDC has consciously embarked on a course of action that puts the Swazi people at the centre of its activities. This is not a campaign that aims to dictate how they must conduct their struggle. Rather it strives to provide a space where those in the front line can share ideas, build alliances, and consider the most appropriate tactics and strategies. It also seeks to create an environment in complete contrast to that associated with the repressive regime, where collective trust and comradeship can be developed.
At the moment, there is little doubt that those in the forefront of the struggle for democracy are the trade unions, faith based organisations, and community and student movement campaigns. The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) brings together many of these organisations inside Swaziland and all are vital partners of the SDC. These are organisations accountable to their constituencies, who are nurturing democratic practice, and on which, a new Swaziland will be built.
Swaziland Today : The Rhetoric and the Reality
Today it is impossible for any sane person to be fooled into believing that the despotic regime headed by the Royal Elite is anything other than a self serving tyranny determined to squander the wealth of the country. The flamboyant lifestyles of the elite combined with their grossly corrupt ventures and downright theft takes place while the vast majority of Swaziland’s population is forced to exist on less than two dollars a day. Contrary to the mythologizing of the Swaziland Tourist Board, the world now knows that the country is not ruled by a kindly Royal Family who watch over their grateful subjects with a benevolent protectiveness. This is a regime that has brutalised and murdered dissenting voices, and that maintains control through a thuggish state security apparatus.
During the last twelve months, the SDC with others, has :
· Exposed the cold blooded murder of democracy activist Sipho Stephen Jele while in police custody, and the countless attacks on democratic activists including peaceful leaders of the banned political party of PUDEMO.
· Exposed the chronic corruption within the regime, and the wasteful expenditure on luxury items while thousands starve and die of HIV/AIDS.
· Made successful representations to the ILO to condemn the actions of the regime, and persuaded the ANC to break the silence and investigate the situation in Swaziland.
· Informed thousands of people across the world of the real situation in Swaziland, including the 37 years existence of emergency legislation that denied even the most basic of civil liberties, through our press releases, workshops, reports to civil society, and the SDC websites.
· Provided emergency humanitarian aid and legal advice for those persecuted by the regime, and have created supportive networks for this purpose.
We have pledged ourselves to do this and more in the coming year! But actions speak louder than words and that’s why our most important work this year has been in mobilising for action :
Mass Democratic Action Stays on the Agenda!
Over the last year, the SDC has been able to link arms with comrades in Swaziland to take mass democratic action to defend workers rights, and to give voice to the campaign for democracy. This has included sending activists to join demonstrations in Swaziland during the Global Week of Action which generated world-wide interest after more than 35 visitors were arrested and brutalised. The SDC has organised countless well attended pickets, and helped build the mass mobilisations of democratic forces in Swaziland itself.
Despite this, the Royal Elite continues to surround itself with sycophants and discredited political criminals. They share a rapacious greed, to enjoy the stolen fruits of patronage, and are prepared to maintain their privileged access to resources at all costs. They have built a considerable security apparatus for this purpose, tied to the coat-tails of the elite, and prepared to do their bidding despite the fact that this often results in inhumane treatment of innocent people. Extensive reporting by Amnesty International and other credible sources has conclusively described the barbarity of the security apparatus, and its readiness to break international conventions.
But time is running out for the rulers of Swaziland. The Swazi economy is in ruins. Revenues from the Southern African Customs Union have plummeted, and income from agriculture, manufacturing and tourism has slumped. Even the conservative IMF has castigated Swaziland for its wasteful management of the economy, the reckless spending by the Royal Elite and the amounts paid to maintain the security apparatus.
Increasing numbers of governments and their peoples all over the world, including in Southern Africa, are starting to see the Swazi Elite as a destructive liability. They know that a major obstacle to development in Swaziland is the absence of democratic governance, and popular policies to address the chronic poverty levels of the majority poor. Time is running out!
Cause for Celebration
It is clear from what has happened this year that the Swazi Regime and all those who support it are terrified of change, and this is illustrated in their vicious striking out at those who are prepared to stand up for democracy. But they can no longer turn back the clock! There is a popular awakening underway in Swaziland. Thousands of ordinary citizens have started to discuss alternatives to rule by unaccountable regime. They are joining the democracy campaign and the activities they organise. They are no longer prepared to be regarded as passive bystanders while their beloved country is driven into the ground by unscrupulous and immoral plunderers even when dressed in the cloak of culture or tradition or high office.
The SDC salutes all those who have actively engaged themselves in the struggle for democracy in Swaziland. It thanks those many friends across the world who have given encouragement and resources to the campaign, and those who have given of their time to support its activities.
Over the next crucial period, the SDC with all of its counterparts in Swaziland will be organising a number of key campaign activities including mass protests in April, and later in the year, a second Global Week of Action against the Swazi Regime is planned for September.
As events in other parts of our continent have shown, when mass democratic activity starts to roll, it is unstoppable, and we urge all those who treasure democracy and freedom to join us on the winning side. Time is running out for despots everywhere.
For more information on SDC activities please visit the SDC websites and sign up to become involved in the campaign.