Students in Swaziland are planning to bring the kingdom to a standstill for four days in March to protest against Swazi Government policies on tertiary education.
Maxwell Dlamini, President of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), said the protest would see the ‘mother of all marches’.
The students are angry that they were not properly consulted on a new government policy that means scholarships to study at tertiary institutions will be replaced by loans. All personal allowances for accommodation and food will be abolished.
Dlamini said, ‘On March 14, 15, 16 and 17 we will bring the country to a standstill. Parents, teachers, pupils, workers and other interested parties will take part in what we regard as a mother of all marches. We will spend four days in Mbabane and by the look of things; schools and government offices will be affected. We are doing this out of frustration because the Scholarship Policy is not what students want and we want government to publicly revoke it.’
The Swazi News, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, today (26 February 2011) reports Dlamini saying students had approached workers’ unions and other formations, such as the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), to assist them during the planned mass protest.
The threat of unrest comes at a delicate time in Swaziland. Ordinary people, emboldened by the events in the Middle East and North Africa where dictatorships have been overthrown in recent weeks, are planning to take to the streets on 12 April 2011 to ‘topple’ King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
A group calling itself the April 12 Uprising is coordinating events, using a Facebook site.
The April 12 Uprising is not formally linked to the student movement in Swaziland, but it is clear that it is a loose group dominated by youth. Many of the April 12 supporters are almost certainly also presently students in Swaziland, or recent graduates.
The involvement of youth is significant because in the Middle East and North Africa, the youth were the ones who got the protests started. Once on the streets others quickly joined the youth.
In Swaziland, the students are very experienced at mobilizing class boycotts and marches on the streets. If the students and workers take to the streets over the scholarship issue, it is possible that the protests would quickly expand to include demands for democracy and possibly even the removal of King Mswati.
Then anything might happen.
A striking feature of the pro-democracy events in the Middle East and North Africa is how quickly the protests grew, which must mean there were a lot of angry people just waiting for the chance to overthrow their rulers. Also, the rulers capitulated very quickly.
That is of significance to Swaziland, because we might discover that most people in the kingdom (three in ten are so poor they are under nourished and 63 percent live in abject poverty) might be happy to see King Mswati go, if they felt that their lives would be better for it.
That would test the loyalty of the king’s supporters. What power-base does King Mswati really have? Would the army support him for long, especially if they were required to shoot their own people following an uprising? In Swaziland, about 95 percent of people are from the same Swazi ethnic group and they are all related to one another in some way, so it would be like shooting your own family.