There were no reports of violence during the mass protest in Swaziland yesterday (18 March 2011). This, writes Peter Kenworthy on his stiffkitten blog, was largely because there was a large international focus on the event. He concludes, ‘Large numbers and international attention and pressure are important components in allowing democratic movements the political space to successfully call for democratisation and rule of law.’
Swazi demonstration apparently ends without violence
March 18, 2011
Between 5000 and 10 000 peacefully marched against redundancies, a pay freeze and cut-backs in Swaziland’s public sector today, as well as for democratisation of the country in one of the largest demonstrations ever seen in Swaziland – an absolute monarchy where two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day. Protesters held placards demanding a democratic and incorrupt government, one of the placards reading “why cut salaries, cut corrupt government.”
And this was despite the physical intimidation of having thousands of heavily armed police and security forces lining the streets, as well as politicians urging people not to march, such as Swazi Minister of Education and Training, Wilson Ntshangas, who urged people to abandon the march because he claimed it was illegal. This was contradicted by Police Chief Richard Mngomezulu, however, who told French News Agency AFP that the march was legal.
According to the Times of Swaziland, one of the reasons that there was no violent response to today’s demonstration was the international focus on the demonstration. “Should things turn ugly today the international community will surely intensify its threat of sanctions, and perhaps a possible call for regime change.” Apparently, the police forces and security forces heeded such advice.
Even president of the banned political movement PUDEMO, President Mario Masuku, who participated in the march and who is routinely arrested when participating in such events, escaped unscathed. Other marchers are just as routinely beaten up.
This is a lesson for both the democratic movement in Swaziland and the international community. Large numbers and international attention and pressure are important components in allowing democratic movements the political space to successfully call for democratisation and rule of law. It might be too little too late in Libya, but there is still time in countries like Swaziland.