Swaziland gears up for "national uprising"
1 March 2011
afrol News, 1 March - The opposition in Swaziland plans a "North Africa inspired" uprising against the totalitarian regime of King Mswati III. The timing is good, as budget cuts are leading to reduced salaries.
Different opposition groups in Swaziland - all being illegal as no opposition is allowed in the kingdom - have united in a call for a "national Swazi uprising" to start with protest marches on 12 April. The goal is nothing less than forcing King Mswati to step down and the introduction of democracy in the small Southern African country.
The Swazi opposition, inside and outside the kingdom, has already launched a page in the social media Facebook, called "The April 12 Swazi Uprising", stating the goals of the uprising.
"Inspired by the North African uprisings and the fact that the Swazi economy is now on its knees, the Swazi people will on the 12th of April fill the streets of the two cities in demonstration and they will not leave until the king of Swaziland steps down and hands power to a transition government that will then prepare for the country's first free and fair elections under a multi-party government since 1973," the protest call says.
While there is very limited internet coverage in the impoverished kingdom, and even fewer Facebook users, the page has already around 600 followers and a massive traffic and number of supportive comments.
The initiators of the group say they are "not affiliated to any political party, union or similar political formations. It is the voice of the people on the streets who are sick and tired of the misrule by the Swazi regime." But the group has already gathered support from political movements for its protest call.
More important than the Facebook action, the planned mass protest is getting some limited coverage in Swaziland's mostly heavily censored press, thus spreading the information to ordinary Swazis. The 'Times of Swaziland', the country's only independent newspaper, normally is obliged to censor itself, but has nevertheless taken the great risk to report about the protest plans.
The protest call, which started as a small Facebook action, is starting to get support from key Swazi dissident groups. Most noteworthy, Swaziland's influential although outlawed trade union movement is starting to rally behind the protest call.
The Swazi unions' main international ally, South Africa's union COSATU, has already thrown in its support. COSATU's Swaziland's solidarity Network (SSN) group today said it "unconditionally" supported the mass protests and would "make concrete contributions towards making these protests a success."
The timing for a trade union-backed mass protest in Swaziland is better than ever. Due to excessive spending by the King and growing international isolation following massive human rights abuses, the Swazi government just had to announce major budget cuts to make ends meet.
Government plans to sack up to 7,000 civil servants cut salaries for other state employees and make further cuts in social spending. The planned budget cuts are starting to cause rage among the Swazi middle and working classes and could be just the needed spark of rebellion in the otherwise peaceful country.
But government also seems to prepare for the steadily increasing possibility of mass protests. While all other posts in the proposed budget foresee drastic cuts, the Swazi Ministry of Defence was to see further growth.
This, during the budget discussions, caused Swazi MP Khangezile Dlamini to ask the Finance Minister if government anticipated an uprising. "Why are we allocating so much money for defence, unless, of course we are anticipating what is happening in Egypt and Libya, which would take a long time by the look of things?" Ms Dlamini asked ironically.
Government is also trying to limit the access to information about the call for protests. Last week, the Swazi Prime Minister warned local media about "lies spread on Facebook," urging not to reprint such "lies". The PM further publicly claimed police were monitoring Facebook accounts.
However, 'Times of Swaziland' columnist Qalakaliboli Dlamini does not believe government the capability to monitor individual online activity. He said government's "lie" about the police monitoring Facebook accounts was only "aimed at bringing fear into the weaklings of the country who would dare to post honest and truthful comments online."