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Thursday, 21 April 2011

PROTEST ARREST: PERSONAL ACCOUNT

Percy Masuku is the National Coordinator of the International Research Academy for Labour and Education (IRALE). Masuku, his colleagues and a number of trade union leaders and activists were arrested by the Swazi Police on 13 April 2011. Here he recounts his ordeal.


SOURCE


On 12 April 2011 leaders of the labour movement, political formations, youth and student organisations, civil society organisations like the Swaziland Democracy Campaign and ordinary Swazis were all arrested and treated to the 'hospitality' of the police of the ruling royal Swazi regime by means of torture and other dehumanizing elements characteristic of this corrupt regime.


There were running battles between the various organisations and the police and armed forces in which the forces prohibited the workers, students, youth, democracy activists, faith-based organisations and women's organisations from marching into the city centre in Manzini. The main intention of the march was to raise high the issues that the government of Swaziland has failed to deliver; these demands had been raised earlier by, largely, the labour formations. The city centre was turned into a battle field where workers were tear gassed, baton-charged and pursued into various directions by the heavy-handed police who understood nothing but the language of violence.


The police did not want the march to go ahead at all and arrested all leaders in order to render the protest action ineffective. Despite all these intimidation tactics, we converged at the SNAT Centre (an administration block of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers) and demanded to be allowed to march into the city and publicly raise our demands.


Central to these demands was the issue of the removal of the tinkhundla system of governance. The police denied the marchers the opportunity to join the main road into the city centre and threatened the marchers with violence.


Furthermore, the demand to voice out the public vote-of-no-confidence in the political system of royalty made issues even worse, because it confirmed their worst fears of an uprising (of whom I was part). We decided to push the cordon line of the OSSU (Operational Support Services Unit) which is a para-military police unit for breaking riot and other such related mass protests and uprisings.


It was then that hell broke loose, and the police fired teargas, splashed water on protesters and used batons to charge on the unarmed marchers. It was at this moment that the presence of the army was becoming even more pronounced, as their vehicles were seen patrolling in the city centre. We ran in different directions after being baton-charged by the police.


The day ended with the police and the other security forces spreading all over the place, taking over the streets and intimidating everyone present.


On the morning of 13 April 2011, the workers again re-converged in town after efforts were made to be together and ensure the continuity of the march in town. Again, as expected, the police were there in their riot gear to disperse marchers. After numerous attempts, we re-converged at the bus rank where there was a high concentration of activitists and workers.


At the bus rank, workers started a song and the police and correctional services, security personnel silenced it through the threat of violence. After that one comrade from one of the leading political parties (the People's United Democratic Movement - PUDEMO), one from a youth organisation (Swaziland Youth in Action - SYA), a public transport worker and I started a song, which was joined by most workers and democracy activists gathered there. That was enough to provoke the wrath of the state. The police started dispersing the crowd forcefully.


The police then surrounded the comrade from PUDEMO whom they accused of having caused a public disorder. They manhandled him and bundled him to the rank sub-station of the police which is about15 meters from the point of arrest - still in the bus rank.


Immediately afterwards, the public transport worker was kicked and beaten up. A few minutes later, a colleague from SYA and I were grabbed from behind, kicked, sworn at, (with the worst insults in our native Siswati language) and publicly humiliated, and taken to the same place. We were told in no uncertain terms that we 'would never rule this country, stop dreaming'. The time of arrest was around 14:40 pm (GMT).


After dispossessing us of our mobile phones, we were then taken to the Manzini Regional Offices for further interrogation. Upon reaching there we found other comrades and were made to wait for nearly an hour before being called in for interrogation.


During the interrogation, which lasted some 45 minutes, the police were asking a lot of irrelevant and unrelated questions. In the process, they would now and again curse and rebuke us. This was obviously meant to dehumanise us. But it never did - only made us resolve that this political system is not meant for the present day society and that it belongs only in the dustbin of history. We were interrogated by a bench-full of the elite of the security forces. We could not tell whether it was police alone or with the others, as this was obviously a joint co-operation effort.


Our photos were taken thereafter. We were then bundled into a van and driven back to an unclear destination - known only to the police. We drove all the way towards Sidvokodvo, which is about 25km from Manzini city centre. We were driven further on a gravel road going to Sigcineni, a rural place outside of Manzini, about 40km away. There, along the way, we were dropped off, given back our mobile phones and told to go home. Through our discussions with our comrades we got the information that we were only a few kilometres away from Egebeni, the operational headquarter of the para-military OSSU.


In conclusion, we cannot be intimidated and we remain resolved that indeed our struggle is not only morally correct but also supported by all in the country and beyond!! We shall be Free!!

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