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Monday, 11 April 2011

SWAZILAND IS NOW ‘MINI WAR ZONE’

In this special report MANQOBA NXUMULO rounds up the day’s events in Swaziland, one day ahead of the long-awaited ‘uprising’ to ‘topple’ King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

It has been a day of tension on the streets, police raids and the disappearance of four leaders of the youth movement after they were arrested by police at a roadblock.

Labour union leaders say they will go ahead with their own demonstration – separate from the ’uprising’ – tomorrow, the anniversary of the Royal Decree signed in 1973 that tore up the constitution and established the state of emergency that has existed ever since. This is in defiance of Barnabas Dlamini, the illegally-appointed prime minister of Swaziland, who last week ordered the protests to be banned.

Swaziland has turned into a mini war zone as armed-to-the-teeth police officers parade the streets in a clear public display of military might, soldiers have been spotted occupying strategic areas of the country, while roadblocks are mounted all over the country in preparation for the planned Swazi uprising tomorrow (12 April 2011).

Trade unions, political parties and civil society organization are planning a protest action tomorrow to demand the unbanning of political parties and the removal of the infamous Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and his cabinet.

April 12 has been targeted for the protests because it was the day that King Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza II, banned political parties and started to rule as an absolute monarch.

This planned uprising has come a time that Swaziland is in financial crisis following the drastic drop of revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which has seen the government running from pillar to post cap in hand trying to borrow money from different organizations.

Today, it was reported in the local papers that the International Monetary Fund had agreed to give Swaziland the letter of comfort which would help them secure money from the African Development Bank.

Police Commissioner, Isaac Magagula, has warned unions that any demonstration in Swaziland tomorrow will be met by brute force because it would be in violation of the law.

Magagaula was quoted in the local press warning unionists and journalists not to dare attend the planned protests as police would ensure that they do no kick off.

However, Secretary of the Labour Coordinating Council, Muzi Mhlanga, has defiantly told the government that the protest actions planed for tomorrow would go ahead. He said they would now demonstrate in Manzini as opposed to decentralizing the marches to all the towns in the country.

Reminiscent of the Egyptian revolution, Mhlanga said they plan to sleep in Manzini until their demands are met.

“Anyone coming to the protest marches must bring something to use at night because we will sleep in town until our demands are met,” Mhlanga said.

A facebook group named ‘The April 12 Swazi uprising’ has also called for an uprising on the same day to demand that King Mswati III hand over power to the people.

The government has been at pains trying to persuade labour unions not to stage their protests on April 12 but they have been unsuccessful.

Last week, a team commissioned by the king to meet with unions failed to have the date changed. Following their failed meeting the Prime Minister then issued a statement where he declared the marches illegal.

As the air of uncertainty continues to engulf Swaziland, reports have emerged that some prominent students and youth leaders have disappeared. Maxwell Dlamini, the President of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), Simanga Ginindza, the Deputy Secretary of both the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and SNUS, Sifiso Mabuza,Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) Deputy President as well as Themba Mabuza disappeared yesterday while on their way back from Witbank where they had gone to plan for the April 12 protests. The four were interviewed 20 minutes before their disappearance at the Oshoek border post where they stated that they had gone to discuss how they can ensure that the march is as peaceful yet fruitful as possible. Maxwell Dlamini, a 21-year-old Commerce Student at the University of Swaziland, has been vocal in open support of the planed uprising.

SWAYOCO Secretary General Justice Dlamini confirmed that the four were missing and that they had dispatched their lawyers to try look for them. He also stated that they were also trying to alert Amnesty International of the fast changing situation in Swaziland, particularly as it relates to the safety of their members.

Long time PUDEMO activist, Mphandlana Shongwe, was also raided early this morning by armed-to-the-teeth police officers.

“They came to my house early in the morning and said they were looking for guns,” Shongwe said.

SWAYOCO Organising Secretary, Mxolisi Ngcamphala, revealed that their members have been raided and tortured since the start of the week.

Musa Kunene, Zama Maziya, Mbongeni Ndzimandze, from amongst others, are said to have been raided at different times over the past week. They are all members of SWAYOCO.

Secretary General of the banned youth organization condemned the harassment of their members and said this could not dampen their fighting spirit towards democracy in Swaziland.

“We are not intimidated. We are not shaken, we want democracy and we will fight for it,” Dlamini, a teacher by profession, said.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) has already condemned the abduction and harassment of SWAYOCO members.

“Swazis are urged to continue with their task and keep the eye on the ball regardless of who gets arrested next. These arrests are meant to be distractions. Everything continues tomorrow as planned,” SSN spokesperson Lucky Lukhele said in a statement.

Police Public Relations Officer Superintended Wendy Hleta was not available for comment.

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