Swaziland crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators

This is a video called Swaziland residents question king’s rule.

From Al Jazeera:

Police disperse Swaziland protesters

Water cannons fired on pro-democracy demonstrators challenging the rule of King Mswati, Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Last Modified: 12 Apr 2011 12:07

Police in Swaziland have fired water cannons at pro-democracy protesters and detained people on the streets to prevent demonstrations in sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

Simantele Mmema, a spokeswoman for the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, said on Tuesday that more than 1,000 protesters who were singing and chanting in a teachers‘ training centre were dispersed by police using water cannons.

Mmema said teachers left the centre and were marching to the centre of Manzini, the economic hub of southern Africa’s usually peaceful mountain kingdom.

An online campaign has tried to rally support for the demonstrations, which come exactly 38 years after the current Swazi king’s father, King Sobhuza II, banned political parties and abandoned the country’s constitution.

A police spokeswoman, Wendy Hleta, said union leaders were being questioned over threats to overthrow the government they allegedly made to foreign media.

COSATU, the biggest trade union federation in neighbouring South Africa, said police arrested seven labour leaders on Tuesday morning.

A South African radio station said one of its reporters had been detained in the country, where she was sent to cover planned pro-democracy protests.

Talk Radio 702’s report followed a statement from a pro-democracy group in the country that several activists had been arrested ahead of planned protests.

Mswati’s grip on power

The protest has been called by a coalition of civil society and trade unions marching under the banner of the Labour Coordinating Council.

Unions have taken the place of banned parties and are at the forefront of the protest calls – similar to those in north Africa that have toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

King Mswati III, who has 13 wives and a fortune estimated at $100m in a country where 70 per cent of people live on less than a dollar a day, has refused to loosen the monarchy’s grip on power.

Forbes magazine lists the 42-year-old king among the 15 richest monarchs in the world. He assumed the throne in 1986 at the age of 18, has a penchant for fast cars, luxury palaces and extravagant parties.

Police commissioner Isaac Magagula said the police, the army and correctional services were ready to face down “evil” protesters.

“Such evil will not be tolerated,” the Times newspaper, a privately owned publication, quoted him as saying.

Police have been raiding activists’ homes since last week, with four key protest organisers arrested on Monday.

Last week the national organiser of the banned Swaziland Youth Congress, Mcolisi Ngcamphalala, said he was held and tortured by police for 24 hours.

The prime minister, Barnabas Dlamini, has declared the demonstrations illegal and warned that anyone who took part did so at their own risk.

See also here.

Swazi police crush pro-democracy protests: here.

Swaziland Unions to Hold Monthly Protest for Democracy, Reject Wage Cuts: here. And here.

8 thoughts on “Swaziland crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators

  1. Swazi cops break up protest with tear gas, batons

    MANZINI, SWAZILAND – Apr 12 2011 15:18

    Swazi police used batons to beat about 1 000 teachers and students on Tuesday and arrested scores of activists to stop a banned march against Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

    Police stormed the teachers’ union offices where a group of teachers and students had sought refuge after officers fired tear gas and water cannon to stop them marching to the main city of Manzini.

    “Police are now beating the teachers. They are throwing tear gas and beating teachers. People are running helter skelter. Police are beating us with batons,” said Smangele Mmema, a member of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, one of the main groups behind the protest movement.

    Manzini had ground to a halt by mid-afternoon, according to the Swaziland Solidarity Network, a pro-democracy organisation based in South Africa, as the military was sent following clashes between police and protesters.

    Security forces also set up roadblocks and turned away buses of protesters trying to reach Manzini, and detained at least six journalists.

    Luxurious lifestyle
    The king is accused of bankrupting state coffers with his luxurious lifestyle while asking Swazis to tighten their belts amid a fiscal crisis that has seen the government move to slash civil servants’ pay.

    Eleven protest leaders were arrested when their bus was stopped at a police roadblock on its way from the capital, Mbabane, to Manzini, 50km away, according to Muzi Mhlanga, a teachers’ union leader and key organiser who was among those arrested.

    Union leader Vincent Dlamini of the National Association of Public Servants and Allied Workers’ Union, said about 500 members of his organisation were turned away from Manzini.

    “Some people have been dumped in remote areas. People have been detained, we are trying to assist those that have been harassed and traumatised,” he said.

    Labour unions last month staged the biggest protests seen in years in Swaziland, but authorities banned Tuesday’s protest, called by a coalition of civil society and trade unions under the banner of the Labour Coordinating Council.

    They have been battling a government ban on the march in the courts but police were determined to stop it from going ahead.

    “Such evil will not be tolerated,” police Commissioner Isaac Magagula said in the Times of Swaziland.

    Police have been carrying out raids since last week, arresting four key protest organisers on Monday.

    ‘Deeply concerned’
    Amnesty International said it was “deeply concerned for the safety of these activists, who are held incommunicado and at risk of torture.”

    Last week the national organiser of the banned Swaziland Youth Congress, Mcolisi Ngcamphalala, said he was held and tortured by police for 24 hours.

    Mswati has not spoken publicly about the protests, but sent his top advisers to meet with union leaders last week in a failed bid to convince them to drop the protest plan.

    Unions called for the protests to mark the 38th anniversary of the banning of political parties.

    The protest movement has strong support from unions in neighbouring South Africa, key supporters of President Jacob Zuma. Swaziland’s economy depends entirely on its larger neighbour, but South Africa’s government has remained silent on the protest. — AFP


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