Monday, February 13, 2006

The Government of Swaziland parades “state witness” against political prisoners

The People's United Democratic Movement of Swaziland
PUDEMO International Office
Australia, Asian and the Pacific Region
February 13, 2006

Smoking Gun or a Replica?
The Government of Swaziland parades “state witness” against political prisoners

On February 7, 2006, the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) unexpectedly brought the high treason case against Mduduzi Dlamini for trial. Mduduzi is one of the 16 pro-democracy activists arrested between December 2005 and January 2006 when the Royal Swaziland Police pounced on members of The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and its youth wing The Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO). The pro-democracy
activists were charged with a string of offences ranging from arson to high treason. They are accused of petrol bombing state buildings and private property belonging to members of the ruling regime. Some of the detainees, including Mduduzi, are due to appear before the High Court for a hearing on their bail applications on March 7, 2005.

The case against Mduduzi was heard by a single judge, Justice Mbutfo Mamba. Mduduzi pleaded guilty to the charge of treason and was sentenced to two years in prison with an option of E10 000 (approximately $US1, 600). Half of the sentence was suspended and the High Court deferred payment of the fine (approximately US$800) to March 31, 2006. After the
brief trial, Mduduzi was released pending payment of the fine by the due date. This was an extremely lenient sentence and generous conditions of payment, given the seriousness of the charge which carries a possible death penalty or life imprisonment.

In a surprising twist, the DPP did not oppose the lenient sentence. Earlier, the DPP strongly opposed applications for bail arguing that the public is frightened of the detainees and that “they will endanger the maintenance of Law and Order and national security” (see The Swazi Observer, January 1, 2006). On January 17, 2006, the acting Director in the DPP’s office, Mumsy Dlamini, again opposed applications for bail and pleaded with the High Court not to release the detainees including Mduduzi. The reason for this change of heart is obvious – the DPP will now use Mduduzi as its trump card and an example of the existence of the “bomber”.

We don’t know what prompted Mduduzi to plead guilty to the charge of high treason and to implicate PUDEMO but we have reason to believe that he might have been coerced. According to local media reports (see The Times of Swaziland and The Swazi Observer, February 8, 2006), Mduduzi told the Court that he was acting with other PUDEMO members under orders from the organisation’s leadership to attack state infrastructure. In his plea of guilty, Dlamini asserted that he:

…unlawfully engaged in conduct with the intent to overthrow the Kingdom and/or coerce the Kingdom by violence into certain actions. I acted with hostile intent against the government. I am a sympathiser of The People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). At a PUDEMO meeting in March 2005, with senior members of the organisation, I decided to embark on a campaign of bombing government structures in order to overthrow the
Kingdom or coerce it into accepting political change. On the evening of August 6, 2005 I met with members of PUDEMO in Mbabane.
We travelled to Sidzakeni in a vehicle of which the registration plates had been removed. Our intent was to throw a petrol bomb at the Sandleni Inkhundla, a government structure, in furtherance of our hostile intent.
In the late hours of the same day we arrived at our destination. I opened the gate and the vehicle entered. I followed in foot. An accomplice and myself spilled petrol on the door and the accomplice set the petrol alight by means of a petrol saturated cloth. We left the scene while the doors were still burning” (The Swazi Observer, February 8, 2006)

There are a number of anomalies in this statement, particularly the last paragraph. Firstly, parts of the first and second paragraphs read as if they are directly lifted from the charge sheet which reads:

The accused persons each or both of them acting jointly in furtherance of a common purpose did, unlawfully and with hostile intent against the kingdom to overthrow or coerce the government of the kingdom.

Secondly, a vehicle travelling at night with its registration plates removed would obviously arouse suspicion and attract police attention. Oddly, Dlamini is claiming to have deliberately acted in a manner which would attract the attention of the police, at the very time that he was also engaged in clandestine activity for which the penalty may be death.
Furthermore, the entry of the vehicle into the premises of the Sandleni Inkhundla constituency would have undoubtedly alerted the security guard.
Mduduzi states that he opened the gate and gives the impression that the gate was unlocked at the time. As Tinkhundla constituency premises are used for storing valuable material for community development projects, it is normal practice to secure these premises with a fenced structure, a lockable gate and the services of a security guard. It is therefore not clear why a gate of a secured facility was unlocked at the time of the
alleged attack.

Thirdly, it has been alleged by the police, the DPP and the media that the accused persons used explosive devices to commit the offences. At no time have these institutions publicly explained what, in their view constitutes an explosive device. The terms “bomb”and “explosive device/charge” have been widely used to generate public fear and give credibility to state
allegations of terrorist threats.

Mduduzi’s statement exposes the abuse of these terms. There is nothing in his statement that suggests that a bomb or an explosive device/charge was used to set fire to the Sandleni Tinkhundla constituency. For example, he indicates that the building was set alight by spilling petrol and setting
it alight with a petrol-saturated piece of cloth. The English Dictionary defines explosive device as “device that bursts with sudden violence from internal energy”. Explosive charge is defined as “quantity of explosive to be set off at one time.”

Yet the Honourable Justice Mamba appears to be labouring under the belief that Mduduzi did use an explosive device. Thus, the honourable Judge erred in law by failing to closely examine the defendant’s statement. It appears that he convicted Mduduzi not on the evidence of the accused and his accusers but on the advice of the defendant’s lawyer. In his judgement, as
reported in The Swazi Observer (February 8, 2006), Justice Mamba
Your lawyer has advised me that you are a sympathiser of the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) though I have not been told its ideals and the change that you wanted.
What I have been told is that you wanted to destroy government structures and overthrow the Kingdom. I have not been told that you wanted change, whether for the better or worst.
Your lawyer has further informed me that you were in the company of others you conspired with to destroy the Sandleni constituency by throwing an explosive charge. It was submitted that the door to the structure was damaged, but I was not told to what extent. According to the Times of Swaziland (February 8, 2006), the defence lawyer also advised the Judge that “the accused was coerced in the participation of the offence.” However, this allegation does not appear in Mduduzi’s statement as it is given in The Swazi Observer (February 8, 2006).

Justice Mamba’s statement raises important questions about the defence lawyer’s advice to the court and as a consequence, about the authenticity of the defendant’s plea of guilty. For example, was the defendant in the right state of mind to make the decision? Did he have adequate knowledge of the charge and the DPP’s evidence against him? Did he receive proper legal advice about the implications of incriminating himself in a charge
of this nature? Did Mduduzi jump or was he pushed? Did the legal system provide adequate protection to Mduduzi against compulsory

PUDEMO leadership is treating the events relating to this hearing with extreme caution and a high degree of suspicion. We are waiting for a copy of the court transcript to determine the full nature of this case. Given the regime’s reputation of torture, we have reason to believe that the plea of guilty was made under duress. In the 1990 treason trial against
PUDEMO members, the state coerced two people to give false testimonies in court. This backfired when the two confessed in court that the testimonies were made under extreme duress.

It is puzzling that Mduduzi was brought in for trial before his
application for bail was heard. As noted earlier in this document, Mduduzi was among the detainees awaiting the hearing of their bail application in the High Court on March 7, 2006. It is not yet clear when this pending hearing was removed from the registrar.

Furthermore, like the other detainees, Mduduzi was charged with a string of offences including high treason, sedition, attempted murder and malicious damage to property. However, he was tried and convicted on one charge - high treason. Again, it is not yet clear whether or not the other charges have been withdrawn or the DPP is keeping them as a dagger in its back pocket.

Combined, the events associated with this trial arouse curiosity about the intentions of the state. For a while now we have harboured suspicions that the state was working hard to turn Mduduzi into a state witness. Since his arrest in December 2005, he has been completely isolated from the rest of the detainees and PUDEMO officials were prohibited from making contacts
with him. Unlike the rest of the detainees, Mduduzi instructed his own legal representative making it extremely difficult for PUDEMO to access information about the case. At the time of the trial, PUDEMO had made arrangement to get power of attorney from Mduduzi to transfer the case to lawyers instructed by the organisation to represent the detainees. The state pre-empted this arrangement and conspired with Mduduzi’s legal
representative to secretly bring the case to court without due public notice. There was no hint whatsoever that a high profile case such as this one was scheduled for hearing. In anyone’s imagination, this was speedy trial which is uncharacteristic of the speed at which courts in the country deal with cases.

The plea of guilty is not the smoking gun the government is hoping to use to generate public fear and tarnish the good name of PUDEMO but a replica which presents no threat to our reputation as a peaceful movement for democracy. It is a throw away line from a regime desperate to salvage its badly damaged political image. Corruption, misuse of public monies, poor
economic performance and neglect of basic public services have badly damaged the government’s credibility to govern. The government is now trying desperately to hide behind an illusion of a terrorist threat to avoid dealing with these issues. The government can keep looking for the smoking gun but it won’t find one because there isn’t one. Through this plea of guilty, the state hopes to make the terrorist illusion stick to the public psyche. We will fight this act of political bastardry by
exposing the true intention behind the Mduduzi case.

We have confidence in the people of Swaziland that they will view this latest development for what it is – a cheap shot and crude plot against political parties and those who represent progress in Swaziland. In 1973, the monarchy government under the leadership of King Sobhuza II lied and conspired against the Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC). Today they are abusing the judicial system to concoct lies about PUDEMO in an
attempt to resuscitate the 1973 discourse about political parties as destructive and disruptive.

There is not an ounce of truth and credibility in Mduduzi’s statement that senior PUDEMO officials discussed and approved a policy of violence to coerce the state. From the 1990s to date, PUDEMO has publicly defended accusations from the local media, the police and government officials that it is responsible for petrol bomb attacks against state infrastructure. Unlike the government, we have a clear policy of resolving the political
crisis at a non-violent political level. We have invited the government for talks but it has refused to open dialogue with PUDEMO and the broader movement for multi-party democracy.

As stated previously, the government has no strategy other than violence and innuendoes to engage with political parties at a political level. Under the 1973 King’s Proclamation, the state violently suppressed political parties wishing they would go away. Realising that political parties would never go away and are now an integral part of Swazi society, the regime invented a lie about terrorism to justify the exclusion of party politics from the Constitution.

The Commonwealth Secretariat, a recent major player in Swaziland politics, also ignored PUDEMO’s call for a collective peaceful approach to the political crisis. Instead, the Commonwealth under the leadership of Don McKinnon, advised the Government of Swaziland to shut out political parties from the constitution making process. Consequently, the process delivered a constitution which bans democracy and political parties. On
February 10, 2006, McKinnon was in Swaziland to celebrate the death of democracy at the inauguration of the Constitution.

Let it be known that PUDEMO is a disciplined and transparent organisation with a clear political direction and policies guiding our action. We collectively pledge to liberate the people of Swaziland from the absolute monarchy repression through peaceful means. This policy has not changed and remains the mainstay of our struggle for multi-party democracy and
responsible governance. As a disciplined organisation, PUDEMO has rules and all members abide by these rules. Those who decide to deviate from these rules and engage in activities that are contrary to our policies effectively remove themselves from the organisation. PUDEMO and SWAYOCO are therefore NOT GUILTY, your Honour !

Dr. Jabulane Matsebula
PUDEMO Representative
Australia, Asia and the Pacific Region

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