Waiting for the apocalypse (umgicomgico): political violence and loathing in Swaziland
The People's United Democratic Movement
PUDEMO of Swaziland
Date: December 5, 2006
Violence and political intolerance have long been the central policy of the absolute monarch government. This policy dates back to the fateful day of April 12, 1973 when the late King Sobhuza II proclaimed his intention of eliminating dissenting political voices. For more than thirty years, the monarchy government has aggressively pursued this policy to persecute generations of pro-democracy activists through the use of direct violence and fear. We understand that in Swaziland as in other evil dictatorships, the use of violence and torture against one person is meant to silence not only that person but the whole population
A week after the South African newspaper, The Saturday Star (25/11/06), published a fake story about a PUDEMO secret army, King Mswati III unleashed a pre-Christmas violence campaign against PUDEMO and SWAYOCO. In our recent publication, we warned that the story, which generated excitement at the prospect of an imminent umgicomgico among local journalists, will be followed by massive state violence against our people.
On Saturday December 2, 2006, armed police attacked PUDEMO and SWAYOCO members during a peaceful gathering in Manzini. As has been the case in previous attacks, the violence was brutal, senseless and indiscriminate. Hundreds of baton-wielding police charged at anyone on the street including children and the elderly. According to eyewitnesses, armed police severely assaulted an elderly woman with batons. The injuries sustained by PUDEMO and SWAYOCO activists are horrific. They range from broken bones to head injuries. Nearby offices of the Swaziland Transport and Allied Workers Union were turned into a makeshift medical centre as scores of seriously injured people required medical help ( The Times of Swaziland, 02/12/06). Several people were arrested and the beating continued at the Manzini police station. Mphandlana Shongwe, a well known pro-democracy activist, was brutally assaulted at the police station where he had gone to enquire about the arrests. Shongwe lost consciousness as his head was repeatedly banged against a wall. As a result of the beating, Shogwe suffered head injuries and a broken rib.
The scale of the violence was purely unnecessary, callous and unprovoked. The Times of Swaziland (Ibid) report claims that the police attacked after "a missile was thrown at the direction of the police… It took a single stone, thrown form the side of the marchers to the police, to trigger what appeared to have been eagerly expected by the police officers as they charged at then vigorously." The stone-throwing incident has not been corroborated by eyewitnesses and therefore we do not know if it actually occurred. However, we take a very strong view that even if something was thrown in the direction of the police, it cannot justify the scale of violence unleashed against the public. In our view, this is yet another example of unprofessional behaviour on the part of the police who act more like a gang of thugs spoiling for a fight than a professional organisation trusted with protecting the public.
What happened on Saturday is not uncommon in Swaziland. Violence is a mainstay policy of the monarchy regime in its response to calls for democracy. As has been demonstrated on numerous occasions, the regime uses violence as its ultimate response to public demands for a democratic system of governance. This is a regime which feeds on violence and fear to sustain its stranglehold on power. For many years the regime has waited for its dream of an apocalypse to come true. In recent years, it has stepped up political violence and terror against our people. The regime's strategy is to create the conditions where it can engage in mass killing and destruction of our country. It would then claim that the pro-democracy movement has provoked it to do so. For this regime, public fear is strength. At a time when the public credibility of the monarchy government has suffered massively, it hoped that mass fear would offer opportunities for political revival.
As we have always done, PUDEMO and SWAYOCO condemn this senseless act of violence against unarmed civilians. It is a poignant and cowardly act so characteristic of violent regimes. Many regimes of this type have been internationally condemned and censured, but the monarchy government in Swaziland is being encouraged by international bodies such as the Commonwealth Secretariat to commit gross human rights violations against Swazis. Public statements of support by Commonwealth senior officials such as the Secretary-General, Don MacKinnon, have given comfort to the monarchy government to violently suppress democracy with impunity. Since 1996, the Commonwealth Secretariat has refused to heed local and international concerns about its participation in the repression of our people. PUDEMO has made several representations to the Commonwealth Secretariat. Canadian members of parliament (Mr Roly MacIntyre - Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick - and Mr Paul Zed the federal representative for Saint John) have written to the Commonwealth Secretariat expressing their concerns about the situation in Swaziland.
The recent violence is directly linked to the Commonwealth-sponsored constitution which prohibits political party participation in Swaziland politics. The government used this prohibition to legalise its violence against PUDEMO and SWAYOCO. Although proponents of the constitution would argue that freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed, these freedoms do not extend to prohibited formations such as political parties. The regime thus claims constitutional legality to stamp out activity associated with political parties.
Our people were on the street on Saturday to protest against this prohibition and to honour our heroes who have died for this cause. We hold the Commonwealth responsible for the continued political violence and call upon sensible leaders within the organisation to promote democracy and peace in Swaziland and not disharmony. It is now the time for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to seriously consider formal investigation of the persistent violation of the Harare Declaration principles by the monarchy government. The time has also come for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to break its silence and intervene in the crisis in Swaziland. Waiting for the apocalypse is no longer a rationale for lack of action. We invite the SADC and Commonwealth leadership to give priority to proactive rather than reactive approaches to conflict resolution. Swaziland is a member of both the Commonwealth and SADC and its persistent recalcitrance towards democracy has brought into serious question the commitment of these organisations to the principles of responsible governance. It is incumbent upon to these organisations to take the necessary action against the government of Swaziland in defence of their values and the people of Swaziland. History will judge the Commonwealth and SADC harshly if they continue to embrace the old strategy of waiting for an apocalypse.
Swaziland's persistent violation of SADC and Commonwealth values over the years presents a strong case for intervention. Once again, PUDEMO calls upon SADC and the Commonwealth to condemn the violence and take interest in our call for democratisation in Swaziland.
PUDEMO's triumph is that after twenty years of state terror, we are still marching and still committed to a relentless and non-violent struggle for democracy. We will not be suppressed and we will not be provoked into losing our way. We will continue our journey to freedom and will not be diverted from our cause by state terrorism and violence.
Dr. Jabulane Matsebula
Australia, Asia and the South Pacific Region
For more information contact
PUDEMO Deputy General Secretary