Swaziland report (17 January 2005, ZACF shadow international secretary)
You are in Manzini! The taxi has a South African registration and is blasting toyi-toyi (struggle) songs, reminding you of the days when people’s fear was replaced by the spirit of resistance, the fight against apartheid regime coupled with its demise with the 1994 elections.
Among the folks, individuals are wearing bright yellow ANC t-shirts with Mbeki’s head, as if they are appealing to the Swazi king: “Please learn from the South African government. If you don’t listen, the same thing that happened to the former South African regime is going to happen to yours.” Many people are attracted to immigrate to South Africa for jobs. When they visit back home they introduce the life of the big city: they’ve tasted a different life to their fellow-country people, which is giving them guts to challenge the royal power. There are also quite considerable number of hawkers and street vendors from Mozambique, who also have the t-shirts of the main political parties in that country, with the head of that political party’s candidate.
But those always in Swaziland have little idea how to achieve their freedom except by praying. Wearing the T-shirt of the local pro-democracy movement can lead to misery, as the movement, around the People’s Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) party, is illegal. People tread carefully because of the royal decree in 1973 by then-King Sobhuza II, which gave the king absolute powers in decision-making, and allowed him to have political parties and similar bodies dissolved and prohibited as he saw fit. His son King Mswati III retains this system.
Inside the national fleet of buses, which is the major transportation method of people within Swaziland, only gospel music is played and gospel shows screened. The mainstream media is state-controlled, and manipulated by the royal family and its friends. Many people in the remote , primitive and forgotten villages have no access at all to any source of media.
There are three political parties. One is PUDEMO; the other two have nothing much to do with the masses: mostly they represent the interests of the local businesses, and they are infested with the administrators of the regime. They take a diplomatic approach, build the bridge to the royals, and aiming at negotiations to amend the 1973 decree involving leaders of legal political parties and the head of state. The Swaziland National Council (SNC) which is the main actor here, but is just an appendix of the state, which is subject to the king. The negotiations have been going for more than a decade, although the people on the ground have no exact idea about what is happening. They’ve been waiting patiently, and every time these leaders are coming out empty-handed.
Whenever there’s a public outcry, leaders from different sectors are summoned by the king to meet. Nothing comes out from these meetings.Clearly the top people in the state are procrastinating, literally dragging out the negotiations. Meanwhile, the king is always doing royal cultural rituals to remind everyone not to forget him and his power. During these unnecessary delays the state is brutally attacking the pro-democracy movement’s activist with beatings, arrests, interrogations and torture, raiding and confiscating the office equipment, and sometimes killings people, paralysing the struggle.
The pressure is meanwhile mounting on the PUDEMO movement, as they’ve declared to their members that 2008 is the “year of democracy.” Their dream, their promise to have a multi-party government by 2008, is being shattered. This has caused impatience, much expressed through or in SWAYOCO. The popular youth have been autonomously active and influential on the ground, keeping the movement close to the oppressed men and women in the streets of Manzini and Mbabane. These militants are mostly youth at the high school level, inspired by the heroism of the youth in South Africa from the 1976 uprising onward. They are demanding free and quality education, with student representatives taking part in decision-making. However, the tough situation, where people seem to have exhausted the slight lawful means, is driving some in the direction of armed struggle, blaming their leaders for having a tendency to waste time.
The pro-democracy movement PUDEMO and its youth wing the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) gets much funding and guidance from the ANC-led government and its Tripartite Alliance, which includes the COSATU union federation and the SA Communist Party. Obviously the South African government has no interest of in liberating of the oppressed, suppressed and repressed destitute masses of Swaziland. Its interest is in protecting and advancing business corporations from South Africa and abroad, and to keep cheap Swazi labour for investors into Swaziland, as well as flowing into mines and businesses in South Africa. This allows mega-rich white, and up-and-coming black capitalists to collaborate with the Swazi king in expropriating land, use cheap labour and get their claws into the market. So the pro-democracy movement is pressured from South African forces to go no further than democratising the king’s system, not to get rid of the royal powers and property, which includes claims by the chiefly elite to all land.
The unions are large, but the trade union bureaucracy only whines occasionally, only to accept the need to have the king at the end of the day. Like many, they are inclined to say that the king is innocent, that only his advisers are to blame for the oppression and misery in the society. This simply keeps the king appearing interesting and civilized on the continent. The relationship between the trade unions and the underground pro-democracy movement is vague and unpredictable.
The unemployed, peasants and workers are dependent on subsistence farming for survival, as well as low-wage jobs in Swaziland, or similar work in South Africa. For the workers, wages are paltry and coupled with miserable working conditions. Workers are continuously trampled upon. For more than 10 years, for example, the workforce at the royal hotels was employed as casuals. Bosses are issuing retrenchment notices unilaterally. State workers are not allowed to have or join a union, or strike. For months nurses did not receive wages.
The Swazi king is on a land privatising spree; there’s an influx of land prospectors. Strangers, often white, in this way get Resulting with white strangers falling on the land people have stayed on since time immemorial. Before they know it, the peasants find themselves alongside dams, game reserves and sugarcane fields. Sugar is one of Swaziland’s main exports. Peasants have been lured into the snare, with hopes that their lives will improve, and that they will have ownership in the growing sugar industry. Later on, after they’ve worked hard, and turned their land turned to sugarcane, their crops to cash crops, they find they have debts to the banks and that the price of the sugar has gone down. This means their land is now owned by the banks, and they are advised to sign transfer documents. In other incidents the peasants are being told not to have more than ten cows.
Commotion has erupted between the inhabitants of the land and the governmental authority. Evictions from the land has been enacted lately, with last minute notices, and without any remuneration. Sheriffs instruct bulldozers, and police arrest anyone resisting. If the attacked community show any solidarity and resist eviction, the army is immediately sent, to set up a check point in the vicinity of that community. Meanwhile, the state is trying to group the rural people together: the people are told it will convenience the government to install water, electricity, and shops at central points, connected with new roads, and that there will be jobs for people.
The children who comes from the royal families and friends of the royal families have special schools. Most of them they go to study abroad. Their future is flexible, they can choose to be part of the upper levels of the government or independent. They benefit from the sweat, tears and fear of the working class and peasants in Swaziland.
Unemployment among the youth of the people is rife and the state makes it difficult for young people to immigrate to South Africa, mainly because they will have access to a diversity of information which they’ll eventually bring back. Meanwhile, the young men are promised jobs in the state security services, put on waiting lists to join the police, army and other state-related jobs, to protect and spy for the royal power. But the queues for these jobs are ever-growing, as the number waiting are always higher than the jobs available. Being redundant turns lots of young people to alcohol abuse, and a surplus reserve for the cheap labour force.
As they become frustrated and vulnerable the chances for the HIV and AIDS are higher, with lots of young people infected and dying of the pandemic. Families dress their young women to attract grooms, who will pay bride price: due to the rural situation, however, families are having less and less cows to “pay” for the bride. But the young women are dressed up for the “customer,” families hoping for a potential “customer” (the bridegroom) at the slight growth of a young girl’s breast.
The situation of the younger children of the working class and peasantry is shocking. They are always in torn stained clothes with no shoes, and they always looking down on the ground, shying away rather than face people. Their confidence is low, and they have no rights at all. Malnutrition is visible, and water is not hygienic and very difficult to get.
There are hardly any social grants.The elderly who get social grants must travel to the Department of Social Welfare. It costs almost their entire grant for that month to do so, so they come back home with nothing for their grand-children. Old-aged people die of hunger and curable diseases. The hospitals are far from most villages, and are everywhere understaffed with shortages of equipment.
Our work (ZACF)
The first time I went to Swaziland was last year around July. Towards the end of the last term I met with a youth group. They had organised a protest against the headmaster because of his autocratic way of running their school, and the support from the other students was immediate. However this group got expelled. Their heroic spirit is still recognised and the youth of the people, in general, sympathise with the cause of struggles in schools.
When meeting the group again in December they thanked me so much for the anarchist reading materials I gave them. These energetic young and upcoming revolutionaries are prepared to go beyond PUDEMO’s reformist agenda. After I explaining to them what was happening today in South Africa under the ANC government, they immediately realised that the ANC is playing a dirty game in Swaziland.
Comrades and friends there is our need in Swaziland. The more we go to Swaziland the more we will find out exactly about our role there. I’m going again on the 18 January to attend a commemoration rally of one of the SWAYOCO comrades killed by the state. Whoever has time and feels like coming along is welcome. I’ll be leaving from Workers Library in Johannesburg between 8 and 9 am. Your donation towards the trip is also important because I don’t have any money for the travels. I’ll get to Swaziland by hitch-hiking.
Love in solidarity