/ 24 April 2008

Who killed Pudemo leader?

Officially, Swazi opposition leader Gabriel Mkhumane died at the hands of criminals when he was shot dead in Nelspruit at the beginning of this month. But fellow opposition supporters reject the official explanation for his murder and believe that he was assassinated by government operatives.

At the time of his murder Mkumane, the deputy president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), the country’s main opposition party, had been attending a meeting to discuss staging a blockade of goods going to Swaziland.

The border blockage was to have been held on April 12, a day that Pudemo and other pro-democracy organisations in Swaziland mark as the day democracy died in Swaziland. On this day in 1973 King Sobhuza II outlawed political parties.

In 2006 South African police fired at opposition supporters during the annual blockade. Last year the Swazi government charged six opposition supporters with sedition after they tried to block the border.

When news of Mkhumane’s killing reached Swaziland, suspicions were immediately directed at the government. Pudemo confirmed that Mkhumane was a key player in the planned blockade, which was later abandoned because of his death.

Pudemo president Mario Masuku said a number of elements about the official version of Mkhumane’s death are questionable.

Masuku said he and fellow Pudemo supporters were more than convinced that Mkhumane’s death was a government-sponsored hit.

“For one, the girl he was with reported the incident hours later — and also came up with a questionable tale of rape. What is worrying is that we have been told she is a member of the royal family in Lobamba.

“Another reason to be uneasy is that the Swaziland police visited Gab’s mother at Luve, asking where he was. She said he was not there and then [they] told her she must expect him any time, adding that he would come home wrapped in a black bag,” Masuku said.

Mkhumane, who worked as a doctor at Themba Hospital in Nelspruit, was in exile, having left Swaziland in the 1980s to live in Maputo, then in Cuba, where he trained as a doctor before settling in South Africa.

Masuku said the state was watching Pudemo members very closely — especially since Pudemo launched a campaign known as Ulibambe Lingashoni [“Don’t Let the Sun Set”], which he said is aimed at a “total liberation” of Swaziland. According to Masuku, Pudemo will do all it can to disrupt the national elections, planned for later this year.

“That is why Swaziland is becoming a military state, where the army would be deployed all over — to seek and destroy Pudemo cadres. But we are not backing down — the liberation of the Swazi is at hand.”