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Swazi protests scuppered after brutal crackdown

Swaziland’s unions called off their planned second day of anti-government protest on Wednesday after government security forces had arrested most of their leadership.

The M&G learnt that Percy Masuku (IRALE Coordinator), Mcolisi Ngcamphalala (Swaziland Youth Congress National Organiser), Lucky Dlamini (Swaziland Youth in Action member) and Goodwill Sibiya of Pudemo were arrested by police at about 2pm on Wednesday after attempting to start a protest at the Manzini bus rank.

Swaziland National Association of Teachers (Snat) president Sibongile Mazibuko, who had gone underground after spending all of Tuesday detained at the Mbabane regional police station said: “We had planned a protest at the Manzini bus rank but police started rounding up leaders very early this morning. There is a heavy police presence in the city and our comrades are being detained and prevented from organising.”

The Mail & Guardian had visited Mazibuko at a secret location where she was hiding from police. According to Mazibuko, union leaders had been apprehended en route to Manzini this morning at the 24-hour roadblocks the government had set up around the country.

Leaders under house arrest included Musi Mhlanga general secretary of Snat and the secretary of the Labour Coordinating Council which had called for the three days of protest that began on Tuesday April 12.

The date was significant as it marked the 34th anniversary of the day King Sobhuza II — the father of the present monarch King Mswati III — had nullified the country’s onstitution, banned political parties and declared a state of emergency that persists until today.

There has been no confirmation on the number of unionists detained or arrested on Wednesday, but there are suspicions that they include the Swaziland Democratic Front’s Mduduzi Gina and Barnes Dlamini, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions president among others.

The leader of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement, Mario Masuku, has been not been heard from since Tuesday.

Former president of the Swaziland Youth Congress [Swayoco], Wandile Dludlu, also arrested on Wednesday managed to send a text message to the Swaziland Solidarity Network’s Lucky Lukhele, which read: “[It] is very tense today; there are lots of police in towns, streets, roads and other hot spots. While the people feel intimidated by the presence of police in every corner of Swaziland, they are also happy that for the very first time in their history they have the courage to challenge Mswati and his corrupt government. April 12 uprising is the dominating discussion in public places including the bus rank and kombis.”

While Manzini was much quieter on Wednesday, there remained a heavy police presence around the city’s bus rank and on the streets. Soldiers were patrolling in vans as police monitored the streets on foot.

Activists suggested that many of the police and army had gone undercover and were patrolling the streets in plains clothes.

Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, a staunch royalist, has banned the protests, which began as a Facebook campaign modelled on uprisings in north Africa.

The king 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.

With 13 wives and a fortune estimated at $100 million, Mswati is ranked by Forbes magazine as among the 15 richest monarchs in the world.

But nearly 7% of Swazis live on less than a dollar a day, the unemployment rate is 40%, and 25% of adults have HIV, the highest rate in the world. Life expectancy is the lowest in the world, at 32.5 years.

Its economy depends entirely upon South Africa, which finances most of the Swazi government’s income through a regional customs union that sees Pretoria lavish money on its smaller neighbours.

South Africa’s largest labour federation Cosatu has vocally taken up the Swazi protesters’ cause, holding a solidarity rally at a key border post on Tuesday.

South African President Jacob Zuma, currently in China for a summit of major emerging powers, has yet to comment on the unrest. — Additional reporting by AFP

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