/ 14 April 2011

SA appeals for calm in Swaziland

The South African government called for calm in Swaziland on Thursday after the police violently suppressed anti-government demonstrations in the past two days.

“The government of South Africa notes with great concern of the political developments in the Kingdom of Swaziland,” the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said in a statement.

“In this regard, the South African government calls for calm and urges all parties involved to exercise restraint.”

With the crackdown on media in Swaziland there have been few photographs making it out of the country. These images from the ground show the heavy police presence and efforts to crush the teachers and students protests.

The department urged all parties involved to engage in political dialogue to find a speedy and peaceful solution.

‘Unban political parties’
Earlier, the ANC called on Swaziland’s government to create an open political environment and encourage constructive dialogue with the opposition, even as the country’s labour unions called off protests after the government cracked down on activists and detained union leaders.

“We call on the government to work towards the normalisation of the political environment,” spokesperson Ebrahim Ebrahim said in a statement.

“[Do this] by unbanning opposition political parties, releasing activists and engaging in dialogue with opposition political and trade union leaders,” he said.

Ebrahim said the use of force to quell political dissent would only worsen relations between the government and civilians.

“In the interest of maintaining the much-needed stability within the Southern Africa Development Community, we strongly believe that the situation in Swaziland requires urgent attention.”

Protests called off
On Thursday Swaziland’s Labour Coordinating Council (LCC) announced that the pro-democracy protest action planned for a third day had been temporarily suspended.

Said LCC secretary general, Musi Mhlanga: “We are officially suspending the protest action and we have planned a joint general council meeting of all unions for next week Tuesday, where we will decide on a way forward.”

Mhlanga said that the suspension “was inevitable after the high levels of harassment and continuous intimidation that our members have faced. They have been stopped by the bus loads at roadblocks and then taken out to far-out areas and dumped, others have been placed under house arrest or detained at police stations.”

“Just last night [on Wednesday], the police invaded the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (Snat) offices under the pretense of looking for guns — of course they did not find any — and then locked up some of our comrades who were preparing for a night vigil there.”

The raid was confirmed by Snat president Sibongile Mazibuko who was present when it happened: “There were about 60 riot police who broke through our front gate and occupied our offices. They said we had guns and serched everywhere without finding anything. I believe it was just a pretense to intimidate us.”

The People’s United Democratic Movement’s president Mario Masuku told the M&G that he had been “placed under house since Tuesday morning. I had my phone impounded by the police because they believed that I was a coordinator and that people would be calling me,” he said.

Masuku said his mobile phone was only released today after he had instituted a court challenge to get it released.

Mass demonstrations in the past week have seen Swazi nationals demanding that King Mswati III allow multiparty democracy. The country was the last absolute monarchy in Africa.

Citizens also protested against the monarch and his 13 wives’ lavish lifestyle, in light of recent civil servant salary cuts. Protests had been largely violent, with police apparently using teargas, beatings and arrests to control crowds.