/ 21 April 2011

Policy of peaceful protest divides Swazi activists

Swaziland’s trade unions have vowed to continue peaceful protest aimed at pressuring the government to step down, but more radical campaigners are growing impatient with the lack of change and have hinted they may resort to more extreme measures.

It is understood that the unions have vowed to stage regular labour demonstrations in the months ahead, culminating in a major event on September 6, the 43rd anniversary of Swaziland’s independence.

This week Mduduzi Gina, the secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, said members had resolved that the protests would continue.

“We want the removal of the government and prime minister and to have a constitutional monarch and multiparty democracy,” he said.

There were plans to combine the country’s two union federations into a single Trade Unions Congress of Swaziland in a bid to streamline their campaign, he said.

However, some factions of the protest movement want the king to be ousted entirely and are advocating more radical measures to achieve this.

April 12 Uprising Movement
Former Swaziland National Union of Students’ (SNUS) president Pius Vilakati, who lives in exile in South Africa and leads the “April 12 Uprising” movement, said this week: “The problem is the monarchy. Our aim is to remove the king and make sure there’s multiparty democracy. We need to dismantle the system.”

Vilakati, who claimed his group received financial support from the South African Communist Party, said: “Our intention is clear. We need to put fear into the regime and make it aware that we are serious about change. We know that lives may be lost, but if police or defence force members are willing to die for the king, we have no choice. We’re willing to die for democracy.”

Last week a plan for an “uprising” was extinguished by a security force crackdown. SNUS president Maxwell Dlamini and Musa Ngubeni, a member of the youth wing of the banned opposition party Pudemo, have since been charged with possession of explosives and are in custody.

But many believe that the government scored an “own goal” because the allegations of brutality in the crackdown gave Swaziland rare global media exposure.

Commenting on the emerging rift within the pro-democracy front, which includes a newly formed communist party and two banned political parties, veteran Swazi pro-democracy campaigner Musa Hlophe agreed that the situation was “fluid”.

“There are different approaches,” said Hlophe, who heads the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, a non-political umbrella group of unions, democracy campaigners and churches. “Some think our approach is delaying progress,” he said. “We can’t blame those who are impatient for change, but if there is a violent takeover, it will make a mockery of our cry for democracy and it will create a culture of violence.”

Seemingly oblivious of the negative media coverage, King Mswati thanked his security forces last Friday for “ensuring peace” and said the protesters were being led by the “devil”.