Hit squads target Swaziland democracy movement

Issue 

Swaziland is a tiny landlocked southern African monarchy dominated by South Africa. Repression and human rights abuses are overlooked by many governments and the international press. Inspired by the freedom movement in neighbouring South Africa, there is a growing democracy movement in Swaziland. JABU MATSEBULA, an executive member of PUDEMO — the People's United Democratic Movement of Swaziland — spoke to Campaign Against Racial Exploitation's PETER LIMB.

What is the level of repression? Have the changes in South Africa affected this in any way?

Swaziland is politically like one of the infamous South African homelands because, economically, Swaziland depends entirely on South Africa and is politically controlled by it.

We had hoped that when de Klerk repealed some of the repressive measures, Swaziland would follow suit. But surprisingly, Swaziland has not taken any steps forward to repeal all this repressive legislation. The emergency measures are still intact, and the detention without trial order is still in place. People in Swaziland do not enjoy freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association. The press is under government control.

The king has issued a statement, read to the public by the prime minister, saying that political exiles should come back home. But we are upset that the country continues to be ruled by royal command. We cannot take this amnesty seriously as long as it has not been deliberated by the Swazi parliament and as long as there is no written guarantee for safe passage of returnees.

We need the government to send a written return guarantee to each and every exile, with a copy sent to the United Nations secretary-general. We would like the government to introduce a resettlement scheme whereby exiles would be given reasonable accommodation and a living allowance for up to nine months. A precondition for a return of exiles is that the state of emergency, which has been in force since 1973, be lifted.

The fear of a resurgence of South African-style hit squads is growing following three disturbing events:

  • The arrest of Swaziland justice minister Zonke Khumalo by Mozambican intelligence forces whilst apparently trying to set up hit squads, probably with the [anti-Mozambique government] MNR bandit forces.

  • Attempts to steal minibuses of visiting students. Police failed to respond to the attempted thefts, and when thieves fatally shot a student, police again failed to investigate, fuelling suspicions of collusion.

  • An unsuccessful attempt was made to abduct the prominent democratic opposition leader, Ray Russon, vice-president of the main opposition movement, PUDEMO.
PUDEMO has responded to these threats by unbanning itself, although it holds grave fears for the safety of its members.

How was PUDEMO formed, and what are its objectives?

PUDEMO was formed in 1984 as a result of the popular opposition to undemocratic rule by the royal family. Its main commitment is to liberate the Swazi nation from traditional bondage.

Its objectives are: to ensure and restore a constitutional and parliamentary, multiparty democratic government with popular participation and respect for majority rule; to protect, guarantee and ensure the rights of the people to the enactment of laws in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on Human rights and all other relevant UN conventions.

We are committed to advance the social, economic and political interests of our people; to uphold the principle of separation of powers that ensure the independence of the judiciary and fair legal practice; to represent the Swazi nation wherever and whenever required and to promote international friendship and fraternal understanding based on respect for sovereignty and independence.

The people should be given the right to elect their own representatives. That does not apply in Swaziland because government ministers and the parliament are chosen from above in accordance with traditional rule.

PUDEMO is a people's organisation. It is a broad-based organisation that encompasses all sectors of the community. It was formed by young people, and the membership is mainly young people and workers.

Has PUDEMO had the chance to put forward its ideas?

We have been forced to operate underground because critical political activities were banned. It has been quite difficult for the movement to put forward its ideas to the masses.

However, we have done a lot to put our ideas to the masses by distributing pamphlets, painting slogans and organising underground meetings. We have set up a lot of underground structures. One of the underground structures that has proved to be quite effective is the Swazi Youth Congress.

Is support among the youth mainly in the cities?

We felt it was important to first mobilise the people with a high level of understanding of the political and economic situation. We decided to start in schools in the cities. However, we are moving to the rural areas. We feel the grassroots people should not be left behind and we should do a lot of consciousness raising. We believe that in order for popular participation to be realised a high level of understanding about political and economic issues should be generated.

I understand unions were banned for many years in the '70s. What is the position of unions today?

Many of the working class in Swaziland are migrant workers, and when g experienced a lot of union activity, they bring back the ideas of, and an awareness of, unionism. Most workers are now aware of their rights. Since the birth of PUDEMO, we have been doing a lot to create unions.

The unions have not been operating legally for about five years. The unions have a federation, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions. All their activities are being monitored by the government.

What we want now is to divert it from being a government-linked union organisation to being an independent union organisation. They do elect their leaders, but most of their activities are monitored so they don't have full independent jurisdiction.

A lot of rural people have been left unorganised. We are moving towards the rural areas to mobilise peasants and form unions.

What then are PUDEMO's current demands?

  • The dissolution of the parliament and the convening of a National Assembly to chart a new political future of the country;

  • Setting up an interim government and an independent electoral body to facilitate a peaceful transition to a new democratic Swazi society;

  • The dismantling of the monarchy and the transfer of political and economic power to the democratic majority;

  • The lifting of the state of emergency and the withdrawal of all repressive legislation;

  • Return of all exiles without preconditions;

  • An immediate end to political harassment, arrests and brutality by the security forces;

  • An immediate end to state corruption, misuse of public funds and nepotism;

  • Liquidation of all royal family-controlled state and private enterprises.

Swaziland is country that is not given great publicity in Australia. Do you have some message to Australians and the Australian government?

I understand Australia is a democratic country and pays a lot of respect to human rights. Swaziland does not observe articles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We would like to appeal to the Australian government to enforce some sort of measures on Swaziland to respect human dignity and observe human rights. [It could] monitor events in Swaziland to ensure the safety of citizens and a clear passage to democracy.

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