International support needed for pro-democracy campaign in Swaziland

September 28, 2022
Swaziland democracy protest
Protesting for democracy in Swaziland. Photo: Friends of Swazi Freedom

Rachel Evans spoke to Luna Michaels from Friends of Swazi Freedom, an international activist group working in solidarity with the people of Swaziland, about the struggle for democracy and an end to absolute monarchy.

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What is the biggest campaign in Swaziland?

All campaigns in Swaziland tie back to one simple demand: “Democracy now!” To reach democracy, campaigners are calling for an abolition of the last absolute monarchy in Africa. To form a democratic government, activists call for a reversal of “Proclamation No. 7”, or the Act to Ban All Political Parties — which was introduced on April 12, 1973.

You do see two names in the corporate media about Swaziland. The monarch, King Mswati III, declared a new name for Swaziland — Eswatini — to celebrate independence from the British. Progressives don’t use this name.

Right now there are textile workers on strike for a wage increase to (South African Rand) R15.00 per hour, which translates to AU$1.35/hr. Their current hourly wage is said to only be enough to pay for a loaf of bread.

The Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) is leading a campaign to reopen schools because they were closed due to anti-government protests. SNUS are also campaigning to have student allowances paid as well as fighting to decolonise the curriculum. Currently, the curriculum is very pro-monarch.

Teachers are working on unionising the school staff, with the Swaziland National Association of Teachers as they are understaffed, underpaid and working without sick leave or holiday pay.

The government is refusing all these demands which is just strengthening these movements further.

Which democracy campaign groups are challenging the monarchy?

There are two main groups campaigning against Africa’s last absolute monarchy. They are the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) and the People’s United Democratic Movement. They are the two most active groups.

The Friends of Swazi Freedom group formed in November 2021, a few months after the mass crackdown of the democracy movement in June-July in 2021.

What other campaigns has the group been involved in?

We had a “Hands Off CPS” campaign, because in March 2022, the government kidnapped a number of CPS militants and their children. The adults were tortured. The Hands Off campaign was a successful campaign, everyone was returned. But we continued with this campaign so the government's actions could be widely condemned and to raise funds for the families who were being targeted.

We also led a campaign for activists to send Marxist books to comrades in Swaziland, because the internet is patchy and surveilled.

[We] also finished a campaign to fund a healthcare clinic. The clinic is to be able to give health care to the community. They want psychologists for families who have lost family members in the democracy movement. In protests there is a lot of violence from government forces so the CPS wants a clinic to be able to provide basic health care to activists.

How can the international movement help the democracy campaign?

Please join the local committee of Friends of Swazi Freedom in Australia by filling out our volunteer form on our Twitter account, @friendsofswazi, talk to friends and neighbours, post about it on social media, follow us on Instagram and Facebook, donate money and texts to students.

You can support our campaigns including #handsoffCPS as well as attend any events Friends of Swazi Freedom host here in Sydney.

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