The biggest youth movement in Swaziland, the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), called for democracy at its 12th National Congress held over February 16-17.
The congress was held in South Africa because of political repression in Swaziland.
The main theme of the congress — the first held since 2013 — was democracy and “reawakening youth zeal for liberation”.
The congress elected a new president, Sonkhe Dube, who said: “We are committed to a peaceful transition from the current dictatorship under the monarchy to a democratic Eswatini [Swaziland]. As young people, we want liberation now, because the injustice to Swazis has long overstayed its time.”
Dube, a teacher, told the congress that it was an “enormous task to build [SWAYOCO into] an effective organisation capable of transforming its beautiful slogans into action.”
The congress came at a time when SWAYOCO has been “battered by the regime” in recent years.
In a statement, SWAYOCO said that it would work with the labour movement and marginalised groups in Swaziland such as the LGBTI community, and that the organisation was seeking international help to achieve democracy in Swaziland.
Liberation and social justice
SWAYOCO, a member of the International Union of Socialist Youth, was formed in 1991, as the youth league of Swaziland’s largest democratic movement, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). Both organisations were proscribed under Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act, an act that Amnesty International called “inherently repressive” when it was implemented in 2008.
SWAYOCO has previously launched campaigns against Swaziland’s “undemocratic elections” and for political awareness in Swazi schools, demanded smart sanctions against the country’s royal family, and that the International Criminal Court arrest Swaziland’s absolute monarch King Mswati III.
“The renewal of SWAYOCO will inspire the youth to demand their rights and define their role in the creation of a new kingdom of Eswatini [Swaziland]. We will sell the idea of liberation and social justice to the people,” Dube said.
A dangerous job
Dube has personally experienced Mswati’s oppression, as have many other SWAYOCO-members. In 2009 and 2011, he was detained and tortured by police at peaceful SWAYOCO rallies. In 2013, he fled to exile in neighbouring South Africa after again having been arrested by police, tortured and threatened that they would “come back and deal with me”.
Being a member of SWAYOCO, let alone president, is a dangerous job.
SWAYOCO’s first president Benedict Didiza Tsabedze died in a mysterious car accident next to the royal palace, in 1996, after having been taken to the hospital by the police. SWAYOCO member Sipho Jele was found hanged in his cell, after having been arrested for wearing a PUDEMO T-shirt.
Several other former SWAYOCO leaders, including Wandile Dludlu, Maxwell Dlamini and Bheki Dlamini, have all been tortured by police, detained and later released without charge. Bheki Dlamini spent nearly three years in prison.
SWAYOCO member Zonke Dlamini served a long prison-sentence for charges he insists he only admitted to under torture. And other SWAYOCO members have been beaten up, tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets by police, as well as detained, shot and killed.
Amnesty International described in 2017 how “repressive legislation” and “politically motivated trials and laws that violate the principle of legality … continue to be used to suppress dissent” in Swaziland.