Swaziland's history of repression

May 27, 1992

Swaziland is one of the smallest African states and the world's last absolute monarchy. Swaziland achieved centralised administration in 1840, when groups of very different origins joined to form a nation, following a split from the main Zulu tribe.

In 1867, Swaziland formally became a British protectorate. When London decided to accelerate the decolonisation process in the region, as a result of the 1961 breakdown in diplomatic ties with South Africa, Swaziland was granted internal autonomy in 1967 and independence the following year.

Police brutality and militarisation in Swaziland have continued for decades and can be traced to 1963, when the colonial government and the traditional authorities cooperated to suppress the opposition by bringing in British troops to break up a strike which enjoyed the strong support of the popular-based political movement.

Often Swaziland is mistaken for one of the infamous South African homelands, not only because of its size, proximity to South Africa and population, but because of its unapologetic close military, economic and political cooperation with the apartheid regime.

The people of Swaziland live in an oppressive dictatorship, ensnared in the trappings of traditional bondage, and with no control over their destiny.

On April 12, 1973, parliamentary democracy vanished when the late King Sobhuza III dissolved parliament, suspended the independence constitution, banned political activities, declared a state of emergency (which remains in force) and proclaimed himself absolute monarch.

The king then put himself and the entire people's sovereignty at the service of South Africa. Like leaders of the South African homelands, the rulers of Swaziland have hidden under the shadow of the apartheid regime. Relations with South Africa did not change with the new king, Mswati III. His government has openly condemned economic sanctions against the Pretoria regime and continues to harass anti-apartheid activists.

Following the signing of the Komati accord with the South African regime, state security and the police conducted a vicious witch-hunt of the ANC in Swaziland, murdering a number of activists in cold-blood and handing others over to the South African security forces. Local ANC sympathisers were accused of being behind the underground People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), which is fast gaining popularity and respect amongst the population.

The regime rapidly strengthened military ties with Israel and South Africa by importing large quantities of arms through the "civilian" i and Tel Aviv, and through the training of personnel.

In November 1990 a peaceful demonstration by university students in support of PUDEMO was brutally put down by the security forces, who killed five students and seriously wounded scores of others.

In response to the rapidly growing democratic opposition, the king has called for the return of all political exiles to "take part in a national dialogue" aimed at mapping out the future political direction of the country.

The leadership and supporters of PUDEMO are sceptical of this call because it has not been presented as a signed declaration by the monarch and was not accompanied by moves such as the lifting of the state of emergency and repeal of repressive legislation.
[Jabulanwe Matsebula is a national executive member of PUDEMO.]

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