Swaziland: Pro-democracy movement gains momentum

September 13, 2008

Abridged from a September 8 report on http://www.irinnews.org.

Some of the largest demonstrations in Swaziland's history, this time against growing poverty, took the shine off twin "40-40" celebrations to mark King Mswati's 40th birthday and 40 years of the kingdom's independence.

At least 10,000 pro-democracy activists crowded the usually quiet streets of Manzini, the country's central commercial hub, on September 3, before reassembling in the capital, Mbabane, the following day.

Two-thirds of Swaziland's people live in chronic poverty, according to the UN Development Programme, and nearly 40 percent are HIV-positive, giving Swaziland the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world.

Two weeks ago, 1000 HIV-positive women, spurred by reports that eight of King Mswati's 13 wives had taken an international trip, led a protest march in Mbabane.

Although Swaziland's state-run television did not broadcast coverage of the demonstrations, some members of the Swazi press are showing new boldness. Local newspapers widely reprinted a recent list published by Forbes magazine, in which King Mswati was named one of the 15 richest royals in the world.

Political commentator Vusi Sibisi compared the current situation in Swaziland to that of France prior to the French Revolution.

The umbrella Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions secretary-general Jan Sithole has announced a week of mass action from September 15-19 September.

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