January 16, 2006

Tension after opposition arrests

Political tensions in Swaziland are on the rise following the arrest of 15 pro-democracy campaigners in recent weeks over petrol-bomb attacks that were made on courthouses and the homes of various officials in Dezember. The activists belong to the banned People's United Democratic Movement (Pudemo). They include the secretary general of this opposition party, Bonginkosi Dlamini, and leading campaigner Mphandlana Shongwe. All 15 appeared in court on charges of high treason related to attempted murder. However, Bongani Masuku, secretary general of the Swaziland Solidarity Network, believes the case is simply an attempt to clamp down on perceived opponents of the royal family. The Network group organisations is working for the restoration of democracy in the country and based in neighbouring South Africa.

Police have furthermore been accused of torturing the Pudemo detainees, along with a number of their spouses and relatives. The wife of Mduduzi Mamba died in police custody allegedly after officials tried to force her to reveal information about Mamba's activities. Officials claim the woman, LaFakudze Mamba, died of heart failure.

The arrests and claims of torture have also drawn an angry response from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), a vocal opponent of the situation in Swaziland. "These brutal attacks on pro-democracy activists are further proof that King Mswati's regime is hell-bent on crushing any opposition to its dictatorship," spokesperson Patrick Craven noted. "And, they vindicate Cosatu's long-standing support for trade unionists and opposition forces in their battle for human rights and democracy in that country." Added Solly Mapaila, of the Communist Party of South Africa: "These comrades are not going to get a fair trial. All the judges in Swaziland are appointed by the king, and they have to abide by the decision of the monarchy." Following a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa's Young Communist League and the Swaziland Youth Congress (an arm of Pudemo) also highlighted the importance of international involvement in Swaziland. "We are concerned at the silence by the international community about the struggle of the people of Swaziland, and call for collective international action against the heinous crimes against the Swazi people perpetrated by King Mswati," the two movements said. "We'll...need the involvement of South Africa and the AU," he said. "They can play a big role in Swaziland," Mapaila added. The country's economy is heavily dependent on South Africa, and most of its trade is with that country. (IPS)


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