July 28, 2007

Demonstrations against lack of reforms and for end of monarchy

Pro-democracy protests have brought the tiny kingdom to a standstill. The capital Mbabane was ground to a halt as thousands of workers took to the streets - in what has been described as the biggest demonstration in a decade - pushing for multiparty democracy. Led by unionists, the protesters demanded an end to monarchical rule and the lifting of a ban on political parties imposed in 1973.
"In the last two decades there has been democratic change in Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa but Swaziland has remained a sore thumb in Southern Africa," said Mr Mzingeli Dlamini of the University of Swaziland. "It is an island of dictatorship." King Mswati III has ruled the former British colony since 1986 and is upholding the tradition of his father, King Sobhuza II, who reigned for almost 61 years.
The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) in a rare show of solidarity mobilised their members to take to the streets. "It's about time that the people of Swaziland realise that they made a big mistake by making the king an absolute monarch," Jan Sithole, the secretary-general of the SFTU was quoted as having told the strikers in Mbabane. He added: "If the situation does not change, such protests will become the order of the day because 70 per cent of the people in the country live below the poverty datum line, while only 10 per cent of the ruling elite enjoy the wealth." Sithole said the trade union movement planned to stage two-day work stoppages every month until the king agrees to hold multiparty elections under polls planned for October 2008. The government has insisted that it was not shaken by the protests.
Government spokesman Percy Simelane said the demonstrations were 'nothing compared' to those of 1996 by pro-democracy activists that led to the complete shutdown of the country's industries. Simelane emphasized that the strikers were going the wrong way to demand reforms. "We as government have been saying all along that these people are out of order, they have to amend the Constitution if they want to have multi-party elections." He said: "If they want to change the Constitution to suit multi-party elections, they must lobby Parliament because only Parliament can do that, so they must lobby parliamentarians that were elected," he said.
According to Moses Mathebula, a political analyst, the heavy handed response by riot police who battled the protesters on the streets showed a government that was very worried about growing resentment. "They will always say the strikes do not have any impact and the people are happy but I believe secretly the king now believes that his hold on power is under serious threat." Mathebula said. "There are signs that there will be radical changes soon, but eventually King Mswati III will be forced to move with the times. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) seems to be determined to whip errant states into line as shown by its response to the Zimbabwe crisis and it's a matter of time before the radar focuses on Swaziland," he added. The growing discontent, however, does not mean the king does have supporters. Among those fighting for the maintenance of the status quo, the traditional monarchists say [it's] the system best suited to keep the mountain kingdom intact. (The Nation, Nairobi)

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