September 9, 2010

Government arrests pro-democracy leader

Political repression has intensified in Swaziland with the suppression of a pro-democracy march and the arrest of a prominent leader of a political movement. The heavy-handedness of the security forces against the marchers has fuelled anger among human rights movements in Swaziland and the region.

About 60 people have been arrested and released since preparation for the protest march was started, Zakhele Mabuza, the march organiser, told Business Day. Mario Masuku, president of the People's United Democratic Movement, was prevented from participating in the march in Swaziland's second-largest city, Manzini. "The police at Manzini grabbed me and no explanation was given," Mr Masuku said. "They forcefully led me to the regional police headquarters (in Manzini), where I was interrogated." Mr Masuku said a police barricade erected 2km from his house made it difficult for him to move freely in his neighbourhood. He was supposed to have taken part in a week-long pro-democracy march to demand the reinstatement of multiparty democracy in the kingdom. He said he "feared for his life" as "plainclothes policemen" were monitoring his every move.

He also said that the security establishment prevented the marchers from presenting three petitions to the justice ministry. The petitions listed grievances that the marching crowd was demanding be addressed by the monarchy. "The security forces disrupted everything and we were forced to abandon the march." The petition included the demand for multiparty democracy, removal of repressive laws, eradication of a mandatory monthly electricity surcharge of R55, and the elimination of taxation for working-class people who earn less than R800 a month. A follow-up two-day protest march to demand political reforms and a constitutional democracy is being planned for November, Mr Masuku said.
Swaziland's high commission to South Africa refused to comment on political developments in the country. Questions sent to South Africa's Department of International Relations and Co-operation were not answered by the time of going to print.

Last month, two prominent leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) criticised the Swaziland monarchy for its autocratic tendencies. Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC, called for civil society movements to campaign against dictatorships on the African continent, including Swaziland. Jeremy Cronin, deputy secretary-general of the SACP, said that the Southern African Development Community was failing to engage with the Swazi monarchy to institute democratic reforms. (Business Day)

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