Representatives of the Danish party, the Red-Green Alliance, met with the leadership and other representatives of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) in November. The Danes met with PUDEMO-president, Mario Masuku, representatives of the trade federation TUCOSWA, and an array of other people from the democratic movement in Swaziland.
“Swaziland has an absurd political system where all power is vested in the king,” says Thomas Eisler. He is part of the Red-Green Alliance’s Swaziland-group who visited Swaziland in November, and has held several high-ranking posts within the party’s administration.
During the week-long visit, the Red-Green Alliance and PUDEMO outlined the prospects for a partnership sponsored by the Danish Institute of Parties and Democracy – a government-funded institute that “support[s] political parties and multi-party systems in selected developing countries.”
The concrete goal of the project that will be the result of the partnership is to strengthen the organisational and political capacity of PUDEMO. The partnership is also meant to inform and enlighten the leadership and membership of the Red-Green Alliance on the struggle for democratisation in a contemporary perspective, using Swaziland as a concrete and specific example.
“We were able to agree on areas that PUDEMO seeks to develop,” Thomas Eisler says. “Amongst other things, they seek to develop a more concrete political programme, for example in relation to the economic development of Swaziland.”
PUDEMO wants an extensive and wide-ranging democratisation of Swaziland – a country that is ruled by King Mswati III, a corrupt and brutal absolute monarch. The country has the lowest life expectancy in the world, the highest HIV-prevalence in the world, and two-thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day – many starving in the process.
PUDEMO is the largest political party in Swaziland and enjoys broad public support amongst the Swazi population, although the party is banned along with all other parties. The Suppression of Terrorism act likens all attempts at undermining the powers of the King to terrorism. All Swazis who openly support PUDEMO therefore risk exclusion, as well as beatings and torture at the hands of Swaziland’s police and security forces. In 2010 Sipho Jele, a young PUDEMO-member, was even killed for wearing a PUDEMO-T-shirt.
Politically, PUDEMO are a broadly speaking a left-wing party and many of its members are inspired by socialism. Amongst other things, the party promises a land reform meant to empower the poor and remove the king’s monopolisation of public land; gender-equality both legally and more informally, as women are presently legally treated as minors, and cannot even open a bank account without the written consent of a male relative; a progressive tax system; and free education and healthcare for all Swazis.
Thomas Eisler believes that PUDEMO’s struggle for democracy and socio-economic justice is achievable. “The legitimacy of Swaziland’s political system is crumbling,” he says. “There will most likely be a transitional period that will lead to democracy within a few years. The question is who will administer this transition – will it be a top-down process or will it be a popular and participatory process?”
The Red-Green Alliance believes that a strong PUDEMO is the best way of ensuring that the population in general, and the poor in particular, are included in the political process in Swaziland. “The undertakings of PUDEMO are closely linked to their presence within Swaziland’s social movements,” Thomas Eisler says. “It is a party that connects the struggle for democracy with social rights and it has an activist and democratic organisational culture. In this way PUDEMO has much in common with the Red-Green Alliance.”
The Red-Green Alliance is a democratic socialist electoral alliance that fights both nationally and internationally against “corporate driven globalization, neoliberal politics and privatization and fights for a public sector in which people not profit are at centre.”
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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