Swazi civil society warns diplomats of government clamp down

WandileDuring meetings with diplomats from the embassies of several Western countries, held in Pretoria last week, representatives from Swaziland’s civil society warned that Swaziland’s government was actively trying to obstruct their work and shut them down.

Representatives from Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice, Swaziland National Union of Students, Swaziland Ex-Mineworkers Association and Rural Women’s Assembly told diplomats from Denmark, England, Sweden, Japan, Russia, Norway, South Africa, the USA, SADC and the EU that they are deeply worried that the Swazi authorities are trying to make a case against FSEJ for supporting terrorism.

If the Swazi authorities manage to connect FSEJ with terrorism – a concept that is defined very loosely and broadly in Swazi law – the organization, that is an important part of the democratic movement’s capacity building and civic education on democracy, could be banned and have its finances confiscated.

FSEJ Project Coordinator, Dumezweni Dlamini, believes that the government is trying to use all and any means to shut them down. “FSEJ is a legally registered organisation that works peacefully for the democratization of Swaziland through civic education on democracy, constitutionalism and human rights. We believe the government is focusing on us because of our increasing success in building strong movements, especially in the rural areas. Our meetings are stopped by the Royal Swaziland Police and currently the state is also working around the clock to shut us down before elections as the state fears that we are a force that might destabilize the forthcoming elections,” Dlamini says.

Political parties are illegal in Swaziland and the largest of these proscribed parties, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), is repeatedly charged under Swaziland’s vaguely worded anti-terrorism laws. A newly formed trade union federation, TUCOSWA, has also been deregistered or banned, an act that is seen by police as a legitimate reason to clamp down on any TUCOSWA activities.

SUDF Coordinator, Wandile Dludlu, believes that the upcoming elections in Swaziland will see a further clamp down on the democratic movement. “FSEJ and SUDF, amongst others, have voiced their criticism of the elections. We see the elections as being undemocratic and have called for a boycott. King Mswati III has responded by labeling anyone who calls for an election boycott a criminal.”

And according to Dumezweni Dlamini, “there is no freedom of speech and association, no opposing voice to the present Tinkhundla system is allowed on air in particular on the national radio, and political gatherings are clamped down by the state security police.”

Danish NGO, Africa Contact, who has had partnership projects in Swaziland for many years, is also worried about the increasingly repressive and tense situation in Swaziland.

“The money that we channel into various movements in Swaziland is from the Danish state,” says Africa Contact’s Head of Secretariat, Morten Nielsen. “The projects and the funds that go with these follow the guidelines approved by the Danish Foreign Ministry who are adamant that their support is only used for peaceful democratization of Swaziland.”

Morten Nielsen believes that banning NGO’s or progressive movements such as FSEJ, TUCOSWA or SUDF will only exacerbate an already tense situation in Swaziland, further undermining the credibility of Swaziland’s government internationally.

During the meeting with the foreign diplomats in Pretoria last week, the Swazi civil society organisations explained how the political space in Swaziland was becoming ever smaller, and that meetings and gatherings of the civil society were subsequently virtually impossible to hold.

Diplomats from the EU embassies informed the Swazis that as the EU was currently discussing how to deal with the Swazi “situation”, it would readily listen to suggestions as to how the EU was to act in regard to the upcoming elections in Swaziland as a means of pressing for the democratization of then country. The diplomats also stated that SADC, the EU and particularly South Africa had a vital role to play in this process.

 

By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact

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