Pudemo activist dies following Workers’ Day celebrations

The state of political affairs in Swaziland is best captured by the events which unfolded recently after a political activist, Sipho Jele, was arrested for wearing a t-shirt bearing a People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) logo, at a May Day rally in Manzini.

Two days after his arrest, the world was told of his death in custody, a death that the government claims was a suicide.

Holding onto absolute power

In 2008 the King’s parliament embarked on a mission to create a law which makes it illegal for anyone to work as a civil servant while being affiliated to any political party.

This legislation is still being debated and may become law very soon. For a country where most people are employed by the civil service, this has already had a significant impact on levels of pro-democracy activism, while leading to more militant action by frustrated political activists.

Such militancy led the government to proscribe Pudemo, Swaziland’s strong­est political party, and all organisations affiliated to it.

Under the proscription and a new bill created to combat terrorism, any act perceived by the state to be in support of any of the proscribed organisations is a crime punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

Thrown out of court

The leader of Pudemo, Mario Masuku, fell victim to this repressive law in 2008. His case was later thrown out of court when it transpired that there was no evidence linking him to any of the charges against him.

Another activist, human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, is out on bail pending a court case involving the same charge.

Sipho Jele was the third victim of this absurd law. Coincidentally, Mario Masuku has since been rearrested for shouting the words “Viva Pudemo” at Jele’s funeral.

He is also currently out on bail pending a new trial which will also probably be thrown out of court.

Moreover, sipho Jele’s death in detention is not an isolated event. Many political activists have died either in police custody or in circumstances indirectly linked to the police.

In all cases, no credible investigations have been conducted and nobody has been held accountable.

Moving forward

The struggle for a democratic Swaziland is so vast and there are many things that have been documented concerning it.

In particular The Swaziland Solidarity Network has played a significant role in mobilising support for democracy in Swaziland.

It is currently housed in the South African Communist Party’s [SACP] head office in Cosatu house where it deals with day to day issues concerning Swaziland.

Workers’ unions in South Africa have the greatest have a critical role to play in ensuring that justice, democracy and employment are accorded to all Swazis, and not just a select few.
Their strategic position in a country that Swaziland depends on for almost 90% of its imports puts them in the frontline of the Swazi workers’ struggle.

Moreover, as long as Swaziland remains in its current state, the benchmark for the treatment of workers in the sub-region will remain low.

All protocols signed by heads of state in Africa and beyond will remain nothing but paper pledges, without real practical implementation.

(This article has been shortened.)


Numsa News No 2 July 2010