In Swaziland, heavy crackdown beats back Egypt-inspired protests
Three days of protests took Swaziland – Africa's last absolute monarch – by surprise. Police and the Army fired tear gas and water cannons to control 1,000 protesting teachers and students.
Johannesburg, South Africa; and Manzini, Swaziland
Protests in the tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland have taken a brief pause, but not before sending a warning sign to the country’s monarch, King Mswati III, that sustained civilian protests are not just a North African affair.Skip to next paragraph
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Protesters in the southern African nation are calling for the king – Africa’s last absolute monarch – to allow multiparty democracy and to reconsider salary cuts to civil servants. The king himself has not responded publicly, but a heavy crackdown by his Army and police – including preemptive arrests of labor leaders, journalists, and student activists, as well as the use of tear gas and water cannons on the streets – is a clear signal that the Swazi royal family is not ready to cede power yet.
On Wednesday, the third day of protests, leaders of labor unions, teachers unions, and student groups told reporters that they would pause and announce their strategy later. But the Swaziland Support Network (SSN) called on Swazi citizens to stand up to the repression.
“You can choose, if you want to, to end the protests and in the process send a clear a message to your government that ... the best way to deal with protests is clubs and tear gas,” said the activist group SSN in a statement. “The alternative is fighting back.”
As a nation of 1.3 million people living in a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa, Swaziland is a country easily forgotten. But the incredible gap between rich in poor make the country ripe for turmoil, if not revolution.
Rich in timber and iron ore, Swaziland produces decent revenues for the country’s chief beneficiary, the Swazi royal family. Some 5 percent of Swaziland's resources are consumed by King Swati and his 13 wives and numerous children, all of this in a country with the highest HIV infection rate in the world, and where 70 percent of the population live on $1 a day.
Three days of protests does not make a Jasmine Revolution, of course. But the fact that the protests have lasted this long suggests that deep-seated and widespread discontent are rapidly transforming into a democracy movement that isn’t afraid of a few beat-downs.
“The Swazi government has shown its true colors to the world – it is repressive and authoritarian and only interested in its own survival,” said Deprose Muchena, acting Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), in a statement on Thursday.