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The struggle in Swaziland
By Blue Collar Bohemian
27 February 2006

Swaziland is a "faraway country of which we know little", as Neville Chamberlain might have said. So why does it matter?

The western corporate media is constantly full of the abominable behaviour of Robert Mugabe, a revolutionary who defeated a white racist government. However, not far from Zimbabwe there’s small landlocked country, with South Africa on three sides and Mozambique on the other that very seldom rates a mention. This is the Kingdom of Swaziland, ruled by the Dlamini family dynasty since 1750.

With a population of about 1.2 million, Swaziland is ruled by this despotic and unaccountable absolute monarchy – one that pays no heed to the needs and rights of the majority, 70 per cent of whom survive on less than a dollar a day. With an infection rate of 45 per cent for HIV, life expectancy has plunged to 33 years, down from 65 ten years ago.

Unemployment is 40 per cent. The health system is overwhelmed and the impact of AIDS has led to social breakdown. Despite this, the king, Mswati III, continues to live a profligate life style, indulging himself and his thirteen wives with expensive German cars, an executive jet, and extensively overseas travel. This self-indulgence in the face of the crises suffered by the country has led to an open challenge to the government by opposition groups, with PUDEMO, the Peoples Democratic Movement in the forefront, backed by the Zabalaza Anarcho-Communist Federation, a South African based international federation of radical groups.

Maintaining independence in the pre-WWI cauldron of British, Dutch and Portugese imperialism, the Swazis, unlike their neighbours, the Zulus, avoided incorporation into the Union of South Africa, and became a separate British colony. Gaining independence in 1968, the country was a constitutional monarchy under Sobhuza II, father of the current king. Regarded as a haven for the ANC and PAC by apartheid South Africa, under threat of invasion from the south and feeling the pressure of domestic radicals of PUDEMO, Sobhuza declared a "state of emergency", seized power from the parliament in 1973, banned political parties and retained the parliament as an impotent “advisory body”. South African troops entered Swaziland at will to pursue anti-apartheid fighters (popularly regarded as a national humiliation) and on the death of Sobhuza in 1986, his son Mswati III ascended to the throne, inviting the South African president PW Botha to his coronation. This cozy relationship with the apartheid regime enabled Swaziland to avoid the fate of Mozambique and Angola, where the apartheid regime, aided and abetted by the US, Israel and Britain, waged murderous war on the populations in the wake of the collapse of the Portuguese empire. Swaziland was and is totally dependent on South Africa for electricity, making it easy for pressure to be applied.

Over the last 35 years non-violent resistance to the royal dictatorship has continued with demonstrations, petitions, hunger strikes and representations to the king and his cabal of retainers, toadies and mendicants. This hasn’t had any results, and in the face of the continuing national decline the opposition has become more strident in demanding the restoration of basic civil rights. The king has responded with what he laughingly calls “constitutional reform”, which leaves the king and his cronies still with absolute power and the right to dissolve this “new"”constitution at will.

Recent events have included the arrest of opposition activists for treason and sedition, and the labelling of all dissent and resistance as “terrorism”. There have been firebombings of government buildings and police stations, and a big increase in the salaries of soldiers and police in an attempt to buy their loyalty. This has led to widespread resentment as the national wealth is appropriated by the Dlaminis to prop up their doomed regime. There have been evictions, sackings, arrests and torture, extra-judicial killings, exiling of opponents – the whole catalogue of state brutalities. Despite all this the Swazi nation is not prepared to carry Mswati and his heirs and successors on their backs any longer.

With the “war on terror” being waged by the west in defence of the right to plunder whatever it wants from whoever has it, Africa is at the receiving end of the brutality of the resources plundering industry. In the Congo for example, pursuit of tantalum, a metal used in the capacitors contained in all modern electronic goods, and other raw materials has led to over 3 million deaths as warlords and militias fight for control of the wealth. In this climate all liberation movements receive a tough time as the latest in a long line of imperialists use private armies and mercenaries to seize the wealth of Africa from its people, avidly supported by US, French and British state power. Their bloody-minded support of the despicable saw the regimes of monsters such as Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Rhodesia’s Ian Smith's, South Africa’s Vorster and Botha bankrolled and bolstered by western governments and corporations. Mswati is a lightweight in this league, but he is just as determined to retain his hold on power in the face of his subjects' resistance.

In South Africa, the ANC was held out of power, with apartheid continuously supported by the British and American veto in the UN Security Council . Only after the end of the Cold War, after all the children murdered by the police and army, after the ANC was forced to abandon its policy of wealth redistribution in the interest of the vast majority, would this combine of corporations and governments allow the process of one vote, one value decide the government. A co-opted and compromised ANC has since failed to meet the demands of its supporters, leading to tensions and frustrations as the rich white minority continue to behave as they did under apartheid. If the Western governments and corporations are outraged at the land seizures in Zimbabwe, the impending explosion in South Africa over land will be even more cataclysmic to their interests.

As a loyal satrap of the west, the regime of Mswati III will be swept away on the Winds of Change that will continue to blow through the African continent till the vestiges of colonialism are expunged, and the burden of these hereditary parasites is lifted from the backs of ordinary Swazis. Till then the Zabalaza (struggle) of our Swazi comrades will continue.

[Your correspondent has Swazi family members and relatives.]