Swazi police cannot guarantee protestors' safety

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mbabane - Authorities have warned that they cannot guarantee the safety of those who will participate in the planned protests in Swaziland today.

Civil servants, unionists and students are expected to take to the streets today in Mbabane demanding a democratically elected government be put in place and that King Mswati III and his cabinet step down.

"We have tried to talk to the organisers of the protests to reconsider since they have not even asked for permission to protest, which means that they will be doing so illegally," said Swaziland police spokesperson Wendy Hleta.

"We [therefore] cannot guarantee the safety of the people involved in the protests. We all know that in situations like this, violence might erupt and lead to injuries or worse, but we hope it does not reach that stage."

In a statement last week, Swazi Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini threatened that the protesters would be "dealt with" as the planned protest was illegal. 

"The planned protests do not have government's approval. This then renders the protest action illegal. We do not, therefore, expect any individual to participate in any such proposed protest action. Anyone who goes ahead with the protests would be dealt with in accordance with the laws of the country," said Dlamini.

Spokesperson for the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SNN), Lucky Lukhele, urged the organisers to proceed with the protest, which has been named "The April 12 Uprising". 

He said the 12 April date was significant to the Swazi people because political parties were banned on 12 April 1973 by Mswati's father, King Sobhuza II. The ban is still in place. Since the ban, trade unions started playing an important political role in the country.

The Congress of the South African Trade Unions, which is in support of the protests, has planned to blockade the border post between Swaziland and South Africa.

Maxwell Dlamini, president of the Swaziland National Union of Students, said it was time that Mswati and his cabinet stepped down because they had failed to combat poverty, unemployment and the high prevalence of HIV and Aids within the kingdom.

"International investors are reluctant to invest in Swaziland because of the lack of democracy. Statistics indicated that Swaziland faces high levels of inequality between rich and poor because more than 70 percent of the population live on less than $1 a day," said Dlamini.

He said more than 300 000 people in Swaziland depended on aid and that this was reason enough for Mswati to be removed. - BuaNews