Legalize Political Dissent in Swaziland

Legalize Political Dissent in Swaziland

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Why this petition matters

When mass uprisings in Swaziland broke out in the spring of 2021, the world watched as the Swazi people, in the face of mass murder and torture, mobilized against the continent’s last dictatorial monarchy. Many of us in the United States drew immediate parallels to not only the struggle against apartheid in neighboring South Africa, but also to the uprisings last year following the state’s murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We also understood that the road ahead for the people of Swaziland would not be an easy one, and that a campaign of international solidarity was needed to take the Swazi peoples’ demands to the world stage. 

Swaziland, officially known as eSwatini since a unilateral decree by King Mswati III in 2018, is a country held captive by the active legacies of feudalism and colonialism. Since the inception of the Swazi state in the early 19th century, a single ruling family has controlled the country, collaborating with British colonization before the granting of formal independence in 1968. Throughout the colonial period and continuing up to the present day, the Swazi monarchy has overseen the ceding of vast tracts of land and resources to foreign interests, coupled with the monopolization of domestic political and economic power in the hands of the Dlamini royalty. Total control is invested over the executive, legislature, and judiciary is invested in the monarchy and the tinkhundla system of feudal rule, an arrangement felt most pressingly by the country’s workers and peasants. Political parties have remained banned since 1973, forcing the country’s democratic movement into exile and the underground. Underdevelopment, extreme poverty, landlessness, and the HIV pandemic remain fundamentally unchallenged, as does bigotry against the country’s LGBTIQ+ community. When the people finally rose up in mass last year against these crises, the response was typical of an autocratic regime: mass bloodshed, totaling to the deaths of more than 100 young protesters. Last year’s massacre served as a wake-up call for the region at large and the whole world that the time for change was long overdue, with a heavy cost. 

As a solidarity organization working to promote democracy and social justice in Swaziland, Friends of Swazi Freedom condemns the recent attacks on student leaders by the Mswati regime. The king’s targeting of the Swaziland National Union of Students in recent weeks is part and parcel of a brutal assault on the youth, all for the crime of demanding democracy and people’s rights. We specifically condemn the persecution of SNUS President Colani Maseko in the kangaroo courts of the Swazi “justice” system, as well as the assault, abuse, and torture of other SNUS leadership by the police. In lieu of legal political parties (and in tandem with those that exist illegally), SNUS is perhaps the most important vehicle of political struggle existing in Swaziland today. 

We join hands with SNUS and the whole of the Swazi democratic movement in demanding: 

  1. The lifting of the 1973 ban on political parties;
  2. The unconditional return of all political exiles;
  3. The reopening of the country's universities in collaboration with student leadership;
  4. The cancellation of student fees and free, quality education for all;
  5. An end to evictions, displacement, and harassment in the countryside;
  6. The protection of the rights of workers to organize, and an end to the victimization of trade unions and their leaders;
  7. An end to the reign of terror by establishing the rule of law;
  8. The establishment of an independent investigation on the June/July massacre that led to the deaths of over 100 protesters;
  9. The withdrawal of charges against Colani Maseko and the release of all political prisoners, including Amos Mbedzi and MPs Mthandeni and Bacede;
  10. A democratic transition and reorganization of society to meet people's needs.
429 have signed. Let’s get to 500!