By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
(Mbabane)Students and other young people are at the forefront of the democratic uprisings of 2011 around the world. They have been the main instigators of demanding democracy in North Africa. This has been covered extensively in the media.
What has been less focused upon is the simultaneous uprising in Swaziland – an absolute monarchy where all political parties are banned, where life expectancy is under 40 years, where youth unemployment is sky-high, and where two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day – many on food aid from the UN.
The unions and the Swazi students’ union, SNUS, have been at the forefront of the Swazi uprising, which is why Swazi police have clamped down on them in particular. Swazi Student leader and SNUS president, Maxwell Dlamini, was pre-emptively detained and allegedly tortured by Swazi police before the Arab Spring-inspired April 12 uprising in Swaziland, where the Swazi regime violently clamped down on demonstrators and detained the entire leadership of the Swazi democratic movement.
Maxwell Dlamini was forced to sign a statement admitting possession of explosives and denied bail on several occasions. Maxwell was also initially denied the right to sit his exams at the university of Swaziland where he is a student, and the Swazi authorities have done their utmost to obstruct their lawyer, Mandla Mkhwanazi.
The charges against Maxwell Dlamini of being in possession of explosives, and thus contravening Sections 8 and 9 of Swaziland’s Explosives Act 4 of 1961, have been described as preposterous by several members of the democratic movement in Swaziland, as well as by unions and solidarity organisations around the world, and Amnesty International has urged Swaziland to ensure his safety.
Danish solidarity organisation, Africa Contact, therefore started the Free Maxwell Dlamini Campaign to focus on Maxwell’s case and pressurize the Swazi regime into releasing his.
The Free Maxwell Campaign
In the campaign’s first 24 hours, nearly a hundred e-mails were sent to the Swazi regime demanding the release of Maxwell, over 500 people accessed the campaign’s website, and people from all over the world – including Swazi, Danish, English, South African, Namibian and Basque NGO’s; Danish, German, English, Ukranian and Norweigan students; and people from all over the world have wished to publicly support the campaign.
The press has also covered the campaign, which has been in the news in e.g. England (The Guardian), Denmark (Arbejderen and U-landsnyt), Norway (SAIH), and in The Times of Swaziland, who ran an article about the Free Maxwell Dlamini Campaign in its Swazi News Saturday edition.
The South African Broadcast Cooperation, SABC, also ran a documentary, Swaziland’s Political Prisoners that amongst other things included interviews in prison with Maxwell Dlamini filmed with a hidden camera.
Keeping spirits high despite delayed trial
Despite languishing in prison for nearly six months, Maxwell Dlamini is keeping up his sprits and is pleased that the Free Maxwell Campaign, the British National Union of Students and others are campaigning for his release. “It was good for Maxwell to see for himself that there is something of this sort going on in Europe,” Dumezweni Dlamini of the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice, of which Maxwell’s organisation SNUS is a party, who visited Maxwell recently, told me.
But the Swazi regime has not responded to the campaign, and is instead apparently seeking to bleed Maxwell and his lawyers dry, given the long delay of the court case. The long delay of the case is proving a financial problem for the two accused as well as their legal team, who are working pro bono. And there is also the obvious inconvenience of being imprisoned in a system that often tortures and manhandles its detainees and political prisoners, as happened to Maxwell Dlamini in order to force him to sign a prepared confession.
“The case is still at stand still with the lawyers still trying to get a trial date,” Dumezweni Dlamini says about Maxwell Dlamini’s case. “The case is taking quite some time for his lawyers such that it limits and also digs many resources from their commercial business. We only rely on the volunteerism of these attorneys.”
Other trials against members of Swaziland’s democratic movement certainly seem to show that the regime speculates in such stalling tactics, the most well-known case being that against illegal opposition party, PUDEMO’s, President Mario Masuku.
Masuku was imprisoned for nearly a year before his case was finally heard in 2009. There was no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the accusations of terrorism against him, even though terrorism is defined very loosely in Swaziland, and the judge released him the same day.
Let us hope, for the sake of Maxwell, as well as for the precedent of the many other young student leaders around the world who have partaken in democratic uprisings, that he will not have to stay imprisoned much longer. And let us all do our utmost to secure his release.
If you wish to help Maxwell, by supporting the campaign by writing to the Swazi regime to demand his release, you can either contact the Free Maxwell Dlamini Campaign at: firstname.lastname@example.org