300 march in Swaziland to launch week of protests

2011-09-05 11:38

About 300 protesters danced and sang freedom songs in the streets of Swaziland’s capital, Mbabane, at the start of a planned week of protests against Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

Impoverished Swaziland is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, in a financial crisis that has spawned a series of protests this year to demand that Mswati accept multiparty democracy and resolve a budget crunch that has left the kingdom battling to keep schools and clinics running.

Heavy security surrounded today’s march, which authorities had tried to stop with a court injunction at the weekend.

The protesters were demanding that the government tax the royal investment firm Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, essentially controlled by Mswati and used to finance his lavish lifestyle, including luxury cars and palaces for his 13 wives.

The firm has stakes in almost every sector of the Swazi economy, from hotels to media.

“Tibiyo should rescue us,” read a placard waved by teacher Agnes Mazibuko, who said the investment firm’s resources should benefit the public.

“It was supposed to be invested and kept in trust for the nation so when we have crises like this it could be used, but instead it is used by royalty,” she told AFP.The demonstrations are being organised by a coalition of pro-democracy movements, known as the Swaziland Democracy Campaign.

Organisers hope for a bigger turnout Tuesday, when protests are planned for the main city Manzini. They also accuse cell phone operator MTN of deliberately shutting down the network Sunday to hobble the protests.

“We could not communicate with our members,” said Sibongile Mazibuko, head of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, a driving force behind the protests.Mswati has a stake in the Swazi subsidiary of the South African telecom.

The protests come as South Africa is poised to sign a controversial $343 million (R2.4 billion) bailout to help ease the financial crisis in the kingdom. The first tranche was expected to be paid out last month, but South African officials say documents authorising the deal have yet to be signed.

Political parties have been banned since 1973 in Swaziland and Mswati holds ultimate executive, legislative and judicial power.

The International Monetary Fund last week slammed the government for its fiscal reform programme – the fund’s third negative assessment in a year – in effect dashing Mswati’s hopes of accessing international loans.

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