Swazi ‘uprising’ fizzles out with a whimper

2011-04-16 16:46

Swaziland’s “faceless ones” say they have performed a “tactical retreat to re-strategise” after their failed attempt to spark the “uprising” that was intended to paralyse the country on the 38th anniversary of the state of emergency which was imposed on April 12 1973.

The term “faceless ones” is being used by government ministers to describe the activists in Swaziland and South Africa who had been trying to organise an Egypt-style revolt which failed to happen.

The failure was mainly due to repressive action by the tiny kingdom’s state security apparatus.

It was evident that the activists and trade unionists had not anticipated challenging the security barriers they came up against; neither did they have the capacity, organisation or support to do so.

Union officials later acknowledged they had been outmanoeuvred.

“It should be noted and applauded that the Swazi activists have not conceded defeat.

We know that in every war strategies are defined and redefined according to the prevailing circumstances and in this instance it is necessary to take a step back and take stock of what has happened,” said Mary Pais da Silva, the spokesperson for the Labour Co-ordinating Council which consists of Swaziland’s three main unions.

Da Silva herself was arrested on Tuesday while on air to a South African radio station.

She was one of many activists and journalists detained this week and released, most if not all of them, physically unharmed but well aware of what they will be up against next time.

As it happened, the only significant skirmish was at a bus rank in Manzini, where fed-up bus conductors – not unionists or activists or protesters – briefly stoned riot police, who reacted with such force that the incident was over in minutes.

It was an opportunity the Swazi police had clearly been waiting for to impress on the crowds of onlookers – again not protesters – that they meant business.

When the bus conductor incident was over, riot police in full battledress and armed with shields, batons and stun grenades formed up and marched down Manzini’s main street singing a military song.

At this stage a reporter was detained for taking pictures of the show of force. (See sidebar.)

Police scare tactics included deliberately throwing stun grenades onto the road’s surface and not into the crowd.

It was clear that the police were under orders not to injure bystanders. Stun grenades have very little effect in open spaces other than causing a loud bang.

Activists, journalists equally offensive to heavy-handed Swazi cops
Journalists and anti-government activists appear to have the same effect on the Swazi authorities:

both are deemed to be a potential threat to “the state”.This hostility is exacerbated should anyone produce a camera to record a genuine news event.

Sensing this, I brought my camera to the fore only when a squad of riot police, chanting a battle song, started marching at the street corner where I had joined a group of about 50 onlookers.

I had just snapped two pictures when someone ripped the camera out of my hands.

It was a strongly built young man in civilian dress. Believing him to be a bag-snatcher, I got hold of him and my camera.

In the short scuffle I managed to get the memory card out of the camera.

The next moment, three or four uniformed police officers arrived to support the man, who it transpired was a police officer in plain clothes.They demanded to know who I was and why I was taking pictures.

Again they confiscated my camera. My South African media credentials were of no use and I was taken to police headquarters for questioning.

A mid-level officer demanded to know why I did not have a permit to take pictures.

He could not tell me what permit I should have had or where I should have got it.

A junior officer came into the room with my camera, demanding to know why there were no pictures on the camera.

I did not explain to him that I had removed the memory card.At that point the senior police commissioner, who introduced himself as “Meshack”, told me I could leave.

I asked if I could have my camera back.

It was produced about 20 minutes later.

Another officer then warned me not to take any further pictures, and I was told “it would be better if you left Manzini”.

I then returned to the scene of the unrest, which was petering out.

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