“If we have to go inside the prisons and be charged, I am the first one”. This was the prophetic statement of the Mario Masuku, the President of PUDEMO, on May Day in the tiny absolute monarchy of Swaziland.
Mario Masuku and youth leader Maxwell Dlamini, were arrested shortly after having given speeches to approximately 7,000 people at the 2014 May Day event in Swaziland’s main commercial city, Manzini. They were charged under section 4 and 11 of the Suppression of Terrorism Act, an act that Amnesty International has called “inherently repressive” and claims “continues to use the sweeping provisions of the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act to detain and charge political activists”. They could serve as long as 15 years in prison if convicted. Mario Masuku had expressed support for his own organization, PUDEMO, and Maxwell Dlamini had shouted “viva PUDEMO” along with hundreds of others at the May Day event and allegedly sung a song that included the words “the king must go”.
The state prosecution has argued that these utterances are “very serious” and “threatening to the leadership of the country and the nation at large”. Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini for their part vigorously deny being terrorists or that their alleged offenses constitute acts of terrorism. Both Masuku and Dlamini have been denied bail and are remanded in custody at Zakhele Remand Centre, where Mario Masuku has contracted pneumonia, which has exacerbated by his diabetic condition and led to drastic weight loss and poor eye sight. His legal team is filing a new bail application to try and ensure that he gets the proper medical attention that he has been refused in prison.
According to several members of the democratic movement in Swaziland both Masuku and Dlamini are also facing financial difficulties because of the legal costs of the trial. Their trial will continue in September. They have both previously faced both harassment and lengthy spells in custody for similar charges from Swaziland’s police and legal system, none of which they have ever been convicted of. Maxwell Dlamini has given a vivid account of his torture at the hands of Swazi police in 2011 and was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder before his arrest.
Swaziland is one of the most unequal countries in the world with nearly 70 per cent of its population living under the poverty line of US$1 a day. King Mswati III of Swaziland is ranked amongst the richest royals in the world.
Information about the partnership between PUDEMO and The Red-Green Alliance
The Red-Green Alliance is a democratic socialist party which aims to combine politics for social change with politics for solving the great environmental problems both on national and international level.
The Red-Green Alliance has, for several years now, been in a project partnership with PUDEMO that seeks to assist the organization in the achievement of its ultimate goal – achieving democracy and socio-economic justice for all Swazis.