By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
Hundreds of unions, parties, politicians and individuals from all over the world have signed a petition to demand the release of Swazi political activists Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini, including the International Trade Union Confederation, British trade union federation UNISON and the African National Congress.
The ANC has issued a statement, calling “for the release of comrade Mario Masuku and all other political prisoners in Swaziland”, and last year the Danish ambassador raised the matter of Mario Masuku’s trial with Swaziland’s king Mswati III.
Mario Masuku is the president of the People’s United Democratic Movement, or PUDEMO, a party or movement fighting for democracy and socioeconomic justice in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, Swaziland, where over two thirds of the population survive on under a dollar a day.
A cold prison floor
But even though the support warms the heart of Mario Masuku, he still has had to sleep on a cold prison floor at the Zakhele Remand Centre in Manzini since he was charged with sedition for having shouted “viva PUDEMO” on Mayday last year. He is charged under the Swazi terrorism act, an act that Amnesty International has called “inherently repressive”. If convicted he could serve 15 years in prison.
Mario Masuku is 63 years old and suffers from arthritis and diabetes. According to PUDEMO’s Secretary General, Mlungisi Makhanya, who is himself charged with terrorism for having worn a PUDEMO t-shirt, Masuku has ”developed a life-threatening infection on his left foot which needs an operation”.
Last week, when Mario Masuku was visited by Lawyers for Human Rights, he complained that the conditions are “deplorable”. He has therefore applied for bail on two occasions to be able to seek treatment for his ailments in neighbouring South Africa.
Both applications for bail were turned down because the judge claimed “the security of the country would be threatened” if he was to be released, even though Mario Masuku has always campaigned peacefully for democracy and never advocated violence.
“My second home”
Mario Masuku been imprisoned many times, as well as harassed and charged for all manner of things, by Swaziland’s police forces and legal system since he helped form PUDEMO in 1983. So many times, that he often refers to prison as “his second home”.
When Mario Masuku was imprisoned for 340 days awaiting trial on similar charges of terrorism in 2009, the case was laughed out of court in a matter of hours and Masuku released when he was eventually brought before a judge.
Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini’s case is set to continue on February 5.
The campaign to free Mario Masuku and his co-accused, the Secretary General of PUDEMO’s Youth League, SWAYOCO, Maxwell Dlamini, was initiated by The Red Green Alliance and Danish solidarity organisation Africa Contact.
Read more about the partnership between The Red Green Alliance and PUDEMO