Swaziland, a small African country, landlocked within South Africa, has been experiencing since May an insurrection that deepened in June, and placed it on the same route as the violent mobilizations in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Senegal. The reasons have to do with the fall in commodity prices due to the capitalist crisis and aggravated by the impact of the covid 19 pandemic that deepened the misery of the masses. The country is controlled by King Mswati III, one of the last absolutist monarchies in the world, and it is against this dictatorship that the masses took to the streets, protested and set fire to businesses and plantations. They were harshly repressed and, in the end, there are at least 40 deaths in this tiny country of 1.350,000 inhabitants.
Agricultural and mineral production for export and infamous poverty
Like the entire African economy, Swaziland has an export-oriented economy. Sugar and citrus production with a high level of organic capital composition as a result of irrigation, mechanization, high productivity and semi-slave workers. In the country, 90% of food and consumer goods come from South Africa and for this reason its currency, the lilangeni, is pegged to the South African rand, subordinating the monetary policy of eSwatini/Swaziland to South Africa. Therefore, South Africa acts as a sub-metropolis at the service of imperialism.
The population, in a mono-export and food-importing economy, with high unemployment and very precarious health services, lives an impressive poverty that contrasts with the high consumption life of King Mswati-III’s family. It is estimated that 30% of the population is HIV/AIDS carriers and there is a high rate of mortality from tuberculosis. The country has the 12th lowest life expectancy in the world, with an average of 58 years.
The government and the regime
Swaziland is ruled by an absolutist monarchy. Even in 2018, by decision of King Mswati-III, the country Swaziland changed its name to eSwatini. The head of state is King Mswati-III and who, in turn, shares power with his own mother, a kind of spiritual queen. And it is still up to the king to appoint the prime minister and organize the parliamentary elections held every five years.
The Parliament is composed of the Senate with 30 members, 10 appointed by the Chamber of Deputies and 20 appointed by the king. The Chamber of Deputies has 65 members, 10 appointed by the king and 55 elected by popular vote for a five-year term. However, there is no recognition of political parties and candidates present themselves separately. Of the 65 deputies in the current legislature, only 3 are considered opponents.
An absolute monarchy integrated with world capitalism
In April 1986, at the age of eighteen, the prince, Makhosetive, left his studies at the Sherborne School in England to take the post of King Mswati-III. Inaugurated representing the US was the daughter of then President Reagan, Maureen, the President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, and the South African dictator, Pietr Botha.
In these thirty-five years of government, in public appearances, Mswati-III likes to present himself with a bare chest, costumes made with leopard skin and ornaments of animal origin. Annually participates in an event where women parade with bare breasts, skirts and tribal sashes. At the event, the King can choose one of the women to be his wife. In this condition, he has fifteen wives and twenty-five children. Mswati III is the sixty-seventh son of King Sobhuza II, who, according to local tradition, is said to have had two hundred and seventy children.
His extreme control over the country’s limited economic resources ensures a lifestyle full of ostentation, with big cars, private airplanes and luxurious palaces, and his children show off their extravagant anniversary parties on social media.
If, on the one hand, absolute monarchy has several extremely reactionary qualities, on the other hand, there is a remarkable integration into the world capitalist system. This is evident in the fact that Mswati III owns 53.1% of the Royal Swazi Sugar Corporation and controls 21,000 hectares of land in this small country, in which both sugar production and sale are exclusively destined for the Coca Cola company. Most of the large companies operating in the country are of South African capital and in all of them the King has a shareholding.
The murder of a student was the beginning
Swaziland’s police and army are extremely violent against the workers and poor people, in addition they enjoy total impunity from the organs of the state run by the absolutist monarchy. However, in the second half of May, police violence suffered a severe setback due to the death of a university student, from an upper-middle class family, in which the participation of police agencies in his murder was evident. Youth mobilizations immediately began, which became more radical and incorporated other social sectors.
The mobilization extended, deepened and became politicized
The mobilization following the death of student Thabani Nkomonye, initially took place in the capital and soon spread to rural areas where 75% of the population lives. In the last days of May and early June, the country experienced, according to the New York Times, the “most explosive civil unrest in its 53 years of independence”.
Suddenly, anger erupted and thousands of protesters took to the streets of Mbabane, the country’s capital, and soon spread to rural areas, with countless businesses and banks set on fire and looted, especially those in which the king is known to have a shareholding. Supermarkets (Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Spar) and banks (Standard Bank and Nedbank) of South African capital were also looted and set on fire.
The attack on the king’s businesses and farms was a clear message that the masses no longer support the regime. But also, by burning and plundering South African businesses, it sent a clear message to the Rainbow Nation in the following direction in telling South Africa that: you also have responsibilities in sustaining this absolutist and dictatorial monarchy.
48 years of dictatorship: the backwardness in the organization of the working class
Installed in 1973, five years after independence, the dictatorship imposed by the absolutist monarchy prevented the organization of workers by fire and iron. In the city and in the countryside, the few organizations have many limitations, without great traditions of organization by place of work or residence, and it is hardly exercised in the healthy practice of workers’ democracy.
It is especially important to note this weakness in order to understand the limits of the current cycle of struggles and, even more, the urgent need to organize unions that work in companies and organizations in the countryside. Organizing those who live off the land gains special importance as 75% of the population lives in the countryside.
Opposition Political Organizations
The two main organizations that joined the mobilizations were PUDEMO – People’s United Democratic Movement and CPS – Communist Party of Swaziland.
The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), according to its page, “is a political movement committed to the creation, protection and promotion of a constitutional multi-party democracy, a transparent and accountable government, an environment conducive to economic growth and empowerment and the development of a culturally vibrant democracy and a tolerant society, based on maximum participation and respect for the will of the people”.
The CPS – Communist Party of Swaziland, on its page defines as priority tasks: 1. Multiparty Democratic Participation; 2. Unconditional freedom for political prisoners; 3. Safe return of all exiles; 4. Legalization of all political parties; 5. Constitution for a new democracy; and 6. Holding free and fair elections.
Both the program presented by PUDEMO and the one presented by the CPS restrict the formal freedoms of the bourgeois state. Transitional tasks such as agrarian reform, non-payment of foreign debt, expropriation of monarchy companies are not included in the program. Just when the workers are convulsed, ready to listen to alternatives and fight for them, both PUDEMO and the Communist Party fail to do so.
Continue with mobilizations in the streets until the fall of the monarchy
The mobilizations that took over the country put the absolutist monarchy and King Mswati III on the defensive. Even with all the repression, with more than 40 dead and 500 people imprisoned, the fight was not defeated.
The bourgeoisie obtained important declarations for the “end of violence”. Catholic bishops from nine countries signed a manifesto for peace. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the UN, and other organizations called for an end to the violence. But these same organizations have never said anything against the fact that 70% of the population lives in poverty, with high rates of violence against women and 30% of the population with HIV because of hospital contamination.
It was only possible to put the Mswati III dictatorship on the defensive due to the mobilizations. And so, the mobilizations must continue until the fall of Mswati III and the monarchy.
We in the International Workers’ League fully support the struggle of the Swazi people against the dictatorship and the bourgeoisie that supports it.
Down with the dictatorship of Swatini III and its absolutist monarchy!
Immediate freedom for all political prisoners!
Out all! For free and general elections!
For a Constituent Assembly that rebuilds the country, distributes land and guarantees workers’ rights!
Monarchy never again!
International solidarity with the struggle of the people of Swaziland!