Dubian Ade

Brief Histories: The Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) (Swaziland)

Dubian Ade
Brief Histories: The Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) (Swaziland)

The land-locked African country of Swaziland, which boarders on South Africa and Mozambique, was a colonial territory ruled by the British from 1902 to 1968. During the time of British colonization, Swaziland did enjoy some political autonomy.

The Swazi monarchy remained in tact and under the newly crowned king Sobhuza II the British administration was able to extract natural resources from the region. This relationship between the Swazi king and the British administration would continue for half a century.

Independence was granted to Swaziland in 1967 as Britain took interest in abandoning its colonial holdings. In Swaziland, that transition was relatively bloodless, a constitution was drafted, and elections were held in 1968.

The King was forced to buy back land that had been given to white settlers during British occupation. To pay for this, Sobhuza forced every Swazi to offer the equivalent of one cow as payment for the lands. With this money the King established Tibiyo TakaNgwane, a private trust that today functions a personal bank account for the Royal Family.

Fearful of the new wave of political activity in the kingdom after independence, King Sobhuza II proclaimed a state of emergency on April 12, 1973. His decree effectively suspended the 1968 Constitution, suspended the Bill of Rights, outlawed all political parties, and granted the king supreme power over the Swazi government. To this day, the 1973 Decree remains the highest law in Swaziland.

Sobhuza reinstated the traditional chiefdom system and the country became an absolute monarch. Public expression of any views related to a political party was considered an act of treason. Those charged with treason were persecuted, thrown in jail, and tortured.

The king gained the power to appoint all cabinet members and government officials. Following Sobhuza's death, King Mswati III ascended to the thrown on April 25, 1986 when he was only 18 years old. Within a month after his coronation Mswati dissolved the royal advisory board, appointed a new prime minister, and reconfigured the cabinet members.

Mswati's rule was characterized by the most fascist and autocratic policies. Repression continued, political parties remained outlawed, government corruption ran rampant and extrajudical killings were enacted by the Swazi police force.

The brutality of Mswati's regime was coupled with his obscenely lavish lifestyle which had always been at the expense of the Swazi people. To date he has thirteen royal palaces, a fleet of Mercedes and BMWs, and private jet worth 17 million. Mswati has an estimated net-worth of 200 million. The King owns nearly every means of production in Swaziland, and personally controls Swazi natural resources such as iron ore and gold. Mswati III owns at least 60% of the land in Swaziland. At least 70% of the Swazi population lives on land trusts held by the King. Mswati has a personal stake in nearly every major industry in Swaziland.

All the while two thirds of the Swazi people live in extreme poverty. 69% of the people live below the poverty line. 63% of Swazis live on less than $1.25 per day. Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world at 26%. 210,000 Swazis are estimated to be living with HIV.

A coalition of workers, intellectuals, and students formed The Peoples United Democratic Party (PUDEMO) on July 6, 1983, three years before Mswati ascended to the thrown. As soon as it was formed it was officially banned by the Swazi government. Under the leadership of Mario Masuku, who was elected president of PUDEMO in 1986, PUDEMO became the largest oppositional party in Swaziland.

At its very inception PUDEMO had championed full liberation of the Swazi people, the abolition of the Tinkhundla government, and the formation of a free and democratic Swaziland. Central to it's political goals was the formation of a multi-party democratic system. PUDEMO was also in strong opposition to the apartheid system in neighboring South Africa, as South Africa was and continues to be a close collaborator with the Royal regime in Swaziland.

The Swazi regime under the rule of the Liqoqo council, which had seized control of the country after Sobhuza's death, immediately took steps to persecute PUDEMO members. Many were forced to leave Swaziland or go into hiding during this time.

A large-scale campaign was organized by PUDEMO in the late 80s that mobilized students, the church, poor and working class Swazis to push for a democratic Swaziland. The campaign was so successful that the Swazi authorities rounded up eleven PUDEMO members including Masuku and charged them with high treason in 1990. The members were eventually acquitted of the main charge but were found guilty of attending "illegal meetings."

Kilson Shongwe became president of PUDEMO in 1991. During this time PUDEMO released one of its most important pro-democratic documents, "The Way Forward: Towards A Constituent Assembly Through A Negotiated Settlement." The document outlined a detailed plan for popular democratic participation in the Swazi government. Under PUDEMO a congress focused on youth organizing called the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) was formed in 1991. SWAYOCO became one of the more powerful wings of democratic organization in Swaziland. The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) was also formed to organize exiled Swazis and PUDEMO members and provide contact with those outside of Swaziland.

In 1996 a series of massive workers strikes were organized that brought the country to a crippling standstill. Worker strikes continued in 2000 after Mswati's regime forcefully evicted at least 200 rural residents from their homes and dumped them in remote areas of Swaziland without food or water.

PUDEMO's activities put international pressure on the Swazi government and were largely the reason for the new Constitution that was drafted by Mswati in 2005. The Constitution, although providing a basic Bill of Rights, failed to remove the 1973 Decree and effectively allowed the King's power to remain in tact. Political parties remained banned and all branches of government were still controlled by the King.

Mario Masuku, who was re-elected as the president of PUDEMO, has been thrown in jail at least three times and was arrested as recently as May 1, 2014 for giving a speech. He is currently in prison. PUDEMO leaders have and continue to be assassinated, jailed, and tortured for their political activity.