Comments 15th April: The usual quiet has descended on Swaziland and we can safely say we’re back to being “Hassle-free Africa” again. So this will be our last posting on this topic for now.
We are certainly grateful that unlike in Ficksburg, South Africa, where service delivery riots resulted in the death of a protester at the hands of the police, our own Swazi police have maintained law and order without similar tragic loss of life. Its unlikely that the progressive forces in Swaziland or the media (who in their total silence on positive analysis like this, appear distinctly partisan), will thank them. So its left to us the general public to be grateful.
Again we are not surprised, because most contact we have with police in Swaziland is polite and pleasant, and even when we are caught on the wrong side law, its rare that one isn’t dealt with almost as politely as one is by a London ‘Bobby’ on the beat. This isn’t surprising as our police force was originally modelled off the British system prior to Independence. However most of us don’t throw stones and hurl insults at police like protesters tend to do, so we’re sure these guys get to witness a different side.
Whilst we’ve had an official apology from the Prime Minister about the inconvenience of all the roadblocks and searches over the past week, these really weren’t much of a hassle to travellers or locals. In fact we bet that our petty crime stat’s in Mbabane and Manzini hit an all time low due to the very visible police presence.
“What was also a revelation to me,” says our MD Darron Raw, ” is how many female police officers we have in Swaziland. When I went through to Manzini on Tuesday to get a clear picture what was happening I was struck by how many woman in uniform there were. Even the OSSU bunch, the one’s in full riot gear (helmets and plastic shields) had a good representation of the fairer sex. Could this be reason why the Swaziland Police have comparatively softer touch? Either way, even at the peak of tensions in Manzini, most of the police on street corners were relaxed, lounging on walls, chatting and occasionally exchanging greetings with passers-by. Everyone knows everyone here. The majority also weren’t armed to the teeth, most carried merely rubber batons, which is why I reckon the image pounding they get in the press is a bit offside. Hell, they even came up with a uniquely Swazi way of getting the message across, with a synchronised route march style song ‘You will get arrested if you dare’, sung as the OSSU marched up and down the main street of Manzini. It sure beats a tinny voice over a megaphone.”
So as somewhat bemused observers to all this drama, what is our wish for the future?
- that the Government of Swaziland shows a lot less arrogance and humbles itself to the fact that people are increasingly unhappy with the way things are going… and that they demonstrate this in words and actions.
- that the Unions are able to find and elect amongst their skilled membership some leaders who are capable of representing “the people” with vision and integrity. Cheap point scoring, destructive rhetoric and associating with political violence should be immediate disqualification. We echo the cry: “When is the next Albert Shabangu going to step forward?”
- that the bunch who started the facebook uprising rant go back to school to learn some proper language and manners. But that they leave their facebook page intact so that future generations can appreciate the need to allow meaningful dialogue to take place, and not to allow this space to be cluttered with this type of immature idiocy. In fact, if they put a passport to their facelessness we’ll sponsor a round-trip for them taking in the sites of DRC, Ivory Coast, Somalia and few other choice examples of why war-talk is only spoken about by those who haven’t lived through it.
- that between Government and the Labour Unions they can arrange space for a successful mass march that shows to the world that people here in Swaziland can assemble and express their unhappiness in significant numbers without violence (or are we missing the point – maybe marches need to be chaotic to be successful?)
- That the South African press honour the invitation extended by the Swaziland Prime Minister to attend the regular monthly Breakfast Meetings that Cabinet has with our local editors. Our local press don’t go off on weird tangents like the SA press for a simple reason that they get both sides of the story. We believe that Futi’s Takeaway in Manzini has already agreed to put them in the picture by sponsoring the meal.
- that we can get back to our jobs and grow the economy to provide meaningful employment, business opportunities and a decent quality of life for everyone. That the term “poor” becomes redundant from lack of application.
… and if you think this post was lively, you should try one of our tours or adventures, there’s always fun to be had 😉
Swazi Trails – Your Contact in Swaziland
Travel companies often err on the side of caution when it comes to predicting the impact of events such as the much-publicised Swaziland Uprising, however we’re happy to say that our predictions for yesterday the 12th April were proved correct. Please read these original predictions further below.
Company Director Darron Raw adds: “In essence – there were a lot less demonstrators than even we predicted. The border blockade, was more of a symbolic protest and did hinder traffic or the flow of goods. Organised labour appear to have distanced themselves from being associated with anarchy, which left a very small group of ardent multi-party demonstrators to face off with the police in Manzini.
I travelled to Manzini and spent the afternoon there to observe proceedings. Against the public threats of aggressive disruption, it seems the Police followed a strategy of zero-tolerance. Any attempt to gather or march was quickly broken up by vastly superior numbers of police. There were possibly about 150 to maybe 200 people who were scattered around the Bhunu Mall area clearly wanting to assemble, but their efforts were disrupted by the Police. In some cases this appears to have been heavy handed, as evidenced by pictures today in our local papers, but I clearly missed this. The majority of police were standing around chatting and looking bored.
Why do I comment on this? Simply because the perception is generated is that there is massive popular unrest here in Swaziland, whilst there is clearly not. At most the area of confrontation was one city block and even at its worst there was no disruption to traffic flow that I was aware of. About 500m away, outside of the cordon of police you’d not even know there was something happening… and in fact most people went on with their daily business… as with elsewhere in Swaziland.
Reading internet reports and news bulletins there has been a massive amount of publicity generated, so I am sure the organisers of the Swazi Uprising will be congratulating themselves. From just one or two narrow sources they’ve managed to syndicate a negative image of Swaziland to one of the broadest audiences ever reached. Frankly, I’m jealous. If we as a company were able to market ourselves half as efficiently, we wouldn’t be a small business struggling to make ends meet and pay salaries at month-end.”
So that’s our update. We’re not proud of being in country that appears to have a zero tolerance of dissenting views, but the strong police response was to be expected. From day one the Swaziland Uprising was never portrayed by the organisers as an attempt to march peacefully. The word “peaceful” does not appear anywhere in their rhetoric. Our local force did what police do everywhere in the world – they maintained law and order.
Our hope is that the dialogue is continued and that mature leaders step forward to talk some sense on this topic of “change for the better”. When they do talk sense we hope that the international media will be equally quick to spread their views, rather than taking the views of hot-heads as being the gospel truth. Lies and misrepresentation of the truth will never be a good foundation for mass support of change. It will just build up and then collapse in a messy pile… like yesterday’s misguided attempt did.
So is it safe to travel to Swaziland? Our answer is “yes – any further unrest (if any) will be localised and the police are clearly in control”.
Is it worthwhile to visit Swaziland? “Yes – we are still one of the most welcoming nations in the world, nothing has changed overnight”.
Would your presence as a traveller in Swaziland, be considered responsible tourism? We reckon it would be: “Right now Swaziland has a massive challenge to strengthen its economy and the tourism sector is one part of economy that spreads benefits to the widest segments of society. Visit, travel freely and if you’re socially-minded or politically-conscious feel at ease to ask everyday people what they think of the Kingdom, where its come from, where its going to and about the challenges we face. First-hand knowledge is very illuminating.”
Thank you for your time. Feel free to add comments below… dialogue is always good.
Swazi Trails – Your Contact in Swaziland.
Comments 11th April. Is it happening or isn’t it? There is a lot of talk currently about a popular uprising in Swaziland, and particularly an event planned for the 12th April 2011. We’d like to share some of our thoughts on this as a locally-based business.
To start with, we’re hearing a lot more about this event from outside Swaziland than from within. It seems that given the recent uprising in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya that the concept of popular resistance to “evil regimes” has captured the global public’s imagination and the media is having a field day fuelling it.
The fact of the matter is there isn’t a mass movement or anything close to a mass movement in Swaziland interested in overthrowing the King. Why you may ask ? Isn’t he an evil, autocratic ruler maintaining power through a brutal police force? The answer is no – certainly not to the majority of us who live here. Swaziland is one of the friendliest, most respectful and peace-loving countries in the world. It is also one of the most inter-married, inter-linked and generally well integrated societies on the planet. There is no “us” and “them” – everyone knows everyone and if your uncle isn’t policeman, your uncle’s uncle is. We’re all related here… and although family politics can get a bit heated sometimes, the fact of the matter is we have respect for one another. We also have a lot of respect for the King. Why… because he is the father figure of our Nation… he is human, and he didn’t choose to be King. Kingship was thrust on him and he is expected to rule us as wisely as possible. If one follows his public speeches he is even more frustrated and confused about the way Swaziland is going economically than we are.
We have a fairly unique blend of democracy here that sees direct election of individuals literally from grass roots communities to Parliament. So we end up with a mix of amateur and professional politicians to handle our legislature. That mix is fairly representative of our country, because we are largely a rural population, with a smaller urbanised segment. Yes, the King has the final say politically in terms of appointments to the Senate, Cabinet and key posts in Government. But it is often his appointees who balance the gender gap and balance the divide between urban and rural. Its not classic multi-party politics, but it is a form of democracy that the majority of Swazis appear to be happy with, especially if one follows the enthusiasm and level of participation that the community voting process attracts every 5 years.
So groups advocating multi-party democracy have very little penetration into the Swazi populace, hence their apparent strategy is a guerilla approach, threatening unrest, using every marketing opportunity to claim attention, playing the sympathies of international media and governments. Which brings us to the current proposed uprising of the 12th April.
Right now Swaziland is faced with a serious economic predicament, which is a mix of external shocks and our own internal squandering of opportunities to use limited financial resources wisely. The Swaziland Government has become a massive social support structure. There are way too many people employed at way too great a cost to the economy. There are too many locally-owned businesses that exist for no other reason than to supply Government contracts and tenders. Its been a party… Swaziland has shifted a sizeable chunk of the population from lower income to middle-income, but without a solid tax base and industrial, agricultural or mining development to fund this, the state is fast going broke. No-one is happy with the status quo, as it requires salary cuts, chopping of benefits and reduced government services all round.
So our organised labour groups, particularly civil servants have opted to strike, to flex their muscles ahead of the looming show-down on wage cuts. In essence their list of demands are a mix of common good sense like more medical supplies in hospitals, adding another judge to the Industrial Court and some of populist appeal, like the removal of the E 55.00 monthly electricity charge that comes with our new pre-paid electricity system, amongst others. A successful strike now will no doubt strengthen their hand at the bargaining table. This planned happening has also provided an ideal guerilla marketing opportunity for the pro-democracy groups to piggy-back on. The reality is that disciplined union membership can probably pull off a march of 3000-odd people whilst pro-democracy groups would be lucky to gather 300 people at any one point. So right now whilst the world is attentive to “regime change” they’re making hay whilst the sun shines.
So what can be expected during this Swaziland Uprising on April 12th. Our predictions are:
- about 3000-odd demonstrators in Manzini City, largely peaceful, with alternative routes available to traffic
- A large police presence on major routes with searches of vehicles and people to limit and weed out the small minority who may be carrying weapons of mass mischief
- Some attempt by trouble-makers to provoke the police into action of some sort. Police brutality is an essential component of the developed perception that Swaziland is a police state. On a previous march the police did not respond to stones thrown at them, so we can expect some more desperate attempts to stir them up this time.
- A large international media contingent, who to avoid being shown up as having got the story wrong, will capture sound-bites and quotes from the media-savvy multi-party campaigners, without bothering to canvas opinion from 99.95% of Swazis who won’t be there in Manzini.
- Some back-up of trucks at Oshoek Border as COSATU-aligned drivers carry out a good blockage, which may last a day or two.
- and that is it… a bit of a damp squib by Egyptian and Libyan standards, but then again this is Swaziland.
So if you’re travelling to Swaziland, our message is “fear not”, the disruption is likely to be minor and will not affect services at hotels, restaurants, game parks and other attractions. Mbabane the capital is likely to feel like its a Sunday… with the politics of fear having cautioned people to stay at home. There will be a police and army presence and you are likely to be stopped more than once and searched. Again, you’ll find the police and army polite and professional. Swaziland is not a banana republic that has armed drunken soldiers racing around in pick-up trucks. If you can avoid Oshoek/Ngwenya border, do so, there are plenty of other entry points to choose from, but if you can’t, don’t stress – in previous “blockades” the flow of private vehicles was not hindered. Even in and around Manzini it is likely that police will be present to direct traffic away from any protesters or points of aggravation.
Our Managing Director, Darron Raw comments: ” We’ll be at work as usual. My kids will have been dropped off to catch the bus to school… and if the phone is quiet I’ll probably nip into Manzini out of curiosity to see for myself how the various parties conduct themselves.”
So there you have it! You may be cynical and claim that we have a vested interest in maintaining Swaziland’s air of tranquillity for tourism. Yes – we do… BUT we’re also confident that our understanding of feelings on the ground are a lot more precise than 95% of the uprising nonsense being spoken about in the international media.