This article is an adaptation of a report given to the CPUSA International Department by Joseph from the CPUSA Virginia District. Additional information and editing were contributed by Jack D.
With the disintegration of the British Empire in the 20th century, a little country called Swaziland, which is landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, was granted nominal independence after decades as a British protectorate. This process began with the imposition by the British in 1963 of the first Swazi constitution, which was opposed by all segments of Swazi society. With the backing of the White Swazi settler bourgeoisie, foreign multinational capital and apartheid South Africa, the monarchist party made a clean sweep of the inaugural elections to the Legislative Council in 1964.
The upshot of this was the consolidation of the traditional Swazi monarchy as the dominant political force in the country upon independence in 1968. Whereas in most newly decolonized African states power was handed over to Western-educated élites at the expense of traditional authorities, Swaziland bucked the trend. The British had imposed a constitutional monarchy before independence, but King Sobhuza II’s position was strong enough that in 1973 he was able to carry out an autogolpe, suspending the constitution, banning all political parties and establishing himself—with the backing of apartheid South Africa and other imperialist interests—as the absolute ruler of Swaziland.
Since 1973, the Swazi monarchy has ruled over its people with an iron fist and Western imperialist interests, such as from the U.S. and Israel, have been increasingly involved in the country. While repression has grown heavier, this has gone hand-in-hand with a growing resistance. The national democratic movement in Swaziland—officially renamed Eswatini in 2018—is a growing force that is presently engaged in various areas of struggle, many of which should be of direct interest to us.
Comrade Pius Vilakati, International Secretary Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), spoke at an online event put on by the Friends of Swazi Freedom before an audience of over 400 on Monday, Feb. 7. Cde. Vilakati has been in exile in South Africa since 2010. This same fate is shared by many of the leaders of the Swazi liberation movement.
Political parties were officially banned in 1973 by the monarchy. However, in 1983 the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a Democratic Socialist Party, was founded in opposition to the monarchy. Members have been arrested, and allegedly killed. One such incident included the death of Comrade Sipho Jele in police custody in 2010. Cde. Jele had been arrested for attending May Day celebrations organized by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) while wearing a PUDEMO T-shirt. His family’s first attempt at a funeral for him was cut short when 500 armed police assaulted mourners, arresting several and destroying pictures of Jele along with other materials, including a PUDEMO flag that had been laid on his coffin.
Cde. Vilakati has been in exile in South Africa, because if he returns to Swaziland he will likely be charged with sedition, as many others have, for attending the funeral of Cde. Jele. Cde. Vilakati shared that other forces are at play on the ground, include Taiwanese separatist interests—who have a close relationship with the monarchy—and the Israelis. The U.S.’s involvement in suppressing the Swazi people is unquestioned, as attempts by protesters to deliver a petition to the U.S. embassy in June 2021 resulted in a crackdown that saw the deaths of over 27 people.
The opposition to this neocolonialist nightmare is a broad coalition, from PUDEMO and the CPS to the SFTU and the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), whose president was recently arrested.
The situation in Swaziland today is critical. Founded in 2011 by organizers from PUDEMO and the growing labor movement, the CPS has dedicated itself to the struggle for an independent and democratic Swaziland and has asked for solidarity and support.
The Friends of Swazi Freedom is an independent nonsectarian organization that helps spread information about the struggles of the Swazi people and helps encourage allies to do what they can to aid the Swazi people. It wishes to serve as a broad mass organization for supporting the Swazi cause and it needs as much help as people can provide. This aid is urgent because, based on the information available, it is expected that the situation in Swaziland will heat up again around April.
All too often, the struggles in Africa go unnoticed in the United States and the rest of the so-called Western world. This is an egregious error that must be corrected immediately. The U.S. and its allies are accomplices in the persecution of the Swazi people. Therefore, it is especially important for Communists in the imperial core to stand with the Swazi people in their struggle. All Communists and freedom-loving people must stand with the Swazi people as they fight for liberation from oppression.