In the Southern African kingdom of Swaziland, pro-democracy groups plan to meet this month to come up with improved ways of pressing for reforms.
Wandile Dludlu, national coordinator for the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), said there are two main objectives to the meeting:
“The first one,” he said, “is to assess how we performed in terms of campaigns as well as the program generally including the boycott campaign. This is among the issues we will be evaluating. And then of course we want to prepare to set the agenda for next year, around what should be the priority issues and what lessons did we draw from the activities this past year.”
The government has banned or refused to recognize pro-democracy groups. The government calls members of the groups including the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) “terrorists.” The government also accuses them of acts of violence in their effort to bring about democratic reforms. The group denies the accusations.
Observers say the administration is unlikely to grant the groups permits for their meeting. The kingdom’s police have often prevented the pro-democracy groups from gathering. The groups in turn accuse the government of violently suppressing the opposition meetings.
Dludlu said the groups have a contingency plan to meet outside the country if security forces refuse to grant them permits or violently suppress the gathering.
“Too often, we will try to hold clandestine meetings; we do not necessarily go out in the public and announce the venue and the time,” said Dludlu. “But also we do not want to keep running away. We do deliberately hold these meetings, and whether they get disrupted or not, that will not deter our spirit; we will continue to give it a try.”
Some analysts have questioned the progress made by pro-democracy groups since the government has increased its clampdown on dissent and democratic reform. Dludlu disagreed.
“The [recent] election did not meet international standards, but to a great extent it’s a vote of no confidence. This we view as a gain and quite a positive response or message that the masses sent to his majesty [King Mswati III]”, said Dludlu. “But also people are getting more and more active at the community level -- voicing their dissatisfaction with the MPs, chiefs, and there are community uprisings against one chief [in particular].”
Dludlu says pro- democracy groups will continue their demands for a free country with democratic rights without fear of government intimidation or harassment.