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Two Days of Pro-Democracy Demonstrations in Swaziland

For the past two days, Swaziland has been the scene of large demonstrations, possibly the biggest pro-democracy protests in 10 years. VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, he tells English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the new demonstrations.

“Although the demonstrations are by their trade unions and workers, in fact they are democracy demonstrations. They have been very large by Swaziland standards. Yesterday (Wednesday), there was a major demonstration in the second city of Manzini and today (Thursday) apparently thousands of workers demonstrated in the capital Mbabane. And their demands essentially have to do around democracy issues,” she says.

Robertson describes the scene in the capital. “The capital was closed down. There was very little business activity. Shops were closed and offices were closed and so on. Yesterday (Wednesday), there was a little bit of freelance activity you might call it. Some shops were looted…but today the demonstration in Mbabane seems to have been fairly well organized. As I say, essentially brought the capital to a halt,” she says.

What does this mean for ruler King Mswati III? Robertson says, “He is Africa’s last absolute monarch. What it means right now is unclear. Ultimately, I suppose if the protests continue and gather support it might eventually compel some political change in Swaziland.”

A government spokesperson says the strikes were “nothing” compared to the 1996 demonstrations. Robertson says, “That is unclear. It’s not clear how many people have been on the streets today (Thursday), but certainly thousands and many more than for at least 10 years. Protests in 1996 were quite large and the demonstrations carried on for quite some time. And since then there’s been a great deal of repression of such expressions of democracy in Swaziland. Attempts to hold demonstrations have been quashed.” Apparently authorities made nom attempt to stop the latest demonstrations.