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, 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 intermarried, interlinked and generally well-integrated societies on the planet. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them'; everyone knows everyone and if your uncle isn’t a policeman, your uncle’s uncle is. We’re all related here… and although family politics can get a bit heated sometimes, we have respect for one another.
Unique but Not Without Troubles
We also have a fairly unique blend of democracy here that sees direct election of individuals literally from grassroots 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. It is a form of democracy that the majority of Swazis appears to be happy with, especially if one follows the enthusiasm and level of participation that the community voting process attracts every five years.
However, 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. It’s been a party while Swaziland has shifted a sizable chunk of the population from low- to middle-income without a solid tax base and industrial, agricultural or mining development to fund it, so 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 have opted to strike, to flex their muscles ahead of a looming showdown on wage cuts. 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 prodemocracy groups to piggyback on. They have very little penetration into the Swazi populace, hence their apparent strategy is to threaten unrest, use every marketing opportunity to claim attention, and play the sympathies of international media and governments. The reality is that disciplined union membership can probably pull off a march of 3000-odd people whilst prodemocracy groups would be lucky to gather 300. So right now whilst the world is attentive to ‘regime change’ they’re making hay whilst the sun shines.
What to Expect
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
- 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 backup of trucks at Oshoek Border
- and that is it… a bit of a damp squib by Egyptian and Libyan standards, but then again this is Swaziland.
Thus, 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 may be stopped more than once and searched. But Swaziland is not a banana republic that has armed drunken soldiers racing around in pickup trucks.
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 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.
UPDATE: What Really Happened
Darron Raw, true to his promise, went to Manzini City to see what was what.
In stark contrast to what has appeared in the news, he reported, “I am back from a circular tour of Mbabane, Matsapha and Manzini – spent about 2 hours there this afternoon. Apart from about 200 people loitering around Bhunu Mall in Manzini who looked like they had an interest in protesting, there’s not much to mention. The police had a very tight grip on things and clearly weren’t tolerating any misbehaviour. I believe a couple of attempts to demonstrate were quickly halted, but I missed them. There was no disruption to traffic flow, shops weren’t closed and many people were clearly carrying on with their daily lives. The much vaunted Swaziland Uprising appears not to have developed any further popular support than the normal 200-300 dedicated protesters. Any change in political dispensation clearly won’t be coming by this approach in Swaziland.”