Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Swazi Conundrum
I will openly admit that yesterday's spat at the Swazi border post came completely out of the blue for me. Although I know that Swaziland is of course a monarchy, I had not heard of widespread discontent within its borders. Without implying that my lack of awareness about this issue is cause for concern, it raises the question; are the local trade unions attaching themselves to these issues (recall the headline-grabbing "visit" to Zimbabwe last year) to gain easy publicity?

The unions did very well in terms of column inches last year, with the diplomatic row over Zimbabwean visit, the widespread service delivery protests, the internal ANC skirmishes and the Zuma defence. Any modern political party is aware that they have to further their brand, and public perception is a large part of that, which Cosatu seems to understand with clarity. Attaching your party to attributes of "freedom of the people" is always a winner with the voting electorate, and it is a smart strategy for Cosatu to follow. I would cynically wonder if this is the case here.

Moving onto the next issue - the police response to it - it does seem to have been fairly heavy-handed. This comes with the with the caveat that I say this relying only on media reporting, but the indisputable facts that rubber bullets were used to disperse the crowd, and scores of high ranking Cosatu leaders were arrested are a cause for concern. Cosatu head Zwelinzima Vavi went so far to say that "the general police behaviour has been barbaric and undemocratic."

This puts South Africa in quite a bad light, whatever the provocation from the protesters. All the international media see - and report on - is SA police cracking down heavily on a pro-democracy rally. Surely the correct option would be to let the protest go on without incident, and deal with the issue diplomatically. Firing rubber bullets into a group of protesters - who had the requisite permissions to picket - immediately harkens back the the bad old days of the SAP and does nothing for police reputation. All it does is steel the protesters in their dislike of police forces, inferring that any future protest with the same individuals will undoubtedly have a highly charged, and possible violent, atmosphere. As I have said, I am unaware of the provocation from protesters that led to the police action, but the response seems to have been ill-judged.

I must admit to not being a fan of monarchies, I think they are in impediment to good governance, so I do support these protesters on principle. Swaziland, completely reliant on South Africa and other neighbours, should have the same political rights and freedoms as any other state.