Swaziland police torture students agitating for scholarships

Seven students, including the president of the students’ union, were detained for four hours and tortured.

August 21, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
swaziland students protest
Photo: SNUS blog

The Swaziland police detained and allegedly tortured seven students, including the president of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), while they were returning from a protest march last week. The students were demanding scholarship for all students admitted to higher education.

On August 15, students from the country’s three major universities, the University of Eswatini, the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, and the Eswatini Christian Medical University, came together in joint action for the first time in decades.

The demonstration was a part of the campaign launched by the SNUS in May 2017 to force the government to reverse its decision of cutting 60% of the scholarships, making the remaining 40% available only to selected courses.

The students are demanding that anyone who gets an admission into an institute of higher learning after having secured the required grades must get a scholarship, regardless of which course they choose to study. The protesting students also delivered a petition to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, stating their demand.

The act was enough to provoke the police forces in the capital city of Mbabane to launch an attack on the students, who on their way back after the delivery of the petition. According to a statement by the SNUS, “All hell broke loose as the police started bashing students with their batons. Students ran helter skelter around town and, in the process, dozens were injured with three being rushed to the Mbabane Government Hospital.”

The seven students who were detained for four hours, in the course of which they were “tortured, assaulted and humiliated” and forced to give statements, included the “SNUS president and secretary general, Comrade Thuba. Comrade Lindo from the LUCT and Comrade Prosper Simelane, the SRC president of ECMU.”

Hailing the efforts of the students to“fight for what is rightfully theirs,” the SNUS said, “this historic activity was the first to many more that are yet to come. Until the students are heard and the scholarship policy is reversed or replaced by another policy favoring education as a whole instead of belittling tertiary education, students should not rest.”

In Swaziland, over 70% of the population lives below the poverty line of USD 2 a day. Without scholarships, higher education is inaccessible to the great majority of the masses, regardless of how well they score in their secondary education.

Multiple reports have indicated that young students, who are unable to feed themselves sufficiently, are being forced to sell themselves as prostitutes. Exploiting these conditions, many local businessmen have made it a part of their business to offer university students as sex-workers to rich tourists from neighboring South Africa.

The government of King Mswati III refuses to allocate the required funds for their education, and bring an end to this abuse of the young generation who seek to study, on the grounds that there is a shortage of funds.

Mswati is the last absolute monarch in Africa who reigns above the law. The royal family of the King, who controls 60% of the country’s economy, has 13 palaces, a fleet of luxury cars and motorbikes, and two private aircrafts.

Condemning the police action against the students, the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) said in a statement, “The continuous suppression of their union, SNUS, deepens each year. Cutting of scholarships, with the funds transferred to absolute monarch Mswati to support his luxurious lifestyle, has been entrenched even further.”

“CPS will continue to work with SNUS and the entire student movement in support of their demands,” the statement reassured. After leading a decade of peaceful struggle against the monarchy to bring about a democratic Swaziland, in the course of which the party has been banned and its mass organizations subjected to harassment and repression, the CPS has begun preparing for an armed sabotage campaign against those industries and infrastructure that are crucial for the upkeep of the monarchy.

The party argued that none of the demands of unions of workers or students can be met under a repressive monarchy. With the demand “Democracy Now!,” it has urged the students to “come on board to participate and contribute meaningfully to this engagement and ensure that the socialism they call for is implemented in their lifetime!”