Bheki Dlamini is IUSY Vice President and President of the Swaziland Youth Congress,
the youth wing of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).
Three years ago, on the 25th of February 2014, I was standing on the accused dock and the judge said I was acquitted of Terrorism charges. I was subsequently released from prison since my incarceration in 2010.
Most people celebrate birthdays, but for those of us who have been incarcerated always remember the day of their release from prison. Many good people are sitting in prison today not only in Swaziland but across the globe for demanding justice, freedom and equality.
I was arrested when I was 27 years old. Born in a rural part of a country where over 60% of the population lives in abject poverty in the face of a lavish lifestyle exhibited by the monarchy led by King Mswati. I had no other option but to stand up and condemn his rule. Swaziland has been an absolute monarchy since 1973 when the then King Sobhuza decided to ban all political parties and activities in the country. He centralised all powers into the hands of the monarchy. Political parties remain banned even on this day as we have no say in the governance of the country.
Today I still vividly remember the concrete walls of the prison, my sleeping mat that I had used for years, I remember the excruciating pain in my heart, I remember the tears, and I remember the cold leg chains and handcuffs.
I shall never forget the pain I have been through; from the torture chamber to prison, and now in exile. Surely pain cannot kill mankind. Ever since I was released from prison I have never really been happy. What would make me happy when my co-accused comrade, Zonke Dlamini, was convicted and three days later sentenced to 15 years. My release did not mean an end to the regime that has incarcerated me and my fellow comrades. My first speech to the Swazi people was that I was not happy about my release because I’m moving out of the small prison to the bigger prison”: this open prison is called Swaziland. From the day I was released I was under constant surveillance from the security forces. I remember well, my family wanted to celebrate my release by hosting a traditional thanksgiving ceremony. Once again the police were adamant that my family could not celebrate my release. They forcefully set up a camp at home on the eve of the proposed ceremony to make sure we do not celebrate my release. I had never felt so weak and powerless in the face of state power.
Once again the police were adamant that my family could not celebrate my release. They forcefully set up a camp at home on the eve of the proposed ceremony to make sure we do not celebrate my release. I had never felt so weak and powerless in the face of state power.
Two months after my release I had to flee the country in fear of yet another arrest. The pain of living exiled cannot be explained by words. In my life in prison I have lost some of my lovely family members. Again here away from home I have lost some close family members. Will I ever see their graves? Will I ever have the chance to see my parents? Will I ever see my siblings? Will I ever be in Swaziland again? I do not know the answer to these questions.But what keeps me going? I have been asked this question a million times. The motivating factor is that the course of fighting for freedom is a noble cause.
But what keeps me going?
I have been asked this question a million times. The motivating factor is that the course of fighting for freedom is a noble cause. The royal dictatorship in Swaziland must come to an end. I am one of those who are committed in bringing the regime down. The pain I have experienced and continue to experience propels me to go on. As I commemorate the day I was released from prison, I re-commit myself into the people’s struggle. I do this in honour of the comrades who have died in the hands of the police. I honour my comrades who are serving inside the dungeons of the enemy. I re-commit myself to pursue our struggle for land; I re-commit myself to fight side by side with the poor majority who do not know where their next meal would come from; to those who cannot afford decent health care; to the youth that is unemployed and cannot further have an education due to lack of means.
Three years is a short time but a lot of things have happened since my release. I escaped from another imminent arrest two months after my release into exile. I have been able to secure a scholarship under the Students at Risk programme to pursue my studies. My release from prison has granted me and my organisation – the Swaziland Youth congress – the opportunity to actively participate in the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), of which I was elected Vice President in 2016. Our struggle for democracy in Swaziland can never be isolated from the struggles waged by the oppressed people in the world fighting against dictatorships, conservative dogma and an international economic order that has chains magnitudes into perpetual poverty.
Despite all the tribulations I have no time for wailing and lamenting. The struggle for freedom and democracy is real. It calls for more sacrifice from myself until the end. The regime must remember that no force can suppress human determination forever. Our victory is in our hands. Soon we shall be singing the song of victory. Yes we shall overcome. The people shall govern.