Friday, July 31, 2015

A Heart that Never Dies

Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, not only demands total loyalty from his citizens – most of whom survive on less than a dollar a day from handouts from the UN – but he also makes sure that meetings he deems ‘political’ are disrupted by police, who harass and beat up activists like Bheki. Many of them are subsequently charged with terrorism for trivial ‘offences’ such as shouting ‘viva PUDEMO’ or wearing a PUDEMO t-shirt (Swaziland’s largest banned political party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

A new documentary, ‘Swaziland – Africa’s last absolute monarchy’, made by award-winning Danish investigative journalist Tom Heinemann, describes the fight for democracy and socio-economic justice through the eyes of Bheki Dlamini, a young activist and leading member of PUDEMO. It was at university, while studying Sociology and Public Administration, that Bheki really started questioning the doctrines and cultural codes of Swazi society. The different views of students and lecturers had an impact. ‘University changed my perception and how I looked on society,’ he says.

Bheki chose to act on his new-found beliefs by, amongst other actions, helping organize civic education for poor and illiterate people in Swaziland’s rural areas. After having had his home ransacked and been detained on several occasions, Bheki was arrested in 2010, tortured, and charged with terrorism for allegedly committing arson against an MP and a police officer, crimes that he and his colleagues said he could not have committed. Bheki was in prison for nearly 4 years. He was kept in a filthy cell, no larger than 5 by 12 metres, 24 hours a day and with up to 40 other inmates.

When the trial finally began, all charges against Bheki were quickly dropped and he was released. But as Bheki told the large crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse to greet him upon his release: ‘I am moving out of the small prison into the bigger prison.’ A few months later he was forced to flee Swaziland, when the police tried to arrest him after he had given a speech on May Day.

‘No matter what they do to me, the fight continues,’ hesays, unflinching and looking straight into the camera. ‘The state is afraid, so if we can push much harder it is going to succumb to our pressure.’ 

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