Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Students at the University of Swaziland did not this year mark the anniversary of the campus invasion by armed soldiers known as ‘Black Wednesday.’

According to the Swazi Observer, a commemoration was called off at the last minute because present-day students were protesting that colleagues had been barred from taking examinations because school fees had not been paid.

It would be a pity if these events stopped people remembering the events of 14 November 1990.

It happened during what the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency called a ‘rebellion’ that ‘became a seminal event that signalled a new generation's political consciousness’. It was, IPS said, ‘a dawning political awareness born from a confluence of historical forces then sweeping the world and the Southern African region’.

The IPS report said ‘armed soldiers pushed police aside and forced students out of the library where they had barricaded themselves’.

The day began as a ‘disorganised demonstration’ against campus issues such as poor food ‘but soon turned into demands for democratic reforms in Swaziland's government’.

The IPS report quoted Manzini lawyer Lindiwe Khumalo-Matse, a university student at the time, saying, ‘The reason why soldiers were called in was because government
saw our protest as a political uprising.’

Khumalo-Matse is further quoted by IPS, ‘This was because of the involvement of Sabelo Dlamini, who was a member of the People's United Democratic movement (PUDEMO). Sabelo was prominent in the Students Representative Council,’ he said.

In 1990, one of the Swazi Government’s most draconian measures, a 60-Day Detention Law, was still in force, permitting authorities to lock up anyone they saw as a threat to public order. All political protestors were designated as such threats.

The violence that ensued after soldiers swept through campus has been a sensitive subject with government ever since. A commission of enquiry had its report secreted away for years, with a bowdlerized version finally released to the public in 1997.

Two students who were seriously injured sued government for damages, and their cases were settled out of court.

IPS reported that not only was the traditional leadership’s fear of democracy revealed on ‘Black Wednesday’, but also a proletariat attitude of resentment, displayed by the soldiers, was shown against the educated student ‘elite’. The military's code name for the university invasion was ‘Operation Tinfundiswa (educated ones).’

‘It was a time of wild rumours,’ recalled Khumalo-Matse. ‘We heard that government feared we would burn down the library, which belied common sense because we were inside and would have incinerated ourselves.’

The army officials in charge gave students a five-minute warning, and then unleashed what one onlooker later told an investigating committee was a ‘military riot against civilians’.

Students were beaten as they emerged from the library to escape teargas canisters hurled through windows, and had to run a gauntlet of soldiers. Other soldiers chased students until they cornered them along fences. As they beat students with batons, the soldiers informed them they were being ‘punished’.

People in Swaziland were shocked by the brutality. Particularly offensive was one newspaper photo depicting a young woman carried out of the library between soldiers ‘like a slaughtered pig’, according to a letter writer to the Times of Swaziland.

Following the events, Michael Prosser, a professor from the United States who was working at the University of Swaziland at the time, posted a personal eye-witness account online. This is what he wrote.


November 14, 1990, ‘Bloody Wednesday’ in Swaziland still lingers as a most important moment in my life. It was the only day that I thought I surely might die. I was a Fulbright Professor at the University of Swaziland in south east Africa that year.

University students began boycotting classes on November 12 in protest of a lack of faculty lecturers, poor food conditions, and the suspension of a popular young sociology lecturer for promoting democracy in Swaziland.

Early on November 12, all 1 600 university students held a protest meeting and boycotted all classes. At noon, they dumped their plastic wrapped lunches at the administration office door. The Swazi radio, and tv stations, Swaziland’s newspapers gave extensive coverage to the dumping of the lunches. Many Swazis were subsistence farmers who often went to bed hungry; thus this student decision reflected very badly on them. All students received a University notice demanding the end of their class boycott on November 13. They decided to continue it. The University Council demanded their return to classes on November 14, or be considered in defiance of the twenty-three-year-old King Mswati III.

Another student meeting on November 14 continued the boycott. About 500 students peacefully barricaded themselves in the two-storey university library. Several hundred students left campus or stayed in their student hostel area. At about 5pm, armed Swazi soldiers entered the high fenced campus.

A university official drove through the campus announcing the immediate campus closure. Five young women rushed to me and asked for emergency protection in my home. I took them there immediately.

A fifteen-hour rain and thunderstorm had just begun. The young women were quite terrified.

The young soldiers broke into the library and the student hostels, dragging students out, beating both men and women with their night sticks on their arms and legs, and forcing them to run a gauntlet toward the front gate while the soldiers gave them sharp blows.

The soldiers taunted the students: ‘We’ll beat the English out of you.’ They were especially vicious toward the women. The soldiers had been stationed that day at the high school next door to the campus and drank lots of beer before they attacked the campus, making them even more violent than otherwise so likely.

A neighbor warned us that at 10pm, soldiers would search our houses and arrest any students found there or on campus. Two Canadian families and I, in a caravan of three autos, took 11 frightened Swazi students in the three cars to the front gate to take them to safety.

With a gun pointed the first driver’s cheek, he got permission from the guard to leave the campus with the students. In the swirling rain, lightening, and thunderstorm, we took the students to safe shelters. When we returned to campus late in the evening, two soldiers were posted all night in the back and in the front of our houses.

With some students, I drove to the nearby hospital where more than 120 students had received emergency treatment. We visited more than a dozen badly injured students. We learned that soldiers possibly had injured as many as 300-400 and had killed perhaps as many as two-four students.

The Swazi radio and tv stations gave no information about what had happened after the students had dumped their food. However, the two Swazi newspapers did give the event considerable coverage over several weeks. They also printed many letters to the editor decrying the incident and called for a national judicial enquiry. Reuters News Agency and the South African press gave it some coverage.

Amnesty International cited it in their 1991 Annual Review. The University remained closed for two months, reopening on January 14. A national judicial enquiry, more heavily critical of the student boycott than the hostile military response, began on March 14, 1991 and ended on May 14. The enquiry panel never released any details to the public.

The print media called the incident ‘Black Wednesday’ but my students and I attempted to have the newspapers rename it Bloody Wednesday since so much innocent student blood had been shed.

I always recall that day as my worst and best day in Swaziland when much evil occurred but many good people at the campus, the hospital, and nearby clinics generously helped the students. Do these former African students, now in their thirties, still remember that day? I assume so. I certainly always do.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Swaziland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Nkosinathi Maseko has said, ‘most nationals of Asian origin were associated with terrorist activities’.

The Observer on Saturday (26 November 2016) reported he told this to a parliamentary select committee set up to investigate what the newspaper called an ‘influx of illegal immigrants’ into the kingdom.

The newspaper reported Maseko had said, ‘it was public information that most nationals of Asian origin were associated with terrorist activities; and their continued entry illegally put the country and its citizens at high risk of being a nucleus for terrorist activities.’

Maseko and the Observer gave no evidence to support this. 

The newspaper reported, ‘Maseko said it was possible that even the huge sums of money being invested in the country by those who paraded as businessmen were proceeds of illicit activities.’

The Observer added Maseko told the committee, ‘The country is under siege, and it is very scary.’

It added, ‘His greatest fear is that these people are multiplying in great numbers.’

See also



Friday, November 25, 2016


Swaziland’s National Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula has reacted angrily to a request from the Police Staff Association that its executive committee be recognised.

The Association’s executive was elected on 13 July 2016, but so far has not been acknowledged by the Swazi police chief.

Magagula took exception that Staff Association President Isaac Kaire Lukhele had spoken to the Swazi Observer newspaper about the matter.

The Observer reported on Wednesday (24 November 2016), ‘The National Commissioner has since decided to remind Kaire and his executive to be careful in the manner they make public statements.’

The newspaper quoted Magagula saying, ‘The language being used makes us suspect this is not the association we expected to be formed but seemingly they are using unionist language. Their tone is unacceptable and they should be careful on that. Again, it is a Police Staff Association and not just a police association and it needs to be corrected.’

The newspaper reported, ‘Magagula also said there was no way his office or the national executive would be put under pressure so as to recognise the Police Staff Association.’

There have been attempts in the past to form a trade union for police officers. The Swaziland Police Union was declared illegal by the Swazi High Court and the kingdom’s Supreme Court in 2009.

At the time, Secretary General of the Union, Khanyakwezwe Mhlanga had written to the then Commissioner of Police Edgar Hillary and asked for recognition as a bargaining body of the police. Hillary refused and insisted that the Police Staff Association was the only authentic bargaining group for the police.

See also