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CiZC solidarity statement on the death of Sipho Jele in police custody
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition stands in solidarity with the family of the late Swaziland activist, Sipho Stephen Jele and pro-democracy movements following the suspicious death of the activist. On the 1st of May 2010 Swazi police arrested Jele for allegedly wearing a t-shirt bearing the logo of banned political party, People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and charged him under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Jele was allegedly found dead in police custody, hanging from rafters of a toilet at Sidwashini Correctional Facility on the 4th of May. Circumstances surrounding his death in police custody remain shrouded in mystery as his face was found swollen suggesting that he had been assaulted. Swazi police allege that Jele committed suicide. Results of an autopsy carried out by both the government and independent medical personnel are yet to be released.
The Coalition condemns in the strongest terms the Swaziland state's continued unwarranted interference with Jele's funeral. On the 15th of May 2010 Swazi police forcefully disrupted Jele's funeral service, confiscating a clothe bearing the PUDEMO logo which was covering his coffin. The incident occurred following the heavy presence of armed police during both the memorial and funeral services. Three people are currently in hiding following police threats to arrest them under the Suppression of Terrorism Act for speaking out against the repressive political environment.
Swaziland, Africa's last remaining absolute monarchy, has over the years been characterised by gross human rights abuses and suppression of fundamental freedoms. On the 12th of April 1973, the late King Sobhuza banned political parties arguing that multi-party democracy is divisive. The ban was upheld by the current ruler, King Mswati III in 2007. The 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act led to the further suppression of fundamental freedoms with the King banning perceived 'terrorist groups' including PUDEMO. Leaders of these so-called terrorist groups were arrested and while in police custody, tortured.
The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) have not taken any steps to pressurize the monarch to adopt democratic principles. SADC and the AU continue turning a blind eye while human rights abuses are carried out right in their backyard. 'The African solution to African problems' as advocated for by African leaders seems to promote autocratic and undemocratic practices as pariah states like Swaziland take the silence of key African institutions to be acquiescence. So far the so-called African solutions have not resulted in greater transparency, democracy or good governance on the continent.
The Coalition takes note of the similarities between Zimbabwe and Swaziland in terms of the democratic deficit, suppression of basic rights and widespread oppression of the people in these two rogue states. The Coalition further notes the failure by SADC and AU to insist on respect for human rights and promotion of democracy in both countries and urges all progressive and pro-democracy forces in Swaziland to remain vigilant, steadfast and strong in the knowledge that they are not alone in the struggle and that they will surely overcome.
The Coalition calls upon;
The Swaziland government;
- To facilitate an independent investigation into the death of Jele and, if it is established that his death was unnatural, hold accountable those responsible.
- To respect the rights of Jele's family by allowing them to mourn without police interference and disturbances from the state and its agents
- To adopt democratic reforms in the country including lifting the ban on political parties and repeal repressive laws including the Suppression of Terrorism Act
SADC and the AU
- To take action against the Swaziland government which has, over the years, refused to adopt democratic reforms and continued to muzzle the press, deny its citizens free political activity and torture and kill perceived opponents. The government has failed to respect democratic principles as enshrined in the SADC treaty and the constitutive law of the AU. Article 3 of the AU constitutive law states that the AU's objectives include promotion of democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; and promotion and protection of human rights as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) and other Human Rights instruments.
Sipho Jele's death is not in vain. The struggle for democracy and human rights respect in Africa continues unabated. Swaziland and Zimbabwe it is Aluta Continua!