Exclusive Interview with Mario Masuku by Eric Singh, ANA Snr. Editor

Mario Masuku being interviewed by Eric Singh/Photo: Karin Singh

Denmark: A solidarity group based in Denmark, attached to the Social Democratic Party of Denmark, has motivated that Mario Masuku, President of PUDEMO (People’s United Democratic Movement) of Swaziland) be awarded the DEMOCRACY AWARD for fighting for peace and democracy in Swaziland. Mario will be the first recipient of this newly created award. It will be conferred on Mario Masuku in the Danish Parliament on 15 March 2010, by Mogens Lykketoft. Mr Lykketoft was the former leader of the Social Democratic Party of Denmark and a very strong opponent of apartheid and injustice.

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– COSATU Website 2010

This news was greeted with much enthusiasm by opposition groups in Swaziland. “The Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) congratulates and salutes PUDEMO President Mario Masuku for being awarded the prestigious Danish Democracy Prize. On the occasion of this great achievement and recognition of a humble son of the Swazi soil, Mario Masuku, the world cannot but deliver a standing ovation for this well deserved award”.

Needless to say, PUDEMO was overwhelmed by this news. In a statement issued immediately after the announcement, the opposition liberation group issued the following statement:

“We in PUDEMO and indeed all its allies in the progressive movement of Swaziland, congratulate our President for achieving this and welcome the revolutionary gesture shown. We are aware that as a humble servant of the people he did not expect to get any laurels for his sacrifices. His greatest reward will be to see all the people of Swaziland free and living a better life. This award shows that the days of the regime are numbered. We are confident that this will inspire our President and of course all the struggling people of our country to fight on until final victory. Our basic demands are clear – unban political parties and hold democratic multi-party elections”.

I have always been aware of a strong opposition against the autocratic monarchy in Swaziland. But much to my shame it must be admitted that I did not have a clue about Mario Masuku or PUDEMO until reading the statements on the website mentioned above. That is why I felt like riding the clouds when we bumped into each other at a conference in South Africa earlier this year. This was like ‘manna from heaven’ which I accepted with both hands. He immediately agreed to talk to me and we spent a long time chatting. Here below, are excerpts from that interview.

Mario, tell us something about yourself and PUDEMO, the organisation you lead?

I am Mario Masuku from Swaziland in Southern Africa. I am the sixth born in a family of five boys and five girls. My father Malcolm was a mine worker and later a cattle guard under the Ministry of Agriculture until he retired from government. My mother Fakazile was a simple and humble housewife. This was an interesting contrast between my parents.

My mother never saw the inside of a classroom, but grew up herding cattle and later worked as a maid on farms. My father on the other hand was considered an educated person having trained as a teacher at the Adams Mission in Amanzimtoti about 35kms from Durban in South Africa. It was a very prestigious institution as it was the first college providing Africans with an opportunity for gaining a good standard of learning. Adams Mission celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2013.

Tell us something about your early life?

It is no secret that life was hard for people in the rural areas. My family did not escape this fate. It was quite usual for me and my siblings to occasionally run out of school fees which had to be paid every month. My tasks included taking care of the cattle after school and at the weekends.

That changed in 1966 when a fellow classmate and I received an invitation to enrol for our Form I studies at the Evelyn Baring High School provided we passed our examinations, which we did. Evelyn Baring was a prestigious “whites” only school that had recently been deracialised. Early in the following year together with my friend we became part of the first contingent of “black” students at this institution.

How was school life?

We were not received with open arms. Three of us got into a dispute with a white teacher. He wanted us to play football which we did not like. We preferred to do something else. He then retaliated by forcing us to write an essay on ‘Wild Animals in Africa’. We felt provoked. So we wrote about ‘Wild Animals from Europe’ that come and spoil our Africa. I was expelled from school. My father who was working in the mines somewhere in South Africa was most certainly not amused. He returned home and negotiated my return to school with the King who demanded a no nonsense promise from me. I returned to school in 1971 and worked very hard. I also became a good footballer and captained the team, and was also appointed a school prefect by the school authorities.

What brought you into politics?

My father and brothers were active in the politics of Swaziland. There was excitement in the country in the period preceding our independence from the United Kingdom. I was fascinated hearing my father and brothers discussing the prospects of a free Swaziland when they came home after attending meetings.

After completing my final exams I moved to the capital Mbabane in search of “fame and glory”. My luck held and I was employed by an international bank. At the same time there was a huge influx of freedom fighters from the Republic of South Africa and Mozambique. Both groups were involved in a life and death struggle for the liberation of their countries from white domination.

Mario Masuku/Photo: Karin Singh

In the process and interaction with these freedom fighters I was able to make a lot of friends with whom I shared political ideas and experiences. These were of great benefit to me in my later career. Our close links to the African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) of South Africa today, could be attached to our close relations dating back to exile times. I promptly joined the trade union movement and became very active politically.

The incident that really was a lever to push my political consciousness that included many of my countrymen/women happened in 1973, which was the beginning of calculated and systematic oppression of Swaziland. King Sobhuza II, in what was to be known as the King’s Proclamation to the Nation made a very strange announcement that was to change the political landscape of our country. The King had summoned the Swazi people to his traditional headquarters while parliament was in session.

In the proclamation, he announced that he was now suspending the national constitution and assuming all powers, including legislative, executive and judiciary. The proclamation effectively banned all political parties; free and political activity in the country. This was directly in contrast to the democratic dispensation that existed in 1966/67. Swaziland had achieved its independence from the colonial masters Britain. Political parties were formed and elections were held and a parliament was established.

With this proclamation, Sobhuza abrogated the independence constitution and other organs of state and became an absolute monarch. It can safely be said that he became a dictator by banning all political activities and centred it on himself. The situation has become even worse with his successor King Mswati III who took over the reins of state in 1986, and continues to rule and reign the country of Swaziland with an iron hand as an absolute monarchy. These are some of the problems that we are confronted with in Swaziland.

But we could not leave the field to the monarchy and its henchmen. Opposition groups were formed which were not allowed to practise their democratic rights. Activities had to be carried out in underground conditions. It is for such reason that PUDOMO was formed in 1983 to unite the people of Swaziland in the struggle for liberation from the manipulative and oppressive Tinkhundla Royal House. It was attended by groups of workers, intellectuals and students assembled on the banks of Mbuluzi River. I was one of the participants of that historic meeting.

PUDOMO is a broad church and national movement which takes on board all people with ideals irrespective of ideology. In 1999, the leadership of PUDOMO was charged with high treason which was repeated in 2002 and once again in 2005. In the year 2008, the regime introduced a law called Suppression of Terrorism Act. Many of us have been charged under the reign of terror unleashed by the monarchy. I, myself, have spent a year behind bars in this process of trying to destroy all opposition to the king and his nepotism*. After spending 12 months as an awaiting trial prisoner, I was acquitted by the courts of the charges laid against me. Despite the brutality of state terror, we have refused to cow down. In fact we are meeting the regime head on and taking the struggle to them”.

Mario Masuku was elected President in 1986 and re-elected by the 6th Congress of PUDEMO in 2006. PUDEMO is a very strong opposition and it is no wonder that they are victims of the iron hand of the regime. Murder, assassination and torture are no strangers to this party. Mario and his family have not failed to receive their share of administrative terror including the death of his son Tsepo in 2000. Tsepo was severely tortured in police custody.

Nevertheless, Mario and his colleagues have decided to remain in Swaziland and continue the struggle. They are also aware that the organisation needs envoys deployed outside the borders of the country to bring to the notice of the world the goings on in the Kingdom of Swaziland.

I deliberately did not speak to Mario about the ultra luxurious life of the ruling class while the mass of the people live below the bread line, and the highest percentage of AIDS. These are well known facts and Mario has appealed for assistance in any form to the struggle for democracy and justice in Swaziland.

*The Mercury (31 October 2013 – morning daily newspaper in Durban) published the following report:

Mbabane (Swaziland):  Swaziland’s government is more than ever a royal family affair now that King Mswati has appointed six brothers and sisters to be senators. The royal siblings will join 14 loyalists, traditionalists and cronies who the King also appointed to fill 20 of the Swazi Senate’s 30 seats.


Brief Description of Swaziland.

Swaziland attained its independence from the United Kingdom on 6 September 1968 (2013 – 45th anniversary).Its official designation is Kingdom of Swaziland with a population of circa 1.2 million according to UN 2012.

Its capital city is Mbabane. The country has a parliament with an upper house and a lower house. The head of state is the King with immense executive powers. The Kingdom of Swaziland is a member of the SADCC (Southern African Development Community), AU (African Union), Commonwealth of Nations and the UNO.

Swaziland is a small country stretching about 200 kilometres from north to south and 130 kilometres from east to west. It covers an area of 17,364 sq. km. It is a landlocked country in southern Africa, bordered to the north, south and west by the Republic of South Africa, to the east by the Republic of Mozambique. The eastern border with Mozambique and South Africa is dominated by the escarpment of the Lebombo Mountains. The climate is temperate in the west but could reach 40°C in summer especially around the lowveld. Rainfall is mainly in summer.

Swaziland’s industry is made up of coal mining, production of cotton and sugar. Its agricultural activities are involved in producing maize, sugar cane, tobacco and cattle breeding. Amongst the most important export products are sugar, wood pulp and minerals.

The kingdom’s official language is iSwati but is now being mixed with English.

Major religions, according to Wikipedia are Christianity (35% Protestants and 25% Catholics) and 30% African Zionism plus a sprinkling of a whole host of other religious groups.

The GDP is estimated at $3,813 billion and per capita stands at about $3,490 (estimate). The official currency is – Lilangeni (100 cents). One US Dollar is equal to approx. 10.3 Lilangeni.

Swaziland is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Africa.