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Former Activist for Banned Political Party in Swaziland Jailed for Bombings

A former member of banned socialist opposition party in Swaziland, the People's United Democratic Front (PUDEMO), was sentenced to 65 years in jail after confessing to a spree of petrol bomb attacks, which destroyed property, in 11 locations throughout the country. Swaziland has been hit with petrol bombs since 1998.

Thantaza Silolo was on the run for three years before surrendering himself to police under what some call suspicious circumstances. The 28-year-old, who was a close member of the king's regiment and defected to join PUDEMO in 2005, claimed that he was trained and assisted by PUDEMO's youth wing, Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO).

Former political activist Thantaza Silolo. Image source. PUDEMO Facebook page.

Former political activist Thantaza Silolo. Image source. PUDEMO Facebook page.

PUDEMO was banned in 2008 on allegations that it was a terrorist organisation. Formed on July 6, 1983, PUDEMO claims to have the biggest following on Facebook, Twitter and the largest membership in Swaziland of all the country's political parties.

Swaziland politics is a mixture of an absolute monarchy and a constitutional monarchy. Despite Swaziland being one of the poorest nations in the world, the Swazi King, Mswati III, is known for extravagance lifestyle. He currently has 14 wives and 23 children. He is allowed by tradition to choose a new wife every year. He is the only absolute monarchy in Africa.

Manqoba Nxumalo (@NxumaloManqoba), a Swazi activist and the Mail & Guardian’s Eugene Saldanha Fellow for social justice reporting in 2013, addressed the news on ThoughtLeader in his article titled, “Will SADCC let Swaziland descent into war?”:

Last week Wednesday Swaziland woke up to shocking news of a 28-year-old activist who was sentenced to 85 years in prison after confessing to a spree of petrol bomb attacks that targeted mainly police officers and government officials.

We all missed the story because Swaziland only makes headlines when King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has added a new virgin to his harem. But last week’s events are historic if not profound for the small landlocked kingdom: they mark a new era in the political landscape.

In case you just landed from space let me bring you up to speed. Thantaza Silolo, a defecting member of Swaziland’s banned opposition party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), was sentenced to 85 [65] years in prison after confessing to the petrol bomb attacks.

He noted that the struggle for democracy in Swaziland has been under-reported:

Swaziland continues to be a rogue state with the dubious title of being the last absolute monarchy in Africa and one of four countries on the continent without multiparty democracy. It also has the highest HIV rate in the world and lowest life expectancy. The monarch is rated by Forbes magazine as the 15th richest monarch in the world with a net worth of $100 million. It is not difficult to understand the frustrations of these young people but surely violence is not the way to go.

The struggle for democracy in Swaziland has been under-reported and for a long time. Swaziland has escaped the world’s human-rights radar such that King Mswati has acted with impunity, no one cares about a country of less than 1.2 million people. History will prove that there are probably more Swazis in South Africa and various parts of the world escaping from the archaic and medieval system of King Mswati’s rule.

PUDEMO (@PUDEMOhas distanced itself from Silolo’s confession, posting the following statement on their Facebook page:

The people’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) would like to distance itself from the so called confession of comrade Thantaza Silolo who was yesterday sentenced to 65 years in prison for petrol bombing government structures.
We would like to unequivocally state that we have never commissioned anyone to go on a spree of petrol bombs nor do we have a policy advocating for the use of violence for political change. PUDEMO has since inception been an organisation committed to peaceful means of struggle and an unwavering commitment to dialogue as a means of solving political conflict.

In view of his surrender and confession, the party's youth wing SWAYOCO called for his mental evaluation:

To use his alleged confession against our President Bheki Dlamini and Zonke plus all those awaiting jail without proper mental evaluation, would be a greatest travesty of justice.
We once again want to state that at all material times the movement has taken care of Silolo at various capacities and reject his accusations that he struggled while in exile. Why again would he be the only one complaining when many comrades are in South Africa and are thriving in various career fields? These are nothing but ramblings of a deranged loser who cant seem to know what he stands for in life.

Whatever the regime did to Silolo is serious and we do not rule out a need for serious mental evaluation.

But PUDEMO believes that Silolo was abducted. Below is part of their reasoning for suggesting that he did not leave South Africa, where he was hiding, voluntarily:

4. A few weeks before his ‘hand over’, comrade Silolo was in Johannesburg to audition for a role in a new theatre production and still awaiting a response from the producers. This shows that comrade Silolo had outward looking prospects of establishing himself firmly in South Africa’s threatre and film industry. He had also asked the movement to help him register at UNISA to further his studies. To then have him hand over to the police after such initiatives points to more sinister and underhand manoeuvres by the regime. As if to make things worse, we were denied audience to the comrade to ascertain exactly what had happened.
5. Once the police had captured Silolo they made sure that they parade him to the media particularly to publicise his ‘confession’ so to implicate the movement by association. To them this was a big catch.

But Facebook user Pius UnSwazi Rito commenting on their statement did not believe in the abduction theory. To him, Silolo simply sold out:

Silolo sold out! That's a fact of the matter. We can't suddenly pretend he didn't. Secret work must be mastered, but that doesn't erase the fact that he's a sell-out!

Sandile Dlamini echoed a similar conclusion in a Facebook comment:

Silolo was never abducted. The so called abductions may be real but the fact is Silolo was never abducted but went to Swaziland of his own choice.

PUDEMO insisted that abductions are real:

Comrades, the abductions are real. ANC Comrades in Pongola have told me one comrade has gone missing from a safe house…this after numerous report of Special Branch unexplained “movements” in the area. Rather than doubt Silolo and label him a spy, lets go back to basics…”How to masyer [master] secret work.” The time for populism and cheap heroism is over…vigilance and discipline maCom [my comrades]

Blogger Brian Ntshangase castigated the Observer newspaper for not doing extensive research into Silolo's confession. The newspaper, owned by King Mswati III, reported that Silolo is a member of PUDEMO:

When the Observer is lapping up even the last titbits of the Silolo soapie, it paints a nation unassertive and a people fast asleep, whose sleep is being disturbed by PUDEMO. Had I not known that the Observer is owned by Mswati 111, I would accuse it of insulting the Nation’s intelligence. Had I not known that it is campaigning for the success of the upcoming pseudo elections I would assume that the Observer is taking the Swazi people for fools. But it is now common knowledge that the soul of the Observer journalist, or should I say ‘reporter’, is in the palace somewhere serving as surety on a monthly salary.

What would it have taken for the Observer to get at least one lousy quote from PUDEMO? I would assume that it (observer) took Silolo’s extensive ‘confession’ quotes as quotes from PUDEMO considering that it dwells so much on the ‘fact’ that Thandaza Silolo was a PUDEMO member.

It is common practice at the Observer that when the Nation asks for honest reporting, it gives nothing but jokes, and it is never shy to turn the joke on itself and turn itself into a laughing stock.

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