In the small absolute monarchy of Swaziland, the struggle to get a decent education is connected to the struggle for political freedom. Student activist Njabulo Mazibuko has written about what implications this understanding has for himself and his fellow students.
“We are not masters of our political fate, but slaves of circumstance. The paths of rationality are blocked, and as students, we all have to take responsibility for addressing the political issues that are overlooked day after day,” Mazibuko writes in his essay, which is called The Need for More Student Activism.
“The government is killing individuality and freedom of the mind, compelling my people more and more to conform to a similar pattern,” he says.
“Democracy stands as the only hope for my people today.”
Mazibuko is the outgoing president of the Swaziland National Union of Students (Snus).
He is also a member of the group of 15 who are trying to initiate a process of dialogue with Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, and his government.
He finished his BSc Agriculture degree in early October and has since been unemployed, along with over half the population – a situation that he feels is not likely to change under the present regime. Not least because he is an active member of the banned People’s United Democratic Party, and the Public Service Bill of 2015 clearly states that civil servants cannot be affiliated with political parties.
He has written the political essay about what he sees as the need for more student activism and an understanding of the importance of engaging politically, in a country where political parties are illegal.
In Swaziland, education is tied to submission towards the king and his chief.
“In order for a child to get an education at tertiary level, he or she has to be submissive to the traditional leaders; otherwise, that child may not get his or her scholarship form signed,” says Mazibuko.
“The ruling regime in Swaziland has utterly failed to make politics attractive to the youth, but as students, we all have to take responsibility for addressing political issues. For the price we pay for not understanding politics is servitude to others or to circumstances.”
And circumstances for the vast majority of Swazis are very grim indeed, says Mazibuko.
“The dictator has been constantly employing the same tactics from time to time in the country which are arrests, detentions and torture, threats and sanctions.
“The regime will use police, prisons and the army to maintain silence which they call order or peace and in all respects it constitutes a dictatorship. This is the basis for the struggle facing the student activist in Swaziland today.”
Students and student organisations such as the Snus have often been catalysts for change.
An obvious example is that of the South African Students’ Organisation – important as both an ideological and practical precursor for Steve Biko’s highly influential Black Consciousness Movement.
Mazibuko’s inspirations are closer to home, however.
“The secretary-general of the Swaziland Youth Congress (and former president of the Swaziland National Union of Students) comrade Maxwell Dlamini is my first source of inspiration. I first visited him at Sidwashini Prison where he was incarcerated for sedition in 2012. His incredible commitment and will to sacrifice for the struggle was, and is, an inspiration indeed.”
But even though Swaziland has many young activists, such as Dlamini, who have been ready to risk tear gas, rubber bullets, torture and even death to forward the struggle for democracy in Swaziland, Mazibuko believes that the youth of Swaziland in general have some way to go, before they can be a catalyst of change.
“The most depoliticised group is the youth, hence the need to sharpen that through student activism. The youth hide under the influence of liquor and the use of gadgets for social or cyber politics.
“The situation is very discouraging because they are supposed to be the architects of the future of the country,” he says.
The dismal alternative to action and activism is the present system of inequality, poverty and a political system and society which instils fear with repression and at the same time “punishes originality or humanity and starves imagination from the moment of first going to school to the time of burial”.
The Swazi students must therefore resist and actively fight what he calls the brainwashing of the regime. “Let every student activist lead the struggle”, as Mazibuko concludes his essay.