Swaziland pro-democracy protesters threatened with torture

Swaziland prime minister says government would consider using sipakatane – beating the feet with spikes – to crush dissent

Swaziland has threatened pro-democracy activists with torture as tensions in sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy continue to grow.

The warning that sipakatane - beating people's feet with spikes - could be used against protesters was condemned by trade unions in the country after a week in which 50 protesters were arrested and several foreigners treated roughly and deported.

Sipakatane, also known as bastinado, involves using metal or wooden spikes to beat someone's bare feet repeatedly, leaving them bleeding and potentially unable to walk.

Barnabas Dlamini, the Swaziland prime minister, was quoted in state media yesterday as saying the government would consider using it to crush dissent.

Returning from the inauguration of the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, Dlamini added that there were lessons to learn from that country on how to deal with "meddling" from abroad. "Each person should mind the politics of his own country and not come here to meddle in our affairs, especially if that country has a lot of its own problems," he told the Times of Swaziland newspaper.

The paper reported: "Dlamini said every country or community had its own dissidents and it was up to government to deal with the noisy minorities, whom he said he wished would behave in a grown-up manner and stop behaving like children."

Trade unions described the threat to use the form of torture as "a declaration of war" and demanded it be withdrawn.

Mduduzi Gina, of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, said: "It means even here at home, it will be used on those fighting for people's rights. Such is done at a home where there is a child who is seen to be speaking the truth, but we are of the view that we are past that time."

King Mswati III of Swaziland has been criticised for leading a lavish lifestyle while most of his subjects endure poverty. He has 13 wives. Swaziland has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection, with more than a quarter of those infected aged between 15 and 49.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said several South Africans had been deported from Swaziland prior to this week's pro-democracy marches. They included Cosatu's deputy international secretary, Zanele Matebula, who had been in a hotel with other activists. "Police stormed in and demanded to know who the South Africans were among us," he told South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper. "There was a lot of pushing, shoving and screaming."

Matebula was bundled into a police van with four other South Africans. "We were arrested and questioned for four hours," he said. "Then we were told to get our bags from the hotel, and they put us in a van and sped us to the border."

Cosatu stepped up its rhetoric today, saying: "We join the chorus of global protests and condemnation at the brutal and jackboot tactics of the Swaziland tinpot dictatorship, tactics of arbitrary arrests, torture and murder of political activists reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. The brutality of the dictatorship of the last absolute monarchy in sub-Saharan Africa, Swaziland, was paraded with impunity in the full glare of the international community for the entire world to see."


David Smith in Johannesburg

The GuardianTramp

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