Sunday, May 26, 2013


In the wake of the Nkomati accord, more than four hundred alleged ANC members were detained in Swaziland and deported. Many complained of having been assaulted. In May, Mpho Mthombeni was brought before the Manzini magistrate court on charges of having entered the country illegally. He complained that his bandaged head had been dented by a police knobkerrie (heavy stick) , and that since his arrest, he had been in and out of hospital. Teresa Majdle told journalists how she was beaten during her interrogation: ‘The police would handcuff me, put me in leg-irons and blindfold me then take me on a long drive.  They would then remove the blindfold at a place I would not easily identify and the interrogations would start.’ Refugee sources in Manzini said that between two and four people died in police custody during the clampdown. The height of the Swazi-ANC confrontation in april 1984 resembled a small scale war and led to the deaths of five ANC supporters and two Swazi security personnel. 

The major confrontation took place on 19/20 April in Ngwane Park, Manzini, when Swazi security forces surrounded a house and killed two ANC guerrillas who refused to give themselves up. This followed a fifteen-hour shootout which reduced the house to a shell after the use of heavy weapons. When the gunfire died down, the two bloodied corpses were left on show for most of the day. Eyewitnesses claimed that the operation was directed by white men in camouflage uniform. While the Swazi army does have British and Israeli advisers, it does not have as many as were involved in the raid. During this time too, black men in camouflage uniform were heard talking North and South Sotho dialects in Manzini, and Craig Williamson, a well-known South African security-agent, was seen in Mbabane.

OR Tambo and Beyers Naude
At the same time, four ANC detainees disappeared from Swazi police cells. The authorities claimed that they had been freed by ANC guerrillas in an armed raid, but this was denied by the ANC in Lusaka. Secretary-General Alfred Nzo accused the Swaziland government of ‘handing over to South African regime' four ANC cadres who had been detained by police at Bhunya Police station. Shortly after this, South African Minister of Law and Order, Louis Le Grange, announced the arrest of ANC men ‘on the Reef’. Later in the year, the Swaziland government deported to South Africa a former University of Swaziland leader and ANC member, Bhabhalazi Bulunga, then employed at Ubombo Ranches. His handover was a flagrant violation of both the UN convention on Refugees as well as the state’s own legal procedures.  According to liqoqo member George Msibi, he was deported for his activities in the sugar industry, and not for any ANC links. Bulunga was detained by South African security police following his deportation.

The crackdown on the ANC was accompanied by an ideological assault on the movement by the government and the media. Prime Minister Bhekimpi Dlamini stated that Swaziland was ‘infested with an unprecedented scourge of foreign criminals’, while the local media denounced ANC guerrillas as ‘murderous’, ‘bandits’ and ‘armed thugs’. When ANC President Oliver Tambo failed to honour a visit to Swaziland to defuse the crisis in May 1984, the siSwati Tikhatsi Takangwane newspaper carried the headlines: Emanga e-ANC angcunu - Oliva Tambo akaseti – ‘The ANC’s naked lies – Oliver Tambo is no longer coming’. According to the journalist Howard Barrell, ‘a number of Swazi leaders had collaborated with foreign agents in a plot to assassinate ANC President Oliver Tambo. Only a tip-off from a Swazi diplomat stopped Tambo flying into a trap set in Swaziland.’ Tambo was unwilling to comment on this latter allegation, but made it clear that Swaziland government had at no stage actually offered him formal invitation to visit the Kingdom.

At the height of the conflict, the Swazi and South African governments agreed to exchange of trade missions. The South African trade mission opened in November 1984 with six accredited diplomats. The chief Trade Commissioner, Sam Sterban, a career diplomat with very little trade experience, described the mission as ‘an embassy in all but name’. While many sceptics pondered the question as to why, after all the years of harmonious trade relations, a new framework beyond the customs union would suddenly be required, Sterban provided the answer: ‘I see the work of the mission as going a bit further than promoting trade …. Trade between South Africa and Swaziland will look after itself but we can look after other developments.’ Indeed , the trade mission’s brief included consular, aid and security matters, all of which constitute the normal functions of a consulate. At least two of the acredite diplomats attached to the trade mission were known to be police or security officials, one of them a brigadier in Pretoria’s National Intelligence Service. It was no surprise then, Sterban described South African/Swazi relation as being ‘good’, remarking that:

                                             The policies of both countries are reflected between two
                                             Police forces … I think this is to be expected between police forces
                                             of any neighbouring two countries that have a similar policy.

In early December, shortly after the opening of the mission, the Swazi Deputy Police Chief, Petros Shiba, was gunned down in Mbabane and the ANC was blamed for the killing. Despite ANC denial, Police Commissioner Majaji Simelane claimed that the ANC had a hit-list of Swazi police man who were to be ‘eliminated’, and that the ‘ANC had declared war on Swazis as their number one enemy’.
As the search for Shiba’s killer’s intensified, a man and a woman were arrested while Simelane said that he had to tell the Swazi nation about the ‘ANC war’. He warned that Swazis giving shelter to ANC members were, ‘placing their own lives in danger. They may be hit in the cross-fire during operations if there are near them’. On 18 December Andreas Sono Ngcobo of Soweto cornered and shot dead by Swazi Police. Two passers-by, one of them a twelve year old boy, were killed in cross-fire. A further series of expulsions followed, including the deportation of the ANC’s chief representative at the time, Bafana Duma, who had spent the last twenty years of his life in Swaziland.

(An extract from “When the sleeping grass awakens” by Richard Levine {Title and Subtitle is my authorship})

       Ibid. 4 May 1984.
       J. Hanlon and T. Smart, Apartheid’s new Ally, New Statesman, 11 May 1984:19.
        Swazi News, 21 April 1984.
        Hanlon and Smart, 1984:19.
        Swazi Observer, 7 May 1984.
        Africa Now, Feb. 1985:24.
        8 May 1984.
        City Press, 20 May 1984.
           Daniel and Vilane 1986:64.
     Africa Confidential, 15 mar. 1985.
      Africa South of the Sahara, 1987. London: Europa, 1986:984.
      Daniel and Vilane, 1986:65.
      Rand Daily mail, 10 Dec. 1984.
     Times of Swaziland, 11 Dec. 1984.


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