By Mzwandile Masuku
The first time I saw an assault rifle was on television in an American movie as a small child. I would then see one in real life shortly after at home, in the living room. These were days when the Royal Swaziland Police Force and the army would raid our home.
During these raids we would all be confined to the living room under the barrel of some five assault rifles, while the senior officers went through every corner of our home. They would be there till the next morning. At some point these raids became so common they no longer scared us. I remember that we would take a bath, have breakfast, get dressed and go watch cartoons in the living room until the raid was over. Later the raids stopped. But what followed was 24-hour surveillance — our phones were tapped and we all acquired human shadows.
Participation has always been important in our family, from household chores to decision making. We learned these positive traits from our parents and, regardless of the hardships, I believe we turned out fairly well.
Over the years, our nationality has been questioned many times. My grandmother has been dragged to the Nhlangano Police Station and interrogated about where my father was born. For the record, this remains Hlathikhulu Government Hospital in Swaziland. We are Swazis, we love being Swazi and most things Swazi. We just hold a different view when it comes to governance and leadership.
My father is now facing charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) for chanting a slogan, “Viva Pudemo, Viva!” (“Forward Pudemo, Forward!”) during a 2014 Workers’ Day celebration. [Pudemo, the People’s United Democratic Movement, is a long-standing political opposition movement. He and his co-accused have been charged with promoting a proscribed entity under the STA.]
My father is a diabetic. And he is not a young man. His continued incarceration aggravates his medical condition. We have struggled to keep him monitored and ensure that his doctor’s recommendations are adhered to. Sometimes, the prison doesn’t give him his medication because it is not in stock, but when we buy it and take it to the prison we are turned away.
There are so many restrictions and conditions in prison. I guess they are meant to break down the inmates but also to discourage our visits. When we visit my father we are made to wait, sometimes for up to an hour and a half, and then we are only allowed to see him for five minutes at most. But I have learnt to brace myself for these restrictions. It is disheartening to see prison visitors who arrive after me being allowed in while I wait my turn.
Regardless of our right to privacy of family communication, the visit is supervised by three correctional officers. One of the three takes minutes of our conversation word for word. Once, the senior officer requested that I speak slowly so the recording officer had time to take notes. I lost my cool and told him I would not do so. This angered the officer who then threatened to bar me from visiting the institution. That unfortunate argument also cut into my precious five minutes with my father.
I remind myself that I must constantly rise above this. We are not extraordinary. Just another family wanting and believing that a democratic Swaziland is possible, in our lifetime.
Mzwandile Masuku is the son of Swazi activist and opposition leader Mario Masuku. On May 1 2014 Mario Masuku and student activist Maxwell Dlamini were arrested at a Workers’ Day rally in Swaziland and have been in prison ever since. The prison authorities continue to deny Mario access to the specialised medical care that he needs. Amnesty International continues to monitor the case.
Image – Mario Masuku, leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement addresses a march organised by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions through the streets of Manzini January 26 2004. (AFP)