A personal reflection on Black Wednesday and students politics of the 90’s

Below is my reflections of the Black Wedneday and students politics of the 90’s.

The student’s politics of the 90s were more deterministic than a struggle for regime change or anti-monarchy . 

Students wanted the democratization of educational institutions, Academic freedom, intellectual honesty and independent thinking.

A social need for a youth policy was identified as a big gap that cannot be overlooked or exaggerated and this culminated into the establishment of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO). This organisation was led by Benedict Tsabedze , a law student at UNISWA and was affectionately known as ‘comrade Didiza’.

Fresh from being chairman of Africa day, Didiza worked up with a sociology lecturer Ray Russon and provided the blueprint for the formation of (SWAYOCO). The organization was launched by university students in an event dubbed a prayer meeting held at Salesian High school in August 1991.

The first President of the Swaziland Youth Congress Benedict Dididza Tsabedze pictured with lawyer Professor Dlamini.

The formation of SWAYOCO influenced student’s politics a great deal and at the same time divided UNISWA students into two camps. Progressive students rallied under a formal structure called the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) while the conservative students, those with ties with the royal family and anti-strikes, rallied under an informal banner and were labelled TIMBOKOJWANA (Small grinding stones).

These were the sons and daughters of parents who were members of the IMBOKODVO NATIONAL MOVEMENT.

There was wide belief on campus that there were a lot of spies planted by the government to monitor the already volatile and progressive activities of the students. True to this, there were some students who had ties with the police and provided crucial information to the state and the Royal Swaziland Police.

Political activity on both campuses (Kwaluseni and Luyengo) was dominated by students who were aligned to the Swaziland Youth Congress. The organization organized clean up campaigns from city to city and organised powerful marches.

It was during these campaigns and marches that struggle songs were composed and most were borrowed from South African struggle songs. The state tried very hard to contain the political activism of the students but to no avail and resorted to the use of force through the police and soldiers.

A battalion from the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force called TIVIVANE (the butterflies) landed at kwaluseni campus to monitor the situation closely especially during the November 14 strike. The combination of the paramilitary unit (PMU) and soldiers were spoiling for a showdown.

When the students saw the combined forces closing in on them they decided to seek refuge at the university library. This was construed by the combined forces as an attempt to burn down the library and they moved in to beat and drive the students out of the University.

A memo closing the university and warning the students to vacate campus was already in circulation. There was pandemonium, chaos and mayhem at the university. Students were running helter skelter, tried to use library fire hose pipe to spray the forces with water and this infuriated the combined forces even more.

The channels of communication had become blurred. It was not clear whether the students should communicate with the Vice Chancellor or the Prime minister of the time Bannarbas Dlamini to stop the beating of innocent students. 

A number of female students were hurt in the ensuing chaos. Most of them were not part of the strike but were in their rooms studying or listening to music. Even today it is not clear who released the order for the beating of the students.

The university was subsequently closed and students driven out of campus. When the university opened it was clear that SWAYOCO wanted to put more members in the SRC. The founder of SWAYOCO, Dididza,  joined the race for elections, contested and won with a landslide victory.

The political conditions that gave Swaziland Mario Masuku - eSwatini Institute of Alternative Ideas
The early leadership of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO). The organisation had a lot of influence on the students’ politics of the 90’s.

The election of Didiza marked the beginning of troubles and more student’s strikes at UNISWA. The university administration rejected Benedict Tsabedze citing article 4.2 of the SRC constitution. The article emphasized that completing students should not be elected yet Benedict Tsabedze was a third year student.

This led to a tug war between the students and the administration. In the academic year 92/93 I was elected into the SRC and occupied the position of SRC President. At this time it was clear that black Wednesday ought to be commemorated as a campus event.

The SRC tried to negotiate that this event should not be a day of confrontation but should be included in the university almanac so that lecturers will not schedule tests on this day. The university admin was divided over this as some were for the idea but others felt they will be setting a bad precedent and the state will not approve.

Lecturers who were not sympathetic with the students’ course scheduled tests on this day and this resulted in more confrontations and academic frustrations for the students. However, the day continues to be commemorated on the second Wednesday of November because the first Black Wednesday occurred on the 14 th of November 1990.

When our SRC came to power we had to unite the students and we formed a campus brain power for each campus and we negotiated with the BOLESWA universities to include UNISWA in the intervarsity games.

At the time our membership as an institution was suspended because a Batswana student was shot on campus during the intervarsity games and the BOLESWA students fraternity was not happy that the offender who shot the students was free.

This was seen as a miscarriage of justice. In a joint student body meeting the student resolved to march to the ministry of justice to demand justice for the Thswana student. It was clear that the students during this era were ready to question any form of injustice in the country.

They were also ready to orchestrate solidarity strikes with othe unions. One such strike was organized by the students in support of the workers union UNISWAWU. These were the times when SFTU was also very strong as a federation under the leadership of Jan Sithole.

The main reasons behind the students’ endemic strikes of the 90s were as follows:

1. Lack of lecturers due to brain drain

2. Students allowances

3. Poor food at the refectory

4. Refund of fees and increase of subvention per student

5. Victimization of the SRC members through rustication, suspensions, and expulsions

6. Solidarity with workers union and the SFTU

7. Poor working relations and irreconcilable differences between the SRC and the university administration.

Dr Armstrong Simelane

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