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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 02:13 GMT
Standing up to Swaziland's king
Mario Masuku
Masuku began confronting authorities in his schooldays
By Bhekie Matsebula in Mbabane

Jailed Swaziland opposition leader, Mario Masuku, has cited his childhood heroes as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Ghana's Nkwame Nkrumah.


I had no option except to force my own arrest so that I get a speedy trial

Mario Masuku

The 51-year-old has been languishing in jail for almost four months, and he is suffering from diabetes and hypertension.

As leader of a banned political party - the underground People's United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) - international rights groups have championed Mr Masuku's cause.

But he faces up to 20 years in prison, accused of calling for the removal of absolute monarch King Mswati III in his campaign for the democratisation of Swaziland.

Charged with sedition, his delayed trial is expected to start on Monday.

This trial, though, represents just the latest episode in his long history of political agitation.

A life of dissent

"My husband is a man of the people, so the people must be with him when the state persecutes him," Mr Masuku's wife Thembi told the BBC.

King Mswati III
King Mswati brooks no political dissent

Mrs Masuku, who as yet has not been allowed to visit her husband in jail, has been horrified by government plans to hold her husband's trial behind closed doors.

"How can the state decide to kick out the very same people my husband represents?" she asked.

The government has also said it is planning to ban all foreign media representatives from the trial.

But Mr Masuku has always been a thorn in the side of authority in a country where opposition political activity is totally outlawed.

He was born in 1951 to a poor family in Makhosini, a small rural village where - ironically - Swazi kings are traditionally buried.

His father sent him to the Evelyn Baring High school, where he received his secondary education in the 1960s.

But he was suspended repeatedly for taking a stand against British teachers, whom he accused of racism towards black teachers.

After the founding of Pudemo, he was among 11 party leaders arrested and charged with high treason in 1990 for holding illegal political meetings.

But they were all subsequently acquitted, only to be re-arrested and held without trial for two 60-days terms at the Matsapha maximum security prison, where he now finds himself again.

Sedition

The latest charges stem from a speech he made to a rally in October 2000, when he allegedly called for the removal of the king.

Mario Masuku
Masuku has been defiant during his court appearances

He was quickly arrested and charged with sedition, released under stringent bail conditions, then re-arrested in October last year for breaking them.

"I had no option except to force my own arrest so that I get a speedy trial," he said after his arrest.

His detention was ordered by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) after he failed to report to the Mbabane police for three days running to attend a Pudemo annual conference in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

"I couldn't move around or even leave Mbabane, so what was the use of staying out of prison?" he had said.

Since his re-arrest, colleagues and supporters have launched several campaigns calling for his release, now backed by international rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

See also:

12 Dec 01 | Africa
Concern for jailed Swazi leader
25 Jun 01 | Africa
Anger at Swazi media decree
28 Sep 01 | Africa
Swazi king takes eighth wife
26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Swaziland
04 Dec 01 | Africa
Profile: Troubled King Mswati
14 Nov 01 | Africa
Swazi tussle over virgin tassels
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