Say a prayer for freedom in Swaziland

Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion were all dealt yet another blow in Swaziland on Saturday. In the last feudal dictatorship in Africa, it is not even possible to pray for the future of the country any more, unless you are loyal to the King, Mswati III. This weekend, police violently broke up a peaceful, ecumenical prayer meeting for democracy in the Catholic Cathedral in Swaziland's capital, Manzini.

On Saturday morning, the democratic opposition to the King's rule - led by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) - had organised a prayer meeting in the Bosco Skills Centre.

Bishop Paul Verryna and Mafika Dlamini from the South African Council of Churches were due to lead 'a national prayer for a people's government', using peaceful means and the language of religion.

Eye witness reports suggest that from 7am, the police were roaming Manzini in their traditional manner, aiming to deter people from attending the prayer meeting. A large concentration gathered around the Bosco Skills Centre. Pro-democracy activists were turned away, told to "go pray in their homes" and that "today is a Saturday and therefore not a day of worship."

The activists sought refuge at the Catholic Church, but it was completely surrounded by police who stormed in and threatened everyone present to vacate “or else”. Bishop Verryna tried to make a closing prayer, but mid-way he was told “time is up” and he should “shut up”. After that everyone was forcefully herded out of the church.

But in the words of Fr. Dube of the Anglican Church, “God is a God of second chances and we shall have a second chance to pray for the change we seek.”

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