Amos Mbedzi, who died in detention after more than 14 years as a political prisoner in eSwatini and South Africa, was laid to rest on Sunday 12 June. Mbedzi, 57, died a stalwart of the liberation movements in both countries, a martyr for the simple yet distant cause of “democracy now”.
Mbedzi remained committed until the end to the principle that people must decide their own future. He understood that liberalism and concessions from the beneficiaries of despotic rule in Swaziland would never bring about the fundamental change that millions of people so desperately sought. Mbedzi spent his adult life advocating for the majority of oppressed and exploited people to be allowed to coordinate among themselves and build a future of their own imagining.
For this, King Mswati III’s regime charged him with treason. He died while serving an 85-year sentence.
This effective life sentence was issued to hamper any progress he might have made in his commitment to people’s democracy. But although his voice was muzzled and life cut short, his organisation, the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), has vowed to continue his work. A luta, indeed, continua.
History, from Haiti to Indonesia, has shown that we do not choose the conditions under which we strive for a better life. Yet the fight for democracy, dignity and freedom is at its core a struggle waged and won by the people. Popular, political will is what builds a genuinely free world, not the acquiescence of a clique of elites or self-anointed kings.
While we mourned the loss of Mbedzi, Morocco – which contests the brutality and unilateralism of Mswati III – refused to allow Democratic Way to convene their fifth national congress. A political party that has been a leading voice in demanding freedom for the Moroccan people, its struggle has cost many lives and resulted in the organisation being banned for much of its history and many of its leaders being imprisoned for decades.
Moroccans’ struggle for meaningful freedom has continued despite the repression of Democratic Way. Most recently, teachers took to the streets to reject the casualisation of their profession. Amid brutal retaliation from the regime, they remain committed and mobilised to defend the human, social, economic, cultural and political rights of the people.
In addition to repressing its own people, the Moroccan regime persists with its almost five decades-long occupation of Western Sahara. The Sahrawi people remain brutally subordinated to the whims of Moroccan elites who profit from the illegal mining of phosphate in the sovereign territory. Much of the Democratic Way’s repression stems from its defence of the Sahrawi’s right to self-determination.
In a brazen affront to international law and human dignity, the United States promulgated the Abraham Accords whereby the world’s “big brother” all but guaranteed the indefinite subordination of the Sahrawi people by Morocco. It did this in exchange for King Mohammed IV endorsing the Zionist apartheid Israeli state’s project against the Palestinian people’s right to exist in historic Palestine.
Martyrs in the struggle
From the breakthrough of the Cuban revolution in 1959 to the victory of the Indian farmers’ strike in 2021, the propellers of history have always been people who collectively take issue with the inhumane status quo and organise themselves to actively pursue a prosperous and dignified existence.
In 1965, Che Guevara, whose birthday was celebrated on 14 June, embarked on a secret mission to lend his expertise as a guerilla fighter to liberation movements in the Congo. Although his mission did not succeed and the liberation of the Congo remains unfulfilled, he taught us an important lesson in the last letter he wrote to his children, shortly before going to Bolivia, where he was ultimately murdered by US-backed forces: “Above all be sensitive, in the deepest areas of yourselves, to any injustice committed against whoever it may be anywhere in the world.”
Today, Che Guevara, Chris Hani and El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed – the first leader of the Polisario Front, the liberation movement of the Sahrawi people – are joined by fellow internationalist Mbedzi as martyrs in the struggle for a better world. They believed in a world where phosphates in Western Sahara, sugar and timber in eSwatini and mineral wealth in South Africa should be used to build a prosperous Africa, one in which the deprivation we see today ends once and for all. The emancipatory movements they participated in have doubled down in their resolve to see through the vision to which they gave their lives. This resolve should give us hope and solicit our solidarity.
Freedom is coming to those who continue to suffer under archaic and anti-democratic regimes in eSwatini and Morocco. They have said those ever-important words: enough is enough. They have built mass organisations to concretise their aspirations and dreams. Their struggle has been thwarted by the brutality of their oppressors and the indifference of a world of spectators. This did not deter Mbedzi and it will not deter the Democratic Way. It should not deter us.