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MPOFU – Members of proscribed entities, PUDEMO and SWAYOCO were stopped from attending a thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate Bheki Dlamini’s release from prison.

Bheki is President of the Swaziland Youth Congress, the youth wing of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).
Both organisations are banned entities and regarded by government as terrorist entities. They have been calling for multiparty democracy for years.
Bheki was released from prison on February 25, 2014 after spending 44 months behind bars.

He was arrested in June 2010 and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act No.3 of 2008, in connection with counts related to bombings.
Bheki was acquitted of the charges.
His family, which resides in Mpofu, near Ebuhleni in the northern Hhohho, is said to have been divided over the presence of members of the proscribed entities.

Some of them then called police to intervene.
The police had been patrolling within and around homestead, allegedly after getting a tip-off that members of the proscribed entities would attend the ceremony.

The thanksgiving ceremony was organised by Bheki’s family to celebrate his release from prison.
At least 200 people, mainly members of the community, were at the homestead for the ceremony according to Bheki. Members of SWAYOCO and PUDEMO were also expected to attend the thanksgiving ceremony.

Family members are said to have been divided over the presence of political activists. Bheki confirmed that the thanksgiving prayer was intended for friends as well as family members.
“Many of my friends are members of the political parties, so I don’t see a problem with their presence,” said Bheki.
He said the presence of police officers at the homestead was intimidating his guests. Bheki said some of the activists were turned back.
He said the police had been loitering in the area during the course of the week to monitor activities at Bheki’s homestead. “We eventually couldn’t hold the thanksgiving,” said Bheki.

Some of the members also accused the police of influencing the family to prevent members of banned entities from attending the ceremony.
Inspector Khulani Mamba, the police deputy Public Relations Officer, confirmed the police presence at the Dlamini homestead.
He said the police were at the homestead after being invited by Bheki’s father Dumisani. “We were called by the head of the family,” said Mamba.
Mamba said the family had indicated a concern about the presence of people other than family members,

He said the ceremony was supposed to be a thanksgiving ceremony for family members only. Mamba disputed the allegation that the police interfered by influencing the family to stop the gathering.
Bheki’s father, Dumisani, said the ceremony had been shifted to another time. He said it had been organised by the family to celebrate the release of his son. Contrary to the assertion by the police, Dumisani said there was no presence of police at the homestead.
This is despite the deputy police PRO confirming their presence. The Times SUNDAY also has pictures of police officers and government vehicles within the homestead.

Mphandlana Shongwe, the Second Deputy Secretary General of PUDEMO, also confirmed the presence of the police at the homestead.
He said he went there to attend the ceremony after being mandated by Mario Masuku, the President of PUDEMO. Masuku was also reached for comment but he said he had mandated Shongwe to attend the ceremony.

Shongwe said he was accompanied by two other members when he was called into the house by Bheki’s family to tell him the meeting was only for family members. “Family members called us into the house and told us the thanksgiving was only for family,” said Shongwe.
He said police officers were also present in the house. Maria Da Silva, Bheki’s legal representative, was one of the people who accompanied Shongwe.

Speaking to the Times SUNDAY, Da Silva said she was surprised when told the ceremony was only for family members. She said she was invited by the family because she was his lawyer. Da Silva also said she doubted if Bheki’s father was the one who called the police to prevent them from attending the meeting.

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