Not even the death in detention of a campaigner for democracy in Swaziland could rouse South Africans to join a protest in Johannesburg on Friday. As a small group tried to express their outrage at the death of Sipho Jele, they found themselves outclassed by Football Friday celebrations.
The movement opposing what they call the corrupt, parasitic and oppressive monarchy in Swaziland believe Sipho Jele was murdered while being held by police, and that "apartheid-style tactics" are now being used to silence his family and scrub away his memory.
But it is clearly having some trouble along the road of making him into a martyr. A protest in front of the Swazi consulate in Johannesburg drew plenty of support on paper – from a global trade union group and a Palestinian independence movement, among other, but barely managed to scrape together a score of people to march behind a banner.
The protesters are demanding an independent inquiry into the Jele's death on 4 May, dismissing an official inquiry currently underway as an exercise in whitewashing. They also demanded that his family be given the freedom to mourn and bury him, claiming that memorial services have been disrupted by police
Acting Swazi consul Ernest Tsabedze patiently heard them out, assured them that the official inquest will find the truth, and bade them farewell without ever breaking a sweat.
As well he might. The South African government has to date had nothing to say about Jele's death, human rights abuses in Swaziland or even the regular excessive spending by the monarchy amid deep poverty throughout most of the country it governs without opposition.
Jele was a member of the People's United Democratic Movement, a banned party that has been fairly well suppressed by the royal family and its security forces. The party, and its various supporting groups (based mainly in South Africa) are hoping that a death in detention, so reminiscent of many during the days of apartheid, will help galvanise renewed interest in their cause. Perhaps even a boycott of Swaziland and its attractions by foreign tourists during the World Cup.
But that seems unlikely. Above the struggle songs of the small protest group could be heard the sound of vuvuzelas, and an occasional snatch of the national anthem, as company employees celebrated the coming soccer tournament.
By Phillip de Wet
Photo: The Daily Maverick