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Intimidation and violence in Swaziland on May Day

2 May, 2013May Day actions in Swaziland were called off after police unleashed violence on workers that had gathered at a rally organized by labour federation Tucoswa.

Workers were trying to resist confiscation by police of a banner demanding the recognition of the labour federation, the Trade Union Confederation of Swaziland (Tucoswa). The second layer of leadership of Tucoswa decided to call off the rally. Why them? Because senior leadership of Tucoswa had been placed under house arrest by police for the day. 

The President of the federation Barnes Dlamini and First Deputy Secretary General Mduduzi Gina were arrested at a raid of the Tucoswa offices in the morning of 1 May, taken first to the police headquarters and then to their homes. In total five of the federation’s leaders were placed under house arrest including Secretary General, Vincent Ncongwane, Second Deputy Secretary General Muzi Mhlanga and Deputy Treasurer General Jabulile Shiba.

Police also tried to prevent workers gathering for the rally by offloading TUCOSWA supporters from buses at roadblocks set up throughout the country.

Tucoswa had gone ahead with plans for a May Day rally despite being unable to secure an urgent interdict against police disruption of the event. Leadership of TUCOSWA maintains that the court did not rule that they could not have a rally, just that the court could not give protection as the state refuses to recognize the federation, despite the court having urged government to do so.

A previous court ruling on the legality of TUCOSWA denied legitimacy to the federation on the basis of the lack of law to guide the court regarding registration of a federation in Swaziland. The ruling stated that Tucoswa should wait for amendments to the law and until such time, the government should reach an agreement for recognition with Tucoswa through a memorandum of understanding. Tucoswa leadership reports that the Swazi government has refused to enter into such an agreement. 

There has been a surge in human rights abuses in Swaziland in the last month. On 12 April, the day that the Swazi King declared a state of emergency now 40 years old, Wonder Mkhonza a trade unionist and political activist was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly being in possession of pamphlets promoting the banned political party Pudemo. Mkhonza has been denied bail and is being held in a lengthy pre-trial detention at a maximum security prison. There are fears for his safety as the Swaziland police are known to use excessive force including torture.

At least three other political activists have also been arrested in April on similar charges. Also in the same month, Swaziland Independent Publishers and its editor Bheki Makhubu have been fined about Euro 40,000 or a two year prison sentence for scandalizing the court in two articles criticizing the judiciary on its treatment of fundamental rights.