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Labour keeps up pressure for democracy in Swaziland

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11 September, 2012Despite demobilization efforts of the Swaziland government, labour together with student bodies and civil society in the country pushed on with calls for multiparty democratic elections during the Global Week of Action on Swaziland, 3 to 7 September.

Swaziland, one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, is a country in crisis. For almost 40 years the Swazi people have been subjected to a state of emergency, which has entrenched a repressive state through all levels of government.

In recent years, a deepening economic crisis has pushed most Swazi people into absolute poverty. The health care system is on the brink of collapse which is especially critical given that 25 per cent of the population is living with HIV. The public sector is in disarray due to lack of funding and government struggles to meet the payroll.

Meanwhile, the Royal family continues to live a lavish lifestyle and king Mswati III is accused by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign of looting the economy. Mswati has maintained control through an oppressive regime, with ever increasing human and trade union rights abuses. Political parties are banned and activists are regularly arrested, imprisoned and tortured.  

Labour has been at the forefront of calling for change and is viewed as a threat by the regime. The recently formed Trade Union Confederation of Swaziland (Tucoswa), uniting organized labour in the country, has come under attack from the government.

According to Churchboy Dlamini, General Secretary of Swaziland Electricity Supply Maintenance and Allied Workers Union, Tucoswa’s deregistration by the government is unfounded as all procedures were followed. “The government, who publically congratulated Tucoswa on its formation is now not recognizing the federation,” says Dlamini. “As Swaziland Trade Unions we agreed to form Tucoswa, we speak Tucoswa, we walk Tucoswa, everything we do is united under Tucoswa and there is nothing that will make us change and we will not go back on this.

Labour sought unsuccessfully to urgently challenge Tucoswa’s deregistration in the labour court so that the global week of action could be organized under the auspices of the federation. Unionist interpret the court’s ruling that the matter should be discussed at the Labour Advisory Board as a delaying tactic, designed to demobilize the planned actions. Subsequently, Tucoswa affiliates attempted to mobilize actions as individual unions but were not granted the necessary permission.

Despite this, some actions were able to get off the ground but participants were subjected to police brutality with beatings and arrests. Other actions were demobilized by police turning back buses and those that managed to assemble were subjected to intimidation including some arrests.

Tension grew throughout the week and organizers cancelled the main protest action planned for Friday, not wanting to put protestors in harms way as security forces made it clear that they were prepared to repress the action.

Organizers were able to successfully hold a People’s Summit despite attempts by police to disrupt the meeting and threatening to arrest leaders.  The summit was attended by more than a thousand people despite heavy rains and sought to chart a way forward for a New Democratic Swaziland.

In the week, IndustriALL sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Swaziland calling for constitutional reform and multiparty democracy in Swaziland and demanding that the people of Swaziland should be able to exercise their legal rights without fear of persecution, harassment, intimidation or violence.

The letter also warns the Prime Minister of international pressure. “IndustriALL Global Union stands with the trade unions and people of Swaziland to demand urgent reforms by your Government,” says Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL. “We have prioritized giving support to their efforts within Swaziland and at a regional and international level, and I can assure you that we will not cease our efforts until such time as human and trade union rights are upheld in your country.”

IndustriALL also sent letters to heads of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union as well as to the South African government, calling for their intervention to ensure democracy and freedom in Swaziland. 

“We appreciate the messages of support from organizations globally and those that have come to be with us, particularly from labour. Says Frank Mcina, General Secretary of Swaziland Amalgamated Trade Union. “Comrades from South Africa in Cosatu, especially Numsa have stood by our side here in Swaziland, working alongside us in our struggle.”

“There is no way we will abandon this,” says Mcina, expressing a commitment shared by most unionists in Swaziland. “We will continue with pressure until the regime recognizes that people have the right to speak and we regain our rights, including the fundamental labour right of freedom of association.”