18 November, 2021IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), reiterated its calls for a multiparty democracy in Eswatini during its 2nd congress at Sidvokodvo on 13 November.
The congress was attended by 60 delegates from the union’s 20 branches from the textile and garment sector and other manufacturing industries.
The congress was held under the theme: Reasserting worker control in the defence of fundamental rights. The national congress discussed how ATUSWA “can maximize its contribution towards democratization of the country in order to have a government that listens to the plight of the workers.”
The union says judging by recent events workers’ and human rights including freedom of association continue to be violated.
Wander Mkhonza, ATUSWA general secretary says:
“On 21 October, while at a meeting in Matsapha, and as a build-up to the textile strike action that was interdicted by the Industrial Court, the police without warning threw tear-gas at the workers and union officials. This happened even though the police had been informed of the meeting.”
Further, the union states that over 100 people, including union members, were shot and killed by the police and army while several were injured in recent pro-democracy protests. The injured and dead include high school students. Schools, colleges, and universities are still closed with only a few opening for examinations.
“There must be urgent dialogue now and not in three months’ time. This is the time for decisive action. We cannot afford to delay when state security agents continue to use excessive force,”
Despite the violence, the union continues to encourage workers to take part in the pro-democracy campaign and argues that workers, as members of communities, should be involved in community struggles.
“For a long time, the people of Eswatini have faced brute force and persecution from the security forces and the courts when they demonstrated. We want democratic reforms and not an absolute monarchy headed by a king more concerned about the luxuries of the royal family at the expense of citizens who live in poverty. We want meaningful dialogue, and will continue protesting until our demands are met,”
said one worker.
Petitions have been presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council by unions and civil society organizations calling upon the government to respect human rights.
Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary, wrote to the Eswatini Prime Minister, Cleopas Dlamini:
“At the IndustriALL Global Union Congress, on 14-15 September, 3000 online delegates from 434 organizations in 111 countries adopted unanimously a resolution, which expresses deep concern about the continuing violence in Eswatini and calls for democratic reforms in the country.”
The Southern African Development Community, chairperson for the organ on politics, defence and security, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa met with King Mswati III as part of diplomatic efforts “to end violence and conflict and maintain peace and calm in the kingdom as work commences on the national dialogue process.”
Protests erupted in Eswatini, Africa’s only absolute monarchy, when communities, unions and civil society organizations took to the streets to demand democratic reforms including a review of the 2005 constitution, a repeal of the 1973 proclamation that banned political parties, and other repressive laws.
King Mswati III, who has executive, judicial, and legislative powers, makes key appointments of ministers and the prime minister. An extravagant lifestyle of the king and the royal family – of luxury cars and private jets – amidst poverty, inequality and unemployment has angered unions, communities, and civil society. The king, who is listed among the richest monarchs has an estimated net worth of $200 million. His family of 15 wives and 23 children benefits from a national budget allocation of over $65 million per year for the royal household.
According to the World Food Programme, Eswatini has a poverty rate of 58.9 per cent and the country’s 26 percent HIV prevalence is amongst the highest in the world. Unemployment is estimated to be over 40 per cent.