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Unions demand democratic reforms in Eswatini

2 July, 2021IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in Eswatini are urging the government to heed demands for democratic reforms as expressed in the national protests that are taking place in the country. 

According to hospital records confirmed by the unions, 24 people have been killed while 150 others are in hospital being treated for gunshot wounds after the police and the army opened fire on protesters. Several other people are feared dead, and to have been secretly buried or burnt to ashes by the security forces.

Instead of police and army brutality, and the government’s shut down of the internet, the unions are proposing dialogue and the opening of democratic spaces in the kingdom.

Eswatini is the last absolute monarchy in Africa. The kingdom has been ruled by King Mswati III since 1986. The King has a reported net worth of $200 million and is accused of using his country’s money to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself and his fifteen wives. Political parties were banned in 1973 and are severely restricted under the kingdom’s constitution. The protestors are demanding the introduction of a democratic system of government.

Unions are advising workers to remain at home for their safety and have requested employers to allow workers to stay away until the situation improves.

The unions say the protests, which began in May, started when the government refused to accept petitions for democratic reforms that included reducing the powers of the monarchy and allowing the Prime Minister to be democratically elected. Currently the Prime Minister, ministers and some Members of Parliament and Senate are appointed by the king.

Wander Mkhonza, general secretary of Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) which is affiliated to IndustriALL, says:

“We  find ourselves in this situation because we have a leader who has decided to be indifferent despite our persistent demands for democratization. The king talks about dialogue on the international stage but does the contrary in the country. He hides behind those that he sends to deal with dissenting voices. The king must accept that his absolute rule has ended abruptly.”

 “We are calling upon the government to open the political playground and be accommodative to dialogue on dissenting political views. The federation shall be engaged in an urgent in-depth internal consultation to contribute towards a speedy resolution of the current impasse as it is proving to be very costly to industrial peace and the general enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms,”

wrote the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) in a statement. The affiliates belong to TUCOSWA.

Paule France Ndessomin, the IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:

“We are in solidarity with the workers and people of Eswatini in their demands for democratic reforms. As trade unions we believe that social and political dialogue is important in resolving conflict and urge the government of Eswatini to facilitate inclusive dialogue.”

IndustriALL affiliates in Eswatini are ATUSWA and the Swaziland Electricity Supply, Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (SESMAWU).

Photo: People's Dispatch