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Saturday, 1 November 2014

SWAZI TEXTILE WORKERS EXPLOITED



The retrenchment of 1,450 jobs at Swaziland’s largest textile manufacturer Tex Ray draws attention to the continuing exploitation of workers in the kingdom.

Tex Ray is one of a number of textile companies from Taiwan which set up factories in Swaziland to exploit cheap labour, government subsidies, tax breaks and the kingdom’s status under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA), which allowed manufactured goods to be exported to the United States tariff free.

But, as Swaziland is set to lose its AGOA status on 1 January 2015 because of its poor record on worker rights, in particular protecting freedom of association and the right to organize, Tex Ray is to massively down-size and other Taiwanese-owned textile factories in the kingdom are expected to follow.

Tex Ray told local media in Swaziland it would retrench its workforce because it would make a financial loss when AGOA benefits were removed. Only 250 workers will remain at the company.

In a letter, to the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU) and Labour Commissioner Khabonina Dlamini, factory manager Lisa Chang said, ‘The company exports 100 per cent of its products to the United States of America market and due to the country’s exclusion [from AGOA], we have been unable to secure any further orders from our clients.’

Human Resource Manager Jackie Xu said, ‘All clothing produced within the Tex Ray Swaziland Factory was destined for the United States. So when there were no orders coming in and workers were idle, we decided to send them home while we figured out on what steps to take next.’

The Taiwanese companies have caused concern among labour union leaders and non-government organisations for years because of the way they exploit their workers. 

In July 2014 a survey of the Swaziland textile industry undertaken by the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) revealed workers in the textile sector were subjected to harsh and sometimes abusive conditions, many of the kingdom’s labour laws were routinely violated by employers, and union activists were targeted by employers for punishment. 

More than 90 percent of workers surveyed reported being punished by management for making errors, not meeting quotas or missing shifts. More than 70 percent of survey respondents reported witnessing verbal and physical abuse in their workplace by supervisors.

Commenting on the survey, the American labour federation AFL-CIO said, ‘Some workers reported that supervisors slap or hit workers with impunity. In one example, a worker knocked to the ground by a line manager was suspended during an investigation of the incident while the line manager continued in her job.

‘Women reported instances of sexual harassment, as well. Several workers said they or other contract (temporary) workers were offered a permanent job in exchange for sex.’

Mistreatment of workers in the textile industry in Swaziland has been known for many years and workers have staged strikes and other protests to draw attention to the situation.

In its report on human rights in Swaziland in 2013, the US State Department said wage arrears, particularly in the garment industry, were a problem. It said, ‘workers complained that wages were low and that procedures for getting sick leave approved were cumbersome in some factories. The minimum monthly wage for a skilled employee in the industry - including sewing machinists and quality checkers - was emalangeni 1,128 (US$113). Minimum wage laws did not apply to the informal sector, where many workers were employed.

‘The garment sector also has a standard 48-hour workweek, but workers alleged that working overtime was compulsory because they had to meet unattainable daily and monthly production quotas.’

A damning report on Swaziland’s textile industry called Footloose Investors, Investing in the Garment Industry in Africa, was published in 2007 by SOMO – Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

It said the Swaziland Government gave companies a large number of incentives such as tax exemptions and duty free importation of raw materials. The Government also allowed companies to take all profits and dividends outside of Swaziland, which in effect meant that there was little or no investment within Swaziland from the companies.

With a change of world trading conditions, Swaziland became less attractive to foreign companies. In order to maintain profits the companies began to lobby the Government for changes in the law. The companies especially wanted laws and regulations regarding labour loosened.

SOMO concluded, ‘It seems that the public spending on building shells and infrastructure aimed at attracting foreign investment in the garment industry has not brought about much economic benefit so far.’

The report stated, ‘Companies have been asking for certain “incentives” in exchange for their continued production in the country, implying that the country owes them something for their presence.

‘One of the companies in Swaziland, for example, Tex Ray, announced its willingness to set up a textile mill but asked in return for less stringent labour laws and laws on the environment, and for the prices of electricity and water to be halved. They also felt that government should subsidise the wages.’

In September 2014 hundreds of workers at Tex Ray were affected by poisonous chemical fumes at the factory in Matsapha. Many needed hospital treatment and the factory was closed for several days.

The Swazi Observer newspaper reported allegations from workers that retrenchment was a way for the company to avoid liability. The newspaper reported that other textile factories, including Kartat Investments, Kasumi and Union Industrial Washing, continued to operate.

The 1,450 workers retrenched at Tex Ray will receive terminal benefits ranging between E915 (US$90) and E18,000 (US$1,800). 

Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA) Secretary General Wonder Mkhonza told local media, ‘The benefits being calculated for them are too little to even survive for two months. For those of us close to the situation on the ground it’s really painful. Honestly, those who are far removed from the situation are happy because they don’t have to witness the misery that has become characteristic at the textile companies.’

The Swazi Observer reported there were at least 17,289 people employed by the textile companies in Swaziland and all these could lose their jobs should the kingdom lose its AGOA eligibility. 

Amongst these companies, Tex Ray has one of the highest number of employees at 6,000, Zheng Yong in Nhlangano has 2,000, FTM Garments employs 1,480, Leo Garments has 800, the Great Spring has 600 and HO’s Enterprise has 750.

See also

EXPLOITATION BY TAIWAN TEXTILES
 
MINISTER RAIDS TEXTILE FACTORY
 
SWAZI TEXTILE PAY STRIKE ILLEGAL
 
SWAZI GOVT AIDS TAIWAN EXPLOITATION

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

DENMARK QUESTIONS KING ON RIGHTS

Denmark questions Mswati on human rights
 
Kenworthy News Media, 27 October 2014 

Denmark has raised the questions of political freedom, human rights, and the trial of political activists Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini with Swaziland’s government and absolute monarch King Mswati III, Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Lidegaard told the Danish Foreign Affairs Committee last Wednesday (22 October 2014), writes Kenworthy News Media.

“Denmark has continuously raised the question of political freedom with Swaziland, most recently on the 5th of June 2014, when the Danish ambassador held political talks in the capital Mbabane with, amongst others, king Mswati III and [then] Minister of Foreign Affairs Mgwagwa Gamedze”, said Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Lidegaard.

During the meeting with the king, the Danish ambassador urged Swaziland to comply with the demands of the ongoing AGOA-negotiations, which should include the adaption of laws such as Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act, a bill that Amnesty International has called “inherently repressive”.

Mario and Maxwell
“Such adaptions would particularly benefit the media, human rights defenders, and the political opposition in Swaziland, including Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini”, Martin Lidegaard said. “The trial of Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini was also brought up during the recently held political consultations between the EU and Swaziland on the 2nd and 3rd of October regarding the Cotonou Agreement, at the request of the Danish Ambassador”.


The Minister of Foreign Affairs was replying to questions posed by Danish MP for the Red-Green Alliance, Christian Juhl regarding human rights violations in Swaziland, specifically in reference to the trial of Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini.

Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini face terrorism charges under Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act and could serve 15 years in prison for criticizing Swaziland’s absolute monarchy and expressing support for pro-democracy party the People’s United Democratic Front (PUDEMO) on Mayday.

Masuku is the PUDEMO President and Dlamini the Secretary General of PUDEMO’s youth league, SWAYOCO. They have been remanded in prison since their arrest on Mayday, having had several applications for bail turned down. Masuku has contracted pneumonia in prison which has been exacerbated by his diabetic condition and led to drastic weight loss and poor eye sight.

Stronger pressure on Swaziland
The imprisonment and trial of Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini has been heavily criticised, both in Denmark, where solidarity organization Africa Contact and the Red-Green Alliance have campaigned for their release, and abroad.


Danish Chairman of the Parliament and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mogens Lykketoft, who met with Mario Masuku in his office in the Danish Parliament last year, has supported the calls for their release and called for “stronger pressure” on Swaziland “regarding freedom of speech and organization”.

And in a letter to king Mswati, an array of other individuals and organisations such as Desmond Tutu, Freedom House, Freedom of Expression Institute in South Africa, Front Line Defenders, and Southern Africa Litigation Centre called for the release of political prisoners in Swaziland, including Mario Masuku and Maxwell Dlamini.

“We call upon you to order the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners detained in Swaziland,” the letter stated, urging Swaziland’s government to “begin meaningful discussions with the growing number of citizens and independent organizations that are demanding their basic freedoms and calling for democratic reform in Swaziland.”

Sunday, 26 October 2014

1 MILLION VISITS TO HUMAN RIGHTS SITE

Swazi Media Commentary, the social media site about human rights in Swaziland, has received its one-millionth hit. 

It is one of the longest running social media sites concentrating on the struggle for democracy in Swaziland.

The one million visits are to the Swazi Media Commentary main blogsites. An additional uncountable number of people have also accessed the site’s material on two Facebook pages and a Twitter feed. A separate site also exists with information and commentary about the Swazi elections that took place in 2008. 

The news aggregator All Africa dot com also distributes most of the site’s output to websites across the word. 

Items from Swazi Media Commentary are also contained in the weekly newsletter on human rights in Swaziland that is sent by email free-of-charge to subscribers by Africa Contact.

Annual, quarterly and monthly compilations of items from the Swazi Media Commentary site are also gathered together and are available free-of-charge on a Scribd account

The website is compiled entirely by volunteers and receives no financial backing.

One of its strengths, according to Richard Rooney, who set up the site when he was Head of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at the University of Swaziland in 2007, is that it has no base and exists entirely in Cyberspace. This means that the authorities in Swaziland, where mainstream media are heavily censored and two journalists are in jail for writing articles critical of the kingdom’s judiciary, are powerless to stop it.

The site can be updated from anywhere in the world. 

In April 2011 prodemocracy campaigners failed in an ‘uprising’ to unseat King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Rooney said, ‘I spent the day of the uprising in a settlement called Karaoglanoglu, which is hardly a dot on the map of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, at the other end of the world from Swaziland. 

‘Equipped with only a laptop and an Internet dongle I was able to receive information from people on the ground, process it and have it on the website within minutes. That day Swazi Media Commentary was being read by journalists and activists across the world, all anxious to find the latest news on the uprising.’
 
Swazi Media Commentary started as a website containing articles about local media for journalism students in Swaziland - hence its name. But, Rooney said, after he wrote about a strike by textile workers in Swaziland it became clear that people with no connection to the university were reading the site.

Gradually, the website expanded its interest to include all human rights in Swaziland. 

Today, there are more than 3,600 items on the website dating back to 2007. SMC is used as a resource by journalists, researchers, students and activists from across the world, as well as within Swaziland itself. A large proportion of readers are in the United States and Europe, but there are also regular visitors from across Asia and the Middle East.

‘It puzzles me sometimes who these people are and I wonder why somebody in, say, Slovenia would be interested in reading about the maltreatment of Swazi children or King Mswati’s latest spending spree,’ Rooney said.

‘But, they are and the fact that there are people all over the world who want to see democracy come to Swaziland, should encourage campaigners to keep up the fight.’

See also

TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT SWAZILAND
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US
SOCIAL MEDIA SITES PROMOTE FREEDOM

Friday, 24 October 2014

KING’S ‘ABDUCTION’ OF SCHOOLGIRL



The case of Swaziland’s King Mswati III’s alleged abduction of an 18-year-old schoolgirl to be his bride has resurfaced in the kingdom 12 years after the event as a local newspaper reported that a former attorney-general was to face a sedition charge for allowing a court case against the King to proceed.

The case dates from 2002 when the King ordered the Swazi High Court to drop a case brought against himself alleging that he had ordered the kidnapping of the teenager so that she could become his bride.

Reports at the time could not agree whether she would become his 10th or his 11th bride. In 2014, the King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is believed to have at least 14 wives.

International news media reported at the time that widow and single mother Lindiwe Dhlamini, 39, had provoked the challenge to the King by not accepting the kidnapping of her daughter, Zena Mahlangu, who was taken away by agents of the King on 9 October 2002. Ms Dhlamini went to court to demand that King Mswati return Zena to her.

The Afrol news agency reported,Putting such a case to the courts is unheard of in Swaziland, where the playboy King merely follows tradition when abducting virgins to see whether they please him and eventually may marry them. Mswati has already married nine Swazi girls in this way. Nevertheless, there is no legal basis for these abductions, not even in Swaziland.’

The IRIN news agency reported in 2002 that Chief Justice Stanley Sapire agreed that court papers filed by Mahlangu’s mother indicated she was abducted. At a hearing presided over by a full bench of High Court Judges, including Justices Josiah Matsebula and Thomas Masuku, he asked, ‘I want to know what happens in a case where something is sanctioned by customary law yet it is a crime under common law.’

IRIN continued, ‘The Swazi King and Queen Mother cannot be sued, arrested or prosecuted. The lawsuit filed by Mahlangu’s mother seeking the return of her daughter names the two men who took her away from school. The strategy of government as stated in the Attorney-General’s affidavit is to have King Mswati named as defendant.’ [If the King were named as defendant the case would not be able to continue as he is immune from prosecution.]

‘“(The plaintiff) seeks an order that the two (defendants) return the child forthwith, yet it is clear they were agents of the Royal Kraal. This was cowardly of the applicants. Their attacking the messengers is clear cowardice. The Ingwenyama (King) must be joined in the matter because it is clear he is the principal,” stated the Attorney-General.’

The Swazi Observer reported on Tuesday (21 October 2014) that the Attorney-General at the time Phesheya Dlamini was now to be tried for sedition, obstructing the course of justice and contempt of court.

The newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, did not report that the King himself was the subject of the court case in question.

The Observer reported the case emanated from a letter dated 1 November, 2002, which the former AG had addressed to then Chief Justice Stanley Sapire, Justices Jacobus Annandale and Stanley Maphalala.

The newspaper reported, ‘Dlamini, in the letter, informed the three presiding justices that they were free to proceed with the case in question, but should tender their resignations immediately upon handing down judgment on this matter.

‘This was after the former AG, in the company of army commander Major General Sobantu Dlamini, Commissioner of Police Edgar Hillary, as he then was, and Commissioner of Correctional Services Mnguni Simelane, as he then was, had informed the three judges in an impromptu meeting that they should drop the case because it had tarnished the image of the country internationally or resign.’

News reports in 2002 said the judges continued to hear the case as scheduled and in open court the Chief Justice stated that they would preside over the case despite the threat which had been issued against them.

At the time, the AG’s action was seen in some quarters as an assault on the rule of law in Swaziland.

The court case was halted when the 18-year-old schoolgirl announced that she wanted to marry the King.

Within weeks King Mswati sacked Chief Justice Stanley Sapire for ignoring his decree to drop the case.

Phesheya Dlamini was also removed from office and he became a diplomat. He is presently Swaziland’s High Commissioner to South Africa.

In a twist to the story, the Times of Swaziland, the only daily newspaper rival to the Observer, published a report saying there was no intention to prosecute Dlamini for sedition. On Wednesday (22 October 2014), it reported Registrar of the High Court Fikile Nhlabatsi saying the Observer’s story was not true. 

The Times reported, ‘According to impeccable sources, the matter was erroneously included in the over 200 old cases that were recently recalled by the High Court.’

It said the matter was long withdrawn and it is not in the roll of cases to be heard at the High Court.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

SWAZI JUSTICE CAMPAIGN LAUNCH

A video in support of two jailed Swaziland journalist has been released as part of a new social media campaign to draw attention to human rights failings in the kingdom.

As a start #swazijustice is focussing on the case of Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, who were jailed for two years for writing and publishing articles in the Nation magazine critical of the Swazi judiciary.

The video uses a speech Maseko, who is also a human rights lawyer, made from the dock at his trail. It appears on a number of social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and #swazijustice’s own website.

In a commentary on the video #swazjustice says, ‘Thulani Maseko is a Swazi human rights lawyer. Bheki Makhubu is a prominent journalist and the editor of the Nation magazine. These two men were arrested, detained, convicted of contempt of court, and sentenced to two years in prison, for exercising their fundamental human rights to freedom of expression in writing and publishing articles criticizing the judiciary in Swaziland.

‘The trial of Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu violated their human rights to a free and fair trial by an impartial judiciary. Moreover, the imprisonment of Mr. Maseko and Mr. Makhubu is a violation of their rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.’

A number of prominent human rights activists, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu read out Maseko’s words, ‘The thrust of my defense is that I am not in contempt of court, but that the people of Swaziland are treated with contempt and disgusting disregard. … The people of Swaziland have a right to determine and shape their destiny.

‘If truth be told, this trial is about the prosecution and persecution of the aspirations of the people of this land to determine their own destiny, democratically and freely… When freedom is taken away, it becomes the onerous and supreme duty of men to reclaim it from the oppressor. For giving up freedom is tantamount to giving away man’s right to dignity. One can have no dignity without his or her freedom.

‘Without our freedom we are a people without a soul.

‘I am willing to pay the severest penalty, even if it means spending more days, or even more years in jail. It is well with my soul. I accept the penalty with a clean and a clear conscience that I did no wrong.
‘Human rights … are inherent, inalienable, indivisible and inviolable. This is clearly not the case in Swaziland.

‘It is our respectful contention that the issue here is not and has never been contempt of court…The issue is the abuse of the courts to silence dissenting voices in order to suppress aspirations for democratic change …. The people are yearning for freedom, democracy, and justice.

Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go way.” Of course, they will never go away even if brutal force, arrests and other forms of suppression and repression are used to silence dissent.

‘I do not for one moment believe that in finding me guilty and imposing a penalty on me for the charge I face, the court should be moved by the belief that penalties deter men from a cause they believe is right. History shows that penalties do not deter men and women when their conscience is aroused …The path to freedom goes through prison, but the triumph of justice over evil is inevitable.

‘Nothing this Court can do will shake me from my commitment to simple truth and simple justice.’


See also

JAILED EDITOR WINS FREEDOM AWARD
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/10/jailed-editor-wins-freedom-award.html

JOURNALISTS JAILED TO DETER OTHERS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/journalists-jailed-to-deter-others.html

US BACKS CONVICTED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/us-backs-convicted-swazi-journalists.html

JUDGE RESTRICTS PRESS FREEDOM
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/judge-restricts-press-freedom.html

SUPPORT FOR CONVICTED JOURNALISTS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/global-support-for-convicted-journalists.html

WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/convicted-journalists-what-they-wrote.html

COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2014/07/court-convicts-editor-and-writer.html

Monday, 20 October 2014

JAILED EDITOR WINS FREEDOM AWARD

Bheki Makhubu, the Swaziland editor jailed for two years for publishing articles critical of judges has won the Press Freedom Award at the CNN / Multichoice journalism awards.

Makhubu, editor of the Nation, a small-circulation monthly comment magazine, was jailed with Thulani Maseko, a writer and human rights journalist in July 2014. 

The judge’s citation for the award said, ‘Bheki Makhubu is in jail. Where a journalist should not be. One of far too many journalists on the continent.

‘Bheki and his columnist and human rights lawyer colleague, Thulani Maseko, remain in jail facing sedition charges.

‘Their crime: They annoyed Swaziland’s chief justice after penning columns supporting a state clerk who was charged for trying to put right the system that allowed judicial officers to misuse public cars.

‘Their jailing is part the continuum of Swaziland’s long tale abuse of civil rights and free expression. This editor of The Nation, Makhubu is a long-standing practitioner who is known for his fair hand and balanced reporting: even in circumstances where fairness and balance are tough acts.

‘The Nation has become a talisman and assembly point, one of the last, in the fight for democracy in Swaziland.’

Makhubu and Maseko have also been nominated by more than 50 trade unions and civil society organisations from across the world for the 2014 Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award.

The conviction of the two journalists was condemned by pro-democracy voices across the world. Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Cape Town, said, ‘[The] ruling is an indictment of the thin-skinned Swazi judiciary that serves a monarch and denies citizens the basic right of freedom of expression.’
In a statement she said, ‘We call on authorities in Swaziland to release Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko immediately.’
CPJ reported, ‘CPJ research shows that most of Swaziland’s principal media outlets are controlled by the state or choose to self-censor. King Mswati III owns one of the two daily newspapers and employs the editor of the other as an adviser. Media freedom advocates regard The Nation, which is owned and published by Swaziland Independent Publishers, as the only independent voice in Swaziland.’
Freedom House, in Washington, called the conviction a ‘show trial’. Jenai Cox, program manager for Africa programs at Freedom House, said, ‘The judiciary has become an instrument of repression, as King Mswati attempts secure his grip on power.’
Cox added, ‘After a three-month show trial, Swaziland’s High Court conviction of two of the country’s most prominent human rights activists shows that Swaziland’s court system has lost its last shred of credibility.’
In a statement the organisation said, ‘Freedom House joins opposition groups, civil society organizations and international organizations in demanding authorities swiftly and unconditionally release Maseko, Makhubu and all of Swaziland’s political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.’
See also
 
WHAT CONVICTED JOURNALISTS WROTE
COURT CONVICTS EDITOR AND WRITER

Thursday, 16 October 2014

SWAZI POLICE BAN UNIONS MARCH

Police in Swaziland have banned a proposed march by trade unionists against the government’s banning of their federation saying it is not in the interest of security, peace and public order’. 

The Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU), the Swaziland Amalgated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) and Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) had planned to deliver petitions at different government ministries on Friday (17 October 2014).

The police took the decision to ban without obtaining a court order.

On 8 October 2014 the Swazi Government banned all trade union and employers’ federations in the kingdom and said the government would no longer listen to their views on any matters. New amendments to the existing Industrial Relations Act will outline how the federations can apply to be registered.

The trade unions intended to deliver petitions to government ministries to protest the ban.

Police Deputy National Commissioner - Operations Khisimusi Ndlovu told the Swazi Observer, a newspaper owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, ‘As a law enforcement and security agency, we have found the declared march not to be in the interest of security, peace and public order, hence it cannot be allowed to take place. 

‘The organisers or others who may wish to join the march in whatever capacity are warned against engaging in such actions.’

ATUSWA Secretary General Wonder Mkhonta and TUCOSWA Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane said they would continue with their proposed march.

The ban also includes the Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce (FSE&CC) and the Federation of the Swazi Business Community.

See also

OFFICIAL: FEDERATIONS ARE ILLEGAL