The UK’s Trades Union Congress has shown its solidarity with the people of Swaziland who are struggling for democracy in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
This article, issued today (9 March 2011) from the TUC, explores how the TUC, through political solidarity and a project that is helping to train and educate trade union activists is assisting in the struggle for workers rights against a backdrop of political repression.
Small country, big dreams: solidarity and networking for workers rights in Swaziland
The Swaziland Government is not renowned for its tolerance. It has banned political parties, and trade unionists are expected to keep their heads below the parapet. But they refuse to. Instead trade unionists continue to speak up for the rights of workers and democracy. This story finds out the how the TUC, through political solidarity and a project that is helping to train and educate trade union activists is assisting in the struggle for workers rights against a backdrop of political repression.
Almost a year ago Sipho Jele, a trade unionist and activist, was arrested in Swaziland for daring to wear a political t-shirt in a May Day celebration. A few days later he was found hanged in his prison cell and the report of the inquest into his death has just been released. The coroner, a former police officer concluded it was suicide but the world is far from convinced about this as she was unable to explain how Jele was able to lift his body without the use of a platform to the beam he was found suspended under.
'It is redolent of the many apartheid-era police murders in South African jails explained away as suicides,' says TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber.
Five months later the Swaziland Government once again hit the world headlines. This time for threatening to use 'sipakatane' on pro-democracy activists. This form of torture involves beating the soles of people's feet with a spiked instrument causing considerable pain but few visible marks.
Swaziland has gained international notoriety as one of the few countries in the world that is still ruled by an absolute monarch. Political parties are outlawed and trade unionists and activists are subject to victimisation, harassment and persecution. Swaziland may be classified as a lower middle income country, but it is the ruling elite who enjoy this wealth. The vast majority of people are living in abject poverty on less than $2 a day. To make matters even worse, they have one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the world.
Yet despite the daily struggle against poverty and political repression, the Swazi people still have hope. Against all odds, tens of thousands of them have come together to join the trade union movement to fight for a better life. But it's not easy, given the extreme political context in which the trade unions operate.
To read the full article, click here.