Swaziland Democracy Campaign
27 July 2011
The Swazi Regime in Crisis, Fails to Block Union Action......But Gets Lifeline from SA!
On Tuesday (26 July 2011) in the High Court in Swaziland, the Swazi Regime failed to block the combined forces of the trade union movement from demonstrating their right to protest against a range of reactionary government measures that are being forced upon them.
The Swazi regime is desperately trying to push through a swathe of measures that will impact negatively on the living standards of workers, and especially the most vulnerable amongst them. Apart from meddling with the National Provident Fund, fiddling with the taxation system and restricting legitimate industrial action, the regime is also desperate to maintain the nefarious mechanisms it uses to secretly siphon off money intended for development to finance its opulent lifestyle, most notably through Tibiyo Takangwane and Tisuka.
These are essentially personalised trust funds controlled by the Royal Elite, into which payments are made from public and private funds without a blush of shame, while the majority of the population remain impoverished. The Unions are rightly demanding that they be taken under public control and be subjected to public accountability and scrutiny. The Unions are also campaigning for reform of the Tender Board to prevent further corruption and state inspired kick-backs.
The court case represents a remarkable victory for the Trade Unions. They were able to put a powerful and legally irrefutable argument to the Court illustrating the failure of the regime to engage as they are supposed to do according to their own rules and regulations, and to also point out the impact such enforced measures would have on the well-being of workers. Despite the bias of the courts in Swaziland in general, the arguments put by the Unions could not be countered by the state who were left paralysed and looking ridiculous.
Undoubtedly, the mass mobilisations beginning to take shape outside of the court room in several centres across the country were also important for putting pressure on the regime and its courts. The combined union movement, with the support of students and many other sections of civil society, have today launched the first in a series of strikes, stoppages and other forms of protest against this cluster of ill conceived and anti-worker measures, and for once, the courts had to give way and agree.
Of course, all those who will take to the streets today and over the next period are under no illusions. They know that the regime will be provocative, that it will start to arrest and intimidate protesters. That it will use all the forces at its disposal to undermine the legitimate workers struggle, including use of the notorious Suppression of Terrorism Act.
This is a regime that is running scared. The economy is now widely acknowledged as being on the brink of complete collapse. The appalling mismanagement of the treasury is now globally notorious, to the point where even the conservative IMF and World Bank have criticised the regime for being unable to separate out Royal Profiteering from managing a government account. All the more reason why it is completely dumfounding to learn that this regime has been recklessly bailed out by the South African government.
It has come to the attention of the SDC that the SA Government have agreed to provide R1.3bn to the regime, and when civil society organisations in Swaziland itself and outside of the country, have requested that the SA government do the right thing, and refuse to bail out this rotten despotic blemish on the face of the continent.
Details of the ‘loan’ are still to emerge, and we still await a public announcement, indicating that the SA Government is aware that there will be public outrage, and rightly so. There is absolutely no doubt in the minds of civil society activists in Swaziland that the bail out will strengthen the hand of the regime, both in terms of maintaining its reactionary and bloodstained security services, and in providing a lifebelt for the lifestyle of the regime.
The South African government has lost a golden opportunity to show how a progressive government can support the growth of democracy on our continent, how it can behave differently to the neo-colonialists who seek to control and further subjugate the poor for their own narrow interests, and how a progressive foreign policy would not arm the oppressors, but seek to liberate the people. Why has the SA government not taken advice from those on the ground fighting against injustice? Do the SA Government have such a short memory?
What did the ANC leadership in exile say to those governments like Mrs Thatchers, who wanted to negotiate with the apartheid regime without involving the ANC and the Mass Democratic Movement? Has the SA Government no sense of what it means when liberation voices say ‘Nothing for us, without us’.
We anticipate that the SA Government will justify its decisions to bail out this despotic regime with reference to maintaining the peace, avoiding bloodshed, and to prevent further migration. We anticipate a stream of grand sounding diplomatic assurances, that the regime has been told (secretly no doubt) that they must reform, and allow for ‘normal’ political processes to unfold. But we remain unconvinced. For a start, you do not need a degree in economics to realise that this regime is absolutely incapable of either managing an economy, or of wanting to introduce democratic controls. You do not tackle barbarism by financing it!
The South African government must explain to the people of Swaziland what they have agreed with the regime. They must explain to the South African people who is liable for repayment when the regime defaults, as it surely will. Comrades in the ANC, COSATU and Civil Society must demand an explanation, and especially when the Study Group agreed at the last NGC on Swaziland has still to report.
Thankfully, the democratic forces on the ground in Swaziland continue to grow and deepen their influence, despite the antics of the crisis ridden Royal Regime, and the misconstrued support they have received from Governments who really should know better. The comrades of the Trade Union Movement, of PUDEMO and all other democratic forces deserve the support of all those who want to see democratic change in Swaziland, that represents the honourable, and only practical way forward.