Police are expected to clash with trade unionists in Swaziland today (1 May 2013) as workers try to celebrate May Day, despite a court ban.
The Industrial Court this week banned the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from organising in a rally at the Salesian Sports Ground, Manzini. The court said TUCOSWA was not recognised as a labour federation in Swaziland and therefore had no rights to organise the event.
The Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) called the court ban on TUCOSWA, ‘a desperate ploy by the regime in Mbabane to stop workers from asserting their rights to form a federation’.
The party called on all workers to defy efforts to ban TUCOSWA from the May Day celebrations.
The ban is the latest in a series of attempts by Swazi state authorities to stop people in Swaziland protesting about forthcoming elections in the kingdom. Political parties are banned from taking part and the parliament that will be elected will have no powers. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
TUCOSWA is one of a number of trade unions and political organisations calling for a boycott of the election, due at a date yet to be announced by the king.
Police have been heavy-handed with democracy activists in the past two weeks. On 19 April, the date of the king’s 45th birthday, acting without a court order, they broke up an election meeting at the Msunduza Township in Mbabane. Organisers of the meeting have been charged with sedition.
A week earlier on 12 April, the 40th anniversary of King Sobhuza’s Royal Decree that in 1973 turned Swaziland from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarch, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), attempted to hold a public meeting to discuss the election.
Police, again acting without a court order or warrant, refused to allow the meeting to go ahead and physically blocked entry to the restaurant where the meeting was to be held.
CPS general secretary Kenneth Kunene said in a statement, ‘What the Mswati regime doesn’t understand is that the workers’ rights to form TUCOSWA is being supported by trade union confederations and organisations across the world. The regime is further digging its own grave by banning TUCOSWA.’
Last month (April 2013), the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia that Swaziland was becoming a ‘military state’. OSISA reported that the Swazi army, police and correctional services were being deployed to ‘clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections’.
Separately the same month, the US Embassy in Swaziland voiced its ‘deep concern’ about the way the police engaged in ‘acts of intimidation and fear’ against people seeking their political rights.
In its annual review of human rights in Swaziland, just published, the US State Department recorded, ‘The three main human rights abuses were police use of excessive force, including use of torture, beatings, and unlawful killings; restrictions on freedoms of association, assembly, and speech; and discrimination and abuse of women and children.’
NOW, ELECTION MEETINGS ARE ‘SEDITIOUS’