Police in Swaziland have broken up two meetings of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) in as many weeks in a clampdown on groups advocating for democracy.
More than 300 plain-clothed police forced participants to end a union executive board meeting in the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Center on 14 March 2014 and blocked the gates to the building. Muzi Mhlanga, SNAT secretary general, was assaulted and had to seek medical care, according to TUCOSWA.
TUCOSWA Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane said, ‘The police came in as if they were coming to fight an army. They actually manhandled us, stopping anyone coming in or going out of the venue.’
Ncongwane added, ‘We were squashed between various policemen who were trying to read the emails we were sending [to international labour allies]. Police also demanded their phones because union leaders were taking photos of the police “without their permission. They said their orders are to crush any TUCOSWA meeting.’
Swaziland police also broke up a national union meeting on 28 February, on the grounds that workers were discussing ‘democracy’.
The Solidarity Center reported, ‘Over the past three years, Swaziland authorities have refused to grant legal registration to TUCOSWA, most recently denying the federation’s December 2014 application under the country’s recently amended Industrial Relations Act. In August 2014, some in the Swazi government falsely accused Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze of taking a stand against trade benefits for Swaziland when they were in Washington to attend the US Africa Leaders’ Summit Civil Society Forum.
The Solidarity Center said, ‘TUCOSWA is receiving key support from the country’s religious leaders. A coalition of Christian churches called for the registration and recognition of TUCOSWA as part of its broader call for multiparty democracy to address the Swaziland’s political, social and economic crises.
‘In June 2014 the US government took the rare step of suspending African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade benefits for Swaziland, citing the Swazi government’s systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, including refusal to legally recognize TUCOSWA. Swaziland’s trade unions support AGOA, but maintain that the country must meet benchmarks of the agreement, which include respecting human rights and labour rights.
‘The 2014 US State Department human rights report cited serious human rights violations in Swaziland, including arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; severely restricted freedom of assembly, including violence against protestors; jailing of trade union leaders; the deregistration of TUCOSWA and the banning of strikes.’
SWAZI POLICE HALT DEMOCRACY MEETING