Swaziland is once again under the international searchlight after police broke up a meeting of trade unionists who wanted to discuss the need for democracy in the kingdom.
The Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) was prevented from meeting on Saturday (28 February 2015). Political parties are banned from contesting elections in Swaziland and all pro-democracy groups have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Condemnation of Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, came from all over the world.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) attacked the regime of King Mswati for its ‘latest act of anti-union repression’.
ITUC reported police used numerous tactics to intimidate workers and to prevent the meeting. It said, ‘The landlord of the Bosco Skills Centre Hall in Manzini, where the meeting was scheduled to take place, was falsely told that he was violating Swazi laws by renting the hall to TUCOSWA.
‘When the trade union meeting was relocated to the Swaziland National Teachers Association Centre, police mounted roadblocks around the country and placed uniformed and plain-clothes police in front of the centre. Despite the intimidating police presence and roadblocks, more than 100 workers made it to the SNAT centre, but police, led by Regional Commissioner Richard Mngometulu and Senior Operations Officer Josefa Bhembe, insisted that the meeting could not take place.’
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, ‘This is a clear and serious violation of both Swazi and international law which both guarantee the right of workers to assemble and to discuss socio-economic issues impacting their lives. Violations against the fundamental rights of workers have become systemic in Swaziland. The government must conduct an immediate investigation without delay, hold the responsible police officers accountable and reform its archaic anti-union laws and practices.’
Kommunal, the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union, which has 550,000 members, wrote to the Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini to, ‘strongly condemn the systematic interference by police in lawful and legitimate trade union activities’.
Annelie Nordström, Chairperson of Kommunal, wrote, ‘We urge you to conduct an investigation and hold the responsible police officers accountable without delay. Police tactics to intimidate workers from holding a legitimate trade union meeting constitute a serious violation of both Swazi and international law.’
The Solidarity Center of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) reported, ‘The police action is the latest move against worker and human rights in Swaziland. Swaziland authorities continue their nearly three-year refusal to grant legal registration to TUCOSWA, despite the federation making another application in December 2014 under the country’s recently amended Industrial Relations Act.’
It added, ‘Earlier in June 2014 the U.S. 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 labor rights.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), said, ‘The royal family regime continues to wage a relentless attack on the rights and dignity of workers. The banning of TUCOSWA and the continued attack on the rights of workers to associate, organise and speak out reflects a regime in crisis and desperately frustrated.’
The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), which is banned in the kingdom, said there was no law to stop people talking about the need for multi-party democracy. It said, ‘The reasons given by the police for refusing the meeting to take place was that “Deliberating on political parties would have bad implications for the country.”’
SWAZI POLICE HALT DEMOCRACY MEETING