Trade unionists and democracy campaigners in Swaziland are on a collision course with the police and state security after they refused to seek formal permission to hold a May Day rally.
The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) has confirmed that commemorations of the workers’ day will take place at the Salesian Sports Ground in Manzini, the commercial capital of Swaziland, on 1 May 2015.
Vincent Ncongwane, TUCOSWA Secretary General, said his federation had informed the police of its decision to host the event.
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa, reported him saying, ‘We will not be seeking permission from the police to host the event, it is unlawful to be forced to seek permission and there is no statute in the labour laws that allows the police to demand us to seek permission from them to host Workers Day.’
He added the fact that they had informed the police was sufficient and that they would not be seeking permission as police had instructed them to do in past years.
The decision not to seek permission will almost certainly put TUCOSWA on a collision course with the police and the state security apparatus.
Public gatherings are routinely disrupted by police unless they are sanctioned by the state. On Thursday (23 April 2015), for example, a newly-formed group called Swaziland Anti-Xenophobia Movement had a gathering broken up by police because they did not have permission from the Municipal Council of Mbabane to meet.
They were trying to show their support for victims of Xenophobic attacks in neighbouring South Africa and tried to march to the South African High Commission in the Swazi capital, Mbabane.
At May Day celebrations last year (2014), Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and Maxwell Dlamini, Secretary-General of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), were charged with ‘uttering seditious statements’. One year later they are still in prison awaiting trial.
The two were arrested following a pro-democracy rally at the Salesian Sports Ground, the proposed venue for this year’s rally.
PUDEMO has been banned in Swaziland as a ‘terrorist’ organisation since 2008, under the controversial Suppression of Terrorism Act.
In May 2013, Muzi Mhlanga, the secretary general of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), was illegally placed under house arrest by police who wanted to prevent him attending a May Day rally. They had neither a court order nor warrant to place him under house arrest.
Arrests were reported across the kingdom as democracy leaders refused police instructions to say at home and not attend May Day events.
POLICE ABDUCT DEMOCRACY LEADERS