Swaziland police officers disobeyed their commander when instructed to arrest fellow police officers who were trying to hold a trade union meeting.
So, the senior officers themselves had to try to break up the meeting. As they tried to arrest trade union leaders their fellow unionists freed them and they escaped to safety.
This is some of the background to the video I posted yesterday (Tuesday 8 April 2008) showing Swazi police breaking up a meeting in October 2007 called by junior police officers who were trying to form a trade union, the Swaziland Police Union (SWAPU)
The Times of Swaziland (19 October 2007) gives vivid details of the disobedience of the junior officers who were on duty to break up the meeting. They were given a direct instruction from Regional Commander Senior Superintendent Caiphas Mbhamali to arrest the unionists ‘but they did not take his orders as they stood and watched’.
More than 40 police in total were at the scene to break up the meeting, but only 10 senior officers actually tried to make the arrests.
The Times, Swaziland’s only independent daily newspaper, took three pictures from the video and ran them across its front page above the headline COPS’ UNION CLASHES WITH POLICE.
The Swazi Observer, Swaziland’s only other daily newspaper and which is in effect owned by King Mswati III, ignored the event altogether.
In its story the Times reported that there were clashes twice within two hours between SWAPU and police officers.
Swaziland police Deputy Commissioner of Police Isaac Magagula had warned the unionist against holding the meeting. The Swazi Observer had the previous week (12 October 2007) quoted Magagula saying, ‘It is only with the expressed approval of the commissioner that police officers can convene or attend any meeting.’
The commissioner doesn’t actually have this power since the Swaziland Constitution allows for freedom of assembly so the meeting is protected under the constitution and should have been allowed to go ahead.
A scene in the video clearly shows a senior police officer telling the unionists that he has orders to stop the meeting because they do not have a permit to meet.
The Times gives a detailed account of what happened as SWAPU’s executive members tried to meet at the Caritas Centre in Manzini 90 minutes before the main meeting was due to begin.
Here are some extracts:
‘But the police would not allow them to meet, resulting in a verbal showdown where unprintable words were exchanged between the two groups of at least 10 SWAPU executive members and as many senior police officers.
‘During the heated debate of words, a member of SWAPU was seen being dragged to a waiting police van by the senior police officers, with most of the junior officers standing a few metres away, watching.
‘There were more than 40 police officers at the scene, though only about 10 senior officers were involved in the scuffle.
‘The SWAPU member, Sipho Tsabedze, fought back, pulling the officers by their pair of trousers.
‘Seeing that Tsabedze was being overpowered by the officers, SWAPU members intervened and succeeded to wrestle their member from the clutches of the police.
‘While the scuffle was in progress, SWAPU President Buhle Dlamini was addressing the junior officers who were standing by.
‘The “unionists” quickly jumped into waiting cars and drove off to their offices.’
When the meeting proper was due to start police blocked the entrance to the meeting hall.
The Times reports,
‘At 4pm, when members of SWAPU arrived at the Caritas Centre, the senior police officers were ready for them and blocked the entrance, demanding that a permit to hold the meeting be produced.
‘That marked the start of another confrontation.
‘SWAPU executive members told the officers that it was within their rights to hold meetings as per the country’s constitution. But the senior officer shoved them out of the conference room where the meeting was scheduled to be held.
‘The Regional Commander Senior Superintendent Caiphas Mbhamali, instructed the junior officers to arrest the defiant SWAPU members, but they did not take his orders as they stood and watched.
‘The senior officers took it upon themselves to effect the arrest, but SWAPU members resisted and the scuffle continued.
‘During the scuffle, the shirt of a senior officer’s uniform got torn, SWAPU member Thandukwazi Zwane’s T-shirt was also ripped apart.
‘A member of SWAPU quickly jumped inside his car parked close by, reversed at high speed towards the crowd and ordered his colleagues to jump inside.
‘Meanwhile, the SWAPU President Dlamini blocked the gate with his car, allowing his followers out of the gate.’
The Weekend Observer (20 October 2007) reported that catholic priest Father Vilakati, who is the administrator at the Caritas Centre, was manhandled by police. ‘They dragged me forcefully by both arms ordering me out of the centre,’ he told the newspaper. ‘[The police] should develop some courtesy when dealing with civilians, the way they operated seemed like they were out on a war, which is not right.’
The video of the police attack is available on the video sharing website, YouTube. To see it click here.
SWAZI POLICE ATTACK ON VIDEO