Here is a statement issued by Barnabas Dlamini, the illegally-appointed Prime Minister of Swaziland, in response to criticisms of police and state forces’ action during last week’s pro-democracy action. It is a response to a letter of protest sent to him by the International Metalworkers’ Federation, Geneva, Switzerland.
I think the Prime Minister’s statement might prove to be controversial as he sets out his own view of what happened during the protests and his justification for the action taken by Swazi Police. For that reason I am reproducing the whole statement here and you can make of it what you will.
Statement by His Excellency the Right Honourable Prime Minister on the workers protest action of September 6-8, 2010.
In line with International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Right to Organize, the Government of Swaziland through the Labour Advisory Board, allowed the country’s Labour Federations (SFTU, SFL) to go on peaceful protest action from the 6th To 8th September 2010. As per the requirements of the Industrial Relations Act 2000, an arrangement was agreed upon between the Royal Swaziland Police and Federations, regarding the issue of safety and security of the protestors, the general public and property.
However, much against the principles of peaceful protest actions and to the dismay of Government, the Federations secretly organized a “democracy campaign” on the same proposed dates of the protest. This campaign was supposed to be a joint operation between the federations, other international worker formations and other global human rights and “democracy campaign” groups. The momentum with which the “democracy campaign” was being organized shadowed the peaceful protest action. Naturally, this got the Government worried that the actual purpose of the protest action was not labour related or socio-economically inclined but rather purely political. Government’s skepticism emanated from documents which came to her attention, clearly stating that there was going to be a democracy campaign in the country with the sole intention of “democratizing Swaziland and freeing its people”. The Government is in possession of such documentation. Foreign nationals had planned to lead what they termed the biggest pro-democracy march in Swaziland on the dates identified for protest action.
It is against this background that the Government of Swaziland deemed it appropriate that in order for the protest by the rightful associations, being the worker federations of the country, to be peaceful it had to ensure that the issue in respect of which they were going on protest remained uppermost. This required the Government to exercise caution and act responsibly by peacefully removing elements that would not further the interest of the workers. In this regard it should be noted that in terms of ILO Conventions, protest actions are to be undertaken for socio-economic interests and not purely political issues.
In line with its plans, foreign nationals entered the country and were found by the Police in one of the hotels in Manzini holding a political meeting with, amongst others, members of the so-called Swaziland Democracy Campaign, SFTU, SFL, Public Service International and banned “specified entities” in terms of the laws of the country. Seeing that the intended protest action was turning to a political rally much against the relevant provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, the Police politely requested those who were not members of the worker federations in Swaziland to leave. They refused to heed the Police’s request. They were then peacefully removed and taken in for questioning at the Manzini Regional Police Headquarters. The Police explained to them that they perceived their presence in the country as an invasion, and accordingly requested them to leave the country as the protest march was meant for workers in Swaziland. After the explanation by the Police they appreciated the need for them not to continue with their intended political action and immediately went back to their respective countries. The workers’ invited guests were then accompanied to their respective points of exit. This was done solely to ensure that they return to their countries of their origins safely.
It is worth noting that none of those taken for questioning was arrested or detained by the Police.
Regarding the events alleged to have taken place on 7th and 8th September 2010 the Government neither raided the SFTU offices nor arrested the Deputy General Secretary of SFTU-affiliate SPRAWU and members of Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT). The Government is at pains that it is unfortunate such untruths had to be told to your organization. No warning shots were fired by the Police despite that protestors sat on and closed down one of the busiest streets in Manzini for about two (2) hours. The City Council of Manzini had initially given permission to the workers to march in a Street where the protest action would not disrupt business and traffic. However, the Police engaged the Council to allow them to march in the Street they desired. Surely, this can only be probative of Government’s appreciation of the workers’ rights to freedom of association and assembly.
In relation to the alleged arrest of Mario Masuku, it is not true that he was arrested but only requested to leave because of the reason that he is a member of a banned specified entity in terms of the law. Mr. Masuku was only asked to leave the protestors and the Police accompanied him home in the interest of his safety.
It is worth mentioning that no one was jailed during the protest march, including one Skhumbuzo Phakathi.
The Swaziland Government is committed, as it always had, to continue respecting, complying with and giving effect to International Labour Conventions and generally allowing workers to freely exercise their freedoms as enshrined in the National Constitution and labour standards. The country’s labour laws are very progressive and liberal in terms of ensuring that workers enjoy their rights to the fullest. However, despite protest actions and general strikes turning violent in the past, Government has always maintained a delicate balance between protecting private and public property, the rights of other citizens and ensuring that workers enjoy their rights without undue interference and disturbance.
Every country has a right to conduct its internal affairs according to its own laws and procedures. The enjoyment of this right is obviously subject to structured relations between States and international organizations. The importance of recognizing established dialogue structures including bilateral and multilateral instruments including diplomatic channels of communication cannot be gainsaid. My Office encourages the use of such structures in future. It is sad to learn that a completely incorrect picture about Swaziland has been painted as a result of which there are wrong perceptions about the country. As a country we subscribe to good governance, freedom of expression and constructive dialogue.
Dr Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini