The Swaziland Ministry of Health has ratcheted up the pressure on the Swazi Government by threatening to discipline nurses who went on strike two weeks ago.
The three-day strike forced the government to pay allowances that it owed nurses but was refusing to hand over. The government is broke and cannot pay its bills.
Recently, it was revealed that the government had taken pension money from teachers’ salaries and used it to pay bills, rather than investing it as it was supposed to.
The government has also suspended pension payments to elderly Swazi people because it doesn’t have the money.
It was against this background that nurses went on strike.
Now, The Ministry of Health has revealed that it has sent letters to the striker nurses demanding that they state why they were not at work.
If the nurses are found to have absented themselves in order to attend the strike, they face disciplinary action.
Steven Shongwe, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, told the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, ‘We believe the strike was illegal because we had told them payments were being processed.’
Two weeks ago, nurses engaged in a two-day strike over delayed overtime payments. To try and prevent the strike, government filed an urgent application in court in which it sought a ruling to declare the strike illegal. However, the nurses proceeded with the strike, leaving some patients unattended, the Times reported.
The move to intimidate the nurses will be seen by many as an attempt by the government to stifle dissent. Last week about 8,000 people marched on the office of the prime minister in Mbabane to demand the resignation of the government.
Swazi people are already furious with the behaviour of the government. This attempt to victimise nurses will only anger them more.
Further protests are expected in the coming weeks. On 12 April 2011 an ‘uprising’ that promises to occupy the streets of Mbabane is planned.