This is how the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, reported on yesterday’s protests.
13 April 2011
COPS HALT PROTEST
13 April 2011
IT was business unusual in Manzini yesterday morning as police frustrated labour unions’ mass protest action. Police came in their numbers and every corner one turned at the country’s busiest city there were over 10 police officers. Most shops were closed in fear of the unknown. Some feared that the protesters might loot in the event their confrontation with police became nasty.
The unions are calling for, among other things, the resignation of cabinet and the halting of the proposed salary cuts to boost the country’s ailing economy. The mass protest was mobilised through social network site, Facebook, mainly. The protesters, who had planned to participate in the protest action were, however, nowhere to be found in the early hours of yesterday. They were supposed to assemble at the Jubilee Park but at around 7:00 am, there was no one, save for the ‘sea’ of armed police.
However, the calm situation in the city changed just before the lunch hour when the police clashed with the protestors who had hit town.
At exactly 1:00pm close to 50 protestors were seen running from the Manzini Central High School-St Michael’s gravel road towards the Central Filling station.
Armed with stones, they crossed the by-pass road singing struggle songs running towards the bus rank.
One of the people there, when interviewed, said they had assembled at the Manzini Central High School hall when the police started to drive them out.
As they ran towards the bus rank using the new road the OSSU police were all over the road, such that the main road between Manzini Central High School and the bus rank was temporarily closed. One of the police officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they closed the road because they did not want the protestors to go to the bus rank because of the havoc they would have caused. The police were successful in their mission.
However, at 1:15pm police and protestors clashed at the bus rank such that they were dispersed with water canon. Some of the protesters were injured in the clash with police and had to be rushed to the RFM.
Between this time (1:20pm) and 3:00pm when the protestors clashed with the police a handful protestors were detained in the process.
Over 50 workers detained
OVER 50 workers who were clad in different workers’ union and associations’ regalia were yesterday morning detained by the police while in Manzini.
They were all loaded onto a police truck that was parked at the Manzini Regional Head Quarters and this was at 9:30am.
Most of them were apprehended while loitering around the Jubilee Park, where they were supposed to assemble.
Their sin, it was gathered, was wearing the t-shirts and a majority of them were detained while at Caritas where they were supposed to hold a short meeting before taking to the streets. It is worth mentioning that minutes after their detention, the news were posted on the social network Facebook and a number of people condemned it. A teacher, who was seen wearing only a jersey, when asked where his shirt was said he had put it in one of the dustbins in town.
“I feared that I might also be detained and decided to take it off after I read from the Facebook that we would be in trouble. While at Caritas, police came in their numbers and took a handful of the members.
Some of us were able to escape the detention but now we are heading for SNAT centre for logistics,” he said. Police Public Relations Officer Superintendent Wendy Hleta said these people were only questioned for wearing clothes that indicated that they were part of the strike action yet it was announced that it was illegal. She said they were later released.
Toyi-toyi at Mbhandlane
WHILE there was just no action in Manzini, some workers, teachers and civil servants got the chance to sing struggle songs and toyi-toyied and Mbhadlane.
Mbhadlane is about 30 kilometres from Manzini. The protestors did their ‘thing’ next to the road leading to Sikhuphe International Airport.
They sang and toyi-toyied by the road side after police, led by Lubombo Regional Commander John Lukhele, ordered them out of the different public transport they were on board. This was about 9:00am.
Asked how they were identified by the police, the protestors said it was because they were wearing either T-shirts written the union or association they fell under like the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT).
Most of the protestors here were teachers under the Siteki Branch while others said they were working for different ministries like that of natural resources and were based in the Lubombo region.
The teachers’ treasurer, Khanyisile Matsebula, said they had no alternative but to go back to their respective homes because the police had vowed that they would not go to Manzini.
“We had no choice but to go back and plan the next step because now they have made the strike a flop. We have just learnt that some of our members in Manzini have been detained and we are not sure what will happen to us,” she said.
At Mbhadlane, one person was detained, a young man who was only identified as Mkhabela. He was detained inside a police van after he forced his way out of the area they were instructed not to leave but was later released when the leaders promised to go back home.
The police officers when asked about the arrest, said it was because he did not cooperate when they talked to him.
Union leaders detained, questioned and released
POLICE further frustrated the mass protest action by detaining the leaders of the various unions that were behind it.
Some of the leaders were reportedly detained on Monday while others were rounded up yesterday morning in different places. It was said that some of the leaders were taken to far away places while others remained in police cells.
Arrested leaders are said to be Maxwel Dlamini President of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), Sibongile Mazibuko President of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and her General Secretary Muzi Mhlanga.
Others are Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) General Secretary Vincent Ncongwane, his president Sipho Kunene, Quinton Dlamini NAPSAWU President and Nomkhosi Dlamini from the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions’ Women wing.
It was gathered that they were kept in Mbabane with close to 100 others in different cells.
It was also reported that about 50 youth members were also taken by the police from Manzini to Bhunya forests. Big Bend Branch of SNAT Chairperson Siphasha Dlamini was dumped at Malutha, while other members were dumped at Bulunga and Mbuluzi mountains. SNAT SubEditor Simangele Mmema said despite the detention of their leaders, the march would continue today until Friday as per their agreement.
“We will use the regional committee members to work on this and we will continue to sleep in town until Friday. We are not shaken by the arrest of our leaders, tomorrow we will be on the streets, we will not rest until we receive what we want,” she said.
Mmema further revealed that NNLC member Ntombi Nkosi was stripped naked and beaten by three police officers for wearing clothes with NNLC slogans.
Minister Lutfo explains why union leaders were detained
UNION leaders were only taken in by police for questioning according to minister of Foreign Affairs, Lutfo Dlamini.
The minister remained adamant that no one was detained despite the media telling him the union leaders were.
“It depends how you look at it, all I am saying is that the union leaders were only taken in for questioning not detained,” said Dlamini.
The dictionary explains detention thus; “To keep someone in a police station or prison and not allow them to leave”. In this instance, this is what happened to the union leaders. The minister went on to say that he was not in a position to say who was taken in for questioning and how many were the union leaders but promised to find out. The minister stated; “that information maybe we can provide in the long run but at the moment I cannot say for sure.”
He also said journalists from the foreign media should have accreditation if they want to cover such events, stating that this would help to avoid instances where they are also taken in for questioning.
The minister was referring to reports of foreign and local journalists were detained by police who further confiscated their cameras and deleted pictures. Dlamini was addressing both local and foreign journalists at the Mountain Inn last night.