23 June 2011
Mbabane judge blocks strike by teachers
Mbabane - A Swazi court ordered late yesterday (22 June 2011) that teachers’ unions must hold further talks with the government before they can stage a planned strike to protest moves to slash their salaries.
Judge Nkosinathi Nkonyane said the two sides must continue negotiations before unions would be allowed to hold protests in Africa's last absolute monarchy.
“We only wanted the matter stopped and it has been,” state attorney Vusi Kunene told reporters.
The atmosphere at Mbabane's Industrial Court was highly charged and police maintained a heavy presence outside. At times the court erupted in protest songs from more than 200 political activists who packed the benches.
The government won a last-minute interdict on Tuesday to stop the strike planned for Wednesday, arguing that unions had not exhausted all avenues before calling for a downing of tools.
“I respect the judgement though it was not as I would have liked. It will give me more time for further mobilisation,” said Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.
Teachers are angry about proposed cuts to their salaries as the cash-strapped kingdom tries to claw its way back from the brink of financial ruin.
They and other trade unions had planned to take to the streets for three days to demand the current government resign, after protests in April were broken up by police using teargas and water canons.
“There is a feeling amongst workers that this is the time for change. This is not just a socio-economic issue, but a political issue,” Vincent Ncongwane, secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Labour told AFP.
Trade unions are the only organisations legally allowed to hold protests in Swaziland, where political parties have been banned since 1973.
Civil servants unions have flatly rejected government attempts to negotiate salary cuts, blaming government corruption and mismanagement for the current crisis.
Swaziland is reeling after a 60 percent drop last year in revenues from a regional customs union, its main source of income.
The country has been paying civil servants by drawing down foreign reserves, but as the crisis deepens the cash is running out. -