A reported threat by Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini that workers’ leaders should be strangled when they return to the kingdom from the US Africa Summit has been condemned by prodemocracy campaigners.
According to a report in the Times of Swaziland newspaper, the Prime Minister said that Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) General Secretary, Vincent Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze, should be strangled because they spoke against his government in Washington.
Swaziland is not a democracy and Dlamini was not elected PM. He and all his government ministers were directly appointed PM by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
In June 2014, Swaziland lost its preferential trading status under the US Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of its appalling human rights record.
The Times reported that Dlamini told the Swazi Parliament in a debate about AGOA that the workers’ leaders had gone to Washington to discuss workers’ rights without first telling the government they were going. He was reported saying, ‘They leave your constituencies and do not even inform you where they are going and once they come back and you find out that they are from your constituency you must strangle them.’
Prodemocracy activists reacted with anger to the statement. In Swaziland campaigners are routinely beaten and arrested by police. In May 2010 Sipho Jele was killed in custody by state forces. He had been arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the name of the banned political party PUDEMO written on it.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said, ‘We call on governments to immediately urge the Swazi government to publicly withdraw its threat and to ensure the safety of these courageous activists upon their return. Further, we urge other countries which grant trade preferences to Swaziland to join the US in initiating procedures to withdraw them until such time as fundamental worker rights are respected in law and practice in Swaziland.’
Burrow added, ‘Mr Dlamini has absolutely no one to blame for the potential loss of these [AGOA] benefits but his own government.’
Labour Start has started an online letter writing campaign to PM Dlamini calling on him to ‘publicly and immediately rescind the threat and ensure the safety of those leaders upon their return’.
Dlamini has made violent threats against political enemies before. In 2010 Dlamini faced condemnation from within Swaziland and the international community after he said that he wanted to use ‘sipakatane’ (otherwise known as ‘bastinado’, a form of torture that involves flogging the bare soles of a person’s feet with a spiked wooden or metal implement to temporarily or permanently cripple them) on people who campaigned against his government.
Dlamini had been annoyed that trade unionists from South Africa had visited Swaziland to show solidarity with Swazis fighting for their human rights as part of a Global Day of Action for democracy in Swaziland.
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