Police in Swaziland have arrested poverty-stricken women for selling firewood by roadsides. The women say their children will starve if they are not allowed to continue the trade.
Vendors at Mbadlane threatened to either commit suicide or poison their children rather than helplessly watch them die of hunger, the Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported (25 June 2017).
There is a long-running dispute between the women and police and recently firewood and products worth about E9,000 (about US$700) were confiscated. Police and the Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA) say the women are depleting the forest and destroying the environment by collecting wood, something the vendors deny.
The police said they would continue to enforce the law whenever they were called upon by the SEA. Despite the threats the women have continued to trade.
The Observer reported, ‘Their argument is that they had no other source of income, hence they will not abandon their business.’
The newspaper added, ‘Make Nkenjane from Mbadlane has vowed to feed her children with poison as she will not be able to feed them as this was her sole source of income being a single parent.
Similar words were shared by another female vendor who vowed to hang herself than watch her children wiped by hunger.’
The Observer reported one young man, who did not want his name published, saying he would be forced into crime as he had no other way to sustain himself and his siblings.
The newspaper added, ‘A young woman, who requested not to be named in fear of victimisation, said she would now resort to prostitution as all her wares were confiscated while she is a breadwinner of both her siblings and children. She stated that both her parents died due to HIV and [she] was now forced to look after the family, hence she dropped out of school.’
Another woman said her children would have to drop out of school because she had no money for fees, uniforms and bus fares.
The Observer reported that women vendors from Mafutseni said their case was worse than those at Mbadlane because they had been arrested on average three times a month by police.
The Observer added, ‘The women also alleged that the police threatened to shoot them whenever they tried to escape, saying firewood was now protected like the wild animals.’
The newspaper reported, ‘Gogo Dludlu said it is clear that government protects animals and trees more than humanity.’
In Swaziland, nearly seven in 10 of the kingdom’s estimated 1.3 million people live in abject poverty with incomes of less than $US2 a day. Meanwhile, King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, lives a lavish lifestyle, with at least 13 palaces, fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz and BMW cars and at least one Rolls Royce. He has a private jet airplane and is soon to get a second.
NO LET UP IN SWAZI POVERTY
SEVEN IN 10 SWAZIS GO HUNGRY