Police in Swaziland shot a woman in the head with a rubber bullet as they fired on workers protesting for a pay rise.
They also fired teargas that spread for 100 metres.
It happened at a Poly Pack factory at Ngwenya where workers were asking for a 20 percent pay rise, according to local meda reports.
In a detailed account the Swazi Observer reported on Friday (10 November 2017), ‘The shot is said to have been fired by one plain clothed police officer.’
It added the shooting was done, ‘in an effort to disperse the workers from the premises of the company’.
The woman identified only as ‘Nelly from Motshane’ was taken by ambulance to Mbabane Government Hospital.
Workers were protesting because management at the company that makes sacks would not listen to their request for more pay.
Negotiations on the pay increase are reported to have started in July 2017. Two weeks ago workers were prevented from striking by the Industrial Court. However, members of the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA) decided to strike on Thursday after employers offered a wage increase but only to selected workers.
When workers blocked a company car from entering the premises and set fire to it police, including members of the Operational Support Service Unit (OSSU), intervened.
The Observer reported, ‘They ended up using teargas, which could be inhaled from as far as approximately 100 metres away.’
It added, ‘Rubber bullets were also used to remove the workers from near the premises of the company.
‘The workers did not want to be dispersed from near the premises as they would regroup, with an intention of going back from where they were dispersed. The police ended up taking about 40 workers for questioning. Some are said to have been arrested from nearby homesteads, where they had run to hide.’
Nelly was reportedly treated and released from hospital, but is one of those workers arrested.
Police in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and political parties are banned from contesting elections, often intervene on behalf of management in labour disputes.
In February 2017, police fired live gunshots and teargas at Juris Manufacturing in Nhlangano where workers had been locked out during a dispute. There had been a long-running row at the factory about management style and accusations of racism by one boss in particular.
In September 2016, media in Swaziland reported women strikers were ambushed by armed police and ‘brutally attacked’ at the Plantation Forest Company, near Pigg’s Peak. Police had previously used rubber bullets and teargas against the strikers and had fired live rounds to disperse a crowd.
In 2013, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that Swaziland was becoming a police and military state.
It said things had become so bad in the kingdom that police were unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent was a vital element of a healthy democratic process, and should not be viewed as a crime.
These complaints were made by OSISA at an African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia on 10 April 2013.
OSISA said, ‘There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections.’
OSISA was commenting on the trend in Southern Africa for police and security services to be increasingly violent and abusive of human rights.
In particular, OSISA highlighted how the police continued to clamp down on dissenting voices and the legitimate public activities of opposition political parties prior to, during and after elections.
In a statement OSISA said in February 2013 a battalion of armed police invaded the Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral in Manzini and forced the congregation to vacate the church alleging that the service ‘intended to sabotage the country’s general elections’.
OSISA added, ‘A month later, a heavily armed group of police backed up by the Operational Support Services Unit prevented members of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from holding a peaceful commemoration prayer in celebration of the federation’s anniversary. In both instances there was no court order giving the police the legal authority to halt the prayers.’
In 2015, Swaziland was named as one of the ten worst countries for working people in the world, in a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
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