Swaziland police fired several gunshot blasts while textile workers, mostly women, protested about poor pay. It was the third police attack on workers in a week and one of many in recent times.
More than 200 paramilitary police and correctional facility warders with riot shields, helmets and batons guarded the entrance to Juris, one of the major factories, according to a local media report.
It happened on Thursday (30 August 2018) at Nhlangano when five firms closed after management locked gates after workers gathered.
The Times of Swaziland reported, ‘Police were called to the scene and several gunshots were fired.’
It added, ‘Some of the employees said batons were also used by the police to disperse the workers, which resulted in the crowd becoming aggressive.
‘The workers felt they were being aggressively intimidated by the police and threatened with violence, while their union leaders were locked up in a series of meetings with management.
‘There was complete pandemonium after the gunshots were fired as a group of workers confronted the police, demanding answers on why some of their colleagues had been beaten up.’
Social media later reported that a pregnant woman had to be taken to hospital.
This was the third attack in a week by police on workers in Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by the kingdom’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III). On the previous Friday police shot and wounded a schoolteacher during a march in Manzini. On Wednesday in Mbabane nurses were tasered. Both groups were protesting at the Swazi government’s decision to offer a zero increase in their salary cost of living adjustment.
Swaziland police often fire live weapons and rubber bullets during worker protests. In November 2017 they shot a woman in the head with a rubber bullet at a Poly Pack textile factory at Ngwenya where workers were asking for a 20 percent pay rise.
Police in Swaziland, where 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 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 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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