King Mswati of Swaziland, with Robert Mugabe and the Queen Mother, pictured in 2010. Photo: saylmfayad (via Creative Commons)
Swaziland’s feudal dictatorship blocks public sector pay protests
If you think the Tory attempts to prevent unions opposing cuts in the public sector through the Trade Union Bill are bad, spare a thought for the public sector unions in Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last remaining feudal dictatorship. Our friends at Swazi Media Commentary report that two trade union activists were arrested and charged with obstruction when they took part in a picket organised by public service unions, and a march in Swaziland’s capital city has been put on hold because of laws requiring police permission for protests.
The two trade unionists arrested were Mcolisi Ngcamphalala, a member of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and Mbongwa Dlamini, Manzini Regional Chairperson of SNAT. Officers from Swaziland’s serious crimes unit, also known as the Swazi anti-terrorism squad, raided their homes on 4 February and the activists were held in custody before being granted bail pending their trial.
The picket is being held regularly every Wednesday to protest the secrecy of government pay policy for public sector workers, part of a defiance campaign by public servants banned from organising protest demonstrations.
That ban led to the proposed march to deliver a petition in Swaziland’s capital city was put on hold after the Municipal Council of Mbabane announced its intention to enforce a law that makes it unlawful to protest on the streets without permission. Experience suggests that when notice is given of such protests, the organisers are rounded up and dumped hundreds of miles away the night before the demo, making them impossible to organise.
The Government of Swaziland, whose main function appears to be maintaining the autocratic rule of King Mswati III, must recognise that trade unions have the right to protest, and the right to bargain collectively for better wages in the poverty-stricken nation. The ILO and the Commonwealth have already censured the Kingdom several times, and international patience is running out.