Swaziland: where union lawyers risk jail themselves
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has joined worldwide protests by union leaders about the arrest and detention of the lawyer for our sister organisation in Swaziland, TUCOSWA. Thulani Maseko was arrested on 17 March by armed police on the basis that he had written an article in the Nation Magazine (the editor, Bheki Makhubu, was also arrested) about the recent case of Bhantshana Gwebu, Chief Government Vehicle Inspector and a member of the National Public Servants and Allied Workers Union.
Gwebu was himself arrested in January after he stopped an official car being used by a senior member of the judiciary for personal business – which says it all about how the elite in Swaziland treat the state’s property. Maseko’s article complained, among other things, about the government’s opposition to Gwebu’s bail application on the grounds that his trade union membership made him a flight risk! The two are due to stand trial on Tuesday 25 March.
But this is not the first example of a trade union legal representative being charged in connection with their work. We reported earlier this month on the case of transport union legal assistant Basil Mthwala, currently serving a two year jail term under the country’s notorious Public Order Act.
The arrest of Thulani Maseko breaches the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association (No 87) and the general human rights to the freedom of association and freedom of the press, and it has been condemned by Amnesty International and Freedom House, as well as the Southern Africa Human Rights Defender Network.