Vincent Ncongonwe and Sipho Gumedze
ACT NOW! Swazi PM’s astonishing threat against union leader
UPDATE: the pressure on Swazi PM Barnabas Dlamini has forced him to withdraw his threat to throttle union leaders returning from Washington DC “unconditionally”. This comes after several days of pressure, including a call from the Speaker of the Parliament which Dlamini initially rejected. But there’s no reason to let up on the pressure: trade unionists still face harassment every day, and we need to keep up the demand that Vincent Ncongonwe and Sipho Gumedze can return to Swaziland safely.
If David Cameron used Question Time to threaten to strangle Frances O’Grady, it would be unbelievable. But that’s pretty much the same as what happened in Swaziland on Wednesday. Facing pressure from MPs about the suspension of benefits from the USA under the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini threatened Vincent Ncongonwe the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), and a prominent human rights activist with ‘strangulation’ on their return from a civil society meeting in Washington DC. Protest this disgraceful threat by adding your voice to the LabourStart e-action.
Swaziland is the last remaining feudal dictatorship in Africa, ruled by the despotic King Mswati III. The Prime Minister is his puppet, and presides over a regime whose human rights record is so poor that the ILO has condemned it several times and the USA has finally withdrawn benefits under AGOA. Threatening the leading trade unionist with strangling is unlikely to change Swaziland’s reputation, and given the death in prison of trade union and political activist Sipho Jele in 2010, it is particularly chilling, although his intended victims have responded by urging him to try!
Vincent, and Sipho Gumedze from Lawyers for Human Rights, were in Washington DC for the civil society element of the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, along with many other African trade unionists and their hosts, the AFLCIO, who initiated protests at the outrageous threats. This evening, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has written to the Swaziland High Commissioner to the UK, and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, demanding a retraction and an apology.
Bizarrely, the Prime Minister claimed that the two had “sneaked” into the USA, and seemed to think it was acceptable to say that they had travelled to the US without asking permission from his Government! Responding to his power-crazed rant, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
“Far away from the handshakes and polite conversation at the African Summit, the government has shown its true face. We call on governments to immediately urge the Swazi government to publicly withdraw its threat and to ensure the safety of these courageous activists upon their return. Further, we urge other countries which grant trade preferences to Swaziland to join the US in initiating procedures to withdraw them until such time as fundamental worker rights are respected in law and practice in Swaziland.”
Next on the TUC’s agenda are calls on the Commonwealth Secretary-General and the European Commission – calling on the Commission to initiate similar trade sanctions against Swaziland as the USA’s.