Swaziland national flag. Photo: WHL Travel
Swaziland: where praying is dangerous
I’ve commented so often on what’s wrong with the last feudal dictatorship in Africa – the kingdom of Swaziland – that I often think nothing more can shock me. Whether it’s jailing a newspaper editor and a union lawyer for questioning the decisions of the courts, or the Prime Minister threatening to throttle the leader of Swaziland’s TUC, the news gets worse and worse. Now a prayer meeting has been banned by the police because trade unionists were going to be speaking at it.
The event was due to be held outside the Tex Ray firm in Matsapha Industrial Centre, where there are many textile factories, last Tuesday (26 August). 20,000 jobs are at risk in the Swazi textile sector because the US government has suspended trade preferences for Swaziland in response to the kingdom’s oppression of human rights and trade union freedoms.1,500 workers had gathered to hear Pastor Zandile Hlophe, who often preaches at textile firms. The prayer was organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) in partnership with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and its affiliate the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA). Union leaders Vincent Ncongwane and Wonder Mkhonza hoped to explain to workers why their jobs were at risk.
According to Sibusiso Zwane of the last independent newspaper in the kingdom, the Times of Swaziland,
“while the pastor was preaching the word of God to the workers, the police came and ordered them to vacate the venue within two minutes. The first reason that the police gave to the organisers was that the gathering was illegal and it could not be regarded as a prayer because of the presence of union leaders.”
The police explained that because the unions were unregistered – a clear example of the suppression of workers’ rights, as the ILO has repeatedly made clear – union leaders cannot explain to their members that such oppression could lose them their jobs. That’s the response of the Swazi dictatorship to the USA’s insistence on human rights – blame the victims of oppression for the impact on the oppressors!
All this is happening in a Commonwealth country – and yet the Charter of the Commonwealth insists on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. That’s why Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), with TUC support, is calling for the Commonwealth to take action on Swaziland. To make your voice heard, email the Commonwealth Secretary General and back the call for democracy and freedom in Swaziland.