Swaziland national flag. Photo: WHL Travel
Swaziland: a blot on the Commonwealth, South Africa’s conscience & the EU trade regime
Last week TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and ten other leading public figures from the main political parties and from none (including Swazi-born actor Richard E Grant, NUS President Toni Pearce and ex-Independent Deputy Editor Ian Birrell) called on the Foreign Secretary to do more to free political prisoners in Africa’s last feudal dictatorship, Swaziland. You can call for their freedom too.
Hot on the heels of that protest, Frances has now had to write to the Swazi High Commissioner to London protesting about the government’s decision to suspend the main trade union confederation TUCOSWA, one of its largest unions ATUSWA, and even the country’s employer organisations! And only last month, the TUC added its name to over fifty unions and human rights organisations from the AFLCIO to the ZCTU nominating crusading Swazi journalist and lawyer Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko for the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Award.
Swaziland keeps astounding people with its brazen assault on human rights, and its utter indifference to the condemnation of governments and international bodies. But its King, educated at a British public school and surrounded by virgin brides who squander the nation’s diminishing wealth on mass shopping trips in the world’s top locations, is still on the guest list for British royal weddings, still welcome in the Commonwealth, and still getting preferential trade access from the European Union and customs revenues from neighbouring South Africa. That’s in stark contrast to the USA, which reaffirmed its suspension of trade preferences when the Swazi Prime Minister threatened to strangle the country’s union leaders.
International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow says that:
“The Swaziland authorities have for many years shown their contempt for fundamental workers’ rights, and this latest decision, which abolishes workers’ and employers’ organisations, is absolutely shocking. The government claims that a technical oversight in existing legislation needs to be fixed to allow the registration of union and employer federations, but there is no justification whatsoever in banning existing organisations while the government tidies up a legal mess that it is responsible for.”
The latest decision to suspend employer and worker organisations is a further attempt to crush internal dissent. It comes on top of imprisoning opposition leader Mario Masuku and student leaver Maxwell Dlamini for shouting slogans at the 2013 May Day union rally. Jailing the country’s leading journalist and the union lawyer who dared criticise the corrupt and enfeebled judicial system (Bheki and Thulani). And immiserating a population which is actually shrinking as the world’s highest HIV-AIDS infection rate takes its deadly toll.
The Commonwealth (whose Deputy Secretary General once told us that Swaziland had escaped censure because the King hadn’t torn up democratic rights, just never given his people any in the first place!), the South African government and the European Union are keeping King Mswati’s rotten regime in power. The TUC will carry on working with those who are as appalled as we are – and with the trade unionists and people of Swaziland – to call for change in that benighted country.