South African President Jacob Zuma and leader of the ANC greets King Mswati lll of Swaziland at a 2013 Africa Cup of Nations match. Photo: GCIS / Government of South Africa
Swaziland’s Marikana in the making?
Striking Swazi miners have retreated to a nearby hill in protest at the way they are being treated by their employer and the Swazi police, in a worrying echo of what happened ahead of the infamous Marikana massacre in South Africa a couple of years ago. And, ironically, their strike is against a mining company part-owned by a South African company set up by the ruling African National Congress to raise funds for the party.
The miners are members of the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA), a newly merged union banned by the Government along with the national trade union confederation TUCOSWA. Some 250 workers at the Maloma mine went on strike on 24 November, after the mine management refused to negotiate over a US$ 72 housing allowance. Striking workers were surrounded by police equipped with riot shields, protective headgear, guns and teargas, and management have refused the workers access to water, toilets and medical facilities. Refused the opportunity to bargain or picket, the strikers have refused to return to their homes, and have occupied a nearby hill, just as Marikana strikers did.
The ANC maintain that the investment company owning 75% of the mine, Chancellor House, is independently managed. The remaining 25% owned by the Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a fund controlled by King Mswati III, who is Africa’s last remaining absolute monarch. Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, says:
“The Swazi dictatorship is well-known for its absolute intolerance of trade unions, or any other form of democratic activity. These workers simply want justice and have done nothing to justify the threat of violence from the Swazi King’s security forces. The ANC, whose investment arm controls the mine, has to step in immediately and stand up for workers’ rights.”
Dumezweni Dlamini, programme manager at the Foundation For Social Economic Justice, told the South African Mail & Guardian that the police response to strike action had become a regular feature in Swaziland.
“The royalty has shares in most of the major companies in Swaziland so it is a case of protecting of those interests. The trade unions have been banned because there were coming together and challenging as a united force.”