April 20, 2011

Pro-democracy protests cracked down / Unions resolve to protest every month

In a dogged bid to mount pressure on the Swazi government, trade unions have resolved to protest marches every month until December 2011. The three trade unions having signed the resolution are the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL), the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), and SNAT. The trade unions also made the resolution that they will now host what will be known as ‘Red Fridays’, where workers will be encouraged to wear red T-shirts. Mhlanga said the red was symbolic to the blood that workers shed at the hands of the armed forces.

Muzi Mhlanga, the Secretary General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), said the meeting also resolved to engage bus owners as they snubbed the trade unions on the eve of the April 12, 2011 protest march. The protest was thereafter called off after two days. "We will start the whole process afresh just to show government and others that we, as trade unions, are not cutting corners. We know that the recently ended protest march was legal, but we want to eliminate any doubt by following all laid down avenues again before we engage in a protest action," said Mhlanga. He added that the trade unions would again present their grievances: "The grievances now cover wide ranging issues like the money of the ex-miners which disappeared. We want to cover more ground," said Mhlanga.

He also revealed that during May Day, all trade unions will be merged. The new trade union organisation will be called the Congress for Swaziland (COSWA). He said at the moment the constitution was being drafted.

The information about plans to hold protests each month came after mid-April, when police had cracked down maifestatins in Mbabane, the administrative capital and in Manzini, Swaziland’s commercial capital. According to eye-wittnesses, police detained union leaders and journalists and used teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons to break up the marches in support of democracy. In the city centre of Manzini, police told protesters that anyone speaking against the king was committing treason and would be jailed. Hundreds of riot and other police chased protesters and used water cannons and tear gas against them. The Swazi liberation movement, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), said its president, Mario Masuku, had been placed under house arrest.

According to the Johannesburg-based Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), protesters were in control of some sections of Manzini. It said police in the town first beat protesters and then fired rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse them. SSN's Lucky Lukhele said union leaders and members of the student movement were rounded up the night before the planned protests. Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) and the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) said it was the largest security mobilisation that has taken place in Swaziland for decades. It has also been reported that soldiers and police are bearing brand new weaponry, and the source of these instruments of oppression is being investigated.

Police also camped at the University of Swaziland Kwaluseni campus to prevent students from joining the protests. They were not allowed to leave, even those who wanted to go home. Anyone wearing union or political T-shirts or caps was told to take them off or risk arrest. Police were doing all they could to restrict movement in the region. "All transport operators like buses and kombis [minibus taxis] are being turned away and those people are being taken and dumped into bushes", Lucky Lukhele said. Those arrested continued to defiantly sing freedom songs. The SDC also noted that in several smaller towns protest gatherings have taken place for the first time in decades. Prominent leaders of faith-based organisations have joined the protests.

Furthermore, it was also said that police had stormed the SNAT (Swaziland National Association of Teachers) Centre where more than 500 teachers had gathered. The union leadership instructed the members to sit down. The teachers' union is one of the most prominent groups agitating for democracy in Swaziland. A teacher said, "They are are throwing tear gas and beating teachers. People are running helter skelter. Police are beating us with batons." Police had earlier used water cannons to stop students and teachers from marching.

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has joined a growing number of calls for the Swazi king to step down. Members of COSATU gathered at the Oshoek border post with Swaziland in solidarity with protesters. Also participating were members of several COSATU-affilitated union, as well as the Young Communist League of South Africa, the South African Communist Party, exiled People's Democratic Movement of Swaziland (PUDEMO). They were joined by the general secretary of the newly formed Communist Party of Swaziland, Kenneth Kunene. COSATU's Patrick Craven said, "An effective number of COSATU members have been assembling at the Oshoek border post in solidarity with the people who are demonstrating in the face of massive repression by the police and the army..."

Morevoer, the youth wing of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has in the meantime called for a boycott of Swaziland goods and for South African companies to stop doing business with the country to help isolate King Mswati. The demand has been met by COSATU, which calls on business in Swaziland, South Africa and the region to speak out on repression in Swaziland and calls for the investigation into who is supplying the Swazi forces with new weapons, gadgets and uniforms. (Times of Swaziland/sadocc)


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