April 13, 2012

Democracy protest crushed / TUC protests at deregistration of trade unions

Swaziland state forces quashed pro-democracy demonstrations in the kingdom. Police and army were deployed across the kingdom to stop any gatherings in support of democratic reform. Trade union leaders were detained by police and roads blocked to stop protesters gathering. Barnabas Dlamini, the Swaziland Prime Minister, had ordered a ban on all protests. Police said the protests were against national security. The crackdown was so effective that workers' leaders called off the protest, which had been planned to last up to four days. Jabu Shiba, deputy treasurer of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), one of the groups organising the protest, said: 'We could not continue with our protests today as there was a high level of security, intimidation and arresting of our members.'

At least 15 protest leaders were reported to have been arrested to stop them taking part in a planned march in Mbabane, the Swazi capital city. They were later released. Journalists reported a strong police presence on the streets as well as heavily armed soldiers. They were described as 'brutal' and interrogated, threatened, intimidated and insulted detainees.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported that some of TUCOSWA membership were stopped by police close to Coronation Park, where a demonstration was due to start. The newspaper reported, 'They were forced back into their cars and shown the way back to Manzini. The park was littered with police and correctional officers. A few soldiers were also spotted in some corners of the city. 'The detained leaders were isolated for more than an hour before they were released and told to leave the city. They were taken into a police van, which drove them to the police station and were left in the vehicle for about an hour and half. 'After being released they were given a choice of being driven back to Manzini, but they refused as they had their own cars. They were eventually escorted to their cars. 'Police PRO Superintendent Wendy Hleta said it was a peaceful day and nothing out of the ordinary happened.'

Before the day of action by Swazi democrats and trade unionists, the TUC has joined international trade union protests at the deregistration of the newly merged TUCOSWA, which held its founding conference only a month ago. General Secretary Brendan Barber has protested to the Swazi High Commissioner in London, as well as to the Commonwealth Secretary General, reiterating the Commonwealth Trade Union Group’s demand that Swaziland be suspended from the Commonwealth for human and trade union rights abuses.

In a meeting with the Labour Commissioner on Thursday 5 April, which was adjourned due to a number of fundamental disagreements, it was confirmed to TUCOSWA members that the organisation would be deregistered. The Labour Commissioner repeated the argument of the Attorney General, ie that there are no provisions in Swazi law that regulate the merging of different trade union organisations, and that the law had therefore to be amended before TUCOSWA could be registered as a trade union (sic). She actually went as far as to say that the law doesn’t even contain provisions on the registration of national federations, which by implication now also threatens the Swazi employers’ federation.
In a statement the ITUC stressed that it was appalled by that latest disruption of the Swazi trade union movement. They demand the deregistration of TUCOSWA to be immediately and unconditionally repealed, and for the Swazi government to stop interfering in internal union affairs and to respect Convention 87, which it had ratified. (Swazi Media Commentary/TUC)

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