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Swaziland: violent repression and arbitrary arrests of trade unionists

EI has condemned the violent dispersion of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in Swaziland by the riot police and army.

In Manzini, security forces used teargas, water cannon, riot guns and even live ammunition against activists, arrested hundreds among which trade union leaders, confined teachers and students in campuses and schools and raided trade union offices without warrant, including the headquarters of EI’s affiliate, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT).

The violent repression aimed at preventing workers and activists from joining demonstrations after 34 years of continued state of emergency and ban of political parties. The SNAT also specifically requests genuine social dialogue and the suspension of the impending salary cuts in public services. SNAT advocates for a fair collective bargaining environment and an educational initiatives' sound governance as a way to address the country's socio-economic development.

The SNAT reported that 30 of its leaders and members were arrested, including its General Secretary, Muzi Mhlanga, detained under house arrest, its President, Sibongile Mazibuko, and a member of its Women's Committee, Ntombie Langwenya. Some of the released unionists were taken to remote places in the country and left without transportation.

More than 500 teacher unionists were also barricaded inside the SNAT headquarters under siege from the security forces. After they finally forced their way out and as they were marching towards Manzini, police forces assaulted them. SNAT Usuthu Branch's Secretary, Justice Dlamini, was heavily beaten, while other teachers suffered injuries.

There were numerous other skirmishes, with security forces dispersing the crowds, in and around four protest centres, i.e. the bus rank in Manzini, the Salesian High School, the St. Michael’s High School and the SNAT Centre.

SNAT also deplores that its website was suspended by the authorities.

EI firmly condemns this violent crackdown and urges the Swazi authorities to free all detained trade unions leaders and members, including teachers and students, respect the workers and unionists' fundamental rights and freedoms in accordance with international standards, take into account the legitimate demands of Swazi workers for more democratic rights and open a dialogue with trade unions through sound collective bargaining mechanisms.

At the 2010 International Labour Conference, during the discussion about the application of the Convention 87 on the freedom of association, the Committee on the Application of Standards has already admonished the Swazi government for a similar brutal repression.

EI encourages affiliates and activists to join the Labourstart campaign on Swaziland and send online messages to the Swazi authorities!

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