By Patrick Craven
March 17, 2015 -- Congress of South African Trade Unions, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The
Congress of South African Trade Unions strongly condemns recent violent
attacks by Swaziland police on trade union meetings and sends a message
of solidarity and support to the Swazi workers struggling for democracy
and the right to organise in free and independent trade unions.
On March 14, 2015, King Mswati’s police broke up a meeting of the
executive board of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), and
injured a union leader who was taking part. According to TUCOSWA leaders and the Swazi Observer, more than 300
plainclothed police forced participants to end the meeting in the
Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Centre and blocked the
gates to the building. TUCOSWA has reported that Muzi Mhlanga, SNAT
secretary general, was assaulted and had to seek medical care.
“The police came in as if they were coming to fight an army”, said
TUCOSWA secretary general Vincent Ncongwane. “They actually manhandled
us, stopping anyone coming in or going out of the venue”, he said in a
letter to the minister of labour and other government officials to make
them aware of the events and seek redress.
“We were squashed between various policemen who were trying to read the
emails we were sending (to international labour allies). Police also
demanded their phones because union leaders were taking photos of the
police ‘without their permission’. They said their orders were to crush
any TUCOSWA meeting.”
Swazi police also broke up a national union meeting on February 28 on the grounds that workers were discussing democracy.
For three years TUCOSWA’s applications for legal re-registration under
recently amended Industrial Relations Act have been rejected.
The federation is however getting key support from religious leaders. A coalition of Christian churches has called for the registration
and recognition of TUCOSWA, as part of its broader call for multiparty
democracy to address the Swaziland’s political, social and economic
Meanwhile Mario Masuku, president of the People`s United Democratic
Movement (PUDEMO), remains gravely ill in jail after being arrested and
charged with Terrorism on May 1, 2014, at Manzini Salesian Sports Ground
after he delivered his speech at the May day celebration.
He highlighted the key challenges facing a country held at ransom by
oppressive monarchical rule, fraught with unfair economic, political and
social policies, all meant to defend and promote the interest of a
feudal dynasty called Tinkhundla system.
The basis of his charge, together with that of Maxwell Dlamini, secretary general of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), was that he contravened the suppression of terrorism Act No 3 of 2008 by
chanting slogans and singing songs which sought to promote a terrorist
entity as per the said Act. The exact slogans and song were "Viva Pudemo
Viva" by Mario and "We don`t want this system, we don`t want this
system" by Maxwell.
If found guilty they both face 15 years of hard labour in prison
without any option of a fine. They have already spent 10 months behind
bars without their case being heard, as the Swazi government continues
to delay the trial deliberately through endless remands, citing
They have refused to grant them bail twice, even after South African
advocates from Cape Town made a ground-breaking appearance. They told
the court that Mario is quite old (65), diabetic and is not in good enough
health generally to continue languishing in jail. His health has since
deteriorated rapidly and his condition is now critical.
Judge Simelane however rejected the appeal, declaring the leaders flight
risks and a threat to national security, and ordered them to be returned
to prison. The same judge again refused bail two months later
despite lawyers appealing on the new grounds of Mario’s deteriorating
health after he caught pneumonia in prison, where conditions are
Wandile Dludlu, PUDEMO secretary for international affairs, in a letter to COSATU, writes:
“The conditions of Zakhele Remand Centre are not at all favourable
for anyone. Windows remain broken with spy holes exposing occupants to
either cold weather in winter or extremely hot weather in summer as this
dungeon is geographically located on the outskirts of Manzini, the
heart of the middle veldt of Swaziland.
“Food is usually of poor diet dominated by starch mainly porridge,
cabbage and beans throughout the week, badly cooked by convicts serving
lengthy jail terms. The conditions above can only exacerbate the
diabetic condition of Mario which has not only led to him suffering from
pneumonia in August last year for well over a month but equally caused
him to develop a terrible wound in his right heal.
“Prison authorities refused him medical attention arguing that
Panados were enough to heal the wound, while blocking private doctors
sanctioned by his family and organisation.
“We raised the alarm through South African media about his state of
health and hostile prison treatment, at which they then took him to the government hospital in Mbabane. This has not helped as doctors even
today have not been able to treat his wound as his diabetic condition is
said not to be stabilising to enable treatment.
“His family, particularly his wife, who has to check on him almost
daily travelling the 45 km, is too often made to wait outside for
sometimes 2 hours as they secure the so-called ‘senior warders’ to
supervise visits to Mario and Maxwell respectively.
“Leaders of his organisation have been banned from visiting him and
Maxwell, citing lack of staff to supervise. His lawyer has been allowed
but to consult but for not more than 30 minutes per consultation.
“Mario`s son, who has recently been admitted as an attorney of the
high court and part of the legal team, has been refused his status of
lawyer in that prison so as to enjoy private consultation with his
client but can only go in as his son so that warders can listen to their
“They have been separated into staying with hard-core criminals
charged with murder, robbery and rape in the high security dormitories.
All in all it’s tough for these comrades inside but their resilience and
conviction is high and inspirational. Support and love is what all of
us, near and afar, owe to them and the struggle they stand for.”