Swaziland: Unions demand democracy now
Teacher trade unionists across the globe have found little to cheer about Swaziland as it marks its Independence Day, on 6 September, with a litany of attacks on basic freedom and workers' rights.
Instead, teachers’ unions in Swaziland – sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy – have joined calls for a global week of action for Swaziland which runs from 5–9 September.
In Swaziland itself there will be mass demonstrations in five towns, and the Swazi unions are asking trade unionists around the world to support them by lobbying governments to take action against the Swazi authorities.
EI’s affiliate member, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), has been at the forefront of the fight against the government, calling for an end to the dictatorship, which has caused it to suffer violent repression and some of its leaders being detained.
On 24 August, several students’ union leaders were arbitrarily arrested and illegal detained after a peaceful demonstration against the continued closure of the University of Swaziland. The student protestors continue to be held in Swazi prisons.
SNAT has launched a formal petition calling on the international community to ’identify and freeze assets owned by the ruling elite and invested in the US, resulting from their looting over the years’. SNAT alleges corruption and mismanagement of national resources by the country’s absolute ruler, King Mswati III.
SNAT has joined other Swazi unions to demand that those governments with close relations to Swaziland, such as Britain, the USA, South Africa and the European Union, derecognise the Swazi government which in recent months has announced a national salary freeze. This action has forced teachers and other pro-democracy protesters to take to the streets to demand inclusive reforms.
SNAT General Secretary, Muzikayise Mhlanga, said: “While we have to accept salary cuts, politicians gave themselves hefty salary increases guarantying themselves lucrative exit packages at the end of their five year terms, through the now infamous Circular no 1.”
Mhlanga urged those countries with Swaziland embassies “to picket at least once per week until the people of Swaziland are free.”
He went on to call for all trade unionists “to put pressure on the Royal Regime by flooding the King and Prime Minister’s offices with letters calling for the introduction of multi-party democracy.”
EI also calls on the Government of Swaziland to fully comply with International Labour Organisation standards that guarantee teachers and education workers the right to freedom of association, and to organise and bargain collectively.
The statement from the Swazi unions calling for support for their week of action can be found here