Three days before elections

Swazi police shoot at demonstrators

Several workers were badly injured from beatings, rubber bullets and teargas fired by police in riot gear during demonstrations for better wages and working conditions in Swaziland on Tuesday.
18. september 2018

Tens of thousands of people had stayed home from work and taken to the streets of Swaziland’s capital Mbabane, commercial centre Manzini, and smaller towns Nhlangano and Sitiki in demonstrations led by trade union congress TUCOSWA.

Great numbers and police brutality
In a statement, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) condemned the brutality of the police.

- The police fiercely harassed workers who were protesting in Manzini and injured six of them in the process. The workers had to run helter-skelter for safety. These rogue measures by the police are simply desperate means of defending King Mswati’s passionate love for luxury, SUDF Secretary General Brian Sangweni said.

National Organizing Secretary of trade union ATUSWA, Wander Mkhonta, was at the demonstration in Nhlangano. The town was completely shut down for six hours by around 7000 garment workers, he said.

- We are humbled by the great numbers. It goes to show that TUCOSWA represents the aspirations of the downtrodden majority, said Mkhonta.

Stalwart activist Mphandlana “Victim” Shongwe, who took part in the demonstration in Siteki, said that it was time to stand up and be counted “because the power of the people is more powerful than those in power”, he said.

Protest action will continue on Wednesday and Thursday in Manzini, Siteki and Nhlangano, TUCOSWA said in a statement issued on Tuesday night.

No freedom or democracy
Amid the protests, Swaziland is to hold national elections on Friday. In a survey released Monday by Pan-African research network Afrobarometer, only 7 percent of the 1200 people surveyed said they saw Swaziland as a full democracy and one fifth believed that they are completely free to speak their mind.

London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has called Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act, which is used to charge politically active Swazis with “terrorism” for trivial offences such as wearing a political t-shirt, “inherently oppressive”.

US-based research-NGO Freedom House rates Swaziland as a country with little political freedom where “political dissent and civic or labour activism are subject to harsh punishment under laws on sedition and other offenses”.

And last year, international NGO Oxfam published a briefing paper that called Swaziland the most unequal country in the world. Two thirds of Swaziland’s 1.3 million citizens survive on less than $2 a day, many of food aid, whilst King Mswati owns 13 palaces and is worth an estimated $200 million.


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