Unions lead protests in Swaziland
For several months, people have been asking why Northern Africa has seen huge protests, but similar poverty-stricken dictatorships elsewhere in Africa have not. Now, protests have begun in Swaziland, led today by civil service and other unions. Civil servants, students and trade unionists marched to the office of Prime Minister Barnabus Sibusiso Dlamini in the capital Mbabane. They handed over a petition to Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini, demanding that he and the cabinet resign. Armed riot police guarded entrances to government ministries.Estimates of the numbers involved in the protests range from 2,000 to 20,000. The demonstration was met with force from the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
Mary Pais Da Silva, of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, reported:
“The streets of Mbabane have been turned into a military zone wherein the ordinary citizen has to seriously attempt to navigate around the security forces that are choc-a-bloc on every street. Today, Mancishana Street, the street on which the Manzini Regional Police Headquarters and the Manzini Police Station are located, has been blocked off by a battalion of the regime’s security forces. The street with a length of approximately 250 metres is filled from end to end with a mass of a portion of the State’s army and there is no traffic allowed to pass through it.”
Swaziland has a population of only 1.4 million but 40% of them are unemployed, and 70% of the population is living on less than $1 (75p) a day. In contrast, King Mswati III has a personal fortune of $200 million, according to Forbes magazine. Salaries of civil servants have been frozen after the country – Africa’s third-biggest sugar producer – suffered a 60 percent drop in income from the Southern African Customs Union, which accounts for two-thirds of state revenues. Government sources told Reuters that 7,000 of the country’s 35,000 civil servants would be retrenched in the next three years in an attempt to cut state spending on salaries.
COSATU’s International Secretary Bongani Masuku said:
“We have no doubt that workers have a central role to play in this regard. We will be meeting with the Swazi union movement to develop a comprehensive plan of action to make this call a reality… Over the next few weeks many activities and events expressing solidarity and support for the Swazi people will be organised by COSATU, the Swaziland Democracy Campaign and other civil society organisations across South Africa. We draw special attention to the 12 April march being planned by our Mpumalanga province.”