Shots, arrests at Swazi border

2006-04-12 16:59

Pretoria - Protesters were shot at with rubber bullets and arrested at South Africa's Matsamo border with Swaziland on Wednesday in demonstrations against the kingdom's leadership, said Mpumalanga police.

Initially, the marchers were peaceful, but then they started to blockade the roads, said superintendent Mtsholi Bhembe.

Police told them their march certificate entitled them only to picket and they cleared the road.

However, more marchers arrived soon after the police had left and the blockade started again.

Bhembe said: "It was at this point that we had to disperse the crowd with rubber bullets and arrest those who had resisted moving from the road."

Bhembe said there were no injuries in a scuffle between the police and marchers.

He said several people were arrested and charged with public violence and public disturbance.

20 arrests reported

The situation at the border post was now orderly, and business was continuing as usual, with the marchers picketing on the side of the road.

Congress of SA Trade Unions spokesperson Patrick Craven said it had received reports from Matsamo of 20 arrests, and that some marchers had to be taken to hospital after the clash with police.

Craven said five trade union leaders were arrested at the Lavumisa border post in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal.

They were: Cosatu first deputy-president Joel Nkosi, National Union of Metal Workers of SA (Numsa) second deputy president Sedrick Gcina, National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) national treasurer Brabir Badal and its second deputy president Mzandile Makgayiba, and Cosatu KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Zet Luzibo.

Nkosana Sibuyi of home affairs said minor problems were experienced at the main border post at Oshoek and none at the Mahambo post.

"The officals at Oshoek said there was a bit of a disturbance by the chanting and singing protesters, but there were no disruptions in service there," said Sibuyi.

The protests and pickets commemorated King Sobhuza II's institution 33 years ago of the ongoing state of emergency in Swaziland, said Lucky Lukhele of Swaziland Solidarity Network.

This had allowed the curtailing of human right and political freedoms of the Swazi people, he charged.

The country is ruled by King Mswati III under a purported constitutional monarchy with the king as head of state, but the prime minister as head of the government.

Want political parties unbanned

The country's cabinet is appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister. All political parties are banned.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network was demanding a democratically elected national constitutional forum and the unbanning of all political parties, said Lukhele.

It also wanted the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the return of exiles, and the removal of laws prohibiting free political action and the right to organise.