‘A recipe for revolution’ in Swaziland

2011-03-29 12:46

Swaziland’s cash-strapped government is asking civil servants to accept pay cuts of between 4.5% and 10%, adding to fears of instability in the southern African kingdom, media said today.

The government proposed the salary cuts and an indefinite pay freeze in meetings with public workers’ unions.

It urged them to follow the example of cabinet ministers who agreed to a 10% pay cut last week, the independent Times of Swaziland reported.

The proposed pay cuts range from 4.5% for workers earning less than €10 000 (R96 616) a year to 10% for those earning more than €30 000 a year, the newspaper said.

Union officials warned the cuts would lead to violent protests if implemented.

“The workers’ response will be running street battles if the government goes ahead and implements these cuts unilaterally,” Vincent Dlamini, secretary general of the country’s biggest civil servants’ union, Napsawu, said.

“It is a recipe for revolution,” said Muzi Mhlanga, secretary general of teachers’ union Snat.

“Our members have said they won’t accept salary cuts.”

Earlier this year the International Monetary Fund warned Swaziland to slash its “unacceptably high” public wage bill by at least 5% in order curb a massive deficit and qualify for loans.

But the IMF recommended leaving salaries below €10 000 untouched.

The vast majority of Swaziland’s civil servants fall into the lower-income bracket, including thousands of teachers and nurses who took part in massive protests on March 18 sparked by fears of wage cuts.

The government’s proposal comes amid rumours of a youth-led uprising to topple King Mswati III and his royalist government on April 12, planned on social networking site Facebook and styled on the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Fears of an imminent uprising have rattled the country’s elite.

According to state media, Swaziland’s cabinet has been cloistered in talks with the king’s powerful advisory council over the economic crisis and the planned uprising.

Half of all state spending in Swaziland goes to pay the salaries of its 35 000 civil servants.

Earnings from a regional customs union – Swaziland’s main source of income – plummeted last year, leaving the economy in crisis.

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