Swazi court blocks teachers’ strike

2011-06-23 07:13

A Swazi court ordered late yesterday that teachers unions must hold talks with the government before they could stage a planned strike to protest moves to slash their salaries.

Judge Nkosinathi Nkonyane said the two sides must continue negotiations before unions would be allowed to hold protests in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

“We only wanted the matter stopped and it has been,” state attorney Vusi Kunene said.

The atmosphere at Mbabanes Industrial Court was highly charged and police maintained a heavy presence outside. At times the court erupted in protest songs from more than 200 political activists who packed the benches.

The government won a last-minute interdict on Tuesday to stop the strike planned for yesterday, arguing that unions had not exhausted all avenues before calling for a downing of tools.

“I respect the judgment though it was not as I would have liked. It will give me more time for further mobilisation,” said Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.

Teachers are angry about proposed cuts to their salaries as the cash-strapped kingdom tries to claw its way back from the brink of financial ruin.

They and other trade unions had planned to take to the streets for three days to demand the current government resign, after protests in April were broken up by police using teargas and water canons.

“There is a feeling among workers that this is the time for change. This is not just a socio-economic issue, but a political issue,” Vincent Ncongwane, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Labour said.

Trade unions are the only organisations legally allowed to hold protests in Swaziland, where political parties have been banned since 1973.

Civil servants unions have flatly rejected government attempts to negotiate salary cuts, blaming government corruption and mismanagement for the current crisis.

Swaziland is reeling after a 60% drop last year in revenue from a regional customs union, its main source of income.

The country has been paying civil servants by drawing down foreign reserves, but as the crisis deepens the cash is running out.

» Meanwhile, Swazi journalist Mancoba Nxumalo claimed he was detained for several hours yesterday by police who confiscated his passport and accused him of “tarnishing” the country’s image.

Police could not be reached for comment. Nxumalo said they confiscated videotapes and documents from his home, but did not press charges.

“I was detained. They said I have been writing articles about the country and that I am inviting foreign journalists to write bad things about the country,” Nxumalo said after his release.

His passport was seized, and police told him they would press charges later, said the journalist, who works for South African media.

He said police seemed most concerned that he had facilitated interviews for South African broadcaster SABC with two activists jailed over pro-democracy protests in April.

Police said “that I conspired with the SABC to tarnish the county’s image”, he added.

Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, but a severe financial crisis had placed pressure on King Mswati III, who enjoys private jets and overseas shopping sprees while his subjects live in poverty.

Criticism of the monarchy is banned in Swaziland.

International rights watchdog Freedom House said in a report that “self-censorship is widespread, as journalists are routinely subject to threats and attacks by the authorities”.

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