Swazi unions face severe repression by Tim Lezard The TUC has today condemned the banning of unions in Swaziland, and urged the UK government to step up its campaign for human rights in the African dictatorship. Swaziland’s treatment of political priso …

Tim Lezard Africa, Europe, Swaziland, UK, UK unions,
Swazi unions face severe repression

Swazi unions face severe repression

by Tim Lezard

The TUC has today condemned the banning of unions in Swaziland, and urged the UK government to step up its campaign for human rights in the African dictatorship.

Swaziland’s treatment of political prisoners has already been of huge concern, prompting the TUC to send an open letter – signed by eleven public figures from across the political spectrum – calling on the Foreign Secretary to intervene to free two imprisoned opposition leaders.

The letter to Philip Hammond urges action to secure the release of the leader of the opposition and the leader of the country’s youth movement, both jailed for shouting political slogans at a union rally on May Day last year.

Signatories include actor Richard E Grant (who was born in Swaziland), head of Amnesty International Kate Allen, NUS President Toni Pearce, journalist and former speechwriter to David Cameron Ian Birrell, and the former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Purna Sen.

The three main political parties are represented by former Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham MP (Conservative), Lord Jones of Cheltenham (Liberal Democrat), former Chair of the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Mike Gapes and Baroness Kinnock (both Labour). The letter was organised by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and head of Action for Southern Africa (formerly the Anti-Apartheid Movement) Tony Dykes.

The letter calls for the immediate release of Mario Masuku – President of the banned political party, the People’s United Democratic Movement – and Maxwell Dlamini, Secretary General of the Swaziland Youth Congress.

Both were denied bail after being charged under the notorious Suppression of Terrorism Act. The signatories to the letter express special concern at the conditions in which they are being held – Mario has now contracted pneumonia, and is being denied medical treatment by his captors.

Supporters of freedom and democracy have long-criticised the behaviour of the government in Swaziland but this year it has stepped up a gear. In April seven people were arrested and charged with acts of terrorism just for wearing political t-shirts, and in July, human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Makubu were jailed for two years for writing articles critical of the Chief Justice.

A month later the country’s Prime Minister, Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, told Parliament that two union leaders who had attended the African Summit in Washington DC should be strangled for criticising the government.

Now the government of Swaziland has demanded that unions and employer organisations cease their operations immediately or their leaders will face jail, pending the introduction of a new law which the TUC says has been promised for years but which has never materialised.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The latest pronouncement from the Ministry of Justice that unions and employer organisations are to be immediately outlawed shows that all political protest is effectively now banned in Swaziland. Anyone brave enough to stand up to the government is frequently on the receiving end of beatings, intimidation and arrests. In that context the promise of new industrial relations laws cannot be believed.

“This feudal dictatorship is out of place in the modern world, and the poverty and ill-health it is causing has led to a shrinking population. It’s easy to ignore a country so small and so impoverished, especially in times like these. But we mustn’t forget anyone suffering oppression, especially in a Commonwealth country.”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
Author avatar

Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

Read All Articles