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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Swaziland: General Strike

Swaziland: General Strike
Date distributed (ymd): 970213
Document reposted by APIC

This posting contains several documents on the general strike in Swaziland, from Inter Press Service, Amnesty International, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

SWAZILAND-POLITICS: The Struggle for Democracy Continues

by Gumisai Mutume

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 5 (IPS) - An indefinite strike by Swaziland's workers is the latest of a series of protests that are likely to continue in Africa's sole absolute monarchy unless demands for constitutional reform are met.

Since Monday, the 83,000-strong Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) has been leading a mass stay-away to press for democracy in the tiny Southern African nation. Four STFU leaders have been imprisoned for calling the strike.

Swaziland, a nation of about 900,000 people sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, is the only country in Southern Africa that does not allow multi-party politics.

A similar strike by Swazi workers last year had led to a promise by King Mswati III, Swaziland's ruler, that a process of political reform would be started, but little has changed since then.

Richard Cornwell, a political analyst of the Africa Institute of South Africa, is convinced that Mswati will not give in.

''He is not exactly a modern man and, because of its nature, the monarchy does not lend itself to constitutional reform so that it becomes a constitutional monarchy,'' he told IPS. Either it goes completely or it stays, according to Cornwell, who added that the majority of Swazis still living in the rural areas believe in the legitimacy of the institution.

Moreover, ''two major trusts that run business in the country sponsor the monarchy,'' he explained. ''These are Tisuka and Tibiyo, established to fund development but which are now held in trust by the King, apparently on behalf of the nation. It is this economic power that is at stake if change occurs.''

These trusts control nearly all aspects of the Swazi economy, including hotel chains, sugar plantations, insurance firms, brewers and financial institutions.

For five years after independence from Britain in 1968, Swaziland's monarchy coexisted with a parliament comprising legislators elected on party tickets as others nominated by the king.

However, in 1973, the then monarch, King Sobhuza II, passed a decree suspending the constitution, dissolving the legislature and banning political parties. Parliament was revived in 1978 but its members are elected in non-party polls, while the king singlehandedly appoints the cabinet.

Since the early 1990s, political violence, arson, strikes and mass stay-aways have been frequent in Swaziland as political and interest groups press for reforms opposed by traditionalists.

In January 1996, Swazi workers staged the longest general strike in their country's history, staying away from work for eight days. Their demands included the repeal of the 1973 royal decree, constitutional reforms and a commitment from government not to interfere in union meetings.

The strike, which at its height cost the economy an estimated 2.2 million dollars a day, led Mswati to set up a committee to map out constitutional reforms. However, the Constitutional Review Committee has been viewed as partisan since its members are handpicked by the king.

This week's stayaway, like last year's strike, is backed by advocates of change, including Swaziland's most vocal opposition party, the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). ''The strike will go on,'' said PUDEMO President Mario Masuku. ''The people of Swaziland are clamouring for political freedom and the government has not shown good faith in negotiations but arrogance and violence.''

PUDEMO has argued that the government has to make the political climate conducive to negotiations with interested parties if it is to avoid chaos.

The attitude of the monarchy to the pressure from labour has not been conciliatory. Over the weekend, four SFTU leaders were arrested and charged for contravening a section of the 1963 public order act. Immediately after that, the government passed an extraordinary gazette providing for a life sentence for anyone charged with sabotaging essential services.

Those arrested are Secretary-General Jan Sithole, Assistant Secretary-General Jabulani Nxumalo, President Richard Nxumalo and his deputy, Themba Mnisi.

In neighbouring South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have been closely monitoring the current developments in Swaziland.

''COSATU is in full support of the SFTU demands including the demand for the scrapping of the evil public order act and the draconian 1973 decree which has been used to arrest and charge the trade unionists,'' the South African federation said in a recent statement.

''We are not happy that the leaders of our sister union are in prison,'' said COSATU spokesperson Nowetu Mpati.

''We have called upon our members to embark on a go-slow when handling Swaziland-bound goods in solidarity,'' Mpati said. ''On Thursday, we will picket at the Swazi embassy and next Tuesday, at our national executive committee meeting, (we) will consider further forms of solidarity.''

Swaziland's government has taken the threat seriously since its economy is inextricably bound to that of South Africa, through which virtually all its imports and exports pass.

Swazi Foreign Minister Arthur Khoza complained Tuesday, at a meeting with his South African counterpart Alfred Nzo, that COSATU was interfering in his country's internal affairs. (end/ips/gm/kb/97)

Origin: Harare/SWAZILAND-POLITICS/ [c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS) All rights reserved This article reposted with permission by the Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List. An archive of IPS Africa coverage can be found on the IPS web site at For more information about access to and reproduction of IPS Africa coverage, contact Peter da Costa in Harare (

Statements issued by Amnesty International (AI) on the detention of trade unionists and other civil society activists in Swaziland:

10 February 1997

Further information on UA 41/97 (AFR 55/01/97, 5 February 1997 see below) - Fear for safety / Legal concern / Prisoners of conscience


-Simon Noge, Secretary, Human Rights Association of Swaziland (HUMARAS) and Chair, Swaziland Democratic Alliance (SDA) -Jan Sithole, Secretary General of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU)

-Jabulani Nxumalo, SFTU Deputy Secretary General

-Richard Nxumalo, SFTU President

-Themba Msibi, SFTU Vice-President

-and other SFTU officials and members

Simon Noge was released from police custody on the afternoon of 6 February without charge. He was not ill-treated during his detention at Manzini police station, although he was held overnight in poor conditions in a crowded cell.

Jan Sithole and his three colleagues remain in prison awaiting trial.

FURTHER RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express or airmail letters in English or in your own language:

  • welcoming the release of Simon Noge from police custody, but expressing concern at the conduct of the police who had arrested him without warrant or charge in the early hours of 5 February;
  • expressing concern that Jan Sithole, Richard Nxumalo, Jabulani Nxumalo and Themba Msibi, all senior officials of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, are being held at Matsapha Prison after being charged with a non-bailable offence, apparently for the sole purpose of preventing them from conducting their trade union activities, and calling for their immediate and unconditional release;
  • calling for a full investigation into allegations that police and military officers allegedly assaulted 23 or more trade unionists as they left a meeting on 3 February, and held them illegally for interrogation for several hours;
  • urging that internationally accepted rights of non-violent freedom of expression and assembly are fully respected.


His Majesty King Mswati lll
King of Swaziland
P O Box 1
Fax: +268 84468
Telegrams: H.M.King Mswati, Lobamba, Swaziland Salutation: Your Majesty

Dr B S Dlamini
Prime Minister of Swaziland
Prime Minister's Office
P O Box 395
Fax: +268 43943
Telegrams: Prime Minister Dlamini, Mbabane, Swaziland Salutation: Dear Prime Minister


  • Human Rights Association of Swaziland, PO Box 1546, Mbabane, Swaziland
  • Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, Headquarters, PO Box 1158, Manzini, Swaziland
  • The Editor, Times of Swaziland, PO Box 156, Mbabane, Swaziland

and to diplomatic representatives of Swaziland accredited to your country.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 24 March 1997.

FEBRUARY 5, 1997:

EXTERNAL AI Index: AFR 55/01/97

UA 41/97 Fear for safety / Legal Concern / Prisoners of conscience 5 February 1997 (Excerpts)


Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of Simon Noge, who was detained in the early hours of 5 February 1997. The police who detained him did not have a warrant of arrest and did not give reasons for the arrest. When his lawyer challenged the legality of the arrest, the police threatened to arrest the lawyer himself. Simon Noge was taken to Manzini police headquarters. He appears to have been arrested solely on account of his work representing victims of police abuses and his leading position within the opposition SDA. This and the intimidating manner of his arrest have led to fears for his safety.

On the evening of 3 February, in the context of a trade union-led national strike which began that day, at least 23 executive and ordinary members of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) were allegedly severely assaulted by police and military officers when they were leaving a trade union meeting at a sports ground. The trade unionists were taken into custody and interrogated at Manzini Regional Police Headquarters for about five hours and released uncharged in the early hours of 4 February. Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of SFTU officials and other trade union activists in the light of this incident, and an announcement by the Prime Minister that he had ordered the police to "shoot to kill" to maintain law and order during the strike.

On the evening of 31 January, Jan Sithole, Jabulani Nxumalo, Richard Nxumalo and Themba Msibi, all senior SFTU officials, were arrested and held in police custody before being brought to court on 3 February and charged with contravening Section 12 of the Public Order Act (1963). They were remanded in custody at Matsapha Central Prison, and are due to appear in court again on 10 February. Their lawyer and others have been given access to the detainees and Amnesty International has not received any reports that the men have been ill-treated in custody.

The four men's legal representative could not apply to the court for bail as, on 31 January, the Minister of Justice announced that the offence with which they have since been charged falls within the scope of the Non- Bailable Offences Act. The police alleged that the four men had intimidated bus owners not to operate their businesses as of 3 February. However, according to press reports on 5 February, the Road Transport Association publicly repudiated the police claims and stated that at no time were they intimidated by the trade unions.

Amnesty International is concerned that the four men have been charged with a spurious offence which has been made non-bailable solely for the purpose of preventing them from continuing their trade union activities including participating in the organizing of the current national "stayaway". At least three of the four were arrested several times in 1996 and charged with various offences but were never brought to trial.

Amnesty International believes that Simon Noge and the four trade union leaders are prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.


On 3 February 1997 a national three-day strike began, initiated by trade unions to put pressure on the authorities to accede to a series of political and socio-economic demands. The strike has occurred a year after a very widespread week-long strike in 1996 over similar demands. Subsequent to that earlier strike, King Mswati III initiated a constitutional reform process, apparently to respond to the widespread call for the lifting of the state of emergency in place since 1973 and denial of freedom of political association and assembly. However by the end of 1996 no substantial progress had been made in the area of constitutional reform and all political activity remains banned.

Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ, UK, Tel: 44-71 413-5500; Fax: 44-71 956-1157; Web: For recent AI press releases, check For more information on Amnesty International send an e-mail message for an automatic reply to

COSATU Reiterates Support for Swazi Strikers

Congress of South African Trade Unions - February 4, 1997

Johannesburg - Having analysed the joint statement made by both the Foreign Ministries of South Africa and Swaziland, COSATU wants to make it clear to both Ministers that it is an independent Federation - it does not take orders from governments.

COSATU applauds Minister Nzo for acknowledging the autonomy and independence of COSATU. Solidarity knows no borders when trade union rights and human rights are violated. Besides, COSATU's founding principles commit it to international solidarity. Swaziland has ratified some of the ILO conventions and COSATU expects it to live by those same conventions.

The notion that says the Swaziland Constitutional Review Committee will bring about democracy in that country is rapidly becoming a hopeless dream. The Swaziland Committee should be reconstituted according to the demands of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), namely:

  1. It should be a transparent body committed to an open process;
  2. It should involve ALL stakeholders. The review committee at the moment is a toothless dog that lost its credibility from its inception.

Swaziland Blockade

COSATU has not yet taken a decision to blockade Swaziland. We have asked our members to go slow in handling goods from and to Swaziland. However a blockade might be one of the options to be considered if the SFTU leaders are not released soon and if genuine negotiations do not take place.

The COSATU National Executive Committee will meeting next week on the 11 & 12 February. Amongst other issues, is the intensification of COSATU's solidarity with the SFTU will be discussed.


In the meantime COSATU will hold a picket at the offices of the Swaziland High Commissioner in Pretoria on Thursday 16 February 1997 at 12noon - 2pm.
The address is : 1090 Arcadia Street, corner Hilda and Festival Streets, Hatfield. We demands that the Swazi government :

  • release the detained trade union leaders immediately;
  • enter into genuine transparent negotiations with SFTU and other stake holders.

COSATU calls on everybody concerned about the Swaziland situation to join the leadership in this picket. We cannot allow basic human rights to be abused and workers rights to be undermined.

Issued by Nowetu Mpati, COSATU Head of Communications, Tel: + 27 + 11 +339-4911 Fax: + 27 + 11 + 339-2281 E-mail:

More information on the strike and on the demands of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions can be found on the COSATU web site at

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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