afrol.com, 20 March - Editor Martin Dlamini of the Times of Swaziland was subpoenaed and has appeared before Senior Magistrate Sabelo Mngomezulu in Mbabane to testify in a case of six trade union leaders charged with contempt of court. The trade union officials are charged with going against an Industrial Court ruling declaring a two-day mass stay-away last year, illegal.
Dlamini had no choice but to testify against the union leaders much against his professional ethics, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) today reported. "His defence being that it is a criminal offence to defy a subpoena," MISA states.
He was compelled to testify on a report carried by the Times of Swaziland in the 13 November 2000 edition, which was disputed by defence counsel Dave Smith. The newspaper reported that the Industrial Court had declared the stay-away, called by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), illegal. It further reported that SFTU secretary general Jan Sithole announced that the strike would continue in a statement he made at the Times offices.
In his evidence, under examination by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Lincoln Ngíarua, the editor testified that he considered the reports to be correct, more so because they had not been disputed.
Ngíarua also asked the editor how a newspaper comes up with headlines, to which Dlamini said they are derived from the articles. He said he was happy with a headline published on 13 November, which was to the effect that SFTU and SNAT said the mass action would continue.
Asked whether there were times when the newspaper "had got it wrong," Dlamini said it happened with every newspaper, adding that they have an Ombudsman, who, after being convinced that the article was wrong, would issue a retraction.
The case is against Sithole and leaders of SNAT, Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants and Nhlanhla Gama from the SFTU. Sithole was the dominant leader under the mass action that took place in November 2000 in Swaziland, "calling for an end to the gross violation of human and trade union rights and the oppression of the people."
The strike was outlawed by the regime (sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy), and several union leaders were arrested. Later, Swaziland bowed to international pressure and amended its labour laws. Strikes however went on the rest of November, with support from international trade unions claiming Swazi labour laws were not up to international standard.
Source: MISA and afrol archives