- The use of force by police to break up a demonstration at the weekend has sent a warning to Swaziland's labour movement, which is planning a two-day national strike beginning on Tuesday. The strike action has been declared illegal by Swazi authorities.
- Political marches, gatherings and meetings are banned in Swaziland, and those who engage in these activities are breaking the law, said superintendent Vusi Masuku, public relations officer for the Royal Swaziland Police Force.
His comments followed the use on Saturday of water cannon and teargas to disperse a crowd that had gathered in a Manzini township, in central Swaziland, to commemorate the death of a 17-year-old girl, shot by the police during a 1996 workers' stay-away.
The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland Federation of Labour on Sunday vowed to proceed with this week's strike to protest the government's "undemocratic" draft constitution. The protest action will include marches through the capital, Mbabane, and Manzini, the main commercial town.
- We are rejecting any tactics of violence, but we will not be intimidated by the security forces that have banned all public demonstrations and marches, said Phineas Magagula, Secretary-General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.
In a statement released by Prime Minister Themba Dlamini's office on Monday, the Swazi government urged all workers to treat Tuesday and Wednesday as normal working days, and report to their jobs. Security Forces were to ensure the normal operation of public transport. "Government is fully committed to finding a lasting solution to these issues through peaceful dialogue," the statement said.
Union officials hope a large turnout will demonstrate widespread dissatisfaction with King Mswati's new constitution, which maintains the tradition of the King's absolute power and continues a three-decades-old ban on political parties.
The workers will also protest the government's spending on royal palaces and other luxury projects, while two-thirds of Swazis live in chronic poverty and the national economy continues to deteriorate. "Swazis are passive people - we hope they are fed up with government's ways, and will join our protest," a union official said.
The degree of public backing for pro-democracy groups is hard to assess in a country where public opinion polling is unknown. Support for the unions was seemingly high in the late 1990s, but national strikes in 2002 were suspended.
The imminence of the new constitution, drafted by King Mswati's brothers and currently before parliament, had galvanised unions into action, labour officials said. "If we do not register our protest, a new constitution that is undemocratic and a fraud will become the law of the land without objection," said ex-Prime Minister Obed Dlamini, president of one of Swaziland's banned political parties, the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress.
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