afrol News, 12 May - Trade unionists are furious after "the suspicious death" and alleged "killing" in custody of Sipho Jele, an activist of the Swaziland Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union (SAPWU). Unions are the core of opposition in Swaziland.
According to South Africa's powerful trade union COSATU, Swazi unionist Sipho Stephen Jele has died in prison in Mbabane under "suspicious" conditions.
Mr Jele is member of the Swazi SAPWU trade union and the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Swaziland's largest opposition party, which was banned and is being relentlessly persecuted under the government's notorious Suppression of Terrorism Act. Swaziland has been living under a State of Emergency since 1973.
Mr Jele was arrested on 1 May. On that day, the workers' celebrations held at the Salesian Sports grounds in Manzini, Swaziland's main industrial town, were violently interrupted by the police, who were insisting on the removal of all guests whom they considered not to be workers.
According to trade union sources, Swazi police "disrupted the peaceful May Day celebration and manhandled and detained several officers of the unions," including Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) National Executive Committee member Simangele Mmema.
"They confiscated photographic equipment and deleted photographs. They looked for participants wearing PUDEMO T-shirts and even detained a youth activist for wearing a COSATU T-shirt and an African National Congress (ANC) cap, which they confiscated. The unions publicly protested against this overt anti-union harassment and the interruption of their peaceful May Day celebrations," according to the sources.
It was under these circumstances that Mr Jele was arrested by the police for wearing a T- shirt with the name of PUDEMO on it. On his arrest the police took him to his home, where according to his aunt, they searched the house and found nothing else than Mr Jele's PUDEMO membership card. He was forced to have his picture taken showing this card before being taken away.
Two days later, the correctional services department made an announcement claiming that Mr Jele had "committed suicide" in the toilet of a prison cell.
According to information received by trade unionists, Swazi police have exerted pressure on Mr Jele's family for him to be quickly buried. Furthermore, the inquiry appointed by the Prime Minister of Swaziland is being done by the police's own correctional service staff.
"Given the circumstances under which Jele was arrested and the way he was treated under custody, the ITUC fears that he was killed because of his activism," said the international trade union movement in a statement today.
Swazi King Mswati has previously stated he sees "akukhanywane", a term used to describe the throttling strangling of all those defying his rule, as the most appropriate strategy. In the meantime, Mr Jele's death is the 12th stabbing or shooting incident of PUDEMO members, leaders, family or sympathizers since August 2003.
Brussels-based ITUC and South Africa's COSATU today issued statements pronouncing their "strongest denunciation of the suspicious death in custody of Sipho Jele.
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