COSATU Media Release, 17 March 2008

COSATU condemns Swazi police brutality

The Congress of South African Trade Unions angrily condemns the Swazi police for their brutality against striking textile workers who have been on strike since 3 March. The Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU) has informed the Minister of Enterprise and Employment that because the strike has now turned violent through brutality by the police force, they are now forced to suspend it.

COSATU understands that police have not only been indiscriminately been opening fire on strikers' demonstrations but have been visiting the houses of people in the vicinity of the textile factories, beating any people who are on strike and forcing them to agree to return to work and threatening them with death if they fail to do so.

According to the Swazi Media Commentary, heavily armed police shot an innocent woman bystander in the back as they attacked striking textile workers during a legal picket and shot five workers by the end of the unprovoked violence. In total 16 workers and one policeman were hospitalised. Police fired indiscriminately and some people who were not textile workers were also attacked.

Even the Weekend Observer - perhaps the newspaper most loyal to the non-democratic Swazi regime - described the scene as a "war zone", in which there was a "heavy smell of teargas and gunfire". The Swazi News likened the scene to something from Iraq, with police "armed to the teeth".

The violence happened after striking workers met to listen to their union leader. After he finished speaking "police pounced on the unsuspecting workers and immediately fired teargas canisters without uttering a word," according to the Weekend Observer. "That marked the beginning of complete mayhem as the police assaulted every worker on sight with batons."

The Weekend Observer quoted a woman eyewitness saying: "We ran helter-skelter as the police had a field day on us. Some workers sought shelter in nearby shops but were removed and further assaulted. I have never seen such brutality in my life. They were heavily armed and were scattered all over the industrial area. They were literally running after us, obviously enjoying what they were doing."

The Swazi News reported that a women vendor who was not involved in the strike was shot in the back, saying, "I just saw a police car speeding towards us and while it was moving I was shot in the back. I just don't know why they shot me when I am just a vendor selling ice blocks, biscuits and fish."

The Weekend Observer interviewed a man who said police deliberately fired into his knee and quoted him saying: "They came and started assaulting us and asked why we were not at work. One officer pulled out a gun and fired at my knee. I fell down and several of them started assaulting me with batons all over the body, with blood oozing from the gunshot wound."

The fact that the pro-government media is reporting all this is a positive development, as they have been under pressure from the police to report nothing about the strike. SMAWU President Alex Fakudze has told COSATU that the state-controlled broadcaster, the Swazi Broadcasting and Information Services, phoned him to say that they could not broadcast a statement he had given them because police had instructed them not to report anything about the strike. The fact that some of the print media have defied similar threats is significant.

Another positive development - which shows the potential for a broad movement of opposition to the Brutal monarchist dictatorship - was the solidarity action by bus operators at the Manzini Bus terminal, which came to a stand-still as bus operators joined the textile workers' strike, saying that because of the strike and the brutality workers are facing they are losing business, as textile workers are their major customers. The operators blocked the roads leading to the bus rank and buses are parked, none going out and none going in.

The strikers have been beaten back to work, in complete contravention of international labour conventions. COSATU, together with the Swazi unions, is to report the matter to the International Labour Organisation and will intensify its campaign of solidarity with the workers of Swaziland and in support of the fight for democracy and respect for human rights.

COSATU also calls on all its affiliates and trade unions around the world to join the solidarity campaign.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson), Congress of South African Trade Unions

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940/ 086 603 9667
Cell: 0828217456

By e-mail

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