Thursday, February 9, 2017


Police in Swaziland fired live gunshots and teargas as workers at a factory were locked out following an industrial dispute.

It happened at Juris Manufacturing in Nhlangano on Monday (6 February 2017). The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported ‘about 1,600 workers reacted angrily to a rumour that management was planning to purge the staff of troublesome elements’.

The Times reported, ‘Interviewed workers said the violence was triggered when the employees found the main gate to the factory locked when they reported for duty yesterday morning, as management was planning to make the workers enter in different groups. Soon word spread that the new entry arrangement was a plan to get rid of male employees of the company who management believe were sowing discontent among the staff.’

There has been a long-running dispute at the factory about management style and accusations of racism by one boss in particular.

The Times reported, ‘A witness said when the workers were not satisfied with the communication from management, they ganged up and vandalised the factory structure. The situation worsened when police officers tried to control the workers and fired teargas.’

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, put the number of workers involved at 2,000.
It reported, ‘The company premises resembled a war zone as the workers and police exchanged missiles. 

‘Police fired warning gun shots in the air, hoping to scare off the workers who were on the rampage.’

It added, ‘They fired teargas at the strong crowd of workers who ran helter-skelter in all’

The Observer reported, ‘A thick cloud engulfed the area with some of the employees seen dashing towards the nearby forests as police were hot on their heels to ensure they keep a distance from the company premises.’

It is commonplace in Swaziland for armed police to intervene on behalf of managements during industrial disputes.

In September 2016, media in Swaziland reported women strikers were ambushed by armed police and ‘brutally attacked’ at the Plantation Forest Company, near Pigg’s Peak. Police had previously used rubber bullets and teargas against the strikers and had fired live rounds to disperse a crowd. 

In 2013, by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported that Swaziland was becoming a police and military state.

It said things had become so bad in the kingdom that police were unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent was a vital element of a healthy democratic process, and should not be viewed as a crime.

These complaints were made by OSISA at an African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia on 10 April 2013.

OSISA said, ‘There are also reliable reports of a general militarization of the country through the deployment of the Swazi army, police and correctional services to clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country’s undemocratic elections.’

OSISA was commenting on the trend in Southern Africa for police and security services to be increasingly violent and abusive of human rights.

In particular, OSISA highlighted how the police continued to clamp down on dissenting voices and the legitimate public activities of opposition political parties prior to, during and after elections.

In a statement OSISA said in February 2013 a battalion of armed police invaded the Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral in Manzini and forced the congregation to vacate the church alleging that the service ‘intended to sabotage the country’s general elections’. 

OSISA added, ‘A month later, a heavily armed group of police backed up by the Operational Support Services Unit prevented members of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) from holding a peaceful commemoration prayer in celebration of the federation’s anniversary. In both instances there was no court order giving the police the legal authority to halt the prayers.’

In 2015, Swaziland was named as one of the ten worst countries for working people in the world, in a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

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