King Mswati III the absolute monarch of Swaziland / Eswatini has been named in a global report on modern slavery for forcing his subjects to weed his fields.
His supporters say the work is done in the name of culture but others say if they do not work for the King they are punished.
The Global Slavery Index 2018, just published, said there was evidence that the practice of kuhlehla continued, ‘where the community is forced to render services or work for the King or local chiefs’.
The report estimated there were 12,000 people in Swaziland in modern slavery. This number has increased from 1,302 people in 2013 and 6,700 people in 2014. The numbers for 2018 may have been distorted by changes in the way victims are counted.
The report stated modern slavery, ‘refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and / or abuse of power’.
This is not the first time King Mswati has been named in a report on modern slavery or human trafficking. The annual Trafficking in Persons Report for 2017 from the United States State Department said it had been reporting conditions in Swaziland for the previous five years. It said, ‘Swazis are culturally expected to participate in the seasonal weeding and harvesting of the King’s fields and those who may refuse are subject to coercion through threats and intimidation by their chiefs.’
A report Child Labor and Forced Labor from the US Department of Labor looking at 2016 stated penalties imposed by chiefs included ‘evicting families from their village and confiscating livestock’.
Separately, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons report revealed, ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the King. Swazi boys and foreign children are forced to labor in commercial agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country.’
King Mswati was at the centre of an international controversy in January 2015 when Swazi Media Commentary revealed that schools in Swaziland were forced to stay closed after Christmas so children could weed the King’s fields. As many as 30,000 children were thought to have missed schooling as a result.
The Global Slavery Index for 2016 reported that the Swazi Government ‘attempted to backtrack on its intentions when its use of unpaid child labour was reported by international media’.
Seven in ten people in Swaziland live in abject poverty earning less than the equivalent of $US2 per day. They can be forced to work under the Swazi Administration Order, No. 6 of 1998 which makes it a duty of Swazis to obey orders and participate in compulsory works; participation is enforceable with severe penalties for those who refuse.
This is allowed even though the Swaziland Constitution that was enacted in 2006 prohibits forced or compulsory labour.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in a 2009 report said the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions called the administration order a form of forced labour which reinforced the traditional powers of chiefs to demand uncompensated labour from citizens and apply punishment in case of refusal.
SEX TRAFFICKING RIFE IN SWAZILAND
SWAZI GOVT MISLEADS ON CHILD LABOUR
KIDS FORCED TO WEED KING’S FIELDS