How do you turn your 45th anniversary of independence into a barometer for your poor understanding of human rights? Easy, ask King Mswati III from Swaziland. Despite grand ambitions to turn the small Southern African state into a “monarchal democracy”, the king, it seems, has not quite come to terms with the latter part, the democratic part. By DAILY MAVERICK STAFF REPORTER.
In yet another dramatic twist after Thursday’s detention, the Global Inquiry Panel, an international panel of experts who were in the country to hear directly from workers about how labour rights violations continue to be perpetuated in Swaziland, had proceedings brought to an abrupt end on Friday.
The Global Inquiry Panel was put together by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), in conjunction with Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), with the panel consisting of Bishop Paul Verryn, Alec Muchadehama (human rights lawyer and activist from Zimbabwe), Nomthetho Simelane (former lecturer of Political Science at the University of Swaziland) and Cosatu delegate Monk Molapeni.
Former South African Communications Minister and founding Cosatu general secretary Jay Naidoo, the chair of the panel, reported this morning: “We have just heard that the police have surrounded the hotel. They are intent on closing down the hearing. They have been heard saying no meeting or report will be produced here in Swaziland. They are preventing workers from entering hotel premises.”
According to Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven, the Swazi Police were preventing Naidoo and his co-panellists from proceeding with the inquiry in Manzini. “A contingent of Swazi police and para-military led by Manzini regional police commander entered the hotel room where the inquiry is being held and demanded that the chair of the inquiry, Jay Naidoo and the whole panel stop and pack all their belongings and leave Swaziland. It is expected that they shall be deported anytime soon,” Craven said.
The king and his advisors, it would seem, do not like the idea of Independence Day celebrations being marred by issues such as labour and human rights. This is particularly so when you fail to obtain permission from the Swazi Foreign and Labour Ministries to exercise your right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association – all of which are guaranteed by the 2005 Swazi Constitution.
Naidoo explains how events unfolded on Friday morning: “They have closed down the meeting. I have just addressed the workers and the organisers here. We were called into a meeting with senior members of the security establishment. We were informed by Assistant Commissioner Operations, Samuel Mbhamali, that the meeting will not take place. Reasons given, today is Independence Day and it is for Swazis to celebrate. Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Labour have been informed and that the Security Police have decided that the meeting will not go ahead. It was a verbal order not to have the meeting. They felt that there was no requirement for a written legal order.”
In a strongly worded statement, ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said what was happening in Swaziland was “totally unacceptable.”
It emerged that as Naidoo and his co-panellists were being followed and subsequently questioned by security police on Thursday, the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), Vincent Ncongwane, was followed by plainclothes police officers. When he entered his office, he was arrested and taken to the police station without any explanation or an arrest warrant. After three hours at the police station, he was put under house arrest. The government claims that he had attempted to instigate an illegal protest. TUCOSWA, however, claims that they fully complied with Swazi laws by announcing a protest march for the Global Week of Action on 15 August 2013 to both police and the Commissioner of Labour.
According to the ITUC, police and military have threatened personnel at the venue of the Global Inquiry Panel and have been continuously following staff from the ITUC, Cosatu, FES/DGB and IndustriALL.
As Naidoo, Verryn and other international guests of the conference await their marching orders from Swaziland, the prospect or real democracy and respect for human rights is as remote as ever in Africa’s last absolute monarchy. DM
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