RELATIONS between the workers and trade unions of Swaziland and the rule of the feudal monarchy has almost reached the point of civil war in the capial Mbanane and in the rural areas.
Operations at the Rocklands Mill were temporarily suspended last Wednesday after trade unions got ready to fight police.
Protesters said that they will now arm to the teeth to defend themselves and retaliate when the state’s security services assault them.
The protesters said experience taught them that each time they are on the streets to express their concerns, they are beaten and some end up in hospitals.
This is after a number of protesters were shot and injured by police using rubber bullets during the National Public Service and Allied Workers’ Union (NAPSAWU) strike.
About 12 protesters were hospitalised after being assaulted by police.
Two workers’ unions, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) are staging protest actions all over the country.
The teachers, whose strike action has been going on for about two weeks now, are demanding a 4.5 per cent cost of living adjustment while civil servants are calling for the removal of Finance Circular No. 1 among other things.
NAPSAWU President Quinton Dlamini said they would prepare themselves for the war that government has declared.
He said the splattering of police officers, correctional services officers and soldiers on the streets during protest actions is a sign that government is spoiling for a fight.
‘We have been beaten up and injured in every instance and we have been suffocated with tear gas for no reason,’ he said.
He said when they take to the streets they normally carry placards and no weapons, but they are met by people who are armed with guns, batons, tear gas canisters and other weaponry.
Dlamini said they will not be deterred by the brutality of the police but will fight back instead.
He said they would not mention the types of weapons they were going to arm themselves with but added that defence tools were circumstantial in their case as they would have to use whatever they would deem fit for that particular situation.
He said they currently have several members who are admitted to hospitals and they were still trying to trace through one male civil servant, believed to be a nurse, who was beaten and taken away by the police.
He said the union has previously attended to its casualties but they were surprised when this one was taken by the police.
Vincent Dlamini, NAPSAWU Secretary General in a press statement added: ‘The workers were peaceful, unarmed and only singing and chanting their slogans when this Mngomezulu guy led the assault on them.
‘At least twelve workers were seriously injured and had to be rushed to the Mbabane Government Hospital for treatment. Some of these workers suffered head injuries and others were shot and had to be operated on. Other workers were suffocated by tear gas.
‘We condemn this barbaric act in the strongest in terms. Why were peaceful workers disrupted so violently in a country that calls itself “Africa’s Promise”?
‘What promise derives from brutality? Or is it the promise to be brutal? Clearly the government has waged war against innocent citizens. The police, especially the Hhohho regional commander, behave as if the workers demand 4.5 per cent from his personal coffers!
‘NAPSAWU members demand their dues from their employer and Regional Commander Senior Superintendent Richard Mngomezulu does not feature in the equation. Despite the violence, NAPSAWU members defied all odds and proved our detractors wrong.
‘These workers showed that they are not the cowards they have been made out to be. They are resilient and are determined to fight for their rights to the bitter end.
‘We salute these workers for not succumbing to Mngomezulu’s terror. The bad books of history will reserve a huge space for this man,’ he wrote.
SNAT (Swaziland National Association of Teachers) Secretary General, Muzi Mhlanga, has said that they will also fight the police.
He said at the moment they have two casualties who have been admitted to hospital after they were injured last Friday.
‘We are incurring their medical bills and we hope they will recuperate and join us again,’ he said.
He said they have now resolved to fight back because they are allegedly being attacked without doing any wrong.
‘We are staging peaceful marches because we want our employer to address them but some people out there are out to stop us,’ he said.
Mhlanga said just like David defeated Goliath in the olden days, they would fight the officers with whatever weapons they had despite that the officers have guns.
The teachers spent the better part of Saturday locked in meetings in the 15 branches where they forged a way forward. They have been on strike for over two weeks now, following government’s failure to grant the 4.5 per cent cost of living adjustment.
About eight people were shot during Wednesday’s demonstration which started at the Coronation Park, as employees went on strike, demanding the immediate suspension of one of their managers.
The employees who were carrying placards, demanded that the manager, Jaco Fourie, be suspended with immediate effect for allegedly treating them like slaves.
They were led by the Swaziland Agriculture Plantations and Allied Workers Union Secretary General, Archie Sayed.
They first demanded to have a meeting with Fourie so they could register their grievances. Their demand was denied as Fourie allegedly said he would only entertain them if they stopped their strike action and returned to work.
This seemed to drive them on as they started toyi-toying, chanting political slogans and songs. They said they would not return to work until Fourie left.
They dubbed their strike ‘Wanya Wanya’, which they said was a sister to the Swaziland National Association of Teachers’ ‘Waya Waya’ strike. They said they were fully behind the teachers’ strike because they are parents of the children who are now suffering.
They made allegations against Fourie, which cannot be repeated as they could not be proven at the time.
Fourie was among other things accused of being inconsiderate and at times demanding that employees work even when ill.
‘He once refused to take a sick employee to hospital and we had to transport our colleague ourselves,’ they alleged.
One of the employees during the brief meeting said he wept when Fourie allegedly forced one of his colleagues to work yet his hand was injured and was not even taken to hospital.
Another of the workers claimed that she earns E1,000 and further deductions are made.
She said they rent the company houses at E285.
She said some of them opted to look for cheaper houses at Mangwaneni and they are in danger because they may be attacked when going to work as they clock in at around 8am. She said they lived in fear before Bhekinkosi ‘Scarface’ Masina died.
Fourie said as a company they were still trying to find a solution.
He said they would like employees to return to work and they would be open to further negotiations when operations were back to normal.
Archie Sayed encouraged the workers to always attend May Day celebrations for them to learn political songs and how to deal with such issues.
He said they should not forget that almost all workers in the country were on strike.
‘Be strong and soldier on if you want your grievances heard.
‘Those who will work while others are on strike will have their properties damaged like it happened to a certain minister, who was against workers strike,’ said Sayed.
He said they will hold a strong prayer like they did with the minister who had his house mysteriously burnt.
Adding, Fourie said they must not stop those who want to work from continuing with the work.
Sayed said they did not want to vandalise the company property but only wanted to call Fourie to a dialogue so they could sort out their differences.
He said if he doesn’t want to address them they will talk to his (Fourie’s) superiors adding that they won’t return to work unless they get a positive response to their grievances. The strike ended at around 1pm after the workers decided that they will continue with it today (Monday 16 July).
There were thick clouds of teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades were the order of the day at the Coronation Park on Thursday.
This was when violently dispersed public servants who had gathered there before embarking on a journey to the public service ministry, where they were to deliver a petition.
The public servants, numbering just over 500, had to run helter-skelter as police fired teargas canisters in a systematic way ensuring that the fumes were spread all over the park, while firing live rounds of rubber bullets to the fleeing servants, some who got stuck in the numerous muddy marshes of the park.
At least three people were shot by the rubber bullets, and when the stampede lulled a few minutes later, ambulances, NAPSAWU and even police vehicles had to rush the injured or affected victims to hospital.
Most notably is that those shot with the rubber bullets sustained injuries on their backs, a clear sign that they were running away when they were shot at.
Others broke their bones as they fell in heaps due to inebriation from the teargas fumes, while others coughed for long periods after inhaling the innoxious fumes.