Introduction and background
Public sector unions of Swaziland jointly resolved on Friday 18 January 2019 to engage on a strike action from 28 January 2019 until their demand for pay increase is met by the government. This will be the biggest strike action by civil servants in many years. The unions further stated that, “All Government systems shall be down” during the entire strike action. “These include Government offices, ministries, departments, schools, clinics, healthcare centres and hospitals, transport departments and many others”.
The central demand is the Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA) which was last reviewed in the year 2016/2017 financial year. To date, civil servants have been robbed 14.5 per cent which has been dilapidated by inflation from their salaries during the financial years 2017/2018 and 2018/2019.
In the financial year 2017/2018, the inflation rate, in the context of Swaziland, stood at 7.85 percent while in 2018/2019 financial year the inflation rate is at 6.55 percent. In reality this means the buying power of civil servants has been cut by 14.5 percent. This is a huge and unbearable percentage regarding the fact that basic needs and services prices keep escalating.
It is important to recall that close to 70 percent of the people of Swaziland survive on less than US$2 a day. This number includes workers.
It is from this background that civil servants have resolved to engage on a national shutdown, beginning on Monday 28 January 2019 until their demand for cost of living adjustment is met.
Public sector unions of Swaziland
There are four unions which organise in the public sector:
All the four unions are affiliated to the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), which has about 20 affiliates in total.
Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT)
SNAT is a craft union that organises teachers. It is the biggest affiliate of TUCOSWA and has a membership of over 14 000 teachers drawn from 15 branches. Workers in this sector are always overburdened with the very high student-teacher ratio, lack of learning equipment, including lack of basic needs for the sustenance of life in general.
Swaziland Nurses’ Association (SNA)
SNA is another craft union that organises nurses. Last year, 2018, nurses went on strike, protesting against drug shortages and vital equipment in public hospitals and clinics. The problem of drugs shortages has beleaguered public hospitals and clinics for a long time. This is mainly due to the government’s failure to pay suppliers while at one and the same time spending billions in monies on vanity projects and Mswati’s birthday parties. It is now a well-documented fact that in the same year when the drugs shortage situation worsened, which forced nurses to go on strike, Mswati spent over E1 billion (Over US$70 million) to throw a big 50th birthday party for himself, which included the purchasing of a second private for him, costing the public over US$30 million, and a wrist watch costing E21 million (US$1.6 million), among other expensive articles doe himself, his fifteen wives, his many children whose number remains unknown, his brothers and sisters and his many friends.
While the shortage of vital equipment is detrimental to patients, it also exposes nurses to health hazards. Everyday nurses have to treat patients without vital protective clothing and equipment, be it in theatre or other departments.
Swaziland National Association of Government Accountants Personnel (SNAGAP)
SNAGAP is a public sector union representing public service employees drawn from the accounting profession within the service. They are stationed in government departments, including municipalities. These workers find themselves under constant pressure. Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, Mswati, has the known tendency of forcing the workers to redirect public funds towards his numerous, usually impromptu and unbudgeted for, overseas trips. The result is that the workers are made scapegoats whenever such scandals come into the open. Strictly speaking, they find themselves having to choose between a rock and a hard place; release the funds illegally under Mswati’s command or refuse and thus join the close to 50 percent of the unemployed population. In the latter instance, there is also the additional risk of victimisation.
National Public Service and Allied Workers’ Union (NAPSAWU)
NAPSAWU is an industrial union that organises government workers from all sectors, excluding the abovementioned. They include workers in agriculture, transport, workers from different government departments, workers in clinics and hospitals workers but who are not nurses and doctors, school workers who are not teachers, and so on.
Build-up activities towards the 28 January strike action
The unions collectively agreed to engage on joint build-up activities towards the beginning of the strike action. Already joint union membership meetings have been taking place since Monday 21 January 2019 all over the country to mobilise for the January 28 action. The aim of these activities is to conscientise the whole population on the plight of workers while at the same time putting pressure upon the regime to give in to workers’ demands.
The unions reached the conclusion to engage in the national shutdown after all means to engage with the regime had failed. The regime has no will whatsoever to meet the demands of the workers. For two consecutive financial years the government has maintained the ridiculous offer of 0.00 percent during negotiation processes claiming that there is no money to pay for the increase, yet the funds to finance the royal family’s luxurious lifestyle are always available.
Intimidation and threats against workers
Since the resolution to engage in a strike action, the regime has tried all means to intimidate workers and their leaders. Mswati’s prime minster, Mr Ambrose Dlamini, has already gone public, using the media monopoly that the regime enjoys, trying to demobilise workers against the strike. He has also instructed that primary and high school principals suppress teachers who partake in the strike and also summoned the principals into a meeting to be held tomorrow, Friday 25 January 2019. The Swaziland National Association of Teachers has also spoken strongly against such machinations. The intention of the regime is to divide and rule over the workers, because principals are workers too and are affected by the terrible socioeconomic conditions that the Mswati regime has created.
The royal Swaziland police have also been following union leaders and other union members, trying to intimidate them. These scare tactics were undertaken even before the unions’ joint meeting, with the arrest of two teachers on Friday 11 January 2019, who were on their way to their union’s meeting. The regime is able to do this and get away with it plainly because it is unaccountable to any institution in the country.
Where the Mswati autocracy spends public funds
It is important to reiterate that Mswati is the last absolute monarch in the sub-Saharan Africa region. The absolute monarchy was created after the late king, Sobhuza II, abrogated the 1968 constitution which guaranteed the rights to freedom of association, movement and speech and also created a constitutional multiparty democracy. Sobhuza abrogated the constitution on 12 April 1973 and bestowed upon himself all executive, legislative and judicial powers. Thenceforth he would rule by decree, which would be imposed upon the people, with his armed forces punishing any known or suspected dissident.
Political parties remain banned in Swaziland. Parliamentary elections are held every five years, the last of which were in 2018. These elections are contested on individual basis and no organised groupings are allowed. Mswati also appoints about a third of the members of parliament. The final product is a puppet parliament, comprising of the House of Assembly and the House of Senate (which wholly comprises of unelected members) through which Mswati implements his unilaterally taken decisions. Mswati is empowered by his constitution to dissolve parliament as and when he pleases. He is not accountable to anyone, nor is he accountable to the constitution. Any person who dares to have a different opinion from his automatically invites constant harassment from security forces. Many human rights activists have been arrested by the regime, while others have been tortured and some also killed.
It is in the above context that Mswati continues to waste public funds satisfying his thirst for all things flashy.
The hundreds of millions in monies that are spent every year on the many unnecessary “cultural” activities, often without disclosure of the amounts spent, continue to drain the economy. The Umhlanga ceremony is one of those activities; Mswati uses young girls, who have to dance bare-chested in front of him and tourists, to raise money for his family. It is also during the Umhlanga period where many young girls are trafficked.
The phenomenon of big royal family delegation teams during Mswati’s international trips (Dubai, Italy, USA, London, Qatar, etc.) is another drain to the economy.
Every year between February and March, Mswati organises a drinking-spree festival wherein he demands that women deliver marula brew to one of his many royal residences. Again money is wasted on this useless celebration. These millions could be spent on education and health.
All of these facts and many other unrecorded extravagant spending sprees have convinced the workers that the government has the money, but only that it does not want to pay workers what is due to them, and also does not wish to provide basic needs and services for the general population, especially in clinics and hospitals.
Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA)
As already mentioned above, all these public sector unions are affiliated to TUCOSWA. TUCOSWA is the only progressive workers’ federation in Swaziland. The regime has already attempted to counter the federation by forming its own conservative one. This was after all violent attempts to cripple TUCOSWA had failed.
TUCOSWA was formally launched in 2012 after a few years of deliberations among the different unions. The Mswati regime, at first, refused to recognise and register the federation as the true national representative of workers. It was due to intense workers’ practical actions and international pressure that the regime found itself with no option but to recognise and register TUCOSWA.
Recognition and registration did not mean that the regime’s war against TUCOSWA was over. Victimisation of affiliates has been one way of attempting to cripple the federation. Last week’s actions by the regime, arresting leaders of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, the biggest TUCOSWA affiliate, cannot be separated from the regime’s attempts to destroy TUCOSWA. It is therefore important that as the working class organisations of the world offer solidarity to the public sector unions they also bear in mind that such solidarity also necessarily goes towards the strengthening of TUCOSWA.
While the 28 January strike action will be led by unions within TUCOSWA, and not TUCOSWA as a whole, it is important to note the following listed demands for which TUCOSWA marched last year. The Mswati regime has not responded to these demands, and it is expected that the federation will continue to protest until the demands are met.
The TUCOSWA demands are as follows:
A call for solidarity with workers of Swaziland
The Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) calls for international solidarity from the working class in support of the workers of Swaziland as they engage the absolute monarch during this upcoming strike action scheduled to start on 28 January 2019. Support may be in any form that the specific organisation deems necessary within its means.
The Mswati regime controls virtually the whole media space in Swaziland. This is, partly, why the struggles of the people of Swaziland too often remain obscured from the rest of the world. The heavy censorship has in the large parts of the world unaware of the atrocities that are ongoing in Swaziland. The CPS will be updating the world as the workers engage in the strike action. Public pronouncements by organisation, in solidarity with the workers, either in a form of a statement or other, will be of great importance in this regard. Needless to say, without international solidarity, the struggles of workers Swaziland will continue to go unnoticed by the rest of the world.
Issued by the Communist Party of Swaziland