As a means of ending Swaziland’s autocracy and virulent anti-trade unionism, a proposal was made at a one-day regional seminar held at Oasis Motel last Tuesday that Southern African Development Community trade unions should “put the king on the spot.”
The king is Mswati III who has been ruling the tiny southern African nation as an absolute monarch since 1986. His rule has been nothing short of tragic: while a significant number of his subjects wallow in poverty, he lives a lavish lifestyle and picks a young, firm-breasted virgin to marry at a custom-made traditional beauty contest that is held every now and then. Politically, his reign has been marked by severe repression of dissent rendering the kingdom’s trade unions virtually ineffective.
As typically happens at the Southern African Trade Union Coordinating Council meetings, the issue of Swaziland came up. Contributing to the discussion, Henry Malumo from Action Aid International said that all forms of pressure that have been brought to bear on the kingdom have not yielded positive results. On such basis, he suggested that it was time to change tack.
“Everybody knows what is happening in Swaziland but unfortunately, the government doesn’t feel the heat. It is time to put the king himself on the spot. It doesn’t have to be the people of Swaziland themselves but us,” he said.
An Angolan delegate from a transport sector union narrated how his union was able to force the Swaziland government to release a trade unionist who had been wrongfully detained. This came after the Angolan union workers at a dock refused to process a shipment to Swaziland.
Malumo said that in solidarity with their Swaziland counterparts, some South Africa trade unionists were urging the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) which is “closer to the African National Congress”, to put pressure on the kingdom.
“The South African government is the one that is sustaining the kingdom,” he said.
While it is generally believed that Mswati is regressive, there is also a perception that he is actually hostage to an advisory council of elderly ultra-conservative traditionalists.