(en) Swaziland: general strike for democracy (fwd)

buddha (buddha@tao.ca)
Wed, 7 May 1997 13:08:08 -0400 (EDT)

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Not sure if this is appropriate:

From: Platform <platform@geocities.com> Subject: Swaziland: general strike for democracy

WORKERS' SOLIDARITY (S. Africa) Volume 3 Number 2 Second Quarter 1997 (April- June)


Swaziland: general strike for democracy

On March 2, the 83,000-strong Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) ended an incredible 28 general strike after the government released four imprisoned union leaders. It was part of an ongoing, union-led struggle for basic democratic rights in Swaziland.

The strike began with a two day stay-away to force the government to introduce basic democratic rights in Swaziland. The government's reply was to arrest four union leaders on the eve of the strike. Although the strike was eventually called off, workers have promised monthly two-day strikes to force change. The union leaders are currently suing for wrongful arrest. An important development in the strike was international support: COSATU, for example, organis- ed rallies and border blockades, whilst the International Confed-eration of Free trade Unions called for protests from its members in 137 countries.

Swaziland is the only country in southern Africa that does not allow multi-party politics. Instead, it is ruled by King Mswati II on the basis of a 1973 royal decree that suspended the constitution. All members of parliament are elected in non-party polls, and cabinet is handpicked.


This is justified on the grounds that it is supposedly the "Swazi way". The king's massive land holdings and support for reactionary "chiefs" is "justified" in the same way. So-called "tradition" is used to force peasants to work for the chiefs (and the king) for free on certain occasions, and pay various dues the rest of the time. The chiefs are responsible for all local government functions, including crime, taxes and land allocation. The outcome is that the peasan-try is denied basic democratic rights as they are under the absolute rule of the chiefs. Indeed, this control over the peasantry was central to the Imbokodvo National Movement (the traditionalist party aligned to the king) taking power in the decolonisation process in the face of its pan-Africanist rivals. Clearly, the power of the chieftancy must be challenged in any struggle for democracy.

Still, the king's apparent love of "tradition" has not stopped him using modern weapons against strikers. Nor has it stopped him pandering to racist White farm-ers and employers, often ex-"Rhodesians". Since the late 1800s, White farmers have been prominent in Swaziland- today they are based either on private-ly owned land, or on "Swazi Nation" land leased from the king. In practical terms, the chiefs, White farmers and inter-national companies are allies in search for profit and power over peasants and workers.


Unfortunately for the king, many ordinary Swazi working and poor people reject his self-serving definition of "Swazi". This is shown by massive struggles from below for democratic reform in the 1990s. Banned parties like the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the trade unions have been central to this struggle.

In January 1994, the SFTU launched a 2-day general strike in support of 27 demands for more union rights, affirmative action, and basic political rights. This was followed by a strike wave that rocked shop- floors across the country. Most were successful. However, the government failed to take negotiations over the 27 demands seriously. In January 1996, a general strike for 8 days around basically the same issues which was met by widespread repression. Still, the government again agreed to start political reforms, but again nothing happened.


The 1997 general strike is the longest strike in the country's history. It is the latest battle in a struggle that will continue as long as the workers demands are not met. Clearly, workers will have to prepare for a hard struggle. The key to success is grassroots organising, and build-ing alliances with the peasantry, the unemployed and the informal sector. Important steps in this direction took place in 1996, when market women in particular played a important role. Equally important will be international worker and union aid. No alliances should be made with local bosses- they are a central part of the problem. Ultimately, the struggle for a fully democratic society will require workers, peasants and the poor taking power in their own name, establishing a stateless socialist society (anarcho-syndicalism).


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