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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

Swaziland border blockade

13 - 04 - 06

The Congress of South African Trade Unions congratulates its members and allies on the magnificent demonstrations in support of the people of Swaziland at the border posts yesterday, 12 April 2006. The huge turnout and enthusiastic involvement of the worke rs reflected their growing concern at the abuse of human rights and the lack of democracy in this royalist dictatorship.

The demonstrations will have given a powerful boost to the confidence of the oppressed Swazi people to take their struggle for democracy to new heights. The fact that the Swazi government has, unusually, been forced to issue a statement condemning COSATU i ndicates that they are worried at the growing support for reform.

COSATU however condemns in the strongest possible terms the conduct of sections of the SA Police Service, which marred an otherwise successful day. The opening of fire on demonstrators at Matsamo, which left eight injured, two of them seriously, was an unf orgivable outrage. We send our best wishes to the injured for a full and speedy recovery.

Nothing can justify such a brutal reaction from the police of a democratic state against peaceful, unarmed protesters. Even if certain bylaws were being infringed, there were numerous other options for resolving any problems which should have been employed , without resorting to force. The police action was what we would expect from the Swazi police and was even reminiscent of the ruthless tactics of the apartheid police, which should now be a thing of the past.

COSATU also condemns the arrest of 25 demonstrators, including the five leaders of COSATU and its affiliates who were arrested at Phongola. At the time of their arrest they were approaching the SAPS to try to help resolve problems which had arisen at the b order demonstration. Yet they themselves were then arrested, taken to the police station and charged with public violence! That is outrageous.

COSATU is demanding an exhaustive, top-level investigation into the conduct of the police at the border posts, to establish exactly what happened and who was responsible for the violence and the arrests. It is clear that many in the SAPS are not trained to deal with protests of this kind, which require an ability to negotiate and reach agreement, rather than to engage in an immediate, aggressive confrontation.

We are also calling for a broader discussion between government, the SAPS and the labour movement to review the policies and guidelines under which the police operate during political and industrial demonstrations, in order to make sure that such kind of b rutality by the police never happens again.

COSATU also demands the dropping of all charges against those arrested, and compensation for those injured by the police action.

The campaign of solidarity will continue. It is going to be a long-drawn-out struggle, which must be led by the Swaziland workers and poor. COSATU is backing them and embarking on solidarity action with them, but they must lead the struggle. We know that t his is not easy, owing to the brutality of that regime. Yesterday the Swaziland regime set up roadblocks dispersing any persons in groups of three and above.

COSATU welcomes the following statement of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions released yesterday and regrets the confusion caused by earlier statements


We vehemently want to deny that there is conflict between COSATU and SFTU.

We also want to confirm that we strongly and unreservedly support the Action and agree with the issues for which the blockade was called and that our non-participation in this particular event, is as a result of communication breakdown and not a misunderst anding.

From the information we have, it is not COSATU that has called for blockade. COSATU is supporting the Swazi struggle which we are party to, save for this particular event.

Our non-participation at this particular event should not be interpreted as either disassociating ourselves with the struggle or the issues.

The SFTU together with SNAT overtly denounced the constitution through a petition, a position which we still uphold.

We condemn with the contempt it deserves the arrest and shooting of protesters, which took place at the South African side of the border, and call for unconditional release of the arrested protesters and we further vehemently condemn the brutality by the S outh Africa Police on peaceful protesters.

The SFTU denies the aspects of the article on the third page of the Swazi Observer titled "Blockade today, dismissal tomorrow" and some of the quotations under the topic "tight security at border gates" alleged to have been said by the Secretary General. T his issue has since been discussed with the Observer editor. The parties have since agreed to settle with an apology from the Observer.

By Jan J Sithole, Secretary General, SFTU