Eswatini

5

No guarantee of rights

Same as last year

Region:Africa
New

Eswatini is one of the 10 worst countries in the world for working people

  • Severe violation of freedom of assembly

  • Police violence

Eswatini descended into a spiral of violence and repression as 2021 pro-democracy protests were met with extreme police brutality. At least 72 protestors were killed by police and government forces; hundreds more were injured and others detained, while some remained missing. Some activists have gone into hiding and others have fled into exile.

Freedom of speech and assembly were heavily curtailed as later in the year, other marches and strikes were violently repressed by police, who used live rounds, rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to disperse protesters. At least three workers were shot dead while many more were severely injured.

Workers' rights violations

Murders

On 20 October 2021, Eswatini public sector and health workers marched to the Ministry of Justice to deliver a petition calling for a salary review, an end to the casualisation and privatisation of the public service and an end to attacks on trade unions. The protestors were met with tear gas and rubber bullets from police. Two buses ferrying public workers to the peaceful gathering were also stopped by the police and their passengers shot at with live bullets, and a student was killed by a stray bullet.

Murders

A bus driver was shot dead and another injured during clashes with police as drivers took part in a wage protest in the small town of Malkerns, Eswatini, on 13 October 2021. Further to the killing,transport workers joined in the wider protests in the country, calling for democratic reforms, and blocked several key roads across country. The following day, police shot and killed an individual at a roadblock in Mpaka town. On 20 October, security forces cracked down on protests in Mbabane and Manzini, killing one and injuring at least 80, including 30 by gunshot. The next day the government banned all protests and shut down the social media platform Facebook.

Violent attacks on workers

In May 2021 Sipho Shiba, a bus conductor based in Manzini, Eswatini, was assaulted by three police officers while taking part in a protest by public transport workers. A video clip was posted on social media showing the police officers hurling insults at the conductor and assaulting him, kicking him and using their fists. Mr Shiba was left with injuries to his ear and his left arm. On 2 June, the Royal Eswatini Police Service decided to suspend the three officers, pending disciplinary proceedings against them.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 20 October 2021, public sector employees who went to deliver a petition to the Public Service Ministry were met with what they described as an “unprecedented show of force”. The petition called for a salary review for 2021, an end to casualisation of the public service, stopping the privatisation of the public service and stopping trade union bashing.

The national commissioner of police banned the march, citing “national security” and “public safety and order”. When workers gathered to march and to hand over the petition, having followed all necessary protocol, the police dispersed workers using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. Two buses carrying public service workers, including members of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SDNU), were stopped by the police, and tear gas was fired at them. The doors of the bus were closed. As workers tried to leave, they were shot at. Eventually the back windows were broken, and workers managed to escape. A total of 36 were reportedly injured, and a young bystander was killed. Other reports said that at least 80 people were injured in the violence in the Eswatini capital, Mbabane, and the city of Manzini.

Right to free speech and assembly

In December 2021, the Municipal Council of Mbabane, Eswatini, denied public sector associations (PSAs), which include the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), permission to march across the city to deliver a petition to the Ministry of Public Service.

The letter from the municipality referred to a directive received from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to “indefinitely suspend the issuance of permits for all processions within urban areas”, dated 21st October 2021.

Right to free speech and assembly

Pro-democracy protests in Eswatini have been ongoing since May 2021, with trade unions and other civil society groups calling for democratic elections and an end to absolute monarchy in the country, which bans political parties from participating in elections. Throughout these protests, it is estimated that 72 protestors have been killed by police and government forces. Hundreds have been injured, while some remain missing. Some activists have gone into hiding and others have fled into exile. In a statement on 18 October 2021, Eswatini’s commerce minister, Mancoba Khumalo, stated that workers risked losing their jobs if they participated in the pro-democracy protests against King Mswati.

Union members hold a pro-democracy protest in Eswatini, despite repression and brutality by the police and government forces. Eswatini is one of the ten worst countries for working people.Michele Spatari / AFP

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