Eswatini is one of the 10 worst countries in the world for working people
Police violence during strikes
Anti-union violence and state repression were prevalent in Eswatini as trade union leaders and human rights activists were persecuted and murdered. Police forces demonstrated excessive violence in suppressing strikes and arbitrarily arresting workers. More than 80 people are reported to have lost their lives because of the police crackdown on protests that demanded democracy and wage increases. Two members of parliament were arrested in 2021 and are in detention without trial, and trade union leaders have been forced into exile following persistent persecution by security forces. Trade union gatherings and protest actions were banned in October 2021, despite a court order restraining the government from lifting the ban. In addition, the brutal shooting and murder of Thulani Maseko, a human and trade union rights lawyer and a political activist, on January 21, 2023, was widely condemned by the global community.
Workers' rights violations
In Eswatini, Thulani Maseko, a human and trade union rights lawyer and political activist was shot dead in front of his family on 21 January 2023 at his home in Manzini by unknown gunmen.
From 2012 to 2015, Thulani Maseko defended the rights of the Trade Union Congress of Eswatini (TUCOSWA) following its de-registration by the government. Subsequently, he provided legal advice to the Eswatini trade union movement. He was also the chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) that represented progressive groups working for democracy in Eswatini following the banning of political parties.
Violent attacks on workers
On 10 November 2022, Eswatini’s armed forces opened fire on a group of transport workers protesting the arrest and detention of five colleagues, leaving several injured. According to reports, three people were hospitalised with gunshot wounds.
Violent attacks on workers
Despite intimidation and harassment by the police and the army to stop the protest, textile and garment workers in Eswatini continued their strike for a living wage of at least SLZ 15 per hour or SLZ 2,983 (US$183) per month.
On 28 April 2022 a car belonging to Sibonelo Tsabedze, the Nhlangano Organiser of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), was burned by unknown people after Tsabedze had led the protest in Nhlangano earlier in the week. Another ATUSWA leader was later targeted. Wander Mkhonza, ATUSWA Secretary General had his home at Thunzini petrol-bombed on the morning of 4 May 2022.
Security forces were going as far as visiting workers’ homes and demanding that the workers go back to work or face eviction from their places of residence. Teargas was fired into some of the residences.
Right to civil liberties
On 11 January 2023, the name of Sticks Nkambule, the Secretary General of the Swaziland Transport, Communication and Allied Workers Union (SWATCAWU), was published by the police as a wanted person for alleged criminal conduct. This followed the union’s announcement of a “job stay away” on 13 and 14 December 2022, with a demand to improve working conditions and the release from prison of two members of the Eswatini Parliament. On 29 December 2022, armed police had already raided the village of Sticks Nkambule and harassed his family. As a result of such harassment, he was forced into exile.
On 2 January 2023 the President of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Mbongwa Dlamini was also forced into exile following threats by security forces to harm him, after his union called for a strike on 8 August 2022. In October 2022, the government had already suspended Mbongwa Dlamini’s salary without justification and had refused a check off system for SNAT’s newly recruited members.
In May 2022, Zheng Yong Swaziland, a garment factory, unilaterally decided to stop deducting union dues for 1,276 workers and remitting them to the union as retaliation after workers went on strike to demand a living wage.
It took six months for the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) to obtain a court order instructing Zheng Yong to stop its obstructive practices. The court ruled on 31 October that by not paying the dues to the union, the employer was resorting to unlawful ‘self-help’ which violated the Industrial Relations Act.