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Eswatini: end the repression against SWATCAWU and all Eswatini workers

news 09 Mar 2023

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) notes with deep concern the latest acts of repression against trade union and democratic forces in Eswatini, where the government of King Mswati III has been leading a brutal crackdown against opposition leaders.

This crackdown has already seen opposition politicians arrested, journalists driven into exile, trade union leaders and other workers assassinated and attacked, and police raids on trade union events.

Now, Comrade Sticks Nkambule, the General Secretary of the Swaziland Transport Communication and Allied Workers’ Union (SWATCAWU) has been declared a ‘wanted person’ in a politically motivated and spurious contempt of court charge. 

This comes after SWATCAWU and other unions led national protests and strikes demanding democratic reform, the release of jailed political leaders, improved wages, and an end to police harassment of workers.

In December of last year, a team of heavily-armed state forces - led by the Senior Superintendent Clement Sihlongonyane, who the union and others accuse of being “a known serial killer of pro-democracy activists”, led a militia-style raid on the home of the SWATCAWU General Secretary.

Fortunately, on the first day of the crackdown, out of the country on pre-arranged travel, Comrade Nkambule was able to evade arrest, and has been forced to remain in exile since.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF, said:

“The ITF will never tolerate the harassment and repression of union leaders, and we demand an immediate end to the Eswatini government’s violent, autocratic attack on democratic forces.

But as well as an attack on workers, this is an attack on all the people of Eswatini. Power-grabs and repression offer no solutions to the country’s challenges, and only democratic reform offers a way forward. Workers and trade unions must be central to that process.”

Mohammed Dauda Safiyanu, ITF Africa Regional Secretary, said:

“The whole world has watched with shock the anti-democratic brutality of King Mswati’s government, but we refuse to simply stand by while our comrades, brothers, and sisters are attacked, harassed, and even killed.

As transport workers from around the world gather just across the border in South Africa next week for our Road, Rail and Urban Transport section conferences, we send a clear message to King Mswati III and his government that transport workers across Africa and around the world stand ready to support our affiliates in Eswatini in whatever way they need.”