CIVICUS

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Swaziland

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 20.09.2018 at 09:26

Swaziland Overview

Civic space in Swaziland is severely restricted, making it one of the most difficult environments for civil society in southern Africa.

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Teacher strikes met with police violence

Teacher strikes met with police violence

Peaceful Assembly

On 24th August 2018, teachers took to the streets to protest against the government’s failure to offer an annual cost of living allowance to civil servants. The demonstration quickly descended into chaos after police arrived on the scene and demonstrators threw stones, blocked roads and burnt garbage on the streets. In response, the security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators. The country's para-military force was subsequently deployed to restore calm by the regular officers. One teacher is said to have been injured after a bullet hit his arm.

In an interesting turn of events, one of the protestors, Maxwell Myeni, confronted a gun wielding officer and tackled him to the ground. Two days later, on 26th August 2018, Myeni was picked up from his home by six heavily armed officers from the Lukhozi arm of the police forces. This section of the police has gained notoriety for 'torturing prisoners who end up dead'.

Later, on 13th September 2018, The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) voted to go on strike to demand a 6.55% cost of living adjustment. The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) also declared that it would take national protest action on 18th September 2018, these demonstrations would take place across Mbabane, Manzini, Nhlangano and Siteki. The protest action was taken in relation to a number of demands against the government including calling for a cost of living adjustment, increasing the national minimum wage, increasing the elderly grants, legalisation of solidarity strikes, increase in health and education funding and an end to arbitrary evictions especially for the working class and poor, among many other demands.

In keeping with their promise of strike action, on 18th September 2018, protestors took to the streets in the capital city Mbabane, and the towns of Siteki, Nhlangano and Manzini. Protesters in Manzini were met with police violence, as police fired stun grenades to disperse the crowds. Several protestors were injured in the incident. There were no reports of violence or clashes in the other three towns.

In recent months, the country has witnessed three protests by public servants seeking better pay, education and healthcare. The unrest started in April 2018, when the public servant’s pension fund is reported to have contributed $70,000 to King Mswati III’s lavish birthday celebrations.

Association in Swaziland

Although civil society organisations and trade unions can be formed, government infiltration and denial of registration, or deregistration, is common. Repressive sedition and anti-terror laws are used to target dissidents and human rights activists.

Although civil society organisations and trade unions can be formed, government infiltration and denial of registration, or deregistration, is common. Repressive sedition and anti-terror laws are used to target dissidents and human rights activists. The constitutionality of these laws is currently being challenged in court by human rights organisations, but the judiciary’s lack of independence from the government is likely to undermine these efforts. Since 2012 the government has refused to recognise the national trade union federation – TUCOSWA – although it was finally registered on 12 May 2016. Moreover, the prime minister threatened to ‘strangle’ or ‘discipline’ – using the siSwati word ‘Abakhanywe’ – the federation’s secretary general Vincent Ncongwane, a prominent civil society activist. The prime minister made the threat after Ncongwane participated in a Swaziland democracy protest outside the White House in Washington DC. Political parties remain banned. The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the main party operating underground, has been proscribed by government, which views it as a terrorist organisation. Several PUDEMO activists are in jail awaiting trial for a range of offences following recent protests. Government officials often vilify civil society groups, and agents of the state actively undermine efforts to unify the democratic movement in Swaziland.

Peaceful Assembly in Swaziland

Although Swaziland’s constitution provides for this right, people are not freely able to gather in public places. Demonstrations in large urban areas and near the main university campus are rarely allowed to proceed.

Although Swaziland’s constitution provides for this right, people are not freely able to gather in public places. Demonstrations in large urban areas and near the main university campus are rarely allowed to proceed. Tight bureaucratic procedures including prior-approval requirements and close police monitoring keep a lid on many planned protests. In 2014 government refused permission for several protests and marches to take place. Police put protest leaders under house arrest before gatherings commenced and set up cordons on the main access routes to towns, thus preventing the arrival of demonstrators. When protests do occur, police are liberal in their use of batons and tear gas. Torture and arbitrary imprisonment of protestors has been well documented.

Expression in Swaziland

There are no independent daily newspapers in Swaziland. The Times of Swaziland Group of Newspapers is privately owned but far from independent as it bows to powerful interests. Nor are there any independent television or radio stations.

There are no independent daily newspapers in Swaziland. The Times of Swaziland Group of Newspapers is privately owned but far from independent as it bows to powerful interests. Nor are there any independent television or radio stations. There is an independent monthly publication, The Nation, with limited circulation. A number of online blogs post information critical of the government, however few Swazis have access to these. People are not free to express their opinions and, should they choose to do so, they risk being harassed by the police, evicted from their land or denied privileges such as jobs or scholarships for their children. Criticising the King is a serious offence for which citizens and journalists face stiff penalties. Defamation is also a criminal offence in Swaziland and is a charge regularly used to shield powerful public officials from allegations of corruption or wrongdoing. In a widely publicised case in 2014, the government jailed a journalist and editor for two years for contempt of court following an article highlighting judicial corruption. The pair spent over 15 months in prison before being released. Many other activists are forced to live in exile in South Africa having been threatened with jail or death for expressing their views openly. While it is possible to access independent news sources via the Internet in Swaziland, by 2014 less than a third of people were online.