After feasting on gold-leafed truffles at the British Royal Wedding on Friday, King Mswati III is to discover that May Day celebrations in his own fairytale kingdom have less tasty fare in store for him.
The formation of a single federation of trade unions announced at a May Day rally means that sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch will have to deal with workers on the march.
In celebration of Worker’s Day, union leaders will reveal today that with the birth of Tucoswa (Trade Union Congress of Swaziland) there will no longer be two centres of labour.
In fact, two labour unions, one headed by Mduduzi Gina, secretary general of Swaziland’s Federation of Trade Unions, the other by Vincent Ncongwane, secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Labour – will be joined by the Swaziland National Teachers Association, of which Sibongile Mazibuko is the president. They will form one powerful body.
However, a labour movement is not on the cards, said Gina.
The leader of the federation will be announced at a later date when Tucoswa is formally instated, he said.
Today, Mswati III, the sole African royal guest to have witnessed the nuptials of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may wonder how much longer he can be allowed to abuse his country’s public purse.
The autocratic monarch, whom children in the villages of Swaziland once believed possessed the power “to see you while he slept” will soon be called to account, according to Mazibuko. Mswati’s name also means “he who does not lie”.
This irony will no longer be countenanced when his cabinet ministers will be obliged by the unions to stop inviting the world to a tourist’s paradise, “and to go around the world lying, willy nilly”, say the union leaders.
The bills for the 50-strong entourage accompanying the profligate king to London’s Dorchester Hotel to watch the royal wedding would have gone a way to servicing what is considered among the world’s greatest equality gaps, in a country where 70 percent live in poverty – while the king is rated by Forbes magazine as one of Africa’s richest.
Mazibuko planned to say in her May Day speech today: “Corruption levels are extremely high – like never before – costing in the region of R80 million per month and the imminent civil servant salary cuts that we are being threatened with, show that this government has failed.”
The dissolution of Mswati’s cabinet, the creation of a transitional government which will lead to multiparty democracy, is key among the union’s demands.
“The idea is to move to a constitutional monarchy such as that enjoyed by Lesotho’s King Letsie,” said Ncongwane.
But before the dissolution of the monarchy can take place, “a massive civic education is necessary”, Mazibuko said.
“King Mswati III has the powers to appoint government. He forces people to attend cultural events in the rural areas where the land is in trust and the chiefs are his extension – and if you do not go you could be evicted.”
May Day will see the reinstatement of the unions’ demands, said Gina.
“We will demand the withdrawal of 2010 Circular Number One, which increases the hefty salaries of politicians by 60 percent.”
Asked whether Swaziland was going to follow in the footsteps of the Jasmine revolution that toppled the Tunisian government earlier this year, the spirit of which spread across the Middle East, he said: “There is no revolution, it depends what you mean by revolution.
“The unions were not demoralised by the detentions of April 12. Instead the people got angry. We have resolved to have monthly demonstrations, building up to a big demonstration during the Independence Week in September.”
On April 12, the army and a bolstered police force was sent to crush dissenters.
Maxwell Dlamini, president of the Swaziland students union, and Musa Ngubeni, a high-ranking member of the banned opposition People’s United Democratic Front, were arrested on April 13.
They have been denied bail repeatedly. Mazibuko said that “there has been no co-ordination between the unions in Swaziland and the Swaziland Solidarity Network in South Africa which was calling for the “April 12 Uprising”.
She said that the calls for the toppling of the monarchy were directly responsible for the violence visited on the union leaders.
“On May Day we are celebrating what we achieved,” said Mazibuko. “We may have to also organise targeted sanctions against those in power.
“We must ask why they send their children to study in expensive institutions in South Africa and abroad.”
In a statement issued this week, the Swaziland Youth Congress, said: “We welcome the news of the formation of a single federation in the country by our unions. We can only appreciate and hope that we will be supporting a genuine and concrete organisation.”