Swaziland's King Mswati III. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Mbabane - One month before King Mswati must prove his country’s commitment to labour and human rights or lose trade benefits essential to the country’s industry, the police abducted key union leaders while thwarting an attempted pro-democracy demonstration at the weekend.

“I was banned from entering the city of Manzini,” said Vincent Ncongwane, the secretary-general of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (Tucoswa), an umbrella body for labour unions.

“Police took our union leaders into custody and they would not allow their lawyers to see them,” said Charles Ndwandwe, a Tucoswa member.

Ncongwane was taken from his car to the Mbabane police station by the police when they suspected he would attend a union meeting called to mark the anniversary of an April 12, 1973 decree that ended democracy in post-independence Swaziland.

With that decree, King Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza, banned political opposition to royal rule after three MPs not under his political control were elected to parliament.

King Mswati has refused to officially nullify the decree, which gives him and his descendants absolute power over government and traditional institutions.

The police also detained Quinton Dlamini, the secretary-general of the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union, and other union officials.

They were later released by police at various remote locations throughout the country to prevent them from co-ordinating protest actions.

A police spokesman said the union leaders had not been arrested but taken in for questioning.

King Mswati shows no sign of agreeing to commitments made by Swaziland as a signatory to international labour and human rights accords, despite a looming deadline to honour these commitments or have his country expelled from a trade pact with the US, the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa).

Mswati has until May 15 to amend anti-labour legislation and reform the security forces.

At stake are thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of rand in tax revenue from foreign firms established in Swaziland to take advantage of duty-free access to the American market offered by Agoa.

But the government sees unions as political opponents and does not allow any form of dissent.

“As we saw this weekend, the king would rather lose Swaziland’s textile industry than allow political dialogue in his kingdom,” said Ndwandwe. – Independent Foreign Service

The Mercury