PSI condemns in the strongest terms the barbaric behavior of the Kingdom of eSwatini police who fired rubber bullets and threw teargas into crowds of striking workers who were only demanding a Cost of Living Adjustment they have not received for 3 years now. Workers attacked included Dumisani Nkuna, Secretary General of the Manzini Branch of our affiliates the National Public Services & Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), who was shot in the back. In total, 27 workers have been injured so far as a result of these shocking acts by police. The world has been shocked to see pictures of bloodied and bullet-riddled bodies of strikers as if eSwatini had become a war zone.

The teargassing and shooting of the striking workers happened even though all procedural matters and processes required by the law to conduct a strike had been followed and permission had been granted. The strikers were marching through the routes that had been designated by the local authorities. The police however indiscriminately fired into the crowds injuring even the marshals who were wearing clearly marked reflective clothing. It is ironic that the same police officers who were firing at their fellow workers also stand to benefit from the struggles for improved salaries being waged by the same comrades that they were shooting at. This notwithstanding, investigations should be conducted into who gave the orders to shoot at workers who were legally assembled.

Key figures

8,000

people marched in protest

27

workers injured so far

$15

current minimum wage in eSwatini

Public sector workers were last awarded salary adjustments in the 2015/2016 financial year and all negotiations with employers have not yielded any positive results. Employers have remained adamant on their position of a 0% salary increment. This put in the context of annual inflation rates estimated as follows: in 2017 it was 6.22%, in 2018 it was 4.83% and in 2019 it is estimated to be 5.63%.

The Kingdom of eSwatini should live up to its responsibility to uphold the letter and the spirit of the international conventions that it signed up to and ratified. It is not the first time that the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining by using state institutions like the courts and the security forces has been undermined in the Kingdom. In so doing, authorities give credence to the allegations that they are a non-democratic regime that is not responsive to the needs of their citizens who instead focus only on their interests as well as maintaining power. Because it is a matter of fact that undemocratic regimes are not compatible with the respect for workers’ rights, it is in this context that the fight for workers’ rights inevitably becomes linked to the fight for democracy. The unresponsiveness of authorities is demonstrated by the arrogance with which they handle the negotiations for the cost of living for public sector workers.

A recent report by Oxfam found that eSwatini has surpassed South Africa as the most unequal country on the continent. This indicates that the wealth of the country is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few, who then lead luxurious lives at the expense of the majority. This struggle for decent salaries by our comrades in the kingdom of eSwatini is happening right around the World Day for Decent Work on 07 October – a day on which trade unions highlight, among other things, declining job security and incomes.

It is a shame that authorities that undermine public sector workers do not recognize their contribution to the development process. Education and health form the basis through which a country can remove its citizens out of poverty. It is sheer hypocrisy for any authorities to claim that they are committed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, whilst not recognizing the value and role of their public service.

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in the Kingdom of eSwatini in their demands for decent wages and stand against authorities using security forces against workers who are making legitimate demands. Social cohesion will be guaranteed by the creation of a more equal and just society, and not by the application of brute force against citizens.

Amandla!