COMTEX NewswireWednesday, April 02, 1997 8:59:00 PM
MBABANE, (Apr. 1) AIA/GIN - Swaziland's recent mass strike over the arrest of four trade union leaders has been a triumph for the labor movement, which has refused to be intimidated by government bullying.
The national trade union movement called for a general strike after failing to get the government to respond to 27 demands for political and economic reform that were drawn up three years ago.
Despite deployment of troops throughout the country and attempts to manipulate the courts, the government failed to get its way over the arrests and the union leaders were freed after 26 days in detention.
Seven people were injured by troops shooting at protesters.
In effect the trade union movement has become the only political opposition to the government and the hostility between the two sides is bound to continue. At the same time, the countrywide protests and one-month stayaway from work has shown the extent of the country's rejection of government actions, and officials have found that it is not that easy to get their own way.
Outside mediation attempts achieved nothing. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the South African Trades Union Congress (COSATU), and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions all tried a mixture of appeals and threats, which were ignored by King Mswati 111. Right up to the end he refused to budge, saying the furor over the arrests was an internal matter.
There was certainly plenty of outside activity. South Africa's President Nelson Mandela hosted a meeting with presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, and Ketumile Masire of Botswana to discuss the explosive situation. Earlier, Mandela and Chissano met King Mswati in Pretoria and asked him to release the leaders.
Neither did the damage to the economy from a blockade of border points by COSATU and the mass strike make any difference to the king's attitude.
One of the biggest revenue earners, the sugar industry, lost US$5 million as cane withered in the fields, while companies that use sugar in their production process also lost heavily.
The private sector added its voice to the opposition, with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the federation of employers asking the king to release the unionists unconditionally. His response was to accuse them of colluding with the strikers.
The unrest showed the extent of king's powers. Even Prime Minister Dr. Sibusiso Dlamini was surprised by the arrests.
King Mswati has not shown any inclination to do away with the cause of the unrest, his Public Order Act, which overnight on January 31, 1997 became a Non-bailable Offenses Order. The trade unionists were jailed for persuading bus owners to suspend service and for saying they were going to ask insurance companies to honor claims which arose from damage during the strike.
In the end the leaders were released through the established legal process, when a senior magistrate said they were being unlawfully detained. That is the one bright feature of Swaziland's unsettled political situation.
Vuyisile Hlatshwayo is a correspondent for Africa Information Afrique, a news and feature service based in Harare, Zimbabwe.