“The struggle for the public servants is still on. We had a SNAT [Swaziland National Union of Teachers] mass meeting on Friday and the teachers resolved to press on for yet another week,” Swaziland National Union of Teachers Secretary General, Muzi Mhlanga, told Africa Contact yesterday. The public employees have been on strike for five weeks now, demanding a pay rise of 4.5 per cent, well below the rate of inflation in Swaziland and a mere fraction of the 30 per cent pay rise that Swaziland’s parliamentarians have given themselves.
On top of this, Swaziland’s royal family has an annual allowance of 20 million Euros and its absolute monarch, King Mswati III, has increased spending on his security forces and continues to spend lavishly on everything from private jets, sending his wives on a recreational trip to Las Vegas, and unnecessary prestige projects.
Swaziland is subsequently on the brink of economic ruin with growth rates plummeting, also due to the overall economic mismanagement of King Mswati’s government, which he in effect controls. Over two thirds of the population lives in absolute poverty, half the population receive some sort of food aid and the country has the highest HIV and Tuberculosis rates in the world.
Until now the strikers have been met by regime threats of salary reductions or being sacked, riot police and armed forces intimidation and beatings, tear gas and rubber bullets. Probably because the regime also understands that the strike is about more than a simple pay rise.
“In my opinion the teachers have broken all the barriers and have given all pro-democrats a challenge in that we should never give up but be determined so that we achieve our goal of democratisation of our country,” student activist Sibusiso Nhlabatsi tells Africa Contact.
“The teachers have refused to bow down to the threat of the brutal regime. I believe that with the enthusiasm and courage the teachers have shown we can push [Swaziland’s feudal] tinkhundla [system] to the chasm and replace it with a new system. They say a revolution will not be televised: the Teachers in Swaziland have started it. We believe that democracy in Swaziland is certain.”
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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