Imagine having worked a long life deep down in the mines in a foreign country just to make ends meet for you and your family. And then imagine that your pension, or the compensation for your disability, that you thought you and your family were to live on when you retired, was lost somewhere between the company that was meant to pay it to you and your own corrupt government. This is what has happened to thousands of Swazi mineworkers – and 50.000 mineworkers from other countries throughout Southern Africa – who have for decades worked in South Africa’s gold and diamond mines.
To try and get their compensation or their pensions back, the ex-mineworkers formed the Swaziland National Ex-mineworkers Association (SNEMA) in 2007. SNEMA’s coordinator, Cebisamadoda Nxumalo, has been in Denmark over the last couple of weeks where he amongst other things spoke at a public meeting.
Here Cebisamadoda very clearly linked the poverty of the ex-mineworkers to the lack of democracy and basic rights in Swaziland. “There are rising poverty levels [two third of the Swazi population survive on under a dollar a day], HIV/Aids prevalency [which is the highest in the world] and inequality in Swaziland. The King has absolute power and Swaziland is a dictatorship. This is why we are in such a situation,” he said. “We don’t believe that the problems of the ex-mineworkers can be addressed in a dictatorship.”
And SNEMA therefore continues to play an important part in the consciousness-building that has helped people in the rural areas – who are subdued by police intimidation and brutality as well as threats of land evictions by their local chiefs, who are mostly loyal to the monarchy – dare to stand up to the regime. Amongst other things, SNEMA educates people in their branches on human rights, democracy and poverty eradication.
“We believe in empowering the people so that they know their rights,” says Cebisamadoda. “We use our rootedness in the rural communities to empower and capacitate all Swazis, not only ex-mineworkers.” And by doing so SNEMA, and the democratic movement as a whole, has managed to pressure the King and his government into actually discussing democracy and poverty, as the King did at the recent annual royal cultural event.
“This shows that the king is scared of the democratic movement and its success in instilling democratic and socio-economic consciousness in the Swazi population, and there is therefore real hope that the situation will improve in the near future,” says Cebisamadoda.
“The public sector unions are on strike in Swaziland. We hope that the strike will help keep the momentum going. The time for change is near and democracy will not take long from now. But we need to double our efforts, and so do those who work in solidarity with us.”
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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