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Clipping the monarchy's wings? (Around Africa - Swaziland).

Labour unions in Swaziland have for many years used their ability to hold public meetings to push for democratic reforms in this small kingdom where political gatherings were banned 28 years ago.

However, last November the unions overstepped the bounds of official tolerance when radical union members endorsed calls for the overthrow of King Mswati III at a meeting held in Nelspruit in neighbouring South Africa.

As New African went to press, the Swazi government, stung by the publicity generated by the South African meeting, had charged nine union leaders with misconduct.

The leaders of the Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers and the Swaziland Nurses Association have all been accused of engaging in conduct incompatible with the regulations of the civil service board.

The union executives were said to have violated their contracts, which forbid the involvement of government employees in political affairs. Their passports have been confiscated, and arguments by their lawyers that the government was not lawfully empowered to take punitive action against them, have failed to convince the courts to drop the charges.

The meeting in South Africa was attended by teachers, civil servants, banned political parties and human rights groups. They called for an interim government to be established in Swaziland, and that the 32-year-old King Mswati be made a constitutional monarch to limit his powers.

Said Martin Dlamini, an editor at The Times of Swaziland: "The government's strategy is to chop the head off the unions by going after the executives. Dlamini, however, thinks some union leaders are following personal political agendas rather than concentrating on improving the welfare of their members.

Agnew Matsebula, a primary school teacher, agrees: "We are confused by the radical politics of the unions," she said, complaining that the lost school days due to closures during last year's mass stay-aways called by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions to press for democratic reforms, are harming education in the kingdom.

Political observers, however, note that the influence of political parties is negligible in this tiny Southern African country which is conservative by nature and largely loyal to the monarchy. Therefore, the unions are the only powerful voices around to make the government and king take note of the desire for political reforms.
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Author:Hall, James
Publication:New African
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6SWAZ
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Previous Article:Poor Obasanjo. (Around Africa - Nigeria).
Next Article:Election Fever. (Around Africa - Uganda).

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