Civil servants in Swaziland are set to go on a countrywide strike on January 28, The international organizer for the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), Njabulo Dlamini, said that the main demand of the strike was the a cost of living adjustment (CoLA) of 6.55%, which translates into a salary increment. Workers had gone on strike for the same demand in August/September last year but it was not accepted by the regime of king Mswati. The Public Sector Associations of Swaziland (PSAS) has also released a statement supporting the demand. Employees across all kinds of government offices, ministries, departments, schools, colleges, clinics, hospitals, transport departments and others will be taking part in the national strike. Swaziland is the last remaining absolute monarchy in the sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Dlamini, the percentage of the CoLA is now double that of last year. The CPS, in their statement, accused the autocratic Mswati regime of trying to recently disrupt a teachers’ preparatory meeting by arresting the two leaders. The CPS also reiterated its call for “Maximum Defiance in the Maximum Number of Sites” against the brutal regime of King Mswati, on behalf of the struggling masses of Swaziland, resolving to respond with “direct decisive force” against the oppressive actions of the regime.
The PSAS statement noted that it had been in talks with the government for two years on the issue of COLA but in vain. The PSAS comprises the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), the Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP), the Swaziland Nurses Association (SNA), the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU). These unions represent over 25,000 workers employed by the government. The statement noted that since the government had failed to implement the CoLA, workers had seen a 14.4% salary deduction over the last two years. Meanwhile, the government has been lavishly spending public money on “non-priority and capital projects” such as the construction of the International Convention Centre (ICC), festivals such as the Umhlanga reed dance, birthday celebrations of the King, Independence day celebrations, and on sending huge delegations on international trips.
The statement noted that as a result of the government’s mishandling and corruption, Swaziland had been suffering from several chronic social and economic problems and impediments, such as shortage of drugs and other materials in public clinics, health centres and hospitals, mounting public debt as a result of the government not paying its suppliers, non-delivery of basic services to the populace such as safe drinking water and expansion of the rural electrification project. Meanwhile, the poverty level is at 63%. Close to 70 % of the people in Swaziland are forced to survive on less than USD 2 a day and 38% of the people in the country live in absolute poverty.
The statement warned of a strike if a salary adjustment was not given by January 27. It also urged every concerned Swazi citizen from all walks of life to participate in the strike.
The authoritarian regime of king Mswati has unleashed considerable oppression on the people, especially those have organized resistance. In August 2018, Musa Maxwell ‘Zondiyinkundla’ Myeni was arrested after he tried to stop a police officer from firing at a crowd of teachers who were attending a public meeting. He was arrested in the middle of the night from his home at Lavumisa in southern Swaziland. The teachers, under the banner of the SNAT, met on August 24 to discuss demand of a pay rise, taking into account the rising cost of living over the last 2 years.The police restrained the teachers from entering their union office and fired live ammunition on them.
A historic three-day strike was organized in September 2018 by thousands of public and private sector workers belonging to 19 different trade unions. The workers united under the banner of the TUCOSWA (Trade Union Congress of Swaziland) and undertook strike action in the cities of Manzini, Mbabane, Siteki and Nhlangano, demanding a CoLA-adjusted raise in the minimum wage to E3500 ($234) a month, legalization of strikes and increase in health and education funding. They also protested against the increase in value added tax from 14 to 15 per cent.