The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) has challenged the accusations made by the country’s prime minister in a government press statement, ahead of a strike called on September 23. The allegations against the union also appear to be an attempt to intimidate other Public Servants Associations (PSAs) representing civil servants. Unfazed, the teachers have reiterated their commitment to go ahead with the industrial action. The union includes as its members, 14,000 of the roughly 15,000 government-employed teachers in the country.
Apart from the SNAT, the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) and the Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP) have also announced their participation in the strike. The NAPSAWU is a 7,686-member strong union, while the SNAGAP represents 500 of the total 800 government accountants.
The official government statement, while condemning the PSAs who have been demanding a Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA) for the civil servants, specifically singled out the SNAT, accusing it of planning a ‘sponsored’ strike. The prime minister further accused SNAT of inviting students and others, “including non-citizens of the country to join the strike action and engage in unlawful activities, such as border blockades”.
In a sharp response, calling the prime minister a “pathological liar” who “has resorted to tell grandiose lies that stretch.. the limits of believability”, the SNAT has challenged him to “openly name those who are sponsoring the teachers strike” and “mention the kind of sponsorship that SNAT received from these philanthropists.”
Signed by the prime minister Ambrose Dlamini, the government statement also attacks the civil servants for their “continuous negative publicity.. as a result of government’s inability to award a cost of living adjustment for the past two years.”
Nevertheless, civil servants across the country are preparing for a strike on September 23, as the monarchical government has refused to bring in the CoLA for one more year, citing financial constraints. Moreover, the teachers have not received any salary increment in the last two years to compensate for the loss of real wages due to increasing cost of living.
“Telling the truth is not tantamount to bad publicity, as the PM alleges. It is a known fact that government has flatly refused to adjust our salaries,” the SNAT stated.
Swaziland’s prime minister is not an elected functionary but an appointee of king Mswati, the last absolute monarch in Africa. SNAT has pointed out that there is a divisive agenda behind Dlamini’s accusations, wherein he is trying to imply that if civil servants other than the teacher participate in the upcoming strike, it will be considered illegal. However, SNAT has reiterated that, “All [the three] PSAs shall partake in the upcoming strike.”
“We are, as a matter of principle, convinced that [he] is trying to demonize the 91 year-old teachers’ organization.. putting it into disrepute in the process,” the SNAT said. However, the union re-emphasized its resolve to not stand down and demanded that he “bring proof of this serious allegation.”
One of the worst-ranked countries in terms of labor rights, Swaziland has frequently seen brutal police repression of popular dissent and demonstrations. Even the courts generally rule against strike actions as illegal.
The recent accusatory statement by the prime minister is meant to prepare the ground for any moves the government may be planning for the suppression of the teachers’ movement. Dlamini has already provided elaborate financial excuses for not giving the civil servants their due.
He has claimed that, “On average, economic growth has been below 2% for the past decade and projections for the future remain unfavorable,” he said, adding that it was the priority of the government to maintain fiscal discipline.
SNAT has clearly rejected this explanation. The union added that if there is no money for the “much-deserved CoLA, then where does the money to fund.. [grand festivals], king’s Birthday, huge delegations going abroad on vacation etc come from.” “Civil servants must also have a share from that cake,” the union demanded.
Millions of dollars have been spent on hosting birthday parties for the king and his family, whose foreign vacation trips are also continually rising. In a country no bigger the State of New Jersey in the United States, the royal family owns at least 13 palaces, a fleet of luxury cars and two private jets. The monarchy’s latest indulgence has been to earmark a whopping corpus of USD 2 billion to build a conference center and a luxury hotel for the 2020 African Union summit, which is being hosted in the country.
Given such a scenario, the SNAT has categorically stated that the prime minister “must not tell us about retrenchments. One could be cutting the size of delegations to foreign missions. We still want to see how many will accompany the king to the upcoming 24th UN General Assembly [UNGA] from the 17-30 September 2019 in the US.”
In its statement, the SNAT says, “As civil servants, we are sick and tired of listening to your chorus of a government which is in a serious economic quagmire and yet other celebrations and capital projects continue, as planned.”
Meanwhile, Dlamini has threatened the civil servants with the “no work no pay” rule if they go ahead with the strike on September 23. Such threats have been brushed aside by the union, saying “We request the head of government to tell us something new, not this folksong. We are prepared for that. It does not send any chill in our spines.”