Swaziland Labor Unions Call Off Protests After Clampdown

Labor unions in Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, vowed to keep pressure on the government to move to a democratic system after a police crackdown forced them to call off a third day of demonstrations.

The unions will call for targeted sanctions against the southern African nation’s leaders and try to persuade other countries to help bring change, Vincent Ncongwane, general secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Labour, told reporters today in Mbabane, the capital. The ruling African National Congress in neighboring country South Africa urged in an e-mailed statement for political parties to be unbanned and criticized the violence Swaziland’s security forces meted out on peaceful protesters.

“Even if it calls for the loss of our lives, we are prepared to ensure that Swaziland change for the better,” Ncongwane said. “We are not going to use any violent means to achieve our goal because that will be counterproductive.”

Police detained union leaders and journalists and used teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons to break up marches in support of democracy over the last two days in Swaziland, Africa’s third-largest sugar producer. A Facebook campaign urged a national uprising to start on April 12.

Union and opposition groups want change in the tiny mountainous nation wedged between South Africa and Mozambique after austerity measures to deal with a fiscal crisis stoked anger. The government cut spending and plans to raise taxes and slash state worker salaries. It wants civil servants to retire early, threatening to add to an about 43 percent unemployment rate.

Not the End

The nation’s 1.2 million people are ruled by 42-year-old King Mswati III, who appoints the prime minister. Lawmakers aren’t allowed to belong to a political party and the country is under emergency rule.

“Despite the demonstrations being halted by the government clampdown, the visibility of the issue and the sentiment of a pro-democracy need in the country is very high,” said Dimpho Motsamai, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. “I think it is an opportunity for the movement to reorganize, to really develop a better strategy. I don’t think it’s the end of the matter.”

Stop Interfering

The European Union mission to Swaziland issued a statement yesterday condemning the government for not allowing peaceful assembly of trade unions and opposition groups. The U.S. is concerned by the government’s reaction to the protests, its embassy said on April 12.

Amnesty International condemns the “levels of state violence in the past 24 hours and the numbers of arbitrary and secret detentions,” according to a statement e-mailed by the U.K.-based organization yesterday.

Swaziland’s government “noted with dismay” that other countries were interfering in the country’s affairs, Mbabane-based Times of Swaziland reported, citing Lutfo Dlamini, the foreign affairs minister.

Swaziland wants a $100 million loan from the African Development Bank and asked the International Monetary Fund on April 8 for a six-month “staff-monitored program” after a decline in income from a regional customs union because of the global economic crisis cut state revenue. The IMF and AfDB say the government must reduce its wage bill.

Mswati, who has 14 wives, has a personal fortune of $200 million, according to New York’s Forbes Magazine.